Wanderings in Lahaul : Kardang Monastery

Most travellers just pass through Lahaul as an overnight stop at either Keylong or Jispa on their journey on the famous Manali – Leh highway. I had done so too, on my first trip on this magical road. Over the years I have kept returning and explored Lahaul in bits and pieces; it is too huge a place to explore in one go. Such is also the irony that I have never meant to specifically explore Lahaul but have always seen the sights on other longer sojourns to offbeat places in the Himalayas.

The serene courtyard of Kardang Monastery.

I had reached Keylong with the aim of acclimatising before embarking on the epic solo trek to Zanskar. I was particularly fascinated with Lahaul’s history : Lahaul, Spiti and Zanskar were part of the kingdom of Ladakh in the 10th century. However, in the 17th century, Ladakh was defeated by a combined Mongol-Tibetan force changing the customs and culture of the entire region.

Pretty chortens in the lush green valley near Keylong in Lahaul.

Lahaul was later separated into Upper Lahaul and Lower Lahaul which came under the  control of Kullu Kings and Chamba Rajas respectively. Most people follow a curious blend of both Hindu and Buddhist customs in Lahaul resulting in a fascinating amalgamation of culture, customs and architecture.

Kardang Monastery and the monk’s residences under the gaze of the Rangcha Massif.

Located at approx. 3300m Keylong is the dist. headquarters of the Lahaul section of Lahaul & Spiti district and is a pretty modern town with a swanky bus-stand that has ample connectivity by buses to all parts of Lahaul & Pangi valley (as far as Killar in Pangi). Lahaul (also Lahoul) also has the distinction of being one of the most prosperous areas in entire Himachal Pradesh. There are lush green fields everywhere courtesy of the river basins of Chandra & ChandraBhaga.

Read : Solo travelling to the last frontier of Saach Pass

Drukpa lineage appears to be powerful and prosperous. Somewhere in Kardang Village.

There was no seat to be found in the Haridwar-Keylong bus in Manali and I had no option but to board a 400 Rupees per seat shared sumo from Manali bus stand and reach breathless in Keylong. From the sea level of Jaipur to 10000 feet of Keylong was no joke and I was huffing and puffing while making my way up from the bus stand where the taxi left us.

Welcomed by the flowers, summer is a lovely time in these parts.

Some local Lahauli friends came to meet me once I was in the guest house; I was keen on visiting all the monasteries around Keylong and luck smiled upon me. They had a car and were going to the biggest monastery in Lahaul : Kardang.

Kardang Monastery

A closer look at the 900 year old Kardang Monastery.

The road crossed Tandi bridge and branched off upwards from the main highway and kept ascending quite prominently to pass through lush greenery. Kardang village is situated on the left bank of the river Bhaga and was once the capital of Lahaul and the monastery is located on top of the village. It may have taken us around one hour to cover this distance of around 20 kms.

Rotating the prayer wheels for good karma.

It was the auspicious day of a Buddhist festival and there was a festive mood even among the monks. Flowers of various colours and sizes were growing in the vicinity of the monastery. The view of Chandra Valley from the open courtyard of the monastery was beautiful, checkered fields were visible interspersed with houses even as the Chandra river flowed serenely below.

Lovely frame of the plethora of colours at the entrance of Kardang Monastery.

The well maintained Drukpa Kargyud gompa of the red hat sect itself didn’t look 900 years old, as was claimed. The monks later told me that it was repaired in early 20th Century by a lama by the name of Norbu. The yellow roof of the Gompa is stunningly perched against the backdrop of the bare mountains of the Rangcha massif that tower above the valley. Prayer flags flutter in the cool breeze, my heart skips a beat too – it is summer in the valley and yet cold.

Read : Stunning experiences from the most remote monastery in the world

This huge prayer wheel is said to contain a million strips of paper written om mani padme hum.

A separate room in the monastery enshrines a mighty prayer wheel said to contain a million strips of paper bearing the Buddhist mantra Om mani padme hum (‘hail to the jewel in the lotus’). There is an all day ceremony in progress at the monastery because of the festival, we are invited by the monks and offered drops of ‘arak’ a potent barley liquor in the form of prasad.

A strange looking Lahauli snack. Turned out to be quite tasty with chai.

There are statues of Sakyamuni in the centre, Padmasambhava on the right, and Vajradhara on the left, inside the main monastery or du-khang. Kardang (Or Kardong) monastery also houses a around 80 lamas and djomos (female monks). There are full volumes of Kangyur and Tangyur (Sacred Buddhist texts) inside the monastery.

Very artistic paintings adorn the pillars in bright colours.

The walls of the gompa are decorated with colourful wall paintings, also called frescoes. As I am with esteemed locals, I am also invited for lunch with the monks at the dwelling of the high ranking lama. There is very tasty rice and dall, and a strange looking local snack to be savoured with tea. I am happy when they tell me I am lucky to come on an auspicious day.

Photography is not allowed inside, yet they allowed me to record a video of the chanting. It was a very soothing experience.

The local amchi (Traditional Tibetan medicine doctor) takes us away and gives us some medicines made from herbs for our well being. I have the choice of either walking by a 2 hour shortcut to Keylong or go back with them in the comfort of a car. I choose the latter and am pleasantly surprised to know of another small monastery by the name of Jabjes Monastery in Kardang Village.

What lies inside? Maybe I can try when I go next time.

I am told there are rare paintings and frescoes inside Jabjesh monastery but alas, it is closed for renovation and the monk with the key is not to be found. I spot some rock carvings outside the monastery.

Rock carvings in Kardang Village, believed to be at least a thousand years old.

It is deja vu, I had asked to be left there; kids come and play with me, dark clouds gather and it promptly starts drizzling. I try taking a shortcut, spot the Tupchiling Gompa and watch rain cover the valley while chatting with the monk.

Prettiness galore, while bitter taste of arak liquor swirls in my mouth as I leave for Keylong.

I had begun on an auspicious note, and the gods did not disappoint me. I was to explore more of Lahaul’s riches over the next few days and years.

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26 thoughts on “Wanderings in Lahaul : Kardang Monastery”

  1. Beautiful pictures and even wonderful narration of your experience. I felt as if I was with you there walking up the monastery and chatting with monks/locals. I feel you are living the best way possible by following your passion. Stay blessed!

  2. Dear Shubham, thank you for your latest post. I chanced upon your writings while surfing and I am quite amazed with the intensity of your ‘wanderings’ and that too in such a wonderful unorganized manner. A true free spirit you have. The only parallel that comes to my mind is Bill Aitken’s passion for Nanda Devi, a twenty year relationship brought out beautifully in his book ‘The Nanda Devi Affair’. To travel to these remote places, especially on a shoestring budget that too in winter and shacking up with the locals is remarkable and fascinating. I can appreciate what you are doing because I know these places myself. However I always had the support back-up while you are the wild one. A little bit about me so that you can understand that I understand what you are doing. Well, I am a Kumaoni but brought up in Delhi. In college I did a bit of mountaineering, the high point being a member of an expedition that had a few British climbers, one of them being a Chris Bonington team member, to the Nanda Devi Sanctuary in 1977. Later I joined the IPS and from 2003 to 2010 I was with the ITBP and looking after the area from Karakorum Pass to Lipulekh Pass and this is when I travelled to most of the places you write about. But while everything was organized for me, you are the one who goes solo. I know the terrain and I know how miserable it can be in winters. Now I have just retired from service in June 2016. Just for impression sake, my last posting was the DGP of Meghalaya! Prior to that I was the DG of Narcotics Control Bureau at Delhi!! My main passion today is bird and wildlife photography. Just a couple of points. Firstly, ITBP has nothing to do with the Army. Somehow I got the impression through your writings that you believe the ITBP is part of the Army. By and large, from Karakoram to Lipulekh it is the ITBP manning the border with a negligible presence of the Army. They prefer to stay at much lower and comfortable altitudes so that they can concentrate on training!!! Consequently a patrol that the ITBP completes in seven days takes the Army 28 days. That is basically due to their poor acclimatization. Secondly, the Jaipur Litertaure Festival is organized by a company called Teamwork. My son-in-law and daughter both work for this company and are the core members of the JLF. In case you require a delegate pass etc. let me know. A boy who travels to the wild places has to be a decent guy! Thirdly, I wish you would look at the northeast too, especially Arunachal. Some fascinating places with equally fascinating people. I was the only officer in my batch that opted for Assam-Meghalaya cadre and today, after having spent intermittently three and a half decades there, I believe the stay in the northeast and the close contact with the people of the area has given a richness and a quiet satisfaction to a complete life to me, something I would have surely missed if I had not gone there.Take care. Go on travelling to the wild places and keep on writing.Rajiv Mehta

    From: A boy who travels To: jackmehta2@yahoo.co.in Sent: Friday, 16 September 2016 8:59 PM Subject: [New post] Wanderings in Lahaul : Kardang Monastery #yiv5420623796 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5420623796 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5420623796 a.yiv5420623796primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5420623796 a.yiv5420623796primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5420623796 a.yiv5420623796primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5420623796 a.yiv5420623796primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5420623796 WordPress.com | shubhammansingka posted: “Most travellers just pass through Lahaul as an overnight stop at either Keylong or Jispa on their journey on the famous Manali – Leh highway. I had done so too, on my first trip on this magical road. Over the years I have kept returning and explored Lahau” | |

  3. Wonderful story of another unknown monastery. 🙂 Last year when we went to Spiti, we lost the way and took the road to Ladakh by mistake. Almost reached Keylong before realising that we missed the turn to Kaza. 🙂 I am currently writing a series of 11 articles on that journey. First one comes out next Monday.

  4. Another wonderful story of a lesser known monastery. I like the fact that you have done some background research also. 🙂 I am currently writing a series of 11 short stories on the trip to Spiti valley I did last year. First one come out on blog next Monday.

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