Cold Desert Mountain Valley – Spiti Valley and its monasteries

Located at an elevation of about 12500 feet above the sea level, this cold desert mountain valley attracts thousands of tourists every year. The name Spiti means ‘the Middle Land’ as it is situated between India and Tibet. It is bordered on all sides by the Himalayas and receives around 250 days of sunshine only in the whole year which makes Spiti as one of the coldest places in the country. It is the second least populated district as it is extremely difficult during winter season. The valley completely remains isolated, cut off from the rest of the country for almost 6 months of a year. It stays closed via all routes due to the thick snow covers all on the roads.

Spiti valley inhibits several hidden treasures. It is much famed for its ancient monasteries and without visiting them the journey to spiti is considered incomplete. The oldest and the ancient monasteries in the world, nestled with fascinating views, reflects the ancient spiritual religion. Being the land between India and Tibet, the local culture reflects both the Indian as well as Tibetan style.

There are 5 main Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Spiti Valley:

Key Monastery:

Located at an altitude of 13500 feet above the sea level is the ancient Key Monastery in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh. It is 12kms away from Kaza where its headquarters is situated. The best time to visit here is from May to October as the way from Rohtang pass gets difficult and remains closed during rest of the months.

Key Monastery

The famous Tibetan Monastery is about thousand-year-old and was founded in the 11th century by Drompton, a pupil of the famous teacher Atisha. It is the largest monastery in Spiti valley. Many lamas, nuns and monks reside here and receive their religious education since ancient times hence it is the oldest training center and biggest center of Buddhist learning.

The fort like structure of Key monastery with Pasada style of architecture has an awesome scenery with glaciers and snow-capped mountains. The monastery comprises of three floors of which underground space is for storage, ground level with rooms for monks to reside and the assembly hall. The walls are decorated with Tangyur paintings, murals, thangkas and with a wide collection of unique wind instrument.

The key monastery has a history of attacks, loot by the Mongols and various armies, fire that broke out, earthquakes in the past but all these things could not steal the charm and beauty of the monastery. The frequent reconstruction and renovations helped it out to preserve the ancient culture. There is a collection of weapons which may have been used for defense in the monastery. Another interesting aspect which attracts all is the Chham dance enacted during the festival celebrated in the months of summer.

Tabo Monastery:

Tabo Monastery is located in the Tabo village about 46kms from Kaza on the barren, snow covered, cold desert at an altitude of 3050meters above the sea level in the Lahaul and Spiti Valley. This monastery was established more than a millennium back in 996 A.D, in the year of the Fire Ape by the King of the western Himalayan Kingdom of Guge, the great teacher Lotsawa Rinchen Tsang Po.

Tabo Gompa

This historic treasure is a heaven in its own sense. It has preserved the Buddhist legacy, traditions, culture of Buddhism. The Tabo Monastery is a huge complex which includes 9 temples, 23 chortens, a monk’s chamber and houses for nun’s chamber. This temple complex is looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India after its declaration as a National historic treasure of India. The temples house many valuable collections of manuscripts, thangkas, statues in stuccos frescos and murals depicting tales from the Mahayana Buddhist Pantheon.

There are series of caves on the cliff where the monks reside and assembly hall above the monastery enclave. The walls of assembly hall are decorated with 36 life size clay statues and a fourfold figure of Vairocana adds to the beauty of this monastery. Each corner of the walls is covered with cave paintings that depict the life of Buddha and are amazingly preserved in great condition. To have a glimpse of such fine art many tourists visit here.

Dhankar Gompa:

This official capital of Spiti is situated at 32 kms downstream from Kaza between the rocky spurs at the top of the cliff. At an elevation of 3800 meter in the Spiti valley lies this 1000 year old Buddhist temple in the Dhankar village. The old fort monastery on the cliff is reachable by a motorable road good only for small vehicles. The new monastery lies below the old one in the small village of Shichilling which houses the monks.


The complex includes number of multi storey buildings with 5 different halls. It is built at 300 meters high on the top of a hill surrounded by mountain that can be easily reached by visitors. The prime attractions are the statue of Vairocana or Dhayan Buddha with four figures seated back to back, Buddhist thangkas, Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti language, murals of Medicine Buddha, protector deities. The must visit spot is the Lhakhang Gompa situated on the uppermost peak. This beautiful photogenic monastery every year attracts many tourists.

Kungri monastery:

Spiti’s second oldest monastery Kungri is located in the Pin Valley around 10km from Attargo which is 12km from Spiti. To reach this beautiful monastery one has to cross the stunning Spiti River to reach the Pin valley. The gompa holds the distinction of being the only gompa following the Nyingmapa Buddhism in the valley. Nyingmapa is the most ancient order of Tibetan Buddhism making it a unique place to visit.

Built around 1330 AD, the architecture is very different from others gompa. The complex consists of three separate rectangular blocks, all facing east direction. The interior walls of this gompa has gorgeous silk paintings of Buddhist deities, huge statues, idols, images and over 300 volumes of sacred Tibetan texts of Kenjur and Tenjur kept preserved carefully in white muslin cloth.

It is a frequently visited destination for Buddhist scholars, pilgrims, tourist across the world. Kungri recently gained a lot of public attention after receiving huge amount of foreign aid for its renovation work. Another attraction from which one cannot take their eyes off is the Devil dance which is performed in the month of June- July. The sword dance also stole the hearts of many tourist.

If you plan on visiting Spiti Valley, you can do so via Manali. You can book your stay at Princess Villa and make your travel plans for Spiti Valley.

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