Weather :

Time Required : 2-3 hrs

Entry Fee : No entry fee

Timings : 6:00 AM - 7:00 PM 

Tabo Monastery, Spiti Valley Overview

Standing tall and strong at a dizzying height of 10,000 feet, the Tabo Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries located in the Tabo Village of Spiti Valley. In fact, it is the oldest monastery in India and the Himalayas that has been functioning continuously since its inception. This alluring monastery is renowned as the 'Ajanta of the Himalayas'. This is because the walls of the monastery are decorated with fascinating murals and ancient paintings, much like the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra.

Resting peacefully on the left bank of the sparkling Spiti River, the Tabo Monastery is proud of having preserved the glorious traditions and heritage of Buddhism in the form of artistic murals, intricate paintings, elegant stuccos and exquisite frescoes. Being one of the most historically significant sites in the Buddhist culture, the Archeological Survey of India has taken over the responsibility of its maintenance and preservation. Spanning over an area of 6300 sq. Km. in the cold desert of the Tabo Valley and enveloped by tall walls of mud bricks, this culturally rich heritage site is highly revered by Buddhist monks and comes second only to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet. Built by the revered Buddhist king, Yeshe-O, the Tabo Monastery is now a priceless treasure to the Buddhist community.

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Tabo Monastery Timings

The monastery stays open from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM every day, including weekends and public holidays. Morning prayers start at 6:00 AM and must be experienced once. Classes are held from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM for monks which you can attend with prior permission.

Architecture of Tabo Monastery

The walls of Tabo Monastery are 3 feet wide and encompass 9 temples, 4 stupas, 23 chortens, a monk's chamber and an extension which contains the nun's chamber. The temples house a priceless collection of manuscripts, thangkas (Buddhist scroll paintings), stuccos and frescoes. The walls of the monastery are decorated with murals that depict the ancient tales of the Mahayana Buddhist Pantheon. Many artefacts recite tales of the life of Buddha and the relations between India and Tibet.

A four-fold figure of Vairocana, one of the five spiritual sons of Abibuddha rests in the Initiation Temple. Life-sized statues of gods and demons and many holy scriptures are found here too. The most important part of the compound is the main temple because of the Du-Khang or the assembly hall which has the statue of Vairocana, one of the five spiritual sons of Adibuddha. Clay images, life-size statues of gods and demons and holy scriptures are found here. Paintings are always shrouded in the dark, and one might require a torch to see them.

Tabo Monastery
The Tabo Monastery newer Gompa
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Tabo Monastery Temple Complex

It is believed that a particular group of temples at Tabo Monastery were built before the others - Temple of the Enlightened Gods, Golden Temple, Mystic Mandala or the Initiation Temple, Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple and Temple of Dromton. The Golden Temple has been named so because it is said to have been covered in gold!

The wooden frame in the doors of the Bodhisattva Temple testifies that it was made within the first 100 years of the construction of the monastery. The murals on the walls show that the Bodhisattva Temple was originally a two-storied one and this can be confirmed by the damage sustained by the entrance wall. A magnanimous 20 ft tall image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya lies in this temple.

Tabo Monastery Temple Complex
Tabo Monastery Temple Complex
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The temples that were built in the later stage were the Chamber of Picture Treasures, the Large Temple of Dromton, the Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple and the White Temple. The Large Temple of Dromton has inscribed in its walls, murals of all the eight Medicine Buddhas dating back to the 17th century and the life of Shakyamuni Buddha is carved at the base of the temple is a narrative form.

History and Significance

According to the Tibetan calendar, the Tabo Monastery was established by a great teacher, Lotsawa Rinchen Tsang Po- the king of the western Himalayan kingdom of Guge, in the year of the Fire Ape. It was renovated by his grandnephew Jangchub O'd. The grand monastery was built as a daughter monastery to the Tholing Monastery of Tibet.

Tabo Monastery was also a destination of choice for Indian pundits wishing to learn the Tibetan language. The period between the 17th and 19th centuries witnessed some political and religious unrest, and the damage can be reflected on the walls. The regal monastery was rebuilt after an earthquake struck the area in 1975. In 1983, a new Du-Kang or Assembly Hall was added to the structure in response to the growing interests of many Buddhist followers.

Tabo Monastery from top
Aeriel View of Tabo Monastery Complex
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Festival of Chakar

The festival of Chakar is joyously celebrated at the Tabo Monastery. A celebration of peace and love, Chakar is celebrated every three years between September and October. It is observed by performing masked dances and traditional folk dances, singing religious songs and enjoying time with your loved ones. To be a part of this merriment is a wonderful experience.

Activities at Tabo Monastery

Worship is the primary activity at the monastery. One must not miss the 6:00 AM morning prayer when the chants of the Buddhist monks reverberate through the walls of the assembly hall and soothe senses. The cliff above the monastery also houses some peaceful caves where monks and lamas sit in deep meditation. Tantric rites are also performed within the compound.

Serkong School

The Tabo monastery was established to preserve and protect the Buddhist legacy and hence is now an advanced centre for Buddhist learning. The school was established on 29 May 1999 and is currently successfully moulding the futures of 274 children! The school has a staff of 15 teachers that together educate the students in the subjects of English, Hindi, Bhoti (Tibetan), Maths, Science and General Knowledge. Half of the costs of running this school are borne by the government, and the other half comes from donations and fees.

Tabo Monastery
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Tips

1. A one-night stay at the monastery guest house is recommended for tourists wanting some peace of mind or for those who want to experience the monastic culture.
2. Temperatures remain low throughout the year, so heavy woollens must be carried.
3. Local Tabo dishes are a must try. The monks offer butter tea with Tibetan bread, which is a speciality there and is a must try.
4. Carry a torch when you visit the monastery because the premises don't use electricity throughout. It is always best to ask a monk to accompany you when you explore the monastery because the monks are very well versed in the history of the region.
5. There are gift shops here where you can buy souvenirs, thangka paintings or picture postcards. All the proceeds are used for preserving the monastery.
6. It is best to visit the Tabo Monastery between April and October when the cold is tolerable.
7. Photography in the temples is prohibited.

How To Reach Tabo Monastery

There is no direct way to get to Tabo Monastery. The most convenient way of reaching it is through Reckong Peo which is at a distance of around 150 km. The famous Kaza Bus runs between Tabo and Reckong Peo and is the only bus you'll find on this route. It starts from Reckong Peo Bus Stand at 6:30 AM and reaches Tabo around 4:00 PM. 

Alternatively, you can reach Tabo monastery through Kulu, which is 295 km away and then continue along the path of Rohtang Pass, Gramphoo, Batal, Kunzam Pass and Kaza. However, Rohtang Pass remains closed after October.

You can also opt to arrive at Tabo Monastery via Shimla, which is around 337 km away. The path from Shimla to the monastery will go through Narkanda, Rampur, Jeori Wantu, Karcham, Powari, Jangi, Puh, Khab, Chango and Hurling. You can find motels en route for overnight stops.

The monastery is just a 5-minute walk from the highway which can easily be covered on foot. The trail is suited for old and aged people as well as there are no ups and downs on the path.

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