Ancient Monasteries of Spiti – History & Importance
When we had tea with the Monks and played football with the Lama kids! Read all about the beautiful ancient monasteries of Spiti in this article.
Spiti is enchanting! It captures your heart and soul forever. The trip to Spiti was one of our best till date. You can read the detailed post on Kinnaur & Spiti Valley here and enjoy the visual delights here. In this post, we shall lay down the history and importance of the ancient monasteries of Spiti. Make sure to visit all of them when you plan a trip to this hidden gem of India. 🙂
- Tabo Monastery: It is one of the most popular monasteries in the Lahaul & Spiti region and dates back to as early as 996 C.E. It was rebuilt in the early 1980s following the severe destruction in the 1975 Kinnaur earthquake. It is approx. 1020 years old and has 45 monks, 9 temples (5 of which are new), 4 decorated stupas, 23 chortens (cave shrines) and a monk’s chamber. There are 2 monasteries in Tabo, the old monastery, and the new monastery. The old monastery is a protected monument under the Archeological Survey of India. It houses a priceless collection of manuscripts, paintings, frescos, clay statues and exquisite murals depicting the ancient style of Tibetan Buddhism. Once we reached the monastery, a local Lama guided us through the assembly hall of the monastery, thangkas, clay structures and other temples. It was a uniquely magical feeling to witness the vintage and rustic feel of the entire atmosphere. We just wanted to stay there and absorb the depth of this ancient place! Photography was strictly not allowed inside the monastery to preserve the centuries-old paintings. The paintings in the Tabo monastery are amazingly preserved and in great condition. Tabo Monastery will always remain special to us because we bought a big thangka painting from there which is kept in our bedroom. Whenever we look at that painting, we are reminded of the beautiful trip we had to Kinnaur & Spiti Valley.
- Lhalung Monastery: It is considered to be one of the oldest monasteries of Spiti Valley dated late 10th century. There is also a sacred tree here which may be as old as the earliest monastery. Locals believe that this monastery was built by angels in one night. They do not allow touching the walls of the monastery complex because they feel the angels will leave the monastery and there will be no one to protect them. It is situated in the Lhalung village, about 28 kms from Kaza. On our way to the monastery, a local insisted us to visit his home and have tea with him, which we could not deny. His house was cozy and warm. We chatted for a while, the guy stayed with his wife and little kids. He explained how tough life is up there at Lhalung and they lack many basic amenities. It was quite an experience conversing with them and enjoying every second of their warm hospitality. It is so ironical to see people leading a contended, happy and honest life in such tough living conditions, and people in the civilized world have all the modern facilities yet they crib about everything. Afterwards, he accompanied us to the monastery and a Lama guided us inside the monastery. He even allowed us to take pictures without flash. Interestingly, this monastery is also known as the Golden Temple, there is a narrow passageway to get to its Golden Hall. Attached to its walls were Buddhist Tibetan sculptures. The sculptures fill the monastery practically from the floor till the ceiling. It was so amazing to see that the structures and idols in the monastery haven’t been dusted since ages and it is preserved in its “purest forms”! Legends have it that the color of the mountains around the monastery change depending on the mood of the deity. Red when angry, blue when hurt and yellow when happy! The most amazing thing about the monastery was its barrenness yet an aura of something powerful! The ceilings were painted with delightful and folk looking decorative motifs. We had a wonderful time in the mysterious and lesser-known monastery and would recommend everyone to visit it on their trip to Lahaul and Spiti.
- Dhankar Monastery: Dhankar was the Old Capital of Spiti. Dhang or Dang means Cliff and Kar or Khar means Fort. Hence, Dhangkar means fort on a cliff. There were 2 – 3 monks walking inside the monastery and one of them guided us inside the monastery. He explained how the monastery was built using traditional materials like mud, stone, and timber. It was dark inside the monastery and small steps leading from one place to the other. We were informed by one of the monks that Dhankar Monastery is divided into 2 parts, Old Monastery which was built 1100 years old and New Monastery which is recently built in the village. There is a newly built road that connects the old monastery to the new monastery. There is a small rural museum inside the Gompa. World Monuments Fund has declared this monastery as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. A non-profit group, Dhangkar Initiative is attempting to organize its conservation.
- Key Monastery: It is the biggest Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Spiti Valley, founded in the 11th century. It is located on the top of a hill and built like a fort with temples constructed one on top of the other. The view from the top of the monastery was spectacular with snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas and the Spiti river valley on either side of the monastery. The monastery houses 350 Lamas and is a religious training center for the Lamas. We were amazed to see lamas everywhere in the monastery. We spoke to a few Lamas about their daily routine, prayer rituals etc. We were so much in awe of the disciplined life these Lamas lead, I wish we could follow even half of it. After coming out from the temple, we saw cute little lama kids playing volleyball and football in the monastery complex. Since my husband is fond of football too, he joined them for a game. They readily accepted him in their team and it was fun to watch the innocent kids play, giggle and mingle so easily with everyone. They were enjoying their childhood days and happy in their own little world. Watching the little lamas was a pleasant and satisfying experience.
- Tangyud Monastery: It is the highest motorable Buddhist Monastery in the world built in the early 14th century. This monastery is structured like a castle and was built near Hikkim but relocated to Komik after a devastating 1975 earthquake. Komik is the highest Himalayan village with a population of only 114 people. The main, fort-like building in the monastery is painted in red, blue and white stripes. A smaller, older building above it has a stuffed leopard hanging on its porch. The monastery has a large courtyard, quarters for monks and a prayer hall. Unlike other places, they allowed us to click pictures of the main prayer hall which was beautifully decorated with traditional décor items. We were the only tourists there and it was so peaceful and serene that we felt like meditating! We were delighted to spot yaks near the monastery. A Lama was sitting in the monastery and on seeing us, he welcomed us and offered us herbal tea. We spoke to him about the history of the monastery, prayers and other rituals performed there, rules of becoming a Lama etc. He explained to us that a member from a Tibetan Buddhist family can become a Lama at any age, some do so even after leading a family life, however, most become lamas in their childhood, late teens or twenties. They are free to go back to their family life, however, most lamas do not prefer going back to the family life after living a life of spirituality and enlightenment. We were happy to gain so much knowledge from him and it was time for us to visit the World’s Highest Post Office situated in Hikkim at an altitude of 15,500 feet mentioned in the Limca Book of Records. It is one of the highest year-round inhabited locations in India. We were super happy to see the post office in Hikkim, very few people get a chance to reach there and we were among the lucky few!
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