For those who are interested in Buddhism and its teachings, a visit to the Dhankar Monastery is a must. Situated on top of a hill above the village of Dhankar, this monastery has many caves for one to meditate in, a museum that houses Buddhist artifacts and a library as well. The Dhankar village lies on the confluence of the Rivers Spiti and Pin and has been labeled as an endangered sight out of 100 such places by the World Monument Funds.
Key Gompa/monastery: Key gompa is located at an altitude of 4116 metres on a rocky outcrop and provides a perfect view of the Spiti River snaking between the mountains. It is the largest gompa in Spiti and belongs to the Gelepu sect. It is situated between Kaza and Kibber with the Key village in close proximity. We arrived at 5.30pm and there was no bed left for stay. We requested and finally arranged beds to stay overnight. I decided to sleep in the terrace under the open sky, which will remain an unforgettable experience for me. We interacted with migrant workers from Odisha and Bihar who toil hard to keep the construction work going in this part of the country. The gompa has basic shared rooms with per bed cost of Rs 250 that includes food and tea. Do not expect fancy food and restroom facilities are basic. The stay is good for understanding the monastic life and to engage with monks on socio-political discussions.
Tashi Jong Khampagar Monastery
Tashi Jong, a serene and divine place, can be reached from Palampur. Tashi Jong Buddhist Monastery is situated about 15kms from Palampur. The monastery is located in Tashi Jong village, which is a small rural area. Home to the Drugpa Kagyu tradition of Buddhism, this monastery is one of the schools of Kagyu tradition. A beautiful & vibrant colored monastery, with a meditation hall, one just wants to sit there and enjoy the peace. One can find some Chinese food stuff there. The monastery complex houses the main temple, the stupa of Khamtrul Rinpoche, and the Yamantak Retreat Center which is restricted to the general public. Several manifestation of Buddha has also been placed in the monastery including the Buddha Shakyamuni. Tashi Jong is an excellent craft emporium, where Tibetan artifacts are available.
Spread across the vast valley in Lahaul and Spiti, the Nako Monastery is nestled in the tiny Nako village. One of the most scenic Buddhist monasteries in India, you must experience a stay inside the premises at least once in your lifetime. The monastery receives a considerate amount of footfall during the summer months but during winters the monastery remains fairly remote. Nako Lake freezes in the winters and converts to a haven for migratory birds in the summers. Nako hides treasures of ancient Buddhist practises with thangkas and clay made statues and figures of deities. If you are unable to find a room to stay in the monastery you can easily opt for a home stay in the village, the locals are always happy to help.Where: Spiti, Himachal
We hardly would have crossed 20 kms and we reached Kungri Monastery. Its exterior wasn't well built and that teaches us we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. The moment we entered in that monastery, I was transfixed. It was an amazing combination of tradition and modernization. Near the entrance, there was a gong and as you enter, you see large cupboards on walls filled with idol. Each cupboard covering 1/3rd of the wall and was filled with same kind of idols. It all appeared so symmetric; a satisfactory delight to eyes.We sat on one of the mattresses laid out, to observe the silence. Slowly monks started entering the Gompa, one by one sitting on the mattresses laid out in centre. When about 20 of them were assembled, they started praying. That prayer had power! All the monks were reciting prayers in perfect synchronization. It had a buzz that will touch your heart. It was so soulful. Quintessential!We, after 1 hr of seraphic devotion, got on our way, realizing that we are too small in this big world. And much smaller in front of nature.
After Langza, Komic is the highjest village of Asia and known mainly for the Tangyud Monastery. This is a quiet little farming village and is filled with simple people happy with their life and surroundings. The snow leopard is the main animal here and you will also be able to see a body of one hanging inside the Komic Monastery. The view of many peaks and roads from top of this road is lovely and a drive along this road is immensely adventurous.
What seems like a dull place from the exteriors is indeed a very beautiful place and one should pay a visit to Tabo. Located 40 kilometres from the Indo-Tibet border, this place is home to around 9 temples, shrines and holy caves and is extremely scared and popular among the Buddhist community. This place is said to be founded by the King Yeshe Od who belonged to the Purang Guge dynasty and is said to have hailed from West Tibet. Tabo was set up straight at the crossroads of two trade routes that were used during the ancient times. The place is deceptive and is a beauty to behold for those who take their chances and travel here.
Gadhan Thekchhokling Gompa Monastery
It is a known fact that Manali is famous for the number of monasteries that have been established here. Two very beautiful monasteries that attract much tourist attention are the Gadhan Thekchhokling Gompa that was built in the year 1969 and the Himalayan Nyingma Gompa. The former is located in Old Manali and has a statue of Lord Buddha along with its beautiful interiors. There is a small garden that surrounds this monastery. The second one is situated close to the market square in Manali. These monasteries are known for their brilliant handiwork. They make very beautiful carpets and paintings. When one enters these places, the low whisper of religious hymns being chanted along with the aroma of incense makes the place a peaceful abode.
The most iconic of all is the Choukling Monastery. The monastery is a massive compound that serves as a complex for stupas, temples, monks' quarters and a three-year retreat centre. Choukling was established in the 1960s following the exile of Tibetans escaping the Chinese invasion. It is situated in the Bir Tibetan Colony and is easily reached on foot.
Hidimba Devi Temple
Located in the Old Manali region of Manali, this is the first temple dedicated to Hidimbi Devi. She is worshipped here in the form of Devi Shakti and this is a very popular temple of Himachal. The temple was built by Maharaja Bahadur Singh in the 16th Century to give respect to the wife of Bhima, the Pandava. It is said that Hidimbi, the brother of Hidimba agreed to marry anyone who could overpower her brother. Hidimba was known to be the strongest of all. Another legend says that once there was a fight between the Pandavas and Hidimba, in which Bhima, the strongest Pandava defeated and killed Hidimba who was from the demon clan. After this Hidimbi married Bhima and they had a son named Ghatotkach. When the Pandavas were returning from their exile, Hidimbi decided to stay back and start her meditation to gain ultimate power and get the position of a Goddess. The cave in which we find the temple today is said to be the same in which she had meditated. After her meditation she became an incarnation of Goddess Shakti. The specialty of this temple is its pagoda styled 4-tiered roof and its beautiful wood carvings. The main festivals celebrated here are the Dusshera and Navaratri. There is another fair which is organized here during the month of May.
Bijli Mahadev Temple
This is an interesting temple in the Kullu Valley and is surrounded by places such as the Buntur Valley. The reason behind the mysterious name is the fact that the shivalinga inside the temple breaks down with the effect of Lightening or bijli and is then again joined with a local adhesive on a special day. The charred pieces lying inside the temple are due to the fire that catches due to intensive lightening. Apart from the temple, the deodar forests and the rolling greenery are also mesmerizing views.
Birni Devi Temple
Birni Devi Temple is a popular shrine in Palampur. There is a trek to the Birni Mata temple from Bundla which winds through thick oak and rhododendron forests. The car journey ends at jakhani mata temple and trek to birni mata starts. This is one of the easiest treks which you can do easily. The locals have homes on the way and they can guide your way across the forest to reach the birni top. Perched on a hill, the temple overlooks the majestic Kangra Valley and offers a panoramic view of Dhauladhar range. The entire Palampur can be seen from here and with the help of a binocular, Baijnath town is also visible from here.