Inner peace is a funny thing; one never quite realizes what it is until one has it and that moment is the aha moment we perhaps wait for throughout our entire lives. Yes, we’re all hassled with city life, urban congestion, honking, roads, dust, job pressures, finances, lifestyle etcetera, etcetera! However, most of you will agree that inner peace can more often than not be found in a monastery. This is certainly one of the best places to visit for inner peace.
Buddhist Monasteries & Their Connection To India
The spread of Buddhism in India has an interesting story. While we are all well aware of Gautama Buddha and his journey to enlightenment, little do people know that Buddhism was spread throughout India by Chakravarty Samrat Ashok who was one of the most ruthless kings to rule the Indian subcontinent. But war changes people and king Ashok is a great example. He embraced Buddhism and appointed his children to spread the message throughout the region. In present India, you can visit these Buddha Monasteries high up in the Himalayas (a trekking expedition). Colourful and vibrant places, these Monasteries in India promise peace, serenity and tranquility in good measure.
Visiting these abodes of Peace
With the serene and solid mountains as the backdrop, the Monasteries in India are the perfect places to pay a visit to, no matter what your religion is. The colorful festoons, the sounds of chanting and the bells tinkling, the smell of fresh mountain air with a hint of pine, the taste of snow and the feel of a mixture of cold and warmth – all your senses are attuned to the present and your location. With no distractions, the mind instantly feels at ease and you can feel your body calming down.
Top 5 Buddhist Monasteries in India
- Tawang Monastery
- Hemis Monastery
- Phuktal Monastery
- Rumtek Monastery
- Thiksey Monastery
1. Tawang Monastery
Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh is the largest monastery in India and the second largest in the world. Perched atop a 10,000 ft mountain, this spot was chosen by the Lama’s horse. Legend has it that the 5th Lama wanted to build a monastery but failed to find a suitable place so he prayed in a cave and after coming out he couldn’t find his horse. While looking, he finally found his steed at this spot. The name Tawang means “horse chosen”. While the ideal time to visit is between June to October, the January Torgya Festival (a cultural dance festival with masked dancers) is something you must capture in your mind’s eye.
2. Hemis Monastery
Hemis Monastery, Ladakh is not the largest but it certainly is the oldest monastery in India. It is said that the monastery existed since the 11th century and was re-established in 1652. This monastery is the house for the famous and ancient relics and sacred thangkas. The tourist season is during June to July when the annual Hemis Festival is held. During this festival, visitors can stay in the monastery and enjoy the masked dance festival.
3. Phuktal Monastery
Phuktal Monastery, Zanskar, is isolated and perfect for the solitude seeking trekker. The jaw dropping and awesome construction of the monastery, starting from the mouth of a cave down the cliff to a gorge, will awe you instantly. The trekking part is you having to cross a suspension bridge over a river to reach the monastery. It is worth the thrill. During monsoon, there is a waterfall down the cave’s mouth and that sight itself is another awe-inspiring phenomenon. The best time to pay a visit hence is during the monsoon season between July and September.
4. Rumtek Monastery
Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim, is one of the largest and most visited monasteries in Sikkim. Though there are over 150 monasteries in Sikkim, Rumtek is the one that attracts the most tourists as it is known to be one of the most colorful and grandest Monasteries in India. The ideal time to pay a visit to this monastery is during May to June when the Tibetan New Year is celebrated with gusto.
5. Thiksey Monastery
Thiksey Monastery, Ladakh, will make you believe that you are transported into a fairytale with the setting and architecture of the monastery being major draws. This second most important Ladakh monastery is systematically arranged on one side of the hill with the most important building being on the top. This whitewashed grandeur is a sight to behold, especially during sunset. The colorful sky at the backdrop with the view of the pristine monastery in front is certainly Instashot worthy! The main attraction is the 49 ft statue of the Maitreya Buddha. The annual festival and fair is held during October to November so clear your schedule accordingly.
While the location of the Buddhist monasteries is predominantly is the mountains of Northern India along the borders of Nepal and China (given the geographical proximity during the times when monks exiled from their countries sought refuge here), there are a few beautiful monasteries in South India too.
- Namdroling Monastery and Golden Temple, Karnataka, is ideal for people who cannot make the trek to the mountains. The Tibetan settlement near this monastery is said to be the second largest in the country. The name Golden Temple is not just for beauty but the place is actually overwhelmed with gold which is offered as prayer. The highlight? The statues of Buddha made in gold.
- Karumadi Kuttan, Kerala, is a small temple but it still attracts a huge crowd every year, it is one of the best places to visit in Alleppey. The main reason is the granite Buddha statue that dates back to the 11th century and has many legends attached to it.
Trekking to the monasteries
Whether you are paying a visit to the South monasteries or trekking your way through the valleys and glaciers of the North mountains to feel the grandeur of the aesthetic structures and the feeling of solitude and solidarity amidst towering peaks, the ultimate peace is when you make the journey to the monastery and let your soul be one with nature.