Spiti Valley, lying across the Trans-Himalayas, is nothing like your quintessential Himalayan beauty. It isn’t home to gurgling streams, sweeping forests and lush green meadows; instead, it is replete with barren hills, heavily inhabited villages and gorgeous monasteries dramatically perched on the landscape. Here are the top monasteries you must explore on your visit to Spiti:
The 11th-century Key Monastery, built in the Pasada style of architecture, is one of the biggest centres of Buddhist learning and the oldest training centre for Lamas in Spiti Valley. Located at a height of 13,668 feet above sea level, the monastery is spread over three floors. The highlight of the monastery are the ancient murals, rare thangkas and weapons.
Since Key Monastery has been rebuilt several times, it appears more like a fortress with certain parts of the structure having been stacked haphazardly. However, the view of the landscape from here is absolutely stunning. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and glaciers, the valley looks breathtaking.
Strategically built at the highest point in Spiti Valley, Dhankar Monastery offers the most stunning panoramic view of the surrounds. Built in the 7th-century, Dhankar is situated at the confluence of Spiti and Pin rivers. The statue of the Meditating Buddha that sits in the centre of the monastery is worth seeing, as are the murals, thangkas and Buddhist scriptures.
About 2.5km from the monastery, a visit to the Dhankar Lake surrounded by glacier mountains is highly recommended. Especially, if you’re a trekking enthusiast. Pin Valley National Park, about 26km away, and home to the rare ibex and snow leopard, is also worth exploring.
Often referred as the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’, Tabo Monastery is perched at an altitude of 10,007 feet in Spiti. Spread over 6,300 square metres, the monastery is home to nine temples and gompas. The monastery is known for its stucco sculptures carved on the walls just like in Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra.
This 10th-century monastery also houses some gorgeous thangkas, murals, statues and paintings that depict the culture and history of the Himalayan Region. What sets Tabo apart from other monasteries is the fact that it allows travellers to stay within its walls and get a firsthand experience of life at the monastery.
Also known as the Golden Temple, Lhalung Monastery literally means the ‘Land of the Gods.’ It has the distinction of being one of the earliest monasteries to be founded in Himachal Pradesh. The temple was founded by Rinchen Zangpo, who ruled the western Himalaya such as Zanskar, Guge, Spiti and Kinnaur during the late 10th-century.
Legend goes that the mountain on which this monastery is situated changes colour from time to time, keeping in sync with the god’s mood; for example, red means anger and yellow means joy. The highlight of the monastery are the various gold leaf deities kept in its shrine as well as the beautifully adorned walls with images of more than 50 deities.