To the east of the state of Himachal Pradesh in India, lies the beautiful Spiti Valley. Spiti is known for its marvellous landscapes and treacherous terrains. The valley is one of the least populated areas of the country. This cold desert is also known as ‘The Middle land’ as the land falls between India and Tibet.
Every year, thousands of tourists and motorcyclists visit the Spiti valley, to explore its culture, cuisines, monasteries and untouched beauty. The travel trail lies between the famous hill stations of Shimla and Manali crossing three valleys i.e. Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul.
Kaza being the centre of Spiti is the most populated town and the only place well equipped with required amenities. People coming from the Shimla side, cross the Kinnaur valley, to enter Spiti and Nako is the first settlement where one can find guesthouses and restaurants. From Nako, the road leads to another small town called Tabo via Chango, Malling Nala and Sumdo. Sumdo is the official entry point to the Spiti valley with an ITBP checkpoint, where the register entries are made.
3 kms from Sumdo, right after crossing the river Spiti, the main road turns left, while a narrow road by the mountains will take you to the Gue village, which is famous for “The Living Mummy”.
Yes, “The Living Mummy”, as the people call it.
The mummy at Gue, is said to be 500 years old. It is said to be the mummy of a Lama (Monk) named Sangha Tenzin. In 1975, an earthquake in the region, cracked open a stupa and thus the mummy was revealed. Though the locals knew about the mummy, but because of the remoteness of the village, it remain non-existent to the world till 2004, when the local police unearthed it.
We all know, that mummies are artificially preserved by embalming the body with chemicals after a person’s death. But Sangha Tenzin, started mummifying his body long before his death. There are many examples of such mummification, but the Gue mummy is the only possible such mummy in India. This type of mummification is a long and difficult process. The person limits his food intake to avoid fat and liquids. The special diet mostly comprises of roots, herbs and nuts. By the time, the person dies, the body gets shrunken and is left with very minute traces of fat and moisture, so it won’t start decomposing. The body is then mummified.
Sangha Tenzin, mummified himself in the same manner around 500 years back. The Gue mummy, still has teeth, hair and nails intact. The mummy is sitting in a meditation position, and it seems, as if it would come to life any moment.
Locals of Gue, also say that before the mummy was found, blood oozed from the ground, when people were digging the ground to build houses.
Also, according to a folklore, this region was infested by scorpions long time ago. It was then, when Sangha Tenzin started mummifying himself to save the people. The moment Sangha Tenzin died, a bright rainbow appeared over the horizon and all the scorpions miraculously disappeared.
Whatever the true story behind the Gue mummy is, the mummy now sits in a glass chamber kept in a small room made out of concrete, just behind the Gue Gompa.
Written By: Gaurav Choudhary
Edited By: Vikram Dhawan
Photographs By: Amit Madolia