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Visitor No: 461580

in Spiti Valley

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Last Updated On: 22/09/2015  
Monasteries in Spiti Valley
  Tabo   Dhankar
Kye   Tnagyud
Kungri Kibber

Key Monastery

Overlooking Kaza from a height of about 13,500 ft, the Kye monastery is the largest in the valley and holds a powerful sway over the most populous part of the valley around Kaza. The gompa is an irregular heap of low rooms and narrow corridors on a monolithic conical hill. From a distance is resembles the Thiksey monastery near Leh in Ladakh. The irregular prayer chambers are interconnected by dark passages, tortuous s

taircases and small doors.
Hundreds of lamas receive their religious training in the monastery. It is also known for its beautiful murals, thankas, rare manuscripts, stucco images and peculiar wind instruments that form part of the orchestra whenever Chham is enacted in the gompa in summer. Another interesting aspect of the gompa is its collection of weapons which may have been used to ward off marauders as also to maintain its control over people betraying a church-militant character.

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Thousands of devotees from all over the world were attended the Kalachakra ceremony which was performed in August, 2000 by His Holiness Dalai Lama.Kalachakra initiation (Skt. Abhisheka, Tibetan Wang) is not just an elaborate puja or a religious congregation. It is a workshop in a grand scale to make an earnest effort by both the teacher and disciples to awaken their Buddha nature by the combined forces of teaching, prayer, blessing, devotion, mantra, yoga and meditation. It is an effort by every participant to try to discover the true and permanent peace for the sake of all others. The Buddhists believe mere presence during this elaborate initiation ceremony stretching over a few days, liberates the participant from suffering and bestows on him the bliss of Enlightenment.
The ceremony focuses on five main subjects - cosmology, psycho-physiology, initiation, sadhana and Buddhahood. A Kalachakra mandala a

nd Viswatma deitiy in union with his consort are at the centre of this ceremony guiding the disciple through the tedious process of initiation.
The gompa is approached by road from Kaza (only 12 km). However, it is only 8.5 kms trek from Kaza.


Tnagyud Gompa

Near Comic village is the renowned Tangyud gompa. Built around the early decades of the 14th c, the gompa belongs to the Sa-kya-pa sect and is of historical importance. It is recorded that a team of Buddhist scholars of the gompa accomplished the task of revision of Tang-rGyud - the Tantra treatises which in 87 volumes form one class of Tibetan scriptures. The 

lamas of this gompa are supposed to be proficient in tantra. This gompa was earlier near Hilkkim village which was brought down in the earthquake of 1975. The villagers then shifted this gompa to its present site. Some remains of the monastery can still be seen near Hilkkim.
Kaza to Langza by road is about 9 kms. From Langza one has to walk to Hikkim - Tangyut Comic, which is another 8 kms. From Comic to Kaza is a trek of about 6 kms. It is a circular trek which can be adjusted according to one’s own convenience.

  Kungri Gompa

Spiti’s second oldest monastery is located in the Pin valley. The Kungri gompa built around 1330 AD recently acquired public attention after it received large foreign donations for its renovation. Kungri provides unmistakable evidence of tantric cult as practised in Buddhism. Kungri gompa is the main centre of the Nyingma-pa sect in Spiti. The gompa consists of three detatched rectangular blocks facing east.

The curious looking buzhens perform a sword dance and are perhaps the only branch of Buddhism in which use of weapons is practised. Some of the buzhens live in Mud village on the right bank of the Pin    river. It is a chance encounter with buzhens as these lamas are    wandering friars. Most of the Pin valley has been demarcated as the Pin Valley National Park which is the natural habitat of the snow leopard and Himalayan ibex.
There is a PWD rest house at Sagnam. Some more accommodation is also being added. Must carry own tents and camping gear. Tracks from this valley lead to Kullu over Pin Parbati pass and Kinnaur over Bhaba pass.


On the left bank of the Spiti river at a distance of 32 kms downstream from Kaza, near Shichling at an altitude of 3870 m, nestles the citadel of Dhankar, the official capital of Spiti. The citadel is built on a spur which projects into the main valley and ends in a precipice. The location of this fort is strategic as Spiti always had to suffer innumerable aggressions by its neighbors. The location allowed the Spitian to keep vigil on the approaches and to submit messages to surrounding inhabitations in case of danger. Whenever the Spitians were attacked, they built huge fires to sig

nal meeting in the safe sanctuary of rocks, i.e., Dhankars. In the meeting all men and women decided the course of action to be taken against the aggressors.

According to the State Gazetteer, "(The fort) became notorious for housing a cavernous dungeon which the Nono used as prison. It contained a cell without doors having only a small opening at the top through which the condemned person was lowered and received his meals."
The fort of Dhankar now lies in ruins, but still is a place worthy of visit. From the remnants of the fort one can see vast expanses of the Spiti valley.

Dhankar is also of art historical    importance. Founded between 7th and the 9th centuries, Dhankar’s old temple complex occupies the southern part of the steep mountain slope of the village. It is known by the name of Lha-O-pa Gompa (monastery of the followers of Lha-O).
The monastery consists of a number of multi-storeyed buildings perched together, giving a fortress like impression. There are five different halls including Kanjur, Lhakhang, and Dukhang where a life size silver statue of Vajradhara, the Diamond Being, is placed in a glass altar embellished with scarves and flowers.
Most interesting at the Lha-O-pa gompa is the small chapel on the uppermost peak above the main monastery - Lhakhang Gongma. The building is decorated with depictions of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa and Lama Chodrag on the central wall Dhankar’s main attraction, although least publicised, is a fresh water lake about 2.5 km from the village at a height of 13500 ft. Set amidst lush green pastures, the lake offers a perfect idyllic camping site. Some boating facilities are proposed to be introduced in the near future. Under the Desert Development Project of Spiti the common carp variety of fish has been introduced in this lake. No angling is, however, allowed in the lake.
Dhankar is approachable by a motorable road, good for small vehicle

s only, that branches off for Dhankar from the main Kaza - Samdu road at a point around 24 kms from Kaza. The branch road is 8 kms in length upto Dhankar.

There is no rest house in the village. If you plan to halt for night, do carry tents, sleeping bags and other provisions.


Kibber is located at a height of about 14,200 ft in a narrow valley on the summit of a limestone rock. It is only 16 kms from Kaza and a bus service plies between these two places in summer. Kibber is a rather pleasan

t village with plenty of cultivation. The moment you get down from the bus you are greeted by lush green fields which look strikingly refreshing against the arid backdrop of lofty hills.

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There are only 80 houses in the village. The remarkable feature about the architecture is the use of stone instead of mud or adobe brick used extensively in the valley. There are a civil dispensary, a high school, a post office, a telegraph office and a community TV set in the village. There is a monastery in Kibber which is named after Serkang Rimpochhe of Tabo. The lama breathed his last in Kibber in 1983 and when he was being cremated a water source erupted from that spot. Even today the source is being used by the villagers. There is a traditional trade route from Kibber to Ladakh over Parang La. The Spitians go to Ladakh to barter their horses for yaks or to sell for cash. The trek to Ladakh takes minimum 3 night halts. Permits are required for this trek.

TABO-The Ajanta of the Himalayas
Tabo an ancient village is about 46 Kms from Kaza, on the left bank of the Piti river at an altitude of 10004 feet. The biggest attraction of this village, for that matter of the whole valley, is the Tabo monastery, called Chogs-hkhor (’doctrinal circle’ or ’doctrinal enclave’) is a complex that holds nine temples, 23 chortens, a monks’ chamber and an extension that houses the nuns chamber. On the sheer cliff-face above the enclave are a series of caves which were used as dwellings by the monks and includes an ’assembly hall’. Faint traces of the paintings that once embellished the rock face can be disce

rned. Even today, Tabo holds the distinction of being the largest monastic complex in Spiti. Constructed in 996 AD, Tabo was the brainchild of the great translator and teacher, Rinchensang Po.    Tabo is famous for its exquisite murals and stucco sculptures which bear a striking resemblance with the paintings and sculpture in the Ajanta caves. This is why Tabo has acquired the tide of Himalayan Ajanta.  According to His Holiness Dalai Lama, "The most important is Tabo, noted for its exquisite quality of paintings and stucco images that adorn its walls. These works of art delightfully express the vigour of the transmission of Buddhism from india to Tibet and the dynamic mingling of cultures". Tabo monastery is one of the most famous Buddhist monasteries regarded by a large number of followers as only next to the Tholing gompa of Tibet. Tabo is the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monastery in India and the Himalayas with its original decoration and iconographic program intact. Tabo monastery contains the largest number and the best preserved group of Buddhist monuments in Himachal Pradesh. The nine chapels, four decorated stupas, and cave shrines contain paintings datable to the 10-11th c. (Main Temple), 13th-14th c. (Stupas), and 15-20th c. (all other chapels). Except for the main Temple and the painted interior of the stupas, all other extant paintings are attributable to periods following the Gelugpa ascendancy.

A thousand years ago Tabo served as a meeting place between two cultures, which is graphically represented in the art. Indian pundits and Tibeta

n scholars came to Tabo to learn Tibetan and Indian Buddhist works respectively. This interaction germinated    the seeds of a new art statement best defined as Indo-Tibetan.

Tabo was a royal monastery, founded and renovated by two of the most famous royal lamas of the distinguished line of kings of Purang-Guge in Tibet. The Renovation Inscription of the monastery tells the temple was founded by the Bodhisattva (the royal Ye-she-O) and renovated 46 years later by his grandnephew. But tradition attributes Tabo’s founding to the Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo. According to an inscription on one of the walls, the monastery was founded in AD 996.The temples of the complex are :
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The Temple of the Enlightened Gods (gTsug Lha-khang) -
 This is also known as the Assembly Hall (du-khang) and forms the core of the complex. It houses a vestibule, an assembly hall and a sanctum. The central figure in the assembly hall is the four fold Vairocana. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is regarded as one of the five spiritual sons of the Adibuddha, who was the self-creative primordial Buddha. He is portrayed here in a posture "turning the wheel of law". On brackets arrayed along the walls and with stylised flaming circles around them, are life size stucco images of what are commonly known as the Vajradhatu Mandala. These images number thirty three in all, and are the other deities of the pantheon. With five Bodhisattvas of the Good Age placed within, the sanctum is immediately behind the assembly hall. The walls around the stuccoes are elaborately adorned with wall paintings that depict the life of the Buddha

The Golden Temple (gSer -Khang) - Once believed to hav been layered with gold, this shrine was exhaustively renovated in the 16th century by Senge Namgyal, ruler of Ladakh. The walls and ceiling are covered with murals. 

The Mystic Mandala Temple or Initiation Temple (dKyil-hKhor-khang) - The wall facing the door is embellished by a massive painting of Vairocana, who is surrounded by the eight Bodhisattvas. Mystic mandalas cover the other areas. It is here, that the initiation    to monkhood takes place.

The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple (Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang) - This shrine houses the image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya that is more than six meters high. The temple has a hall, vestibule and sanctum. The array of murals within, also depict the monastery of Tashi-Chunpo and Lhasa’s Potala palace.

The Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha-khang) - The temple lies on the northern edge of the complex and is said to have been founded by Dromton (1008-1064 AD), an important disciple of Atisha. The doorway is intricately carved and the inner walls are covered by murals.

The above shrines are said to be the earliest in the Tabo complex and the following are later additions.

The Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z’al-ma) - This is an ante room of sorts attached to ’the temple of enlightened gods’. It too is covered with paintings which are in the Tibetan style.

The Large Temple of Drom ton (Brom-ston Lha-khang) - The second largest temple in the complex, this has a floor area of over seventy square meters, while the portico and niche add another forty two square meters. The front wall sports the figure of the Sakyamuni, flanked by Sariputra and Maha Maugdalayana. The other walls depict the eight Medicine Buddhas and Guardian Kings. The wooden planks of the ceiling are also painted.

The Mahakala Vajra-bhairava Temple (Gon-Khang) - This temple enshrines the protective deity of the Geluk-pa sect. Fierce deities people the room and it is only entered after protective meditation. Often it is also called known as ’the temple of horror’.

The White Temple (dKar-abyum Lha-khang) - The walls of this shrine are also intricately adorned leaving a low dado for the monks and nuns to lean against.

The monastery was originally built as a ’mandala’ centering around the assembly hall of the temple of the Enlightened Gods. The assembly hall itself is a vivid representation of the "Vajradhatu Mandala", with the four-fold Vairacana in dharmachakra pravartana pose sitting at the far end and flanked by 33 vajrayana deities.
The sanctum sanctorum houses Amitaprabha on a lion, with Ramapani on the right and Mahasthanaprata on the left. The change of mount from peacock to lion is significant and deliberate as it signified the elevation of Pratyeka Buddha to Bodhisattva by meditation on the Vajradhatu mandala.

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