1. Phuktal Monastery, Zanskar, Jammu & Kashmir
A few hours of drive from Padum, the biggest town in Zanskar, brought us to the “end of the road”. After this, a compulsory walk of several hours (5 for the locals, we took a little less than 8 hours) through high mountain passes of the Greater Himalayas lead to the Phuktal monastery.
The Phuktal monastery is the epitome of monks living high up in the mountains, detached from the rest of the world.
All of this made the trek to the Phuktal monastery not just offbeat but also an exciting adventure.
Best Attraction: The best part about the Phuktal Monastery is the fact that it is located at the mouth of a cave and at the side of a cliff.
Best time to visit Phuktal Monastery: Mid July to September
How to reach Phuktal Monastery: It is a 2.5 days trek from Padum – Rera – Pepula – Purne – Phuktal.
2. Mindrolling Monastery, Dehradun
The region around Dehra Dun is home to a thriving Tibetan Buddhist community, mainly focused on this monastery, about 10km south of the centre in Clement Town. Everything here is on a grand scale: at over 60m tall its Great Stupa is believed to be the world’s tallest stupa and contains a series of shrine rooms displaying relics, murals and Tibetan art. Presiding over the monastery is the impressive 35m-high gold Sakyamuni Buddha Statue , dedicated to the Dalai Lama.
Best attraction: Tibetan Cafes lining the Grand Stupa serve sumptuous food
How to reach Mindrolling Monastery: The Jolly Grant Airport is the nearest airport here and the Dehradun Railway Station is the nearest railway station. Buses and autos run regularly from the airport and railway station.
3. Tsuglagkhang Complex, Dharamshala
Nestled among pine forests, the Tsuglagkhang Complex is a Buddhist monastery in Dharamsala that also serves as the official residence of the Dalai Lama. The famous Dalai Lama temple magnifies the sense of harmony and keep you at peace while you hum ‘Om Mani Padme’ rolling the prayer wheels. It is a must visit for serenity, that patronizes and preserves Tibetan culture.
Best attraction: Enjoy a cup of coffee at the cafe in the complex while reading a book from the bookstore here.
Best time to visit Tsuglagkhang Complex: November to March
How to reach Tsuglagkhang Complex: You can reach Dharamshala via airport, train, or bus. Once you get there, you can take a bus or taxi to Mcleodganj and travel to Tsuglagkhang Monastery.
Timings at Tsuglagkhang Complex: 10 am to 6 pm
4. Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh
The structural design of the Thiksey Monastery Leh strongly resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the former official seat of the Dalai Lamas. Apart from visiting monastery one can also find some rare and precious stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings and swords in the monastery. Due to its proximity to Leh the morning prayer at the monastery attracts huge crowds. The monastery offers clear view of the Indus Valley and some monastery like Shey, Stok and Matho can also be seen from here. Festivals celebration is another major attraction for the tourists, locals and Buddhists in Thiksey Monastery.
Best Attraction: The 49 feet statue of Maitreya Buddha that covers two storeys is the key attraction of this monastery.
Best time to visit Thiksey Monastery: During annual festival in August- September
How to reach Thiksey Monastery: The closest airport to Thiksey Monastery is the Leh airport. Jet Airways and Alliance flights operate connecting flights to Leh from destinations like Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar and Jammu. If you are travelling by rail, the closest railhead lies at Jammu Tawi.
5. Hemis Monastery, Ladakh
47 Km from Leh on the west bank of the Indus, the monastery belongs to Dugpa Kargyutpa order, built on a green hillside surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, is hidden in a gorge. Sacred mask dance is performed on 9th, and 10th, day of the Tibetan 5th, month of Tibetan calendar. The Hemis Festival is the most important event in this monastery. Once in twelve years, during the Monkey Year, the year of the birth of Padmasambhava repeats itself, the Thangka in the monastery is opened for the visitors and tourists. The Thangka is the oldest in the Ladakh region, almost two stories in length, studded with pearls and semi-precious stones.
Best Attraction: It is the biggest and richest monastery in Ladakh and is must see for visitors.
Best time to visit Hemis Monastery: June to July
How to reach Hemis Monastery: The closest airport to this monastery is the Leh airport and the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport. By road, you can choose to take route via Manali or Srinagar which is more scenic.
6. Diskit Monastery, Leh
Diskit Monastery, also known as Deskit monastery is not only the oldest but also the largest Buddhist Gompa in the Nubra Valley, Ladakh. The prayer hall of the monastery consists of a statue of Maitreya Buddha, various images of other guardian gods as well as huge drum. This monastery is of the Gelugpa sect (Yellow Hat) of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, during the 14th century. The monastery’s cupola is same as the Tashilhunpo Monastery of Tibet.
Best Attraction: Every year this monastery plays host to the popular Dosmoche festival, held during the month of February, which is a famous tourist attraction.
Best time to visit Diskit Monastery: February
How to reach Diskit Monastery: There are buses to/from Leh that connect Diskit but you can also take shared taxis to/from Leh.
7. Key Monastery, Lahaul-Spiti
The spectacular monastery is located at an height of 4116m and 7 km from Kaza. It is the largest monastery in Spiti Valley. Established in the 11th century has ancient Buddhist scrolls and paintings. It also houses large number of Buddhist monks and nuns and a cafeteria. In the architectural definitions given to various monasteries, Ki falls in the ‘Pasada’ style which is characterised by more stories than one and often plays the role of a fort-monastery.
Key highlights at Key Monastery: The golden glow from the earthen lamps at this monastery will put you into a meditative trance.
Best time to visit Key Monastery: May to October
How to reach Key Monastery: The nearest town to Key Monastery is Kaza. You can travel to Kaza via Manali across the Rohtang Pass and via Shimla. The closest airport is Jubbarhatti Airport in Shimla.
8. Tabo , Spiti valley
“Ajanta of the Himalayas”, as the Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery is popularly known, was founded more than a millennium back in 996 A.D.
It stands on the barren, arid, snow covered, cold and rocky desert of the Tabo valley at a dizzying height of 3050 m. Untouched by the tribulations of humanity, a heaven in its own sense, it has preserved the glorious heritage, traditions and culture of Buddhism through the passage of centuries, withholding its institution with utter purity.
Best Attraction: The lamas still perform tantric rites in the temples. They perform most of their morning ‘poojas’, and also live in the ‘new’ temple. Chanting starts at 6 a.m. sharp.
Best time to visit Tabo: May to October
How to reach Tabo: If you are travelling by air, the closest airport is the Jubbarhatti Airport in Shimla. By road, you can choose to take route via Manali or Kinnaur which is more scenic.
Immerse yourself in the peaceful atmosphere at the top 8 Buddhist monasteries in North India that showcase Buddhist aesthetics and exemplify architectural prowess. But most importantly, they are absolutely scenic spiritual retreats.
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