Monasteries are holistic structures of religious significance. In the case of Buddhist monasteries, they serve not only as places of worship but also places of instruction about the teachings of Lord Buddha and the way of life practiced by Buddhists. Thus, when you walk into a monastery, you are quite likely to see monks of all ages there, from the old and wise aged monks to even the young child monks who smile shyly at you. Of course, India’s relationship with Buddhism goes way back but when the Indian government opened its doors for Tibetan Buddhist exiles to seek recourse, its modern-day presence came further to the limelight. This is because while a number of monasteries were built in ancient years in India, even more came to be built from this time. Interestingly, the presence of Buddhist monasteries is mostly seen in hilly regions. Maybe it was because they deemed such areas to be more peaceful and calmer for continuing with their faith and its practice. Now that I cannot say for sure. But the establishment of monasteries in such regions has led to a number of them being exceedingly scenic. Here’s a look at some of the most beautiful Buddhist monasteries found in India:
Tabo Monastery, Lahaul Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
Year of establishment: 996 AD
How to reach: Fly down to Bhuntar or alternatively, fly down to Delhi and then take a bus till Manali. From Manali, travel by road to enter Spiti Valley and head to Tabo.
Best time to visit: May to October
When I took a group to this monastery, I told them the year in which it was established. Thinking that my tongue had slipped, a boy from the group asked, “1996, right?”. I smiled and repeated 996 AD. So, yes, when you enter Tabo monastery take a moment to just let it sink in, that it has been around for so long, stare at its rustic mud walls and think how long they have been around for, walk through its gompas and let your mind feel at ease simply by being there. Yeshe O’d was a Buddhist king and lama who had set up this monastery back in 996 and approximately 46 years later his grandnephew had it renovated. Beyond its history, its beauty is intensified by the surroundings where it exists. Unlike other regions, here in Spiti, your eyes are amazed by brown hills of the cold desert, carved like an artwork. There underneath the blue sky stands this monastery.
Thiksey Monastery, Leh, Ladakh
Year of establishment: 1,433 AD
How to reach: Fly down to Leh directly or fly to Srinagar and then travel by road till Leh. From Leh you can take a bus from Choglamsar or a direct taxi till the monastery.
Best time to visit: June to August
This mighty monastery was built in the stunning landscape of Ladakh. While wanting to build a more formidable monastery, they were performing a ritual during which they threw torma but without realizing they threw it into the valley and the crows flew away with it too. When the monks and disciples started to search for it, they found the offering material laying upon a stone. It was that same location where they built the monastery! Located upon a hilly rock, this monastery looks back at mountainous landscapes. This monastery is one of the foremost ones where rituals of the Buddhist faith are practiced till date, that too in an elaborate manner.
Palpung Sherabling Monastic Seat, Bir, Himachal Pradesh
Year of establishment: 1975
How to reach: Fly down to Delhi and then take a bus directly from Delhi to Bir.
Best time to visit: March to June, mid-September to November
In the gorgeously green lands of Bir, a row of forests run wild and gradually open up to a huge monastery standing in its full height and splendour. This huge monastery is standing amidst an environment of green and a pleasant air. This is one of the biggest Buddhist institutes in India. The gompas outside are painted bright white with a splash of colours. At this monastery, you will have a chance to interact with monks to get a true sense of their life. You will see them playing football, pulling each other’s legs or just as well, be deep in meditation.
Tawang Monastery, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
Year of establishment: 1860
How to reach: Fly down to Guwahati and travel by road to Tawang. As it’s a long travel by road, an overnight halt in between is better, a suggested option would be Dirang.
Best time to visit: April to June, September and October
Having stood for nearly one and a half centuries is the enthralling Tawang Monastery. It is one of the prettiest monasteries that you can see as it stands on a hill which gazes below at carpets of trees, shrubs and meadows below. This is made even more beautiful with the mist and clouds draping the monastery. Within the monastery there is also a museum where you can go explore the pages of Buddhist history in Arunachal Pradesh over there. Walk around the monastery complex, to gaze its ancient structures, its culture and pay your respects within the monastery.
Key or Kye Monastery, Lahaul Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
Year of establishment: 11th century
How to reach: Fly down to Bhuntar or alternatively, fly down to Delhi and then take a bus till Manali. From Manali, travel by road to enter Spiti Valley and head to Key monastery.
Best time to visit: May to October
Another monastery from the ancient ages is the Key monastery. It’s a structure made up of multiple tiny structures standing on top of each other. The tiny rooms have meditation rooms wherein you can meditate too! When in Spiti, why not give it a shot? Walk below to gaze back at the monastery and be left stunned by its sight. The white and red building stands between a sea of sand and peaks in a cold desert, looking otherworldly in itself.
Which of these monasteries have you seen? And which one are you dying to see as soon as possible?!