Key Monastery is a famous Tibetan Monastery in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh and is located at an altitude of 4, 166 meters above sea level. This beautiful monastery is positioned on a picturesque hilltop and is very close to the Spiti River, in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh.
Also known as Key Gompa, it is biggest centre of Buddhist learning in Spiti Valley and the oldest training centre for Lamas. It is home to around 300 lamas who receive their religious education here. The place is considered to be one of the most important research and debate centre for Buddhists.
It’s hard to believe, but this spectacular monastery is at least a thousand year old and is the largest monastery in Spiti Valley. It was established in the 11th century and it still houses ancient Buddhist scrolls and paintings.
The magnificent Key Gompa is said to have been founded by Dromton (Brom-ston, 1008-1064 CE), a pupil of the famous teacher, Atisha, in the 11th century.
The monastery was frequently attacked by the Mongols and looted by various armies, followed by a devastating fire that broke open in the 1840s. In 1975 a violent earthquake caused further damage to the building which was repaired with the help of the Archaeological Survey of India and the State Public Works Department.
The monastery is famous for its architecture called Pasada style. Pasada style is characterised by two or more stories and often plays the role of a fort-monastery. The monastery is spread over three floors – underground, ground and first floor. Underground is mainly utilized for storage; ground floor is used as assembly hall. The ground floor also has small rooms for monks.
Once this monastery was a wonderful example of the monastic architecture that came into prominence during the 14th century because of Chinese influence. The walls of the monastery are decorated with beautiful paintings and murals, thangkas (a painted or embroidered Tibetan banner), valuable manuscripts, stucco images, and unique wind instruments.
The monastery also has a collection of musical instruments like trumpets, cymbals and drums. There is also a collection of weapons which were probably used to defend the monastery from the attackers.
Repeated attacks on the monastery resulted in frequent renovation and reconstruction work which in turn has given rise to irregular box like structure. The building has the appearance of a defensive fort rather than a monastery.
The name ‘Spiti‘ means “The middle land” and here quite surprisingly so, it is the land between Tibet and India and maybe that’s the very reason for it shares a very similar and intense Buddhist culture as to that found in Tibet and also in Ladakh. It is hardly surprising that the whole of Spiti is known as Little Tibet.
Key is among the three monasteries of the Gelugpa sect in Spiti valley, the other being Tabo Monastery and Drangtse Monastery.
Around the month of June and July, the Key monastery celebrates a festival, in which the Chaam dancers are followed by a procession by lamas who reaches the ritual ground below the monastery to perform dance. A large butter sculpture of a demon is set on fire and the devotees lays themselves down on the route, so that the lamas can walk over them as a part of a ritual.
Best time to visit Key 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.
If you are alright with extreme cold then you can take the Shimla-Kalpa-Tabo-Kaza route. This route is open all year round.
Where to stay
Travelers can stay in dormitories for a nominal charge. The charge includes food and accommodation. There’s a dining area near the prayer hall. Best part is that the Lamas prepare the meals themselves. So the food is super clean and hygienic.Other Accommodations near Key Monastery.
If you don’t want to stay at the Key Monastery then Home stays are available in Kaza and Kibber.