Key Monastery: While Himachal Pradesh is home to a dozen different monasteries, this magnificent place is not only the largest but also the oldest. A must-visit tourist place in Spiti Valley, the gompa is surrounded by picturesque mountains and soothing valleys. A wonderful example of monastic architecture and is decorated with beautiful paintings, frescoes, manuscripts, and wind instruments.
Key Monastery Overview
Situated in the Spiti Valley close to the fascinating Spiti River of India, the prime monastery is one of the must-see places in Himachal Pradesh. Also known as Kei Gompa or Ki and Ki Monastery, the magnificent Tibetan Buddhist monastery is situated on a picturesque hilltop at an altitude of 4,166 meters above sea level.
The 1000-year-old monastery which dates back to 1100 AD is also the largest in Lahaul and Spiti district of India. The splendid Key Monastery is believed to have been founded by Dromtan (Brom-stone, 1008–1064 CE), a student of the famous 11th-century teacher Atisha.
Home to approximately 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 the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhist monks. The historical monastery with breathtaking architecture will leave you mesmerized by the resemblance of fictional tales.
Surrounded by the beautiful snow-capped Himalayas and glaciers, the monastery is visited by thousands of devotees and tourists from all over the world who come here in search of peace and inner peace. The ancient location of the monastery with gorgeous snow-capped villages and long winding roads will give you an unforgettable experience.
As you step inside this wonderful monastery, you will notice its beautiful walls, which are covered with murals and paintings depicting 14th-century monastic architecture, influenced by Chinese culture. It is also popular for its rare manuscripts, unique wind instruments, Buddha statues and an amazing collection of weapons to ward off attackers and protect the monastery.
With a fascinating history behind its origins, Key Monastery survived many attacks from the Mongols. Nevertheless, in the year 2000, a grand celebration of 1000 years was celebrated in the esteemed presence of the Dalai Lama.
Points Of Interest for Key Monastery
Collections at Key Monastery
A haven for historians, Key Monastery houses an extensive collection of treasures. You can find valuable manuscripts, thangkas, beautiful murals, plaster paintings, and peculiar wind instruments within this monastery. Lamas still use these wind instruments during the annual festival of the major monastery during the summer season.
Another wonderful collection inside the monastery is the weapons that were probably used to protect the monastery from the barbaric attacks of the invaders. Many murals, including images and statues of Buddha, issue books of high aesthetic value, and historical documents related to the orders, are also displayed inside the monastery.
You can also explore the prayer halls that can be accessed through dimly lit and challenging passageways with entry through small doors. All these rooms are different and do not follow a single design. When you are in the monastery, one of the most memorable things you can do is to observe the lamas who can be seen singing and dancing merrily and enjoying playing with their pipes and horns.
How To Reach Key Monastery
Key Monastery is located 14 km away from Kaza which is the nearest bus station to the monastery. To reach the main monastery, you have to reach Kaza whether you are coming from Manali or Shimla. There are many buses running from Manali and Shimla to Kaza which usually takes around 10 to 12 hours to reach Kaza.
Then from there you will have to hire a private cab to reach the monastery, which takes around 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 mid-June to early September, except in the monsoon month of August. The Himalayas receive heavy rains during this time of the year resulting in slippery roads and landslides. The climate in Ki Monastery is mostly chilly due to its high altitude, however, it is pleasant during these months.
If you are planning to travel from Manali then you have to cross Rohtang Pass which opens till the second week of June and closes on the 15th of October due to heavy snowfall. It also remains closed during monsoons as the chances of landslides are high. The best 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.
Essential Information About Key Monastery
- Address: Spiti Valley, Key, Himachal Pradesh 172114
- Distance from Spiti: The main monastery is at a distance of 14 km from Kaza, a town in the Spiti Valley.
- Distance from Manali: To reach the main monastery, you have to reach Kaza which is located 190 km away from Manali.
Places to Visit Near Key Monastery:
Kibber Village: Situated around 1.6 km from Ki Math, Kibber is the highest motorable village worth visiting. Situated amidst beautiful mountains and rugged landscape, the village is famous for the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary and the local Kibber Monastery.
Spiti Valley: Experience the lifestyle of the local people of Spiti Valley which is known as Little Tibet. The main town of Spiti Valley is Kaza, which is 14 km away from the monastery. While entering Spiti from Lahaul, visitors are fascinated by Kunzum Pass and Chandratal Lake.
A paradise for trekkers and thrill-seekers, Spiti offers many challenging and breathtaking treks through unexplored and dream-like routes surrounded by picturesque mountains and landscapes.
Kunzum Pass: A paradise for photographers, Kunzum Pass is one of the highest motorable mountain passes in India situated at an altitude of 4,551 meters. Enjoy stunning 360-degree views of Bara-Shigri Glacier and a jaw-dropping view of Spiti Valley from Kunzum Pass.
Chandratal Lake: One of the most beautiful lakes in the mighty Himalayas, Chandratal Lake is at a distance of 15 km from Kunzum Pass. The crescent-shaped lake is every tourist and trekker’s dream due to its pristine location and picturesque views.
History of Key Monastery
Established in the 11th century by Atisha’s student Dromtan, Ki Gompa was attacked several times over its long and fascinating history. In the 17th century, when the fifth Dalai Lama was in power, the Mongols raided the monastery. Later, in the 19th century, various armies plundered the monastery causing great damage to property.
It did not end here and the monastery was again damaged during the Ladakh and Kullu wars in 1830. Devastating fires in the 1840s caused further damage to the structure after attacks during the Sikh Regiment in 1841.
In the same year, the property was damaged by the Dogra army during the reigns of Ghulam Khan and Rahim Khan.
In 1975 a violent earthquake again destroyed the monastery. Repeated attacks and natural calamities resulted in the restoration and restoration of this historic monastery by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the State Public Works Department.
Highlights of Key Monastery:
Apart from its rich collection of ancient Buddhist books and murals, Key Monastery is quite famous for its Cham Festival. Celebrated every year in June or July with much rigor and enthusiasm, it involves Cham dancers, followed by a grand procession by Lamas, who dress up in vibrant attire and perform traditional dances. The masked dance is performed in the ritual ground below the monastery.
As a part of the celebration, a large butter statue of a demon is burnt to mark the victory of good over evil. Devotees coming from neighboring villages to attend the festival lie on the ground and Lama passes over them. Through this practice, lamas who are considered deities helped the pilgrims to get rid of any disease or if they were possessed by a spirit.
The chief lama offers prayers and the spiritual leader addresses the crowd. While monks play traditional music using unique wind instruments, lamas, dressed in red and blue masks, dance enthrallingly. These Cham dancers invoke the deities with their elaborate dance forms balancing on one leg.
Tips for Visiting Key Monastery:
- It is advisable to take a bus from Manali to Kaza or hire a private taxi as driving can be dangerous.
- Kaza does not have many ATMs and can run out of money. Therefore, tourists are advised to carry enough cash as digital payments will not work here in the mountains.
- If you want to avail accommodation in Key Gompa, you have to inform us in advance. A nightly fee is Rs 250 which includes food.
- When you are at the monastery, do not miss taking the refreshing herbal butter tea which enhances the circulation of oxygen in the body.
- To avoid the chilly weather in the monastery, pack your warm clothes and wear sturdy shoes.
Frequently Asked Questions About Key monastery
Q. What is the Key monastery famous for?
A – The monastery is known for its ancient murals, rare thangka, and ancient weapons. In the state of meditation (meditation) one must see the images of Gautam Buddha. The monastery also houses a large collection of musical instruments such as trumpets, cymbals, and drums.
Q. Can we stay in Key Monastery?
A – A veteran traveller and an employee with Zostel in Spiti said “Ah, you can stay at the monastery. Living with those guys is something different”. “The monastery” he referred to was the Key Monastery, The crown Jewel of the Spiti Valley, and “those guys” were the monks that resided in the monastery.
Q. How old is Key Monastery?
A – It is the largest monastery in Spiti Valley and a religious training center for Lamas. It reportedly had 100 monks in 1855. It is about 12 km north of Kaza and 210 km by road from Manali.
Q. How do you get to the main monastery?
A – Kaza is the nearest town to the monastery and can be reached by road from the city of Manali, where a number of buses and taxis ply. Shimla is the nearest airport and railway station, which is about 438 km from the monastery.