Nako- A Matchless Palette
Suparna Banerjee, Oct 08, 2010
A strong summer noonday sun, a disciplined sea of bowing monks in red, and flags flying everywhere. Amidst the uneven sound of the bronze trumpets called dhung chens one could hear the excited sounds of young boys from the village playing throwball.

This is the Nako village or settlement (population 443 according to the population census of 1991) in northern Kinnaur. This settlement looks typically Tibetan, dust rising in dervishes across the dun-colored landscape, flat roofed houses, sad and sullen mules walking sedately across landslides and other such natural calamities. At 3,662 m, Nako lies 2 kilometres above the Hangrang valley road or the new national highway 22, a distance of 32 kilometres from Poo.

A dusty dirt track winds its way upto the village - an oasis in the middle of the desert. Huts built partly of stone and partly of unbaked bricks are covered by roofs of mud spread over a platform of junipers. People pile their firewood on the roofs, which gives a furzy look to the whole habitation.

Little monasteries and chortens dot the landscape. A cluster of whitewashed buildings with a playing field has a board with primary school written boldly across it. The child monks who learn general-school subjects along with theology also play with the children and are no less boisterous. The great Brugpa monastery lies right behind the playing field. The temple of the monastery dated around the 11th century A.D., has four large halls, which form a court. The ruined chortens and faded wall paintings are a reminder of a glorious past.

The presiding deity in the northern temple is a yellow Tara locally known as Sgrol-Gser. The deity is lodged in an elaborately carved wooden frame. Though this is the primary deity there are others as well of the Buddhist pantheon in stucco. The wall paintings have faded and the whole place is fragrant with the smell of incense and juniper.

It's devoid of all touristy claptrap, and somewhere on the road you abruptly pass from thickly forested hills to bare dust ridden snow capped mountains. It's as if the curtains have parted on a grand proscenium. And that exhilarating sense of arrival, it seems to me, is a large part of the highway's original spirit.

In consequence of the extraordinary aridity of the atmosphere, the crops are fed by means of water flowing from the masses of ice and snow above. A short meandering and totally confusing walk through the village takes one down to a depression where a lake lies like an oasis, blue and gleaming except at the edges where it reflects the green of the willows and poplars fringing it. Yaks and asses are in abundance at every step you take.

The tingling fresh air and the scent of the apricot trees heightens the senses. Some times, sounds carry for miles like the occasional whistle of a herdsman and the bark of his mastiff. The whole ambience of this little village is scintillating. Right down to the chowkidarni of the IPH or Irrigation and Public Health rest house, the village has an amazingly quaint air about it.

Nako is definitely the place to pause in upper Kinnaur and put your feet up for a while. The small village has a definitive Tibetan feel to it and it's all peace and quiet. Several trails lead to nearby villages. The only shop and the only 'restaurant' in town is the Lovon Guesthouse located at the edge of the village near the bus stand. Leaving Nako we were told to get onto the national highway. What one really needed was a dollop of Dylan on a decent stereo and ‘Highway #61, Revisited’.

Though this potholed anomaly where death lurks at every corner isn’t a highway it certainly leads to one of Kinnaur’s well-hidden treasures. It has the mountains for an easel, a pantheon of Gods, temples and monasteries for inspiration and all of nature for its matchless palette.


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