Great Himalayan Drive: Spiti / Komic Monastery – Nothing funny about its festival

Komic Festival, Spiti

The world is full hidden wonders and events – wish there was a way of knowing about them.

One such is the Komic Monastery in Spiti and its annual festival – one that no one will tell you about until you probe. And even when you know about it, you will not find it easy to get there. The Komic village is located at an altitude of 4,513 metres (14,806 feet) in the cold desert of Spiti in the Indian Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. The monastery is one of the highest in the world at 4,587 metres (15,049 feet).

The monastery itself is small, but its setting is very picturesque. All around you only see snow capped peaks and skies with hues of blue no artist can replicate. The population of Komic village is only 114 (in 2010) – the love for one’s land can make people survive in any conditions. And still put on a happy face!

The annual festival usually takes place in October every year, but the date keeps changing. Attendees are mostly Spitians – some come from far off villages in hired taxis – and a handful of travellers like me. The atmosphere is festive from the word go – all visitors are received with a welcome tea and a fried snack that looks like a puffed pancake. Some travelling salesmen come from faraway plains to set up a stalls selling blankets, clothes, spectacles, toys, decorations and gifts – talk about being enterprising. For locals, it is also a rare opportunity to access these goods – they live in some of the remotest human settlements on the planet.

Customers also include young Buddhist monks – mostly boys under 10 who live in the monastery. Where do they get the money from? Some of the visitors were seen giving them Rs. 10 each – for the former, it was like an offering to their Gods. Even if they are being trained to lead lives of no material attachments, these boys are still children – buying a few toys surely cannot upset their divine Masters.

The festival is also a time for some games – competitions for Volleyball and Musical Chairs had been organized outside the monastery compound for anyone willing to participate. And despite the event being a religious one, some peppy Bollywood numbers were being played to enliven the mood. And then it was time for lunch – also on the house – before the masked dances started.

The lamas go into prayer early morning inside the main temple and continue till afternoon. I was fortunate in being allowed to witness a part of it and even take photographs. There is something calming about Buddhist prayers in their cool, dimly lit chambers – it can be a lullaby to the body and the soul. The dancers change into their dresses and masks after that – a time when it is no entry to all. When I tried to gently barge my way in, I was ‘scolded’ and shooed away by a stick waving boy monk in a yellow mask. His mask had an angry expression, and he would not desist from trying to stop photographers from clicking even later when there was no restriction on them.

Compared to many of the famed festivals in Hemis in Ladakh and Paro in Bhutan, the one in Komic is a modest affair. While the bigger ones have multiple groups with different sets of dresses and masks, Komic has just one. But it is no less charming – in fact, in many ways it is more enjoyable because you are not being mobbed. And it still adheres to many of the simple ways all festivals were originally meant to be.

The dancers move to the chants for about an hour in the monastery’s courtyard – and then they move out to dance in the open against the peaks. When they head back, all the devotees lie prostrate on the path as a mark of respect – the monks have to step over as they make their way back.

And then it is time for the shadows to grow longer – the high peaks mean the sun gets hidden sooner. And within minutes, you are no longer being burnt by the sun’s harsh rays but are suddenly freezing. The temperature just drops. It is time to head back, having witnessed something few people in the world will ever do.

Driving Guide: Kaza to Komic via Hikkim
Kaza to Y-Junction (Left for Langza, Right for Hikkim – take Right): 6 kms / 0:25 hrs
Y-Junction to Hikkim: 10 kms / 0:40 hrs
Hikkim to Komic: 3 kms / 0:15 hrs
Total Distance / Time: 19 kms / 1:20 hrs

Driving Guide: Komic – Kaza via Langza
Komic to Langza: 10 kms / 0:40 hrs
Langza to Y-Junction: 9 kms / 0:26 hrs
Y-Junction to Kaza: 6 kms / 0:25 hrs
Total Distance / Time: 25 kms / 1:31 hrs

Note: All timings are approximate and do not include stops. May vary with road conditions.

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Komic Festival: Time to shop on the festive occasion
Komic Festival: Time to shop on the festive occasion

Komic Festival: Inside the monastery temple – monks praying before the start of the masked dances in the courtyard
Komic Festival: Inside the monastery temple – monks praying before the start of the masked dances in the courtyard

Komic Festival: Masks ready to be worn before the dances
Komic Festival: Masks ready to be worn before the dances

Komic Festival: Inside the monastery temple – the head priest praying before the start of the masked dances in the courtyard
Komic Festival: Inside the monastery temple – the head priest praying before the start of the masked dances in the courtyard

Komic Festival: Inside the monastery temple – monks praying before the start of the masked dances in the courtyard
Komic Festival: Inside the monastery temple – monks praying before the start of the masked dances in the courtyard
Komic Festival: Devotees coming to pray
Komic Festival: Devotees coming to pray
Komic Festival: Volleyball time, with a lama (monk) boy playing referee
Komic Festival: Volleyball time, with a lama (monk) boy playing referee
Komic Festival: Getting dressed for the occasion
Komic Festival: Getting dressed for the occasion
Komic Festival: Getting dressed for the occasion
Komic Festival: Getting dressed for the occasion

Komic Festival, Spiti

Komic Festival, Spiti

Komic Festival, Spiti

Komic Festival, Spiti

Komic Festival, Spiti

Komic Festival, Spiti

Komic Festival, Spiti

Komic Festival, Spiti

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