About Tabo Monastery
On your visit to the beautiful Lahaul and Spiti valley, make sure to not miss out on making a visit to Tabo Monastery. Also called ``Ajanta of The Himalayas”, this ancient beauty rests at 3050 meters above sea level. Unlike the other monasteries which are built on hills, Tabo monastery is sitting at the bottom of the valley, in the rocky desert of Tabo Valley.
The foundation of this primordial was laid in 996 A.D by the Buddhist king Yeshe O’d. That is the reason Tabo Monastery is one of the most popular historical sites in Lahaul and Spiti Valley. The walls of the monastery are covered by priceless paintings, statues, frescos and murals which do total justice to the alias name “Ajanta of Himalayas”.Since the time of fire apes, this monastery has safeguarded the culture, heritage, and traditions of Buddhism.
The Archaeological Survey of India looked after the monastery temple complex and has declared it as “National historic treasure” of India. Despite being a part of prehistoric times, the paintings in the monastery are still fresh as new, which is one of the biggest reasons for making a visit to this ancient monastery.
After being heavily damaged during the 1975 Kinnaur earthquake, this monastery was fully restored and Kalachakra Festival (a process of commencement and rejuvenation) was initiated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1983 and 13 years since then the monastery celebrated the millennium of its existence. This rich history of the monastery makes it a “must visit” place.
How to Reach Tabo Monastery
There is no direct train or air connectivity from Tabo Monastery. One has to break down his trip into parts to make his way to the Tabo Monastery.
1. Traveling by Bus: Reckong Peo bus stand is the nearest major bus stand that provides intercity buses. There is a distance of 150 Kms that one has to travel from Reckong Peo to Tabo. From there it is a walk to the Tabo Monastery. The frequency of the buses is quite low so you have to be on time as the one and the only bus starts at 6:30 am.
2. Driving your own way from Major cities nearby: Travelling from Manali, you have to cover a stretch of 250 Kms which may take about 5 hours while from Shimla it is a drive of 377 Kms which will consume 10 hours of your time.
3. Reaching by Train: Dehradun (DDN) is the nearest Railway station that provides intercity trains. Also, Shimla Railway Station (JDNX) is the closest local train station with a limited train option.
4. Coming by Flight: Chandigarh Airport (IXC) is the major closest airport. Another nearby airport is Bhuntar Airport (KUU) with limited local flights availability.
Best Time to Visit Tabo Monastery
If you are planning your visit to this ancient monastery, avoid months from January to April as the temperature will vary from 2 Degree Celsius to 14 Degree Celsius between these months and most of the routes are closed due to heavy snowfall. During this time even the locals do not prefer to step out of their homes and make themselves comfortable in their warm houses only.
The tourist season will begin from May onwards and goes on till October. However, one should avoid the monsoon month of August as the areas near the rain shadow desert of Spiti Valley receive very heavy downpours and the routes of the Himalayas get slippery and prone to landslides.
From May to October only the Spiti valley remains functional for guests, November onwards the heavy snow sets in. The ideal duration of the trip is between 7 to 8 days.
What Not to Miss at Tabo Monastery
1. Tibetan Cuisine Restaurants: Give your taste buds a culinary experience of the local flavors. You can choose out Tibetan and Multi-cuisine restaurants that will serve you with some amazing food to make your trip more worthy.
2. Nearby Villages and their attractions: All the key tourist places are nearby Tabo monastery including Dhankar at a distance of 35 Kms where you can sport Dhankar Gompa and Dhankar fort, Key Monastery at 54 Kms which is the largest monastery of Spiti valley. Kibber Village and Kaza are also at a distance of 64 Kms and 50 Kms respectively.
3. Public Library: You can explore some past files here, which not only provides you a piece of explanatory information on Buddhism but also holds some amazing views of the Himalayas.
4. Tea with Monks at Monasteries: Grabbing a Tea with the monks if probably the coolest and calmest thing you can do. Tabo Monastery gives you a chance to share the same roof with monks along with a hot cup of tea. There is nothing better than Tea to start a meaningful conversation with a monk.
5. Exploring Caves: For a photographer’s delight, you can head down from the steep slopes to explore caves that give a panoramic view of Tabo and take you back to ancient times. You can tie up some prayers flags for inner tranquility
Activities to do at Tabo Monastery
Find peace in Gompa: Gompa is the right place for you in the monastery if you are a seeker of inner peace. It comes second only to the Tholing gompa in Tibet.
1. Visit Monastery Museum: You can make your way to the Monastery Museum. It is an extension which is comparatively new but traditional as well, to the old Gompa’s Zal-ma. It is around the completion and will ultimately be a home of the monastery’s collected treasures including artifacts and historical photos.
2. Exploring Caves: Once used to be a part of the monastery complex, you can head towards several small caves that open on the hillside just above the main road. Just start stepping 200m upwards on the opposite side of Vijay Kumar Shop.
3. Find history in the Library: Hidden upstairs in the monastery guesthouse building, you can also find a Library within the monastery. This will provide you a piece of detailed information on Tibbet and Buddhism culture spread across the whole town.
4. Live with the Monks: You can try living with the Monks as Tabo Monastery provides bag-packers with an option to stay in the guest house run by Gompa. The clear sky gives you an option of stargazing as well. And do not miss out on the free Chai provided by the monastery to all the visitors.
Other Essential Information About Tabo Monastery
1. Tabo Monastery Location: Tabo, Himachal Pradesh 172113, precisely on the top of Tabo village on the left bank of the Spiti river.
2. Timings of Monastery: Morning chants begin at 6 am and monastery closes down at 7 pm in the evening. This happens every single day of the week.
Architecture of Tabo Monastery
Back in 996 A.D in the Tibetan year of the Fire Ape, this huge monastery was founded by the Tibetan Buddhist lotsawa Rinchen Zhangpo on behalf of the king of the western Himalayan Kingdom of Guge, Yeshe-O. The amazing architecture of Tabo Monastery now holds four beautifully crafted stupas, nine temples. The architecture also includes 23 chortens, a monk's chamber, and cave shrines.
Its architecture is primarily divided into 3 parts including the Main temple, Older & Newer temples and Stupas. Built-in 996 A.D the paintings belong to the 10th -11th century for the main temple, 13th -14th Century for Stupas and 15th -20th century for the rest of the temple. The monastery is having a huge collection of manuscripts and Parmana texts, recorded between 1991 and 1998. Heree, you can find a mix of non-urban and regional characteristics that belong to India and Central Asia.
This perfect blend was made by Yeshe-O and his two sons while they were building the monastery back in 996 A.D.The traditional taste of non-Buddhist tradition originated from the protection deity Wi-nyu-min. The entire Vajradhatu Mandala (Vairocana in his 4-faced, 8-armed form sitting over this mandala of Vajradhatu) is precisely represented in the Main Temple.
Tabo Monastery Temple Complex
The Temple Complex basically has the Main Temple, Older Temples, Newer Temples, Stupas and Fittings. Newer temples have the temple of Enlightened gods, The Golden Temple, The Mystic Temple, The Temple of Dormton and The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple.
The other share of Older temples includes The Large Temple of Dormton, The Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple, The Chamber of Picture Treasures and The White Temple.The main temple (Tsug La Khang) includes an entry hall, assembly hall, and a recessed area which has a shrine area.
The Assembly hall is having a traditional deity, The Vajradhatu Mandala, while the shrine area holds three huge life-sized structures and a figure of Lord Buddha seated on a throne with 2 lions facing each other. In newer temples, the Temple of Dromton is the biggest after the assembly hall. In the boundaries of the temple complex, there are many stupas containing 4 paintings on the inner side.
Its frescoes and stucco paintings are the reason it is called “Ajanta of the Himalayas”, which also favors the bond between Indian and Tibetan cultures. On almost every wall you can spot the end number of thangkas (scroll paintings), preserved statues, murals, frescos, and manuscripts. There used to be 32 medallions on the wall before the 1975 earthquake.
History of Tabo Monastery Temple
Tabo Monastery will take you a millennium back in 996 A.D when it was built by the Buddhist King Yesho-O, which was later renovated by the royal priest, Jangchub O’d, the 2nd generation of Yesho-O. Initially, Tabo monastery was built as a “daughter” monastery of the Tholing Monastery in Nagri, western Tibet. This royal dynasty was majorly responsible for spreading Buddhism in Tibetan History and was keen on re-introduction of Indian Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet.
The contribution was so huge that it’s been documented in writing on the walls of Tabo Monastery.During the 17th – 19th centuries, the monastery and bridge across the Spiti River went through historical events and political trouble in the area. In the modern era, during the year 1975, the monastery was heavily damaged due to the Kinnaur Earthquake which was later the monastery was restored by the 14th Dalai Lama.
The monastery is a historic treasure as its roots are from a millennium back. Considering the same it is protected by the government under Archaeological Survey of India.Tabo Monastery is a divine place for monks as it has a rich past regarding the knowledge this place has to offer. Kyabje Serkong Rinpoche served as the Head Lama who become the Abbot of Tabo Monastery since 1975, was responsible for taking care of the monastery and monks, teaching Buddhist scriptures and being certain about the local community is living happily as well.
Tips for Visiting Tabo Monastery
Here are some of the tips which can be helpful while exploring the corners of Tabo Monastery:
- Apart from the Monastery guest house, you can get yourself a comfortable stay at Dekit Norphel Tiger Den Restaurant. Staying at this calm and cozy place may cost you between INR 400-500 per night for two people. You can find basic facilities like hot water, dining, etc. there.
- Try and connect with the monks while you are inside the monastery as they can give you a real insight into the architecture and wall paintings made there.
- Kindly restrict yourself before clicking photos inside the monastery as photography is not allowed inside the monastery.
- Visit the monastery before 5:30 pm in the evening as they shut post that.
- Make sure to not litter in the town as it will destroy the natural beauty.
- Always carry a layer of clothes along with a windproof jacket and woolens as you will observe a sudden drop in the temperature which goes below the freezing point.
- While driving, try not to honk while you are there in Tabo as people might be sleeping in the caves.
- Try to attend a festival at the Tabo Monastery, you will get to see monks performing the traditional Chham dance.