At 3,000 metres in the shadow of the snow-laden mountains and encircled by steep ravines lies the largest monastery in India – the Tawang monastery. Also referred as the ‘Golden Namgey Lhatse’, this monastery is said to be 400 years old. One of the most striking features is its architecture – it is a three-story hut-like structure, complete with a 282 metre-long wall of stone masonry.
Explore the main building that is in the form of a huge mansion housing 65 residential homes both for monks and lamas. Within the building lies the main temple (Dukhang) that features a 5.5 metre-long Lord Buddha statue. Also, be sure to check out the library that contains the old and unique scriptures of the Buddhist teachings. Festivals are important at this monastery – Torgya and Losar festivals are the main ones. This monastery offers scenic vistas of the Tawang river valley that consists of evergreen forests and snow-capped mountains.
Best time to visit: June-October
Lamayuru Monastery is a secluded monastery that is located on the Srinagar-Leh highway. Picturesque mountains form the backdrop of this monastery that stands at an elevation of 3,510 meters. The complex, though, lies in ruins, but the prayer hall of the monastery is unscathed. There are caves, three stupas and a main temple. Visitors can stay in a tiny hotel that is located along its boundaries and authentic Tibetan cuisine is on offer. The main attraction is the Yuru Kabgyat – a two-day cultural festival held in the second month of the Tibetan lunar calendar and involves masked dance by the lamas.
Best time to visit: May – September
Phugtal literally translate to ‘through Cave’, hence this monastery is established at the mouth of a cave, and during monsoon, water gushes down from the cave mouth – it is truly a sight to behold. Visitors are required to trek their way, passing through a suspension bridge, to reach this monastery, which is located in the one of the most scenic Zanskar region. The trek is challenging, but when you see a beautiful bunch of tiny huts placed in a honeycomb shape and the serene surroundings, you’ll realise it was all worth it. There are numerous prayer rooms and a library, and the walls are adorned with paintings. The highlight is the frescoes on the ceilings that depict Buddhist culture and art and are still in great condition.
Best time to visit: July – September
Perched atop a hill at an elevation of 3,600 metres, Thikse monastery is the largest monastery in the Ladakh. It has 12 stories and features an assortment of items that reflect the art and culture of Buddhism, such as the thangkas, swords, wall murals, statues and chortens.
The striking spot of the monastery is the Maitreya temple that has an enormous statue of Maitreya Buddha, towering 15 metres high. After being awestruck by the gigantic Buddha statue, you can explore the complex that houses 10 temples, a café, an assembly hall and a souvenir shop. Its mesmerising and scenic location amidst the rugged mountains, with panoramic views of the surroundings and well-preserved ancient artefacts, makes it worthy of a visit.
Best time to visit: May – September; routes are closed in winters due to heavy snow.
The Tsuglagkhang Complex is the place where his holiness, the Dalai Lama, resides. Every nook of this complex exudes a serene and spiritual vibe. The complex consists of the Namgyal monastery that was established in the 16th century and houses an enormous statue of Lord Buddha; the Tsuglagkhang Dalai Lama temple where you can walk along the Buddhist prayer wheels (spinning them is said to bring good karma); and the Tibetan museum that features Thangka images, sacred paintings, ancient relics and handicrafts that showcase Tibetan culture, tradition and art. You can take a spiritual walk inside the complex and catch a glimpse of the maroon-robed monks going about their everyday chores. There’s also a bookstore and café within the complex.
Best time to visit: October – March
Diskit Gompa was established in the 14th century and is known for its 32 metre-high Jampa (Maitreya) Buddha statue. There are also huge drums and statues of guarding deities inside the prayer hall. Marvel at the ceiling, complete with paintings that represent the fresco of the Tibet’s Tashilhunpo Gompa. The panoramic views of the surrounding area and the Nubra valley from atop the monastery, add to the experience.
Best time to visit: July – September