The biggest centre of Buddhist learning in Spiti Valley, Key Monastery is over 1000-year-old. It is the oldest training centre for Lamas. It is located at a height of 13,668 feet above mean sea level in Lahaul Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India.
Founded by Dromton, a famous disciple of teacher Atisha in the 11th century, the monastery used to house about 350 lamas at one time. The number of inmates at the monastery has come down.
The monastery is famous for its architecture called Pasada style. Pasada style is characterised by two or more stories and often plays the role of a fort-monastery. The monastery is spread over three floors – underground, ground and first floor. Underground is mainly utilized for storage; ground floor is used as assembly hall, called Du-Khang. The ground floor also has small rooms for monks.
The rooms with murals called Tangyur is a must see. The monastery is known for its ancient murals, rare thangkas and ancient weapons. The images of Gautam Buddha in dhyana (meditation) position are a must see. The monastery also has a sizeable collection of musical instruments like trumpets, cymbals and drums.
Key Monastery was destroyed by invaders and rebuilt several times. In 1840 it caught fire and in 1975, it suffered extensive damage due to an earthquake. Having been rebuilt several times, temples and other buildings appear to have been stacked haphazardly. The monastery appears like a fortress.
Key Gompa, belongs to the Gelugpa sect also called the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Key is among the three monasteries of the Gelugpa sect in Spiti valley, the other being Tabo and Drangtse Monastery. In 2000, the Kalachakra ceremony was held at the monastery in the presence of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. Over 1500 lamas attended the ceremony.
The scenic landscape which forms the backdrop for Key Monastery is also a factor in the large number of tourists making a beeline for the remote monastery. Surrounded by snow capped mountains and glaciers, the beauty of the valley is breathtaking. The route to Key Monastery is also beautiful.
The culture of Key, like the rest of Spiti, closely resembles that of Tibet. It is hardly surprising then that the whole of Spiti is known as Little Tibet. Chham (mask dance) by monks are very popular and an integral part of festivities. The themes of the dance emphasize the victory of good over evil.
Some of the scenes of Bollywood movie Paap, starring John Abraham and Udita Goswami, were shot at Key Monastery.
There are no accommodation options at the monastery. Tourists who visit the monastery, prefer to stay at Kaza. Kaza offers a wide range in terms of hotels, resorts and homestays.
There are no restaurants or eateries at the Key Monastery. It is advisable to carry food while visiting the monastery. The monks at the monastery serve tea to all visitors.
Best time for visiting Key Monastery is during summer, from May to October. From October end, Rohtang Pass remains closed due to snow fall.