Monasteries are said to be the abodes of peace and harmony, and a visit to one is undeniably a soothing experience. Since Buddhism is said to have originated in North East India, it’s obvious that most of the country’s significant monasteries are situated in that region. When a trip to Jammu & Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh is being planned, you should definitely drop by some of these stunning abbeys which are often nestled amidst snow-capped mountain ranges. Monasteries often propagate the life and philosophical principles of the Buddha, besides promoting healthy debates relating to the same. They also welcome visitors, both local and international, who tend to leave with broadened perspectives and life-changing experiences.
Here we list 17 breathtakingly beautiful monasteries in India that every traveler should visit at least once:
17 Awe-inspiring Monasteries in India
1. Hemis Monastery, Ladakh
Situated 44 km away from the Leh valley, the monastery is believed to have been built during the 11th century. It underwent renovation in 1672 during the kingship of Sengge Namgyal. Adjudged the largest (and wealthiest) monastery in the Ladakh area, Hemis monastery has a history associated with Naropa, a Buddhist Mahasiddha. The place lights up during the Hemis festival when the Buddhist community in the region dress up in ethnic-wear and partake in the proceedings. A major attraction at the festival is the ‘Mask Dance’.
2. Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh
The Thiksey Monastery is perched at an altitude of 11,800 feet above sea level, at a distance of 20 km away from Leh. A true architectural wonder, the monastery spans 12 levels and is painted in white. When you observe the monastery from a distance, it almost looks like a little town filled with white buildings. Constructed in the mid 15th century under the supervision of Palden Sangpo, the monastery has been segregated into various sections with a neat collection of Buddha idols, stupas, paintings and scriptures. Thiksey Monastery is also known for the 49 feet tall Maitreya Buddha which is the largest in all of Ladakh.
3. Tabo Monastery, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Positioned on the left bank of the Spiti River and above the village of Tabo, this is one of the oldest monasteries in the country. The foundation stone of the monastery was laid by Rinchen Zangpo in the year 996 A.D. A good part of the monastery (including its ceiling and walls) features paintings related to Buddhist culture. The monastery is also surrounded by a number of caves which are used as meditation spots by the resident monks.One amongst the 9 temples at Tabo monastery features the sacred ‘Wheel of Law’. It is also a prominent center for Buddhist learning.
4. Phuktal Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh
If you happen to go trekking in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, you might notice a cluster of wood-and-mud huts constructed along the lines of a honeycomb. Since it stands on the mouth of a cave, it received the name ‘Phuktal’. You need to cross over a suspension bridge to get to the monastery. The views en route are picturesque – so you better be carrying your DSLRs. Founded in the 12th century by Gangsem Sherap Sampo, the monastery comprises a library and numerous prayer halls. About 70 monks reside here.
5. Enchey Monastery, Gangtok, Sikkim
Located on the Kanchenjunga mountain range, the Enchey Monastery is set amidst a pine forest. Said to be established by Lama Druptob Karpo a Buddhist sage (who supposedly mastered the skill of ‘flying’), the construction work was completed by 1901. Home to nearly 90 monks, the pleasing scenery and exuberant architecture are notable aspects of Enchey monastery. The ‘Chaam’ festival is conducted here on the 18th, 19th and 20th day of the Tibetan calendar signifying the harmony between various Buddhist communities.
6. Ghoom Monastery, Darjeeling, West Bengal
Just 6 km away from the heart of the hill-town of Darjeeling lies Ghoom Monastery which acts as a key learning center for Buddhist principles in the West Bengal region. Constructed in the year 1850 by Lama Sharap Gyatso, the monastery rests at a height of 7,470 feet above sea level and is one of the earliest in the region. The library here is a storehouse of Buddhist texts. A 15 feet tall Buddha statue adorned with gold and precious stones is a popular attraction at the monastery.
7. Mindrolling Monastery, Dehradun
Founded in 1676, the Mindrolling Monastery is situated in the Himalayan foothills and is one amongst the six monasteries coming under the direct supervision of the Nyingma School in Tibet. Rigzin Terdak Lingpa was responsible for setting up the Mindrolling monastery which is regarded as one of the biggest in India. Lessons pertaining to the Tibetan Lunar Calendar and ancient Tibetan remedies (for illnesses) are offered here. The 185 feet tall ‘Great Stupa’ situated here is a prime example of Buddhist architecture.
8. Tsuglagkhang Complex, Dharamshala
The official residence of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, the complex paints a beautiful picture of a large monastery located alongside towering pine trees in the forest area of Dharamshala. The simple, unsophisticated life of the Dalai Lama can be closely witnessed at the monastery. The complex also includes a museum known as ‘Namgyal Gompa’, and the Kalachakra temple which is utilized by the Dalai Lama to disseminate his teachings.
9. Tawang Monastery, Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh
Tawang Monastery, the largest monastery in India, is located at a height of 10,000 feet above sea level, near a mountain peak in Tawang valley. Boasting excellent views of the surrounding mountain ranges and evergreen forests, this is one monastery that beckons visitors all year round. The monastery at Tawang was established by Mera Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1681 and features splendid Buddhist infrastructure in the form of ornate Buddha statues, portraits, prayer rooms, and shrines. The library here houses a rare collection of books pertaining to Buddhism.
10. Kye Monastery, Spiti District, Himachal Pradesh
At a height of 13,668 feet above sea level, the largest monastery of Spiti Valley doubles as a Lama training center. Owing to repeated attacks from the Mongols besides a number of natural disasters, the place currently looks more like a fort and less like a monastery. The structure boasts Chinese influences in terms of its architecture. The temples here have been built one on top of the other and features exquisite Buddhist paintings and scriptures. The monastery celebrated its 1000th year of existence in the year 2000.
11. Namgyal Monastery, Dharamshala
The monastery, situated at Mcleodganj, plays a major role in assisting rituals that involve the Dalai Lama. In fact, some of its interiors have their entry restricted to his Holiness and his immediate disciples. It was founded by the third Dalai Lama and currently acts as a residence for over 200 monks from varied Buddhist sects. Prayers connected with the enhancement of Tibet are regularly conducted at Namgyal monastery. Around 150 students are schooled here.
12. Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim
One of the most frequented abbeys in the region, Rumtek Monastery was originally established in Tibet. During the early 1960s, it was moved to India. Rumtek Monastery soon became the hub of Karmapa controversy where two rival sects backed different candidates for determining its leader. Armed forces currently guard the monastery against sectarian attacks. In addition to the Dharmachakra Centre, relics and holy articles from the Tsurphu Monastery were moved to Rumtek. The Prayer Wheels here are sure to capture every visitor’s attention.
13. Diskit Monastery, Leh
Belonging to the ‘Gelugpa’ sect, the Diskit Gompa was established by Changzem Tserab Zangpo in the 14th century. The artwork on the wall and ceilings elucidate the significance of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. The monastery also offers an excellent vantage point to gaze at the Naruba Valley. The large 106 feet tall Jhampa Buddha statue which was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama, adds to its beauty. The ‘Festival of the Scapegoat’, which draws hordes of visitors, is marked by celebrations depicting the triumph of good over evil.
14. Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery, Coorg, Karnataka
Probably the only major Buddhist monastery in the southern part of India, the Namdroling Monastery is situated at Bylakuppe in the Mysore district of Karnataka. Founded by Pema Norbu Rinpoche, the monastery serves as a center for Buddhist learning. Additionally, the place also houses the Ngagyur Nyingma University which offers courses on philosophy, spirituality, and psychology. The eve of the Tibetan New Year sees a major influx of both monks and visitors. Namdroling Monastery currently hosts about 5000 lamas.
15. Gonjang Monastery, Sikkim
Situated near the Tashi View Point, the Gonjang Monastery founded by Tingkye Gonjang Rimpoche in 1981, is an important Buddhist educational center. Apart from religious teachings, classes for Tibetan and English are also conducted here. ‘Buddha Purnima’ which marks the birthday of Gautama Buddha, is celebrated with a number of ‘liberation’ rituals, and activities whereby one can spread happiness to others. Another occasion drawing massive crowds to the monastery is the ‘Nyingma International Peace Aspiration Prayer’ which usually takes places in the months of December and January.
16. Gandhola Monastery, Himachal Pradesh
Resting on a hill where the Bhaga and Chandra tributaries meet (and form the Chenab River), the Gandhola Monastery is believed to be have been established in the 8th century by Buddhist master Padmasambhava. Considered to have been part of a larger complex of structures, the monastery currently features wooden idols of well-known lamas such as Brijeshwari Devi, and Padmasambhava.
17. Palpung Sherabling Monastic Seat, Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Spread across a 30-acre pine forest, against the backdrop of the snowclad Himalayas, the Palpung Sherabling Monastic Seat comprises of 126 chambers (for the resident monks), 6 shrine rooms and 6 prayer halls. Although boasting modern amenities, ancient Buddhist culture is heavily reflected in the infrastructure. Featuring exquisite wood carvings and metalwork, the monastery has separate sections allotted for visitor-accommodation, religious research, and ritual training.
This list of 17 magnificent monasteries should get you all buzzed up about taking a trip to the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh or West Bengal. Regardless of whether you’re able to tick the entire list off, you should end up with busy schedules on your next long holiday. Do let us know how ‘spiritually enlightening’ your experiences turned out to be!