Ancient Relic in a Modern World, Key Monastery | Milaap

Ancient Relic in a Modern World, Key Monastery

Situated within the picturesque valley of Spiti, lies a small township called Kaza, that amalgamates all the commercial activities of the region. Kaza is also the centre of tourist activities, a busy market, bus station, A Gongpa and several restaurants and homestays. From Kaza, several villages in the Spiti Valley comes within access through the bus routes operated by the Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC). As soon as I reached Kaza, my immediate thought was to head out to one of those villages on the local bus.

 Way to Kaza, Spiti

At 4 pm, buses leave routinely for some of these remote villages, snaking its way across the barren mountains, often crossing the occasional gorges or following the river bed at the foot of the mountains. The only bus that was leaving from Kaza that afternoon had three main stops: Key Monastery, Kibber Village and finally stopping at Chichim Village until the next day. I took the bus, intending to get down at Kibber, still unsure of the exact sequence of the stops.

 The twists and turns on the way to Key

The ride was not too long about 6-7km, which was made quite interesting with small conversations with the ever so friendly and hospitable locals as Ill as some travellers. It was during this ride, I met an American traveller, Tony, who has been staying and travelling in the region for the past month. From the conversation, I got to know that the bus makes the first halt at the Key Monastery before moving to the next stop. I also got to know that the next bus would be available in the morning the next day, giving me the ideal window to experience Key. Once I reached Key Monastery, I took the decision to make a halt there for the night and leave by the next bus in the morning.

 The entrance to Key Monastery

The Monastery or Key Gompa was founded over a thousand years ago (1008 to 1064 AD) by Dromptom, the pupil of the famous 11th-century teacher, Atisha. The monastery can be seen from afar, situated between the mountains, and built-in layers upon layers of matchbox like rooms for the monks and the main monastery at the top of the hillock that gives the Key monastery its distinctive look. The monastery usually has its own place for the accommodation of the occasional guests, tourists or travellers, which however was closed due to renovation work being done with the utmost vigour, in preparation of the visit from the 14th Dalai Lama.

 A mile away, the view of Ky Monastery

 The complex was a bus stand and a singular homestay & café (Noryang Café). The monastery complex itself had two schools (one primary and one secondary) and a small post office, which seemed to remain perpetually closed. Luckily for me, there was a room available in the Noryang Café. Tony, also happened to stay put in the same place, and so I continued our conversations on our travel experiences. Our conversations continued for long hours, encompassing a variety of subjects from travel to nature, literature, and philosophy, not knowing when the sunset and a sudden chill of the cold mountainside slept over. Tired of the day’s travelling, I decided to have an early dinner and sleep off, planning to wake up early and visit the monastery.

 The only dining and lodging place

Early morning I got up to explore this tiny settlement of monks. The sunrise over the barren mountains, the clear blue sky, contrasting with the grey rocks created the perfect backdrop of the Key Monastery that stood tall for centuries as a bastion of knowledge and philosophy. Moved away from the humdrum of a nearby township, the only common sight in the place apart from its scenic beauty was that of monks and students of all ages hurrying into their daily lives.

  Early morning study in solitude

 The young monks!

I went up to the monastery, walking up the steep way that inched through the rows of small houses until reaching the top of the hillock where the monastery was built. The main monastery was closed when I reached, for it wasn’t the praying time yet. So I visited the lower chambers of the monastery which are the meditation cells. These cells, also called the ‘caves’ are ancient meditation chambers the monks have used for centuries. The meditation area consisted of few tiny cells for individual monks and a larger cell, enough for 10 monks to meditate in. Everything inside the meditation chambers gave the essence of being ancient, the walls, the low lying and even the walls of the cells seemed like it holds the wisdom of ages. In the perfect tranquil and silence of the meditation chambers, it was easy to see how one can attain peace of mind.

 A closer look!

 Way to the medi

Stepping out of the meditation chambers, I visited the main monastery hall, which was open by this time and already had few tourists being mesmerized at the ancient tapestries that hung on the wall. Several imageries on the tapestries also caught my attention, with many of them relatable to mythologies of Hinduism. Being inside the monastery left like time travelling, as the lifestyles, daily routines and activities of the people of Key Ire unaffected by the rest of the world. By evening, it was time for me to leave on the bus that would take me to Chichim Village, a story for another time.