Dhankar Gompa is a Gompa, a Buddhist temple in the district of
Lahaul and Spiti in India. It is situated at an altitude of
about 3,894 metres in the Spiti Valley between the towns of
Tabo and Kaza. The complex is built on a 1000-foot (300-metre)
high spur overlooking the convergence of the Spiti and Pin
Rivers - one of the world's most amazing settings for a gompa.
Dhang or dang means cliff, and kar or khar means fort. Hence
Dhangkar means fort on a cliff.
Dhankar, like Key Monastery and Tangyud Monastery in Spiti,
and Thiktse, Likir and Rangdum monasteries in Ladakh, was
built as a fort monastery on the Central Tibetan pattern. It
was reported to have had 90 monks in 1855.
Below the Gompa lies the small village of Shichilling which
contains the new Dhankar Monastery which is home to about 150
monks belonging to the Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism.
Beyond the surrounding harsh, lunar landscape, prominent
sights at Dhankar Gompa include a statue of Vairochana (Dhayan
Buddha) consisting of 4 figures seated back to back in
addition to various crumbling thangkas.
There is a small museum in the gompa. In 2006, World Monuments
Fund selected Dhankar gompa as one of the 100 most endangered
sites in the world. A nonprofit group, Dhangkar Initiative, is
attempting to organize its conservation. Dhankar is accessible
by a motorable road, good for small vehicles only, that
branches off for Dhankar from the main Kaza-Samdu road at a
point about 24 km from Kaza. The branch road is 8 km in length
up to Dhankar.
History of Dhankar Monastery
Dhankar was the traditional capital of the Spiti Valley Kingdom
during the 17th century and has some features that dates back to
the 12th century. It was the seat of the early rulers of Spiti,
the Nonos, who had the right to cultivate the government lands
nearby and were required to keep the fort in repair. They also
bestowed justice to the people and were noted for their cruel
penalties until the British replaced them.
The monastery is also referred to as Lha-'od-pai-dgon-pa: "Lha-'od
seems to be the local pronunciation of Zla-'od, the name of a
famous lama who was born in 1121, according to the Reu-mig.
Zla-'od-pa would then mean "a follower of Zla-'od." He is
actually the founder or renovator of the monastery which now
belongs to the Gelugpa order. The monks declared that it was not
only of earlier origin than the Tabo monastery, but also earlier
than Srong-btsan-sgam-po. They have, however, nothing to show of
any really ancient artifacts. They explain this fact by stating
that the monastery was stealed many times, lastly during the
Location of Dhankar Monastery
Centrally located in Spiti region, Dhankar Monastery offers
amazing view of the Spiti valley. It is situated in Lahaul and
Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India.
Even in ancient times, it was chosen by the Nonos to have better
control and safety from its enemy. The Dhankar fort was
traditional home for the Nonos, the royals of Spiti.
Remote and cut off from other parts of the country,
modernization has bypassed Dhankar. Dhankar is situated at the
convergence of Spiti and Pin Rivers.
The seventh century Buddhist monastery is the second highest in
the world after Ki Monastery and an important centre of Buddhist
learning since the seventh century. The new monastery has been
build at Shichilling Village and houses about 150 Lamas.
The monasteries belong to Gelugpa Order of Tibetan Buddhism. The
statue of Vairochana or Meditating Buddha’s idol forms the
centre of the monastery. Monastery has ancient murals, thankas,
Buddhist scriptures that are worth seeing.
Besides the Dhankar Monastery, there are several other tourist
places to see. Dhankar is also popular among tourists. Only
about 2 kms from the monastery lies the Dhankar lake which is
surrounded by glacier mountains. Only trekkers prefer to go to
the site due to its remote location.
From Dhankar, one can also go to Tabo Monastery which is about
26 km away and Pin Valley National Park which is home to the
rare ibex and snow leopard.
Tips for visiting Dhankar Lake
• If you are planning to camp at Dhankar Lake, do not forget to
carry enough foodstcok, firewood, tent and sleeping bag.
• It is best to go camping at the site with a group.
Foundation of Dhankar Monastery
It was founded more than 1000 years ago. This monastery
serves the eastern side of Spiti. It is based on a
distance of 25 km east of Kaza. Dhankar was the capital of
the Spiti kingdom in th 17th century. This monastery
shelters about 150 monks. There is an ancient prison on
top of the hills.
The monastery was built about one thousand years ago. One
of the major attractions of Dhankar Monastery is statue of
Vairochana (Dhayan Buddha), consisting of 4 figures seated
back to back. It also houses a collection of various
Strategically built at highest location in Spiti Valley,
Dhankar Monastery was once the capital of Spiti in 17th
century. It is one of the five main Buddhist centres and
tourist destinations in Spiti region.
This Monastery was built using traditional materials like
mud, stone and timber. It is dark inside and small steps
are leading from one place to another. To prevent complete
darkness, there are small windows in the walls, from where
sunlight approaches. There are many prayer halls inside
the monastery. The monastery also contains a series of
fifteenth-century wall paintings.
Dhankar village is situated at an elevation of over 3,800 metres
in the Spiti Valley. It is connected with the rest of the valley
through a motorable road which is good for small vehicle only.
Schichling is a small village lying on the main road between
Kaza and Tabo about 24 kms away from Kaza and 22 kms before
Tabo. From here, there is a well paved branch road upto Dhankar,
8 kms away. No public transport available on this branch road
till Dhankar Village. To reach Dhankar, one has to either hire a
taxi from Tabo or Kaza or to get a government bus (only two
buses in a day from Kaza as well as Tabo) up to Schichling. From
Schichilng one can try for a hitchhike or one can trek to this 8
Dhankar is just like another small village in the cold desert of
Spiti Valley. Untouched and away from tourists exploitation, the
population of this village is not more than 100. There is a
broad road which goes to the monastery from the new monastery
towards the upper side of the village. From the top of the hill
that extends above the village, Dhankar looks like a bowl-shaped
structure in the hills. It seems like almost all the old Dhankar
houses emerged straight from the mountains with their main wall
on the back being merged on the hills. This is a specialty of
Dhankar houses and from wide angle or from distance provides
Other things to do Around Dhankar Monastery
Trek to Dhankar lake
This lake is situated in the mountain at an altitude of 4517
meters. A 3 kms walk able road from the village goes to the lake
and takes about 2 hours. A dangerous straight climb option is
also available from the village to the lake and takes about one
Trek to Lahlung Village
This village is home of one of the oldest temple of Spiti
Valley,Sherkhang Temple which is famous for its nondescript
stucco building, fantastic characters with wall and ceiling
paintings. It is believed to be a 1000 years old temple. It
requires about 3 hours one way easy trek from Dhankar to Lahlung.
From Lahlung you can further trek to Demul, Komik and Langza
Trek into the wilderness
Beyond Dhankar lake and Lahlung village, there are numerous
trekking options available. Just prepare yourself, show some
courage and lost in the wilderness of this region.