The Mummy in Giu is an untold wonder! Being one of the only few existing mummies of Tibetan descends, this place should be more famous! Most folks visiting the Spiti valley often do not know of its existence and solely embark on the journey for the natural landscapes and culture.
Giu (Ghuen, Geu) is a remote village deep in Spiti Valley, which has achieved its fame thanks to a naturally preserved dead body. This fact is a stark difference from the images we usually conjure up when thinking of mummies – ala Egyptian mummies completely bandaged up. But, what a surprise to visit Spiti and come across our version of preserving the dead!
Let's quickly dive into the details:
A small village, with only about 50-60 households, Giu is situated at an elevation of 10,000 ft. Tourists often ignore Giu when planning a trip to the Kinnaur / Spiti region, and most people come close to the region. Thanks to the very famous Tabo monastery only 40 km away, Giu is, in fact, quite accessible. You should note that Giu is perched between Sumdo and Tabo, falling on a sharp incline from NH22.
Giu has some stunning views keeping in line with the region! Even though the area is challenging to reach, the Giu Mummy has started attracting tourism for the tiny village. It is a good stop-over when in the region and looking for something different and unique to experience.
Giu Mummy Travel Guide
The Mummy is a tiny and fragile body, which is sitting and a little hunched. The body seems to have shrunk through the generations in a manner that looks like dehydration. With a chocolate brown color, it seems the body has lived many a life cycle since the time it was alive.
You’ll notice that one hand is placed in the lap seemingly in Dhyan Mudra. The other seems to be right below the chin or twisted in some manner. Villagers quickly inform you that its hair, nails continue to grow and its teeth are still intact.
You’ll come across the mummy, covered in traditional yellow and white monk clothes, inside a glass casing.
Stories surrounding the Giu Mummy
If you believe the local folklore (and you should!) about half millennia ago, a Lama in his mid-forties passed away. Believed to be Sangha Tenzin, the lama was a monk from Gelugpa. Now, the Mummy is fondly referred to as the Mummy Lama by the villagers. Locals say that they stored the body of the lama in some tomb for many a year.
However, the earthquake-prone region was devastatingly hit in the 70s by huge turbulence, and the region was heavily affected, including the destruction of the tomb. It is then, by chance, that Indo-Tibetan-Border-Police (ITBP) rediscovered the Mummy during excavation and road work.
Since then, the Himachal Pradesh Government has ensured the maintenance and security of the shrine. The Giu Mummy was found in a sitting position (which is still how the body remains to date) with rosary beads in one hand.
Science to back up the stories
If you’re not a believer in the spoken word, I have some science for you as well! Carbon dating has revealed that the Tibetan Mummy dates back to 1475. Also, through the scientific process, it is known that the age of the body when alive was in mid-forties. Further, no chemicals, artificial embalming liquids, etc. were found in the system.
This points to the fact that the Mummy was naturally embalmed. The Monk could have died in an avalanche, and the surrounding ice would have helped in the process of depleting the body of juices, thereby completing the mummification process.
Other clues about the Mummy’s history can be deduced from the Gomthak that Monks use when meditating. You will see a belt tied around the spine of the Giu Mummy.
Tales from the Valley
The villagers believe that the Mummy has looked after the village for centuries. Any hardship faced by the valley, lo is believed to pass only due to the grace of Mummy Lama. Many believe that the Monk sacrificed his life to save the village from an attack of the Scorpions.
The story goes that the lama sat down for meditation, asked his disciples to entomb him. While praying for the betterment of the village, his soul left for its heavenly adobe. At this point, a rainbow appeared across the village. Since then, to this day, no scorpion is seen in the village.
Other people will tell you how the tiny village of Giu was earlier very prosperous because of its strategic location on the Indo-Tibet trading route. However, when the traders found better routes, the village suffered. The Monk prayed for the well-being of the village. Some villagers say, even today, he is the one who is bringing livelihood to their families merely through his presence.
Egyptian vs Tibetan Mummification
However, we know that mummification is not a common practice. Tibetans of the yester-year are known to offer their dead to the vultures or the fish, or if nothing else- they were usually cremated.
However, it is a little known fact that some of the high-priests were indeed mummified. They did it to keep their bodies around as a way of devotion, guidance, and someone physical to believe in.
Interestingly, while Egyptians used embalming processes, Tibetan mummies have been known to be naturally preserved, often in meditation/squatting positions by using advanced yogic postures to deprive the bodies of all juices and bacteria.
Tibetan Mummies in India
But, of course, this is not the only Buddhist Mummy in existence. Monks destroyed several known Mummies in Tibet because they were fearful of an onslaught from the Chinese after the Cultural Revolution. But, some are kept intact, thanks to India being their home.
A total of 8 mummies are present in various monasteries of Ladakh and Spiti along with one each in Kalimpong and Dehradun. And, of course, there is the famous body of Kyabje Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche, tutor of the current Dalai Lama, who passed away over two decades ago and his body is preserved in McLeodganj.
Buddhism is a beautiful religion, with many complexities and traditions. Such niche features of the religion are often unheard of in the mainstream knowledge of Buddhism. Personally, I was unaware of any other form of Mummies except the Egyptian Mummies.
Have a travel question?? You can follow me on Instagram and ask your travel questions in a direct message on Instagram too. I also conduct a weekly Q&A session every Saturday evening on Instagram, so see you there.
Also, the reasoning for embalming a body naturally is unique in the Buddhist culture. The hills hold many such secrets, and these are the stories that many villages are waiting to tell! Go out of the way to experience this extraordinary existence.
The existence of Mummy is supplemented by the unwavering faith and belief of the villagers in its powers. That, in itself, is such a sight to see – the happiness a mummy brings to some!