“All that we are is the result of what we have thought” – is one of the top Buddha quotes. His teaching, methods, and ideology on life is still with us today in the form of scriptures and engraved words. One of the best ways to learn more about them is to actually visit a monastery. First, let’s get one thing straight. A monastery is different from a temple. Monastery, besides having a praying room, like that in a temple, also has separate quarters for residence and work, and sometimes even separate learning centres. Visiting them is an experience of its own kind. So, make up your mind from the below listed Buddhist monasteries and add them to your bucket list.
1. Hemis Monastery, Ladakh
The monastery has got its name from the region it is located in, i.e Hemis in Ladakh. In terms of area, this is the largest monastery and is also considered the wealthiest one. Naropa, who is the ancient pupil of Buddhism, achieved the enlightenment in Hemis, as per the beliefs. It was first constructed in the 11th century but was later reconstructed in 1672 by Sengge Namgyal, the king of Ladakh. In the months of June and July, it receives the maximum number of tourists as Hemis Festival is celebrated during the time. The celebrations are a spectacle for here you see the one-of-a-kind jollies. For one, there is a ‘Mask Dance’ and secondly, all the Buddhist population of this region partakes in the festivities wearing the ethnic clothes! You almost step back into time. Truly, a sight to behold.
Located at the towering height of 11,800 ft, this monastery impresses its visitors with its praiseworthy architectural layout. Its white colour on the 12 storeyed complexes gives it an appearance of a whitewashed small town. The legend has it that during performing of a few rituals, two crows appeared mysteriously and took away the ceremonial plates away with them. Later, the plates were found on a stone arranged perfectly in order in Thiksey. Paladin, a Buddhist monk, took that as a holy sign and decided to construct a monastery in the region. Although built in the mid 15th century, it is well preserved and gives the visitors glimpse into the previous era with its beautiful collection of paintings, stupas, scripts, and statues. The most prominent statue, however, is that of Maitreya Buddha, which is 49 feet long and covers the whole 2 storeys of the monastery. This is also the biggest statue in the whole Ladakh valley.
Established by Pema Norbu Rinpoche, this monastery is blessed by the Dalai Lama himself. And, today, it is home to over 5,000 lamas around the world. And, comes the Tibetan new year, the monastery turns into a ground for celebrations. Lamas and other devotees from different part of the globe, come here to witness and partake in lama dance, formal procession, and numerous traditional events, that run straight for a couple of weeks. Besides that, period in February to March is universally considered the best time to visit this tranquil Buddhist religious place. Other than that, the monastery gives you enough moments to learn about the Buddhist culture. Moreover, there is an in-house university which offers courses like philosophy, debate, and logic.
4. Tabo Monastery, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
This is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries and lies above the Tabo village and near to the Spiti River. Its foundation was laid in 996 AD by Rinchen Sangpo. Inside the monastery, you’ll find legions of painting, both on the walls and the ceilings. There are also stupas present which date back to the 13th-15th century. The Archaeological Survey of India is involved in preserving the heritage of this monastery.
The monastery is surrounded by a number of caves, which are frequently used by the lamas for meditations as they provide calm solitude. Due to the cave setting, the monastery is also known as the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’.
There are also 9 temples present here, one of which has the ‘Wheel of Law’ that has enormous religious significance. From daily 6 am sharp, you can hear the humming of prayers. The Sekrong School, housed within it, offers religious teachings as well as knowledge on the subjects such as Information Technology, English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Maths, Arts, Social Science, and General Knowledge. Many consider it ideal for learning about Buddhism.
October receives heavy snowfall in the region and thus, the monastery is closed after that. The best period, is, therefore, to visit it between May and October. It is advisable to visit during September-October, as then you can be a part of ‘Chakhar’ festival celebrations.
5. Ghoom Monastery, Darjeeling, West Bengal
Just 6 km away from the heart of Darjeeling, this seat of Buddhist religion is a magnet to all the tourist visiting the town. Stumble upon its library and you will find the most ancient Buddhist books and scriptures. It should’ve come as no surprise that it is a key learning centre for Buddhist scriptures. Lama Sharap Gyatso established it in 1850 at a height of 7,470 feet above the sea level. Its main attraction is the 15 feet tall gold and precious stones decorated Lord Buddha statue. The two oil lamps in front of it are made lit all throughout the year. Around 60 monks live in this monastery who also maintain and take care of it.
6. Enchey Monastery, Gangtok, Sikkim
This monastery is situated on the range of Kanchenjunga mountain with the backdrop of dense pine trees. It is dedicated to Lama Druptob Karpo, a Buddhist tantric master who is believed to have flying abilities. Through the day, you can spot monks meditating in and around the monastery, because of the blissfully peaceful surroundings. From 18th to 20th day on the Tibetan calendar, the residing monks organise and celebrate the ‘Chaam’ festival, which attracts Gangtok inhabitants, monks, and tourists around the globe. This festival marks the love between the Lepchas and the Bhutias.
The best time to visit is between June and October. This is also the period when winters begin in this region. Avoid coming here at any cost during the rainy season.
Click here to view other Monasteries in Gangtok
7. Mindrolling Monastery, Dehradun
Set right in the foothills of Himalayas, this is one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the country. Mindrolling has the meaning of ‘Place of Perfect Emancipation’, and is rightly named so. The monastery is surrounded by the colourful gardens which can relax anyone’s mind in a jiffy. Many monks and even yogis go there for spiritual learnings as well as for the teaching of Tibetan lunar calendar and Traditional Tibetan medicine. Ritual functions and blessing ceremonies are a regular scene here. The shrines here depict the culture and art of the Buddhism. There is also a ‘Great Stupa’ present here which has a girth of 100 square feet and a height of 185 feet.
8. Tawang Monastery, Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh
Located among the snow-covered Himalayan ranges, this monastery is standing at 3,500 m above the sea level. Also goes by the name of ‘Chosen Horse Monastery’, this monastery is the 6th Dalai Lama’s birthplace. The large monastery is specked with stunning statues which depict meanings of life and Buddhist teachings. The whole monastery is divided into separated rooms dedicated to performing religious activities, meditation, and worship by the monks. The library there has some of the rarest and oldest scriptures on Buddhism. The Tibetan new year festival, Losar, is celebrated continuously for 15 days. June to October is considered the best time to visit here.
9. Namgyal Monastery, Dharamshala
This Buddhist seat is found by the third Dalai Lama himself, which makes it the most religiously significant Buddhist monasteries of India. The monastery has one more monastery within its premises, along with temples and learning institutions. There also happen special prayers and rituals that are aimed towards the Tibet’s betterment. There are also learning centres catering to the domains of sutra, tantra, and other religious spheres. Over 150 students are enrolled there.
10. Kye Monastery, Himachal Pradesh
This monastery underwent several phases of reconstruction as it had been continually attacked by the Mongols. However, the reconstructions over the time have given it a face it has today, and that is of a grand lovely fort! Situated 4,116 m above sea level, this monastery is a central learning centre for lamas and Buddhist monks. Holy scriptures and Buddhist paintings are rich in number here. Its structure is heavily influenced by Chinese architecture. In 2000 only, it completed its 1,000 years which ensued celebration and registered attendance from more than 15,000 Buddhist monks, devotees, lamas, and His Holiness Dalai Lama himself.
Have you visited any of them? Do share with us your experience.