I first read about the Giu Mummy when I was reading my itinerary for the Himachal Odyssey. I was curious, but in reading about all other places, I did not give much attention to it. My only rendezvous till then with a Mummy was in Hyderabad’s AP State Museum. Where mummy of a young Egyptian girl is displayed with an anecdote of how the Nizam of Hyderabad bought it. To me, that mummy looked like a wooden doll, perfectly balmed and preserved. Other images of Mummies were of course from visuals of Egypt. Where they are all wrapped in stripes of clothes and most of the time in a standing or a lying down position.
It was in Shimla when we met two Himachal experts that I learned about the sitting posture of the Mummy. The most surprising fact about it was the absence of any artificial preservatives. This means no chemicals have been applied to the body to preserve it in any way.
Drive to the village
Midway between Nako & Tabo, we took a detour after crossing a bridge over Spiti and drove for about 7-8 kilometers to reach the small village of Giu. The terrain was full of small stones. As if some crusher was crushing the stones of the size of a tennis ball before they were being spread out. As soon as the village came in sight, we could see an upcoming monastery on a small hillock. I wanted to walk through the village but rain gods did not agree so we drove all the way to the temple. We walked towards the temple but I was directed toward a small room in the corner with a closed door. I was told, not to worry and open the door. This is where the Mummy continues to sit or if I may say Live.
She is a small body in sitting posture in a little-hunched manner. It looks like a body that has shrunk – like the shrinkage that comes from dehydration or sucking out of all juices. The color is chocolate brown, that I assume has undergone its own lifecycle since the time it was alive. One hand is in the lap as if in Dhyan Mudra, the other is confusing. Is it below the chin, is it twisted or is it something else attached to the body – I could not make out. It is said that the hair and nails continue to grow on its body and its teeth are still intact.
She is now covered in traditional monk clothes in white and yellow and it sits in a glass enclosure. Outside the enclosure lamps and other stuff used in worship are lying around. It seems to continue to live in isolation but it brings many tourists to this part of Spiti Valley.
The ITBP personnel found her while they were working on road repairs a few years ago. In fact, it was not found in the village but was brought here. I assume this may have been the closest village but no one knew where exactly it was found. A team from Vienna based on the radiocarbon dating indicated its age to be about 550 years or so. It is believed that it belongs to a Buddhist Lama. They also indicate that the monk was probably in his early 40s when he died. They also found no traces of any chemicals to preserve the body. And concluded that the mummification has happened naturally. It is assumed that the monk sitting in deep meditation.
A most common explanation of the Mummy I heard was that the monk probably got buried under an avalanche. And remained buried till it was found by ITBP. The process of mummification happened on its own – may be the ice all around the body played the catalyst. Oral traditions say the name of the monk is Sangha Tenzin and he belonged to the Gelugpa order of Buddhism.
However, a curiosity reading took me to this link on Self Mummification. I discovered that it was an organized practice in certain sects of Buddhism. Where the monks would give up food and lead their bodies towards mummification. They probably knew the science of mummification well to be able to do it. With a combination of controlled intake into the body and yogic postures. The success of mummification was obviously linked to the spiritual merit of the monk. This led me to think of the Santhara practice by Jains, where they voluntarily give up their body by giving up food. And going into deep meditation. Giu Mummy has opened up a whole new area to be studied – Mummies without chemicals.
Giu Mummy has put the village on the tourism map of Himachal Pradesh and especially of the Spiti Valley. But for this mummy, am not sure how many of us would have taken this detour to come to this village. Now it is a typical Himalayan village with few houses and a monastery. What I noticed here while walking through the village was an underground pipeline system to channelize water that I thought was incredible. A temple is being built for the mummy (I assume). Probably a couple of years down the line when you visit it would have developed its own legends and rituals. I would want the visitors to be acquainted with the Mummification processes. Maybe compare processes from across the world and the ancient practices associated with it. Himachal Tourism- I hope you are reading this!
Reflecting on the journey of the Lama, it seems he is still helping the small Spiti Valley village in his own way, even after 500 years.
Recommend you read following posts on Places to visit in Himachal Pradesh on the travel blog.