Travelling knows no boundaries. It has no qualms, it has no restrictions and definitely no contradictions. It is the avocation of the free spirit, it is the enchanter of the curious minds. Therefore, to label a place with limitations is definitely not a true traveller’s paradigm. If we were to look at a place with the horse’s blinkers kept aside, we would never ever say that every destination attracts a certain archetype.
Monasteries, for example, are one such destination that would prove everyone wrong if they said it is just a place of religion. Yes, they do represent all that is holy and divine, but if you are a traveller, you will look at them with an entirely different viewpoint.
Let’s just admit, the very aura of the place can inspire even a nonbeliever to seek a little solace. A spiritual being will be attracted to the peace and tranquillity that monasteries tend to exude but an explorer will even take into account their many other attributes. A museum-like collection of ancient relics, traditions and (live) practices of ancient cultures, interactions with people that have a different (think positive) life-approach and utmost relaxation; do we not also experience the same while travelling to any exotic location. What’s even better, if you get to stay within their premises and experience it all like a resident would; believe us when we say, religious or not it will definitely make you proud of your travel log book.
So, here’s a list of monasteries that lets visitors stay. We bet this would one of the best experiences of your long list of holidays.
THIKSE MONASTERY, LADAKH
Built with 12 storeys in the likeness of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Thikse Monastery is one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh. Constructed in the 1430 AD, the monastery provides a breath-taking view of the Ladakh Valley. Covering almost an entire side of a hill, the view from the monastery ranges from of the endless skies, to the surrounding mountain range and the nearby villages going about their daily lives; definitely a treat to the sore eyes! The layered architecture of the monastery is awe-inspiring and its beautiful Thangka paintings and colourful wall murals almost compel you to look beyond the literal and try to decipher the depths of life. The enormity of the intricate 49 Foot Maitreya Buddha (the future Buddha, FYI) statue, the solemnity of the hypnotic morning chanting rituals and the sheer pleasure of watching the monks and nuns blissfully going about their daily lives; there is much to be experienced just from the standpoint of a bystander’s eyes. Should you want to explore a little deeper, stay a few days to absorb the surroundings and all that it has to offer. A little meditation session in the meditation hall or some serious reading on the Buddhist culture in the Library, flavourful food in the café nearby and humble living experience in the simple monastery guesthouse; it’s a repository of wonderful experiences that should be experienced once in your life.
TABO MONASTERY, SPITI
An ancient monastery in the picturesque surroundings of Spiti valley, the Tabo Monastery is the perfect place for a peaceful sojourn. Located on a hilltop this monastery is spread in an area of 6300 square metres, it consists of 9 temples and is known to be one of the oldest monasteries in the Himalayan region. The quietude and tranquillity of the Tabo Monastery are reinforced by the equally halcyonic village that it overlooks. Thanks to the remoteness of its location, the monastery is free from the bustling throngs of overzealous visitors. Thereby enabling a peaceful atmosphere for those from the concrete jungles to observe and absorb the beauty and serenity that the monastery stands for. The simplicity and earthiness of the monastery’s architecture are enhanced by the colourful murals, the exquisite silk paintings called Thangkas and intricately carved sculptures on its walls for which is it is well known for. The monastery is also privy to some ancient and precious Buddhist texts. The rooms are just what an accommodation in a monastery should be; simple, with very basic amenities and exuding another-worldly charm. There are also dormitories and a restaurant that serves pretty decent food. Now, if this isn’t the idea of perfect seclusion then we don’t know what is!
HEMIS MONASTERY, LADAKH
This one is the biggest monastery in Ladakh and one of the richest ones in the country. The origins of the monastery go way back in history but it is known to have been re-established in the year 1672. Surrounded by mountains, the Hemis Monastery sits comfortably in a gorge. The architecture reflects the colours and the intricacies of Tibetan architecture. A monastery as old as this is bound to have ancient artefacts like the copper statue of Buddha, stupas made of gold and silver, sacred Thangkas, murals and other relics. Attending the elaborate morning prayers are said to be quite the experience. Besides, the Hemis Festival which is held every year is well known and it attracts many visitors. The festival involves vibrant Buddhist dance performances and performance of elaborate ancient rituals that bring about the festive spirit of the inhabitants and visitors alike. What’s even more exciting is the location of the monastery. Situated within the reserved area of the country’s only High altitude national park, the Hemis National Park, it gives an opportunity to its guests to trek and explore the area for its famous snow leopards and other mountainous wildlife. The monastery has humble accommodation facilities and provides food to its guests.
LAMAYURU MONASTERY, LEH
On the Leh- Kargil road, sits silently atop a steep mountain the Lamayuru Monastery. Inhabited by some 50 monks, this monastery is an isolation seeker’s paradise. The purity of the monastery when combined with its sequestered ambience and the friendliness of its resident monks make it a perfect detox from the clamorous humdrum of our urban lives. This ancient monastery is replete with grandiose wall paintings, Thangkas, murals, ancient scriptures and statues of Buddha in his various forms. The natural landscape of the area is often compared to the rock formation in the moon, thereby earning the monastery the moniker of “Moonland”. The monastery holds two annual masked dance festivals that are performed by the lamas. The accommodation facility is basic and there is plenty of food available in and around the monastery.
KEY MONASTERY, SPITI
A fortress-monastery, designed such to survive repeated attacks from invaders, the Key Monastery is over 1000 years old. It is the oldest and a very important training centre for the monks. Located on a hilltop, with a view of the surrounding snow-clad mountains and the Spiti river, the Key Monastery probably has one of the best views when it comes to monasteries in our country. Spread over three floors, its rooms with murals called Tangyur are a major tourist attraction. The monastery is known for its collection of ancient murals, rare Thangkas, ancient weapons, images of Gautama Buddha in meditation and a sizeable collection of musical instruments. There are rooms available in the monasteries if you are looking to spend some time and experience the monastery way of life. The meals are also home-cooked by the monks. So, if you ever wondered what it is to live in a monastery, that too in a monastery with a most spectacular view and an interesting history; this is the one you are looking for.
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So, if you were looking for the “enchanted land”, your search stops right here. Who knows what ancient knowledge one could gather or some secret you’d uncover? But we’ll never know, till we pack our bags and set out for this unique encounter!