Hassled with the busy city life who doesn’t crave a peaceful escape? And what’s more peaceful than sneaking off into the mountains?
Amid the serene mountain destinations, are places steeped in ancient history and culture. Nestled in the backdrop of snow-capped peaks and lush greenery, Indian monasteries provide one with a calming aura. They are filled with positivity and good vibes.
The colourful murals, the prayer bells, elegant statues and the holy chants set an ambience that makes one feel instantly calm and at ease.
So, here is a list of some of the most beautiful monasteries in India you must visit:
1. Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh
The largest monastery in India and the second largest in the world, the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh is perched at a height of 10,000 feet above sea level. Located close to the border of Bhutan, the monastery appears like a fort with ravines on both sides. The interiors of the monastery are beautifully decorated with colourful paintings and statues, especially their main prayer hall. Their early morning prayer ritual is unmissable where the Buddhist monks wearing red and yellow robes flock to the prayer hall to chant the prayers.
Best time to visit: June to October, January during the Torgya festival.
How to get there: Permits are mandatory to travel in Arunachal Pradesh. The nearest airport is in Tezpur, which is at a distance of 326 km and the nearest railway station is the Tezpur railway station, 335 km away from the monastery.
2. Hemis Monastery, Ladakh
Considered one of the oldest and richest monasteries in Ladakh, the Hemis monastery is situated at a height of 12,000 ft above sea level. The monastery is believed to have existed before the 11th century and was re-established in the year 1652. Located at a distance of 50 km from the city of Leh, this ancient monastery is admired for its old-world charm. The monastery houses several old artefacts including ancient statues, sacred thangkas, and so on.
The Hemis festival which takes place from June-July every year features colourful masked performances along with several other cultural programs. Besides, one can stay at the monastery that provides simple food and accommodation and also participate in the Hemis Spiritual Retreat conducted by the monks.
Best time to visit: June to July
How to get there: Located 43 km from the monastery, the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport is the closest. If travelling by train, the nearest railway station is the Katra Railway Station, at 692 km.
3. Tabo Monastery, Himachal Pradesh
Situated in the beautiful Lahaul and Spiti valley, the Tabo monastery is perched at a height of 10,007 feet above sea level. Built by the Buddhist king Yeshe-Ö, also known as Royal Lama in 996 AD, the monastery was later renovated by Jangchub O’d, the royal priest and the grandnephew of Yeshe-Ö.
The monastery complex houses nine temples, 23 chortens, a monk’s chamber, and a nun’s chamber. But the major attraction remains the meditation caves which have been hand dug into the mountain and are believed to have been used by the monks during extreme winters. Besides the mystical looking, dim-lit rooms and murals inside the shrines add to the beauty of the monastery.
Best time to visit: May to October
How to get there: The closest airport is the Kullu airport which is 249 km away. The nearest railway station is Kalka railway station, located at a distance of 452 km from Tabo.
4. Mindrolling Monastery, Uttarakhand
One of the most famous monasteries in India, the Mindrolling monastery is noted for housing one of the largest Buddha Stupas in the world. The 185 ft tall Great Stupa contains a series of shrine rooms displaying relics, murals, and Tibetan art.
The monastery, part of the Nyingma school of Buddhism in Tibet, was built in 1965 by Khochhen Rinpoche and is now considered one of the best centres to learn Buddha’s teachings and principles. One of the largest Buddhist Institutes, Nagyur Nyingma College, is also a part of the Mindrolling monastery.
Not just that, the monastery also boasts a 35 m high gold Shakyamuni Buddha Statue, dedicated to the Dalai Lama. Besides, the beautifully landscaped gardens and the colourful murals around create a beautiful ambience to the whole complex.
Best time to visit: April to June
How to get there: The nearest airport is the Jolly Grant airport in Dehradun, around 30 km from the Mindrolling monastery and the nearest railway station is the Dehradun railway station at a distance of just 9 km.
5. Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh
Covering one side of a hill, the Thiksey monastery, located at an altitude of 11,800 ft in the Indus valley is appreciated for its rustic beauty and scenic surroundings. The monastery is unique in its construction with numerous buildings arranged in ascending order of importance and was built in 1430 AD and belongs to the Gelukpa Order of Buddhism. The panoramic view of the hillside and the valleys surrounding the whitewashed monastery adds a special charm to it.
The major attractions of the monastery are a 49 feet statue of Maitreya Buddha that covers almost two storeys and Lakhang Nyerma, a temple dedicated to Goddess Dorje Chenmo.
Best time to visit: May to October
How to get there: Leh airport is the closest to Thiksey monastery at a distance of 20 km and the nearest railway station is the Kalka railway station at around 600 km.
6. Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim
The Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim was established in Tibet in the 9th century and later re-established in India during the early 1960s. Also known as the Dharma Chakra Centre, the monastery serves as the seat of his holiness Gyalma Karmapa the XVI, the head of the Karma Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism.
The colourful and grand monastery has a massive prayer hall decorated with splendid murals, statues and ancient thangkas and the monks perform rituals and practices of the Karma Kagyu lineage.
Best time to visit: May to June
How to get there: The nearest railway station is the New Jalpaiguri station at a distance of 120 km and the nearest airport is the Bagdogra airport at a distance of 126 km.
7. Ghoom Monastery, West Bengal
The Ghoom monastery or the Yoga Choeling monastery in Darjeeling is famed for the statue of the Maitreya Buddha which is around 15 ft tall. The monastery that belongs to the Gelukpa or the Yellow Hat sect was established in the year 1850 by the Mongolian astrologer and monk, Sokpo Sherab Gyatso, who was also the head of the monastery until 1905.
The interiors of the monastery are gorgeously decorated with thangka on walls, traditional bells, drums etc and it is one of the most visited monasteries in the state of West Bengal.
Best time to visit: All year round
How to get there: The nearest railway station is the Ghoom railway station located close to the monastery and the nearest airport is the
8. Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery, Karnataka
Located in Bylakuppe in the Mysuru district of Karnataka, the Namdroling Nyingmapa monastery belongs to Sangha Community established by His Holiness, Pema Norbu Rinpoche in 1963. The monastery is also one of the largest teaching centres of Nyingmapa, a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also the second largest Tibetan settlement in India.
It has several gold statues of Buddha and several domes all around the complex. The huge prayer hall offers the perfect ambience for meditation and also a sense of relaxation to anyone who visits.
Best time to visit: July to February
How to get there: The nearest railway station is the Mysore railway station at around 90 km distance and the nearest airport is the Mysore airport at 100 km.
9. Phuktal monastery, Ladakh
One of the few monasteries in Ladakh that can be reached only by trekking, the Phuktal monastery is unique for several reasons. Situated in the Lungnak Valley, the monastery is located at the mouth of a cave and the edge of a cliff. Besides, the panoramic view from the monastery is magnificent with the Lungnak River below and the valley.
Another major attraction at the monastery is the natural caves which are believed to have been visited by scholars, sages and so on almost 2,500 years ago. Currently, around 70 monks live here and take care of the daily prayers and rituals.
Best time to visit: July to September
How to get there: Trek from Cha village in Zanskar and then take a bike or car to reach Ichar. The rest of the trail will be covered on foot. Zanskar is connected to Leh by road and can be reached via hired cars or by taking a bus ride.
10. Key Monastery, Himachal Pradesh
One of the most charming monasteries in the country, the key monastery is also one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in India that date back to 1000 AD. Located at an altitude of 13,500 ft, the Key monastery resembles the Thiksey monastery near Leh in Ladakh. The monastery, built on a monolithic conical hill, is an irregular heap of low rooms and narrow corridors. Besides, the snow-capped Himalayan peaks and the Spiti river valley all around the monastery make it an ideal location for trekking.
It is also noted for its beautiful murals, thankas, rare manuscripts, peculiar wind instruments, and enchanting prayer wheels.
Best time to visit: May to October
How to get there: One can travel to Kaza, the nearest town to the monastery, via Manali across the Rohtang Pass and via Shimla. The nearest airport is the Jubbarhatti Airport in Shimla, at a distance of 414 km.
Mindrolling Monastery by Incredible India.
Thiksey Monastery by Incredible India.
Tabo Monastery by Thrillophilia.
Key Monastery by Incredible India.
Phuktal Monastery by TourMyIndia.
Edited by Yoshita Rao