Key Monastery Tours & Activities

About Key Monastery

Located close to India’s eye-catching Spiti river in the Spiti Valley, the Key Monastery is one of the must-visit places in Himachal Pradesh. Also known as the Kye Gompa or Ki and Kee Monastery, the spectacular Tibetan Buddhist Monastery is located on a picturesque hilltop at an altitude of 4,166 meters above the sea level.

The 1000-year-old monastery which dates back to 1100 CE is also the largest in Lahaul and Spiti district of India. The magnificent Key Monastery is believed to have been established by Dromtön (Brom-ston, 1008-1064 CE) who was a student of Atisha, a famous teacher of the 11th century.

Home to around 250-300 Lamas, who are spiritual leaders in Tibetan Buddhism, the stunning monastery serves as a fully-functional religious training ground for Lamas run by a Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhist monks. The historic monastery with a breathtaking architecture will leave you spellbound with a resemblance to fantasy fiction.

Surrounded by beautiful snow-capped Himalayas and glaciers, the monastery is visited by thousands of devotees and tourists from all over the world who come here to seek tranquility and inner peace. The pristine location of the monastery with gorgeous villages covered in snow and long winding roads will give you an unforgettable experience.

As you step inside this amazing monastery, you will notice its beautiful walls which are covered with murals and paintings depicting the 14th-century monastic architecture, influenced by Chinese culture. It is also popular for its rare manuscripts, unique wind instruments, Buddha idols and a marvelous collection of weapons to ward off attackers and protect the monastery.

With a fascinating history behind its emergence, the Key Monastery survived many attacks by the Mongols. Nevertheless, in the year 2000, it witnessed a grand celebration of completing 1000 years in the esteemed presence of the Dalai Lama.

How to Reach Key Monastery

The Key Monastery is located 14 km from Kaza which is the nearest bus station to the monastery. In order to reach the Key Monastery, you will have to reach Kaza whether you are coming from Manali or Shimla. Several buses are plying from both Manali and Shimla to Kaza which usually takes around 10 to 12 hours to reach Kaza.

Then from there, you will have to hire private cabs to reach the monastery which takes about 40 minutes. The climb to the monastery is quite steep and challenging. 

Best Time to Visit Key Monastery

The best time to visit this beautiful monastery is from the mid of June to the beginning of September except monsoon month of August. During this time of the year the Himalayas receive heavy downpour which results in slippery roads and landslides. The climate is mostly chilly at Key Monastery due to its location at a high altitude, however, it is pleasant during these months.

If you are planning to visit from Manali then you will have to cross Rohtang Pass which opens by the second week of June and closes on the 15th of October because of heavy snowfall. It is also closed during monsoons as there are higher chances of landslides. The optimum time to explore the historic monastery is between June and October if you are taking the other route via Shimla and Kaza which is open throughout the year.

What Not to Miss at Key Monastery

There are various places that are located around 100 km from Key Monastery.

1. Kibber Village 
Located around 1.6 km from Key Monastery, Kibber is the highest motorable village which is worth visiting. Situated amidst beautiful mountains and rugged landscapes, the village is quite famous for Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary and the local Kibber Monastery.

2. Spiti Valley
Experience the lifestyle of the locals of Spiti Valley which is popularly known as Little Tibet. The main town of Spiti Valley is Kaza which is 14 km from Key Monastery. While entering Spiti from Lahaul, visitors get captivated by the Kunzum Pass and Chandratal Lake.

A paradise for trekkers and adventure seekers, Spiti offers many challenging and breathtaking treks through unexplored and dream-like routes, surrounded by picturesque mountains and landscapes.

3. Kunzum Pass
A haven for photographers, the Kunzum Pass is one of the highest motorable mountain passes of India, located at an altitude of 4,551 meters. Witness the stunning 360-degree view of Bara-Shigri Glacier and a jaw-dropping view of the Spiti Valley from Kunzum Pass.

4. Chandratal Lake
One of the most beautiful lakes in the mighty Himalayas, Chandratal Lake is a 15 km trek from Kunzum Pass. The crescent-shaped lake is every camper’s and trekker’s dream due to its pristine location and captivating views.

Other Essential Information About Key Monastery

The Key Monastery is located in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh, Lahaul and Spiti district.

Key, Himachal Pradesh 172114

6 AM to 6 PM (Monday to Sunday)

Distance from Spiti:
The Key Monastery is at a distance of 14 km from Kaza, a town in Spiti Valley.

Distance from Manali
: To reach Key Monastery, you have to reach Kaza which is located 190 km from Manali.

History of Key Monastery

Founded by Dromton, a student of Atisha in the 11th century, the Key Gompa was attacked several times in its long and fascinating history. In the 17th century, Mongols raided the monastery when the fifth Dalai Lama was in power. Later, in the 19th century, various armies looted the monastery thus causing great damage to the property.

It did not end here and the monastery suffered again in 1830 during the Ladakh and Kullu war. The devastating fire in the 1840s caused further damage to the structure followed by the attacks during the Sikh regiment in 1841. In the same year, the Dogra army during the reign of Ghulam Khan and Rahim Khan damaged the property.

The occurrence of a violent earthquake in 1975 yet again destroyed the monastery. The recurrent attacks and natural disasters resulted in the repair and restoration work of this historic monastery by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the State Public Works Department.

Collections at Key Monastery

A paradise for historians, the Key Monastery houses an extensive collection of treasures. You can find valuable manuscripts, Thangkas, beautiful murals, stucco images and peculiar wind instruments within this monastery. Lamas still use these wind instruments during the annual festival of Key Monastery in the summer season.

Another amazing collection inside the monastery is of weapons which were perhaps used to defend the monastery from the barbarian attacks of invaders. Several murals which include the images and idols of Buddha, numerals books of high aesthetic value and historical documents relevant to the orders are also put on display inside the monastery.

You can also explore the prayer rooms which can be reached through dimly lit and challenging passages with entrance through the tiny doors. All of these rooms are different and do not follow a single design. While you are at the monastery, one of the most memorable things you can do is observe the Lamas who can be seen singing and dancing merrily and enjoying playing with their pipes and horns.

Highlights of Key Monastery

Other than its rich collection of ancient Buddhist books and murals, the Key Monastery is quite famous for its Cham Festival. Celebrated annually in June or July with much rigor and enthusiasm, it involves the Cham dancers followed by a grand procession by Lamas who dress up in vibrant attire and perform traditional dances. The masked dances are performed in the ritual ground situated below the monastery.

As a part of the celebration, a large butter sculpture of a demon is burnt to mark the triumph of good over evil. Devotees who come from neighboring villages to attend the festival lay on the ground and the Lamas then walk over them. Through this practice, the Lamas who are considered as deities, helped the pilgrims to get rid of any disease or if they are possessed by any spirit.

The head Lama chants the prayers and the spiritual leader addresses the crowd. While the monks play traditional music using unique wind instruments, the Lamas wearing red and blue masks deliver fascinating dance moves. These Cham dancers as they balance themselves on one leg invoke the deities with their elaborate dance forms.

Tips for visiting Key Monastery

- It is recommended to take a bus or hire a private taxi from Manali to Kaza as driving can be dangerous.

There are not many ATMs in Kaza and they might run out of money. Therefore, tourists are advised to carry enough cash as digital payment won’t work here in the mountains.

 If you want to avail accommodation at the Key Gompa, then you need to inform in advance. The charges for a night are INR 250 which is inclusive of food.

While you are at the monastery, do not forget to try the refreshing herbal butter tea which enhances the circulation of oxygen in the body.

 To survive the chilly weather at the monastery, pack your warmest clothes and wear sturdy shoes.
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People Also Ask About Key Monastery

  1. What is Cham Festival?

    The Cham Festival is the annual festival of the Key Monastery which is celebrated in the month of June or July. The grand celebration which symbolizes the victory of good over evil includes Cham dancers dressed up in glittering clothes and masks followed by a procession of Lamas. The pilgrims who come to attend the festival lie flat on the ground so that these Lamas can walk over them in order to get rid of diseases and spirits. A large sculpture made out of butter is set on fire to begin the festival.
  2. Why Is Key Gompa monastery famous?

    The stunning Key Monastery is famous for its extensive collection of beautiful murals and paintings which adorn the walls of this 1000-year-old monastery. Located at an altitude of 4,166 meters, the monastery still houses the historic Buddhist scrolls and books representing Tibetan Buddhism. A treasure trove for historians, the Key Gompa has a rich collection of weapons that were used to ward off attackers.
  3. Can we stay at the Key monastery?

    Yes, you can stay at Key Monastery at a minimal cost of INR 250 per night including food. If you want to explore the serene lifestyle of monks and learn about their distinctive culture, you should definitely stay at the monastery. You can also witness the splendid view from the top of the monastery.
  4. How old is Key Monastery?

    Dating back to 1000 AD, the Key Gompa is the oldest Buddhist monastery in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. It is founded by Dromton who was a pupil of well-known teacher Atisha, in the 11th century. The Key Gompa is also the largest monastery in the entire Spiti Valley.