10 beautiful monasteries in and around India
1. Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh
Located about 20 kilometres south east of Leh, Thiksey monastery is a prominent monastery in Ladakh and a favourite with tourists. It covers an entire hill side, with its white buildings flowing down the slope in descending order of size and importance. A main attraction is a 15-metre statue of the Maitreya Buddha at the Maitreya Temple.
Thiksey Monastery in Ladakh is spread over an entire hill side
2. Hemis Monastery, Ladakh
It may look ordinary to some, but the Hemis monastery is one of the region’s richest and largest monasteries. It existed before the 11th century but was re-established in India around the 17th century. When visiting the monastery, a trip to the high-altitude Hemis National Park is a must. A good time to visit is in June/July, right about the time when the Hemis Festival is on, along with its captivating masked festival.
A beautiful Buddha statue at the Hemis Monastery
3. Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim
Of the many monasteries in Sikkim, Rumtek Monastery near Gangtok is the largest and the most visited. This monastery was established in Sikkim in the 1960’s from an earlier structure in ruins. Some of it is ancient, in fact, 9th century ancient to be precise. Sacred items and relics have been relocated from the Karmapa’s seat in Tibet. A good time to visit Sikkim is in March/April when your trip can coincide with the delightful Khecheopalri Mela.
Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim has been adorned with sacred items from Tibet
4. Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal’s top tourist attraction and India’s largest monastery, the monastery in Tawang sits pretty at about 3,300 metres. The three-storey high fort like structure has ravines on both sides and a river that flows around the base of the mountain. Erosion caused by the river has put the monastery on a high landslide risk. Also keep in mind that Arunachal is a restricted area and tourists require identification and permits to visit. There is a cable car network that will carry you up from the town to the monastery.
Tawang - India's largest monastery
5. Tsuglagkhang Complex, Dharamsala
The official residence of the Dalai Lama is here at the Tsuglagkhang Complex. Though not a remarkable looking structure, there is a lot to see in Dharamsala – the Tibet Museum, Namgyal Gompa, Kalachakra temple, and the very sacred Tsuglagkhang temple. A three meter high statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha has been enshrined at the Tsuglagkhang Temple, making it a top tourist destination.
The Sakyamuni Buddha statue in the Tsuglagkhang Complex is three metres high. Photo credit: Suronin
6. Golden Temple in Bylakuppe, Karnataka
A monastery in Southern India, in the plains? Yes, that’s where you’ll find the beautifully built Golden Temple, also known as the Namdroling Nyingmapa Tibetan Monastery and Golden Temple. In true South Indian style note the immense amount of gold in the prayer hall and the temple and the huge gold statues of the Buddha. This area is also restricted, so visitors are required to keep identification on them in order to visit the monastery. Book a flight to Bangalore, the closest airport to Bylakuppe.
Gold is the theme at the Golden Temple in Bylakuppe
7. Tabo Monastery, Spiti
Spiti has five main monasteries, all of them with small, dimly-lit rooms filled with ancient scriptures, statues and artwork. Among them, Tabo Monastery is exceptionally unforgettable for its meditation caves – dug into the mountain by hand! Walk into them for some quiet time.
Tabo Monastery - a study in austerity
8. Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan
One of Buddhism’s most sacred sites, the Tiger’s Nest monastery, is considered by many as a symbol of Bhutan. This 17th century temple complex hangs on a steep cliff side in the upper Paro valley. Other than the dramatic placement of the monastery and the serene experience of visiting it, it is also a top location for one of the best views in Bhutan – look down onto a canopy of blue pines and valley full of rhododendrons.
Tiger's Nest Monastery - one of the top vantage points in Bhutan
9. Hanging Monastery, China
This scarily perched monastery is actually one of a kind – most monasteries are located in secluded, hard to reach places; but this one in Shanxi Province in China takes the cake! It is built on a sheer cliff, about 75 metres above the ground. Built more than 1,500 years ago, it is probably the only monastery with a combination of three Chinese religions – Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Look at the picture again – the monastery is built on stilts!
It doesn't get more dramatic than this!
10. Taung Kalat, Myanmar
Perched on top of an extinct volcano, Taung Kalat is one of the most arresting sites in Myanmar. Climbing to the top to reach the monastery involves nearly 800 steps, but the effort is well worth it considering the end result – and a bird’s eye view of the ancient city of Bagan is a bonus.