Spiti or ‘Little Tibet’ as many travellers refer it to as, hides in it unparallel rich Buddhist cultural and religious heritage. Its remoteness, lying in the north of the Indian Himalayas on the Tibetan Plateau has protected it and made it remain isolated for centuries to the outside world. Because of its isolation centuries old monasteries in Spiti, some of them built on sheer cliffs remain well preserved and in use till today. Monasteries in Spiti continue to fascinate travellers from across the world and numerous universities form India and outside continue their research into the thangka paintings, murals, sculptures and scriptures. For any traveller in this region visiting the monasteries indeed is one of the highlights. At Himalayan Shepherd depending on time that our guests have on their hand we customize itineraries for monastery visits.
Founded in the 11th century, the Ki Gompa is one of the largest and the oldest monastery in the Spiti Valley and is supported by a thriving community of lamas. Located at a height of about 4116 meters, the Chaam festival, held in the month of June/July, is a much-awaited event of this Gompa. Founded by a pupil of the famous Atisha, Ki monastery has had a turbulent history. A monastery in the Gelugp sect, Ki monastery has been attacked no less than 5 times generally by armies.
Ki gompa is situated 7 kms from Kaza, Spiti’s headquarters; Ki Monastery was the first fortified monastery in Spiti. The entire complex is located on the slope of a hill and the monastery’s garrisoned architecture still bears stark testimony of the Mongols’ attacks in the region.
As late as the 19th century, Ki was attacked during the Kullu-Ladakh, the Dogra and Sikh wars. Ki is a vibrant centre of Buddhist cultural tradition and its elaborate du-khang was rebuilt after the original was destroyed in the earthquake of 1975.
India’s oldest functioning monastery is Tabo Gompa which is 47 kms from Kaza. An architectural illustration of the concept of the Mandala. The monastery celebrated its 1000th Anniversary in 1996 when the Dalai Lama performed the Kala Chakra there.
The gompa known as the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’ holds some of the finest mural painting treasures in its dimly-lit interiors. Sharp lines, earthy colours and distinct Indian features are the characteristics of the paintings.
The du-khang is elaborately decorated, with its walls divided into 3 tiers where the life of Buddha is depicted on the lowermost tier, followed with 32 stucco images on pedestals in the middle tier, and 3 rows of Boddhisattvas on the uppermost tier.
The Tabo Gompa is the largest monastery complex of this Buddhist religion and has been declared as a protected monument. Built by Ringchen Zangpo, it is the most important monastery In Spiti and is rumoured as the place where the current Dalai Lama will retire. Its sculptures, stucco images and wall paintings are similar to the Ajanta-Ellora paintings and are situated at an attitude of 3050 meters.
From a distance the Dhankar Gompa stands out because of the solidity of its construction and this led the 19th century traveler, Trebeck, to refer to it as a ‘cold fort’. Dhankar which means ‘Palace on a Cliff’ was once the capital of Spiti and this gompa has been enlisted as one of the Endangered Monuments in the World.
The Dhankar Gompa was built nearly 1200 years ago and was also used as a jail at one time. Situated at an altitude of 3870 meters, there is also a lake, an hour’s trek away from the monastery.
The Tangyud Gompa at Komic at an elevation of 4587 meters is one of the highest villages in the world. The monastery is over 500 years old and has about 50 monks in residence. As a monastery built between two mountains, one shaped like a snow lion and the other like a decapitated eagle. The space between the mountains according to the legend would resemble the eye of a snow cock and this is where the name Komic is derived from – ko means snow cock and mic, eye.
From the Nymgya sect, Kungri Monastery was built around 1330 A.D and is high up on a hill overlooking the Pin river. Like Ki monastery, Kungri is famous for its annual Cham Dance. The Cham dance is a tantric dance where monks where costumes and dance on traditional drums beats. This dance is considered as an act of meditation and people come from far away to watch this.
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