Hot and salted yak-butter tea, the teaching ground of Buddhist Lamas, the filming of the famous Hindi movie ‘Highway’ and the picturesque location makes the more-than-1000-year-old Key Monastery a must visit place.
Ki Monastery or Key Gompa is also spelled Ki, Kye or Kee and is pronounced like the English word ‘Key’! Kye Monastery is located in the Todh Valley of Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, India.
Manali to Kaza takes around 12 hours to reach and let me pre-warn you – it is a back breaking, tiring road journey.
There is a 14 kilometre long motor-able approach road to the Key Monastery from Kaza.
Built on a conical hill, the 11th Century Key monastery can be seen from a distance.
As we moved closer to the monastery two young lamas crossed us on a bike.
Local women could be seen busy knitting by the roadside waiting for the local bus.
Situated at an altitude of 4,166 meters (13,668 ft) above sea level, Key Gompa dates back to around 1000AD and is the largest monastery in the Spiti Valley.
It is the religious training centre of the Lamas and accommodates about 350 monks.
Key Monastery is believed to have been founded by Dromton (Brom-Ston 1008 – 1064 C.E.) a pupil of the famous teacher Atisha Dipankar in the 11th Century.
Initially founded in Rangrik it was later shifted to the present site centuries earlier.
The monastery has a rich collection of books and finest collection of thankas (a religious painting on a scroll) and the walls are covered with paintings and murals having high aesthetic value.
Can one stay in Key monastery?
Travelers can stay in dormitories for a nominal charge.
The charge includes food and accommodation.
There’s a dining area near the prayer hall. A conch shell is blown by one of the monks indicating it is meal time.
Travel Tip for staying at Kye Monastery:
- Remember to carry warm clothes and quilt to use at night.
- Toilets: There are no western or Indian toilets but only dry toilets. Work out and be ready to squat!
Other Accommodations near Kye Monastery.
If you don’t want to stay at the Key Monastery then Home stays are available in Kaza and Kibber.
Key Monastery : Spiti Valley Aerial Video
Video by PixelDo Media.
With Lush green farms and Spiti river flowing like a giant serpent, the view from the top is very mesmerising.
‘Pasada’ style of architecture
Characterized by more stories than one like a fort, Kye monastery falls in the ‘Pasada’ style of architecture.
Successive trails of destruction have resulted in a haphazard growth of the monastery. This monastery rises in terraces along the sides of the volcanic cone.
New blocks keep getting added to this Monastery.
When I was here, due to construction, there was cement, mortar, and sand all around in the air right at the entrance.
In spite of that, there was something very captivating about how synchronised the hands of the workers were moving.
A flight of stairs takes you inside a dark corridor of the monastery where you will find prayer wheels (called Mani wheels by the Tibetans) lined up.
Mani Wheels are always spun clockwise.
They are to be spun clockwise so that the mantra (prayer) “Om Mani Padme Hum” written on the wheels passes the viewer in the order it is meant to be chanted.
Library on the Top Floor
I would recommend visiting the library on the top floor which has a number of ancient murals and manuscripts and gives the magical feel of being in the library of Marvel’s “Doctor Strange”.
Butter tea, also known as Po cha in Tibet, is made from churning tea, salt and yak butter.
The butter tea of the Monastery is a must try.
To make butter tea you will need…
1 brick tea leaves
1 tbsp butter
3 cup water
1/2 tsp salt.
For the Entire recipe watch the video.
I was lucky to have visited the Key Monastery once again after I had summited Kanamo Peak and was returning home.
And as luck would have it, it was the day of Chham festival!
I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time.
Key Gompa had a totally different feel to it on the day of the Chham Festival.
There was a festive atmosphere and the place was full of maroon-robed lamas, locals, national and international tourists.
There was a long queue of vehicles parked on the road.
The cham dance is a masked and costumed dance accompanied by music played by monks using traditional Tibetan instruments like Dung ( a long trumpet) and drums.
The monks wear vibrant silk brocade robes and colorful masks and perform ceremonial dances in the monastery courtyard.
Few villagers were also contributing to the music.
Significance of mask in Chham Dance
Few masks are warm and pleasant as against most of the masks which have a fierce look.
The fierce masks are actually the Bodhisattvas in their wrathful form.
Young lamas control the crowd.
The communal kitchen serves free food to visitors.
No festival is complete without stalls selling knick-knacks.
BEST TIME TO VISIT Kye Gompa
Best time for visiting Key Monastery is from Mid June to October.
At this time, Rohtang Pass remains open and weather is also pleasant. Rohtang Pass Closes around post October due to snow fall.
I was there in the month of July and the weather was very tolerable.
If you are alright with extreme cold then you can take the Shimla-Kalpa-Tabo-Kaza route. This route is open all year round.
key monastery in winter
This Snow drive takes you from Kaza to Kee Gompa (Monastery) in Spiti valley on snow – Himalayan Roads.
Monasteries in Spiti
Tabo, Dhankar, and Key Monastery are the three main Monasteries which belong to the Gelugpa Sect in Spiti. Key Monastery is one of the oldest Monastery in the region, second only to Tabo.
Winter is long and fertile soil is scarce, so farming is marginal in Spiti.
What is a Gompa?
Buddhist temples are called Gompas and though they vary from region to region, they follow a general layout.
A central prayer hall containing a Buddha statue, benches for the monks or nuns to engage in prayer or meditation and attached living accommodation is the general Layout.
Most of the Lahaulis follow a combination of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism of the Drukpa Kagyu order, while the Spiti Bhotias follow Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelupka order.
Head of Kye Monastery
Following the Gelupka order, it is headed by his eminence T.K. Lochen Tulku.
Rev. TK Lochen is a Master of Buddhist Philosophy and in Tantrayana Buddhism since 1985.
Kalachakra by HH Dalai Lama
manali to key monastery
Kaza is the nearest town to Key Monastery and can be reached by road from Manali by road. Buses and taxis ply on this road and are easily available.
PLEASE NOTE that all the buses from Manali are only upto Kaza, You need to hire private vehicle at Kaza to reach Kye Gompa.
If you decide to Self-Drive then this is an easy route to follow.
- Follow Leh Manali Highway and NH505 – This distance will take approximately 4 h (162 km)
- Drive to Key Gompa Road. Though it is only 27 kms drive it will take around 1 hour from here to reach Key Gompa, Key Monastery, Himachal Pradesh 172114
Hindi movie “Highway” was shot in Spiti
I have never seen a film being as influenced by the incidents during its making as Highway.
The adventures of our north Indian road journey has many stories to tell.
Travel Tips for Key Monastery
- There’s parking available in the Monastery premises. From the Parking to the entrance of the monastery, it is a steep climb and likely to get little strenuous for the elderly.
- Photography is not allowed inside any prayer rooms or library.
- Remember to remove shoes before entering the temple.
- NO Liquor permitted inside premises.
- Donation Boxes: are kept in all prayer rooms.
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Have you been to any monastery? How has your experience been? Do leave your recommendations in the comments below.