About Key Monastery
The 1000-year-old monastery which dates back to 1100 CE is also the largest in Lahaul and Spiti district of India. The magnificent Key Monastery is believed to have been established by Dromtön (Brom-ston, 1008-1064 CE) who was a student of Atisha, a famous teacher of the 11th century.
Home to around 250-300 Lamas, who are spiritual leaders in Tibetan Buddhism, the stunning monastery serves as a fully-functional religious training ground for Lamas run by a Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhist monks. The historic monastery with a breathtaking architecture will leave you spellbound with a resemblance to fantasy fiction.
With a fascinating history behind its emergence, the Key Monastery survived many attacks by the Mongols. Nevertheless, in the year 2000, it witnessed a grand celebration of completing 1000 years in the esteemed presence of the Dalai Lama.
How to Reach Key Monastery
The Key Monastery is located 14 km from Kaza which is the nearest bus station to the monastery. In order to reach the Key Monastery, you will have to reach Kaza whether you are coming from Manali or Shimla. Several buses are plying from both Manali and Shimla to Kaza which usually takes around 10 to 12 hours to reach Kaza.
Then from there, you will have to hire private cabs to reach the monastery which takes about 40 minutes. The climb to the monastery is quite steep and challenging.
Best Time to Visit Key Monastery
The best time to visit this beautiful monastery is from the mid of June to the beginning of September except monsoon month of August. During this time of the year the Himalayas receive heavy downpour which results in slippery roads and landslides. The climate is mostly chilly at Key Monastery due to its location at a high altitude, however, it is pleasant during these months.
If you are planning to visit from Manali then you will have to cross Rohtang Pass which opens by the second week of June and closes on the 15th of October because of heavy snowfall. It is also closed during monsoons as there are higher chances of landslides. The optimum time to explore the historic monastery is between June and October if you are taking the other route via Shimla and Kaza which is open throughout the year.
What Not to Miss at Key Monastery
There are various places that are located around 100 km from Key Monastery.
2. Spiti Valley
A paradise for trekkers and adventure seekers, Spiti offers many challenging and breathtaking treks through unexplored and dream-like routes, surrounded by picturesque mountains and landscapes.
3. Kunzum Pass
4. Chandratal Lake
Other Essential Information About Key Monastery
Location: The Key Monastery is located in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh, Lahaul and Spiti district.
Address: Key, Himachal Pradesh 172114
Timings: 6 AM to 6 PM (Monday to Sunday)
Distance from Spiti: The Key Monastery is at a distance of 14 km from Kaza, a town in Spiti Valley.
Distance from Manali: To reach Key Monastery, you have to reach Kaza which is located 190 km from Manali.
History of Key Monastery
It did not end here and the monastery suffered again in 1830 during the Ladakh and Kullu war. The devastating fire in the 1840s caused further damage to the structure followed by the attacks during the Sikh regiment in 1841. In the same year, the Dogra army during the reign of Ghulam Khan and Rahim Khan damaged the property.
The occurrence of a violent earthquake in 1975 yet again destroyed the monastery. The recurrent attacks and natural disasters resulted in the repair and restoration work of this historic monastery by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the State Public Works Department.
Collections at Key Monastery
Another amazing collection inside the monastery is of weapons which were perhaps used to defend the monastery from the barbarian attacks of invaders. Several murals which include the images and idols of Buddha, numerals books of high aesthetic value and historical documents relevant to the orders are also put on display inside the monastery.
Highlights of Key Monastery
Other than its rich collection of ancient Buddhist books and murals, the Key Monastery is quite famous for its Cham Festival. Celebrated annually in June or July with much rigor and enthusiasm, it involves the Cham dancers followed by a grand procession by Lamas who dress up in vibrant attire and perform traditional dances. The masked dances are performed in the ritual ground situated below the monastery.
As a part of the celebration, a large butter sculpture of a demon is burnt to mark the triumph of good over evil. Devotees who come from neighboring villages to attend the festival lay on the ground and the Lamas then walk over them. Through this practice, the Lamas who are considered as deities, helped the pilgrims to get rid of any disease or if they are possessed by any spirit.
The head Lama chants the prayers and the spiritual leader addresses the crowd. While the monks play traditional music using unique wind instruments, the Lamas wearing red and blue masks deliver fascinating dance moves. These Cham dancers as they balance themselves on one leg invoke the deities with their elaborate dance forms.
Tips for visiting Key Monastery
- There are not many ATMs in Kaza and they might run out of money. Therefore, tourists are advised to carry enough cash as digital payment won’t work here in the mountains.
- If you want to avail accommodation at the Key Gompa, then you need to inform in advance. The charges for a night are INR 250 which is inclusive of food.
- While you are at the monastery, do not forget to try the refreshing herbal butter tea which enhances the circulation of oxygen in the body.
- To survive the chilly weather at the monastery, pack your warmest clothes and wear sturdy shoes.