Key Monastery

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Key Monastery, Spiti Valley Overview

The Key Monastery is a famous Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Lahaul and Spiti District of India. Located at an altitude of 4,166 metres above the sea level, the monastery is very close to the Spiti River in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh in India. Also known as the Kye Monastery and Ki Monastery, it is believed to have been founded by Dromton, who was a student of the famous teacher Atisha in the 11th century.

The stunning Key Monastery is over a thousand years old and is also the largest monastery to be found in the entire Spiti Valley. The magnificent monastery doubles up as a religious training centre for the Lamas, and about 300 lamas receive their education from here. It has a long and quite fascinating history that is attached to it: a long history that involves numerous attacks that the place had to face. Nevertheless, Kye Monastery survived and celebrated the completion of its thousand years in the year 2000 in the presence of Dalai Lama. Today, the Key Monastery is visited not only by locals but also by tourists from all parts of the country who come looking for it in order to seek quietude, silence and inner tranquillity.

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As a result of the repeated attacks and calamities, whether natural or man-made that Key Monastery had to suffer, the primary structure was built and rebuilt time and again. The constant renovation has led to the monastery now becoming an irregular box-like structure, which looks more like a defensive fort than a calm and quite monastery per se. It is nevertheless a brilliant example of the monastic architecture that started to gain popularity in the 14th century because of the influence of China.

The walls of the Key Monastery are adorned with beautiful murals and paintings. The temples in the compound are all built on top of one another, and the building is marked by narrow corridors that lead to low rooms. The monastery has three floors in all. The first floor, which is used for storage, is mostly underground. The ground floor of the monastery houses the Assembly Hall which is beautifully decorated and also has cells that have been constructed especially for the monks.

Key Monastery
Kye Gompa
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One particular room that never fails to capture the attention of the visitors is known as Tangyur, which is a room that is richly painted with murals. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama inaugurated a new Prayer Hall on 3 August in 2000 in the Key Monastery. This prayer hall was also presented in the 69th Republic Day celebrations at New Delhi through a tableau.

The Key Monastery is like a treasure trove for all historians. Thangkas, which are painted Tibetan banners, manuscripts, stucco images and wind instruments can be found within the monastery. These wind instruments are still used at the time when Chham is enacted during the summer months. An extensive collection of weapons, which were perhaps used to protect the monastery from the attacks of invaders, is also put on display inside the building.

Other than these, the monastery also houses numerals books and murals, including the images of Buddha. Numerous prayer rooms, which can be reached by travelling through difficult and dimly lit passages, and then entering through small doors, can also be discovered here. All of these rooms, however, do not adhere to a single design or style. While at the monastery, do not forget to step back and have a look at the Lamas, who can be seen dancing merrily, singing and playing on their pipes and horns.

Key Monastery Courtyard
The monastery courtyard
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The Key Monastery was founded by Dromton, who was a pupil of Atisha, at some time in the 11th century. It has been attacked and damaged multiple times in its long history. The list includes the attack by the Mongols in the 17th century when the fifth Dalai Lama was in power. The monastery was sacked yet again in 1830 during the war between Ladakh and Kulu.

In 1841, the monastery was severely damaged by the Dogra army under the rule of Ghulam Khan and Rahim Khan. In the same year, it was destroyed due to the attacks of a Sikh regiment. Disaster struck the monastery yet again when the structure was damaged by a fire in the 1840s, and further damage was caused in 1975 when a massive earthquake occurred. The Archaeological Survey of India and the State Public Works Department then worked to repair and restore this historic structure.

Key Monastery in Winters
Key Monastery in Winters
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The Key Monastery celebrates an annual festival in June or July. This celebration involves the Chaam dancers and is followed by a procession by the lamas who perform a dance in the ritual ground located right below the monastery. A large butter sculpture of the demon is also set ablaze in this festival. The devotees who gather to attend the event lay themselves down on the ground so that the lamas can walk over them as a part of the ritual.

Prefer visiting the Key Monastery between June and October to make the most out of your trip and to enjoy your journey.

1. Driving from Manali to Kaza can be quite risky, so avoid the self-drive at all costs. It is recommended to ride in a bus to reach your destination.  
2. There are only one or two ATMs in Kaza, which might run out of money. Therefore, make sure that you carry enough cash.
3. If informed well in advance, the monastery provides accommodation options. This is a good way of experiencing the serene life of the monks and interacting with them. The charges are INR 250 per night including food.
4. The monks at the monastery are really friendly and helpful. Thus, don't hesitate in talking to them and learning more about the place.
5. Do try the herbal tea available here. It's very refreshing and good for oxygen circulation in the body.


The Key Monastery is located close to the Spiti River in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh in the Lahaul and Spiti district. It is located around 12 kilometres to the north of Kaza. In order to reach the monastery, you can first reach Kaza from Manali, or other nearby areas, and then board a daily bus to reach the monastery. Bear in mind that all the buses that take you up to Kaza terminate at that point. From Kaza, you will have to hire your own private vehicle to reach the Kee Gompa.

The cars are not allowed beyond a point. Reaching the monastery involves a steep climb from the car parking which is not suitable for elderly people and small kids.

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