Key Monastery: The Lifeline of the Cold Desert of Spiti Valley
A crust of land, in the backdrop of rugged mystic mountains and dark blue sky nestling houses and a magical monastery, looks like an encrusted honeycomb from a distance. The sight of Key Monastery is capable of leaving even the most stone faced speechless with its grandeur. The barren surrounding of the cold desert exudes an inexplicable awe and instantly engulfs its visitors in a cast of spell.
I had started my journey from Kaza to Kibber village in the morning around 8:30 am. On the way falls Key Monastery, a must-visit spot, about 12 km from Kaza and 6 km from Kibber. It sucks in all attention with its striking appearance in the middle of the cold desert of little Tibet. I decided to visit Kibber first and then drop in at the monastery in the return journey to Kaza. The magnificent appearance was immensely maddening and I was desperately inclined to visit it soon.
And finally the moment came! The visit to Kibber had already nurtured the traveller’s soul and Key was perhaps the much-awaited salvation. Situated at a height of 4,116 metres, it is also known as the ‘Eagle’s Nest’. Built in the 13th century, Key Monastery is one of the most significant Gelug-pa monasteries of Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. Cars can go up the road till the monastery and there is a parking area at the entrance of the monastery. However, I chose to walk up the road to enjoy the surrounding and the thrill. The road is good and there is no difficulty in climbing up, except a few metres near the monastery which is a steep inclination.
The road has a number of Buddhist posts, ‘stupas’ and prayer flags that create a magical sight combined with the mystic mountainous surrounding and the Spiti valley. On reaching the entrance of the monastery, cold winds whipped occasionally while the bright sun burned the skin. There are a number of stairs that lead inside the monastery. As I climbed up the stairs, a local little child came and hold my fingers and took me inside.
The white marble flooring created an amazing contrast with the colourful monastery. The mind-boggling fresco art, fantastic idols of Buddhist gods, the life history of Panchen Lama inscribed in ‘thankas’, numerous Buddhist sacred texts, scriptures and rare manuscripts are the significant elements of this monastery. In the ‘90s, the 14th Dalai Lama had visited this monastery and the bed on which he rested is preserved in a room in the name of ‘Zimshung’ in the upper storey adjacent to the terrace. A residing Lama leads the visitors through the rooms and locks the doors as soon as the visitors come out.
From the terrace, the vast Spiti valley provides a breathtaking panoramic view. The rivers look like thin serpentine threads across the valley. It’s a memorable sight unveiling a tremendous beauty of nature right in front of one’s eyes.
While I stood in the terrace for a while with the other tourists scattered here and there, a Lama came up and requested us to follow him downstairs. Making a neat queue, all of us quietly followed him while he led us through various corridors and stone-and-bricks labyrinthine passages. Like all the visitors, I had no clue where we were heading to. Finally we reached to a small dark room – the kitchen – and the Lama requested us to sit down on the chairs. He then went on to make tea for us – a culture which they follow here.
The kitchen is dark with only a few bulbs switched on, that are powered by solar energy. Various utensils, huge containers are packed inside. Some more Lamas came into the kitchen, each doing their own job. As the tea was prepared, the Lama served tea to each one of us. The ambience was mystifying and a natural silence fell on the visitors who satisfyingly drank tea. After every one of us finished our tea, the Lama picked up the cups and glasses while another Lama bowed down, greeted us and led us back through the passages and corridors and left.
I spent some more time in the yard. This place is terrific. While I wondered in awe, suddenly that local child again held my fingers and stared at me with a cute smile. I gave her some biscuit packets which she willingly took by her other hand without leaving my hand. I insisted her to go back inside the monastery as it was time for me to leave, but she held back and walked with me. Other tourists stared, some even laughed while some said, “Are you taking her with you?” I smiled back and said, “Probably she has liked me and wants to come with me.” I hugged her and told her to go back inside but she just looked at me and did not leave my hand. I took her in my lap and went back inside to leave her there with a Lama and bade her goodbye.
My driver uncle was good enough to bring the car up at the entrance so that I did not have to walk back even though I didn’t ask him to. With a content soul, I left Key Monastery with a lot of adoration and a promise to come back once again. As the car sped towards Kaza, I lowered my window glass and took the last glimpse of the monastery. My heart stayed back.
Have you visited Key? Will you go to visit Key or do you have any questions regarding how to plan your trip to Key? Write to me in the comment section below.