March 30, 2013


(A slightly edited version of this story was published in The Hindu Metro Plus Issue Dated 30-Mar-2013)

When Columbus was just touching down in America, a Buddhist monk was in the process of mummifying himself in the distant land of India -- to free the village from the trouble of scorpions. The monk, or lama, known as Sangha Tenzin is probably the only mummy in India who is supposed to have undergone natural mummification. And we wanted to explore this mummy which was in one of India's remote villages.

Gue is a very small hamlet in the Spiti valley of Himachal Pradesh, almost bordering the India-China border. There are no buses to Gue and hence we decided to hire a cab from the high altitude village of Nako. Earlier, we had started from Chitkul at 6:30 in the morning and had reached Nako at 6:30pm after a daylong rickety ride, passing via one of the most treacherous roads in the Kinnaur range. We started from Nako at 7am passing via barren mountains for the next 2 hours. The treacherousness of the Malling-nalla no longer lingered and also our driver did not give us any pre-emptive warning. In fact, we were so much lost in the rugged and arid scenery that we did not realize the Malling-nalla till we had reached Sumdoh. Spiti starts from Sumdoh and foreigners visiting this region need to have the inner line permit (ILP can be obtained from Rekong Peo).

The road to Gue is on the right just after passing the Gue-nalla. A colorful arch invites you to village of Gue, and from here it is a further 11km ride inside, along a narrow road abutting the mountains. There are hardly a dozen odd houses in this village and the mountains engulf it from all sides. The last structure in the village atop a small knoll is supposedly the current residence of the mummy. The chill breeze sets up the right tempo for visiting the mummified lama. The stillness in the scenery lends a soothing effect, as our heart races against time yearning to catch a glimpse of the lama.

A laborer working in the construction of the adjoining new monastery opens the door and we get the first glimpse of the lama sitting inside a small glass box. The scenery at our back is reflected on the glass which lends a karmic connection. As we step inside, the face of the lama gets clear giving way to the empty eye sockets and the broad forehead.  Our driver (and guide) informed us that blood oozed out of the ground when people were digging up the area. This led to much furor and scare amongst the local people and on further digging, this mummy was found.

Though the mummy is dated to be 400-500 years old, there is a certain air of freshness about it. The lama seems to be lost in contemplation overlooking the valley while he is sitting and the current concrete structure is just a casing to preserve him. Probably, it was the clean air and the low temperatures in the region that could have contributed to the good state of the mummy - the hair and the teeth are well preserved. The silk robes on him seem to be concealing the tremendous powers and the will inside him, which led him to undergo the mummification process.

Natural mummification is an extremely difficult process in which the body is made to react in such a way that the body fat and fluid reduces at a constant rate and the organs which can decay are reduced in their size. Also, a special diet is given during the end days, which preserves the meat on the bone. It is believed that the body should be kept in such a posture so that the monk can meditate and a restrainer is used for this purpose. Even the slightest movement can lead to tightening of the restrainer around the neck. My post-travel research educated me about this esoteric practice which was part of the Dzogchen tradition in the Nyingma sect of Buddishm. It is believed when Sangha Tenzin's soul left his body, a rainbow appeared across the sky and the village was emancipated from the trouble caused by the scorpions. Northern Honshu in Japan is another destination wherein such a practice of natural mummification was followed.

Our driver felt that there was something magnetic about this region (or was it the mummy?) as they felt that some force was pulling them towards the mountains when driving towards Gue, and they could feel a traction while driving away from it. I could not ascertain this fact, and nor has there been any mention of this in any of the online geological reports. But I opined that this phenomenon was probably a sister to the Magnetic Hill in Ladakh.

With the thoughts of the mummy and the serenity of this village still lingering at the back of our minds, we bid adieu to the mummy and continued our journey towards Kaza.

Getting There: Gue is an hour’s drive from Sumdoh and 80 kms from Kaza. Hiring a car from Kaza or Nako is the best option. Via bus, you can get down near Gue-nala and walk for 11kms along the narrow road to Gue.

Staying/Eating: There are no options to stay or eat in Gue or Sumdoh as there are no hotels here. However, if you are nice to the locals, you might be lucky and end up spending the night with the family at Gue. Hurling is the closest village that has a few hotels.

No comments: