A monastery can be defined as a spiritual house or building in which a community or group of monks or nuns resides, secluded living under religious vows. During historical times monasteries were a place where travelers could relax and eat, other than being a spiritual hall, monasteries fulfilled the purpose of feeding the poor, school the boys in villages. Monasteries depict the Buddhist communal life in all of Asia. The origins of monastery architecture lie in the historic era of Buddhism, Gautam Siddhartha. It got popular for wealthy lay worshippers to offer huge complexes of structures to oblige the requirements of monastic life. 

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Evening view of Mountains of Ladakh. ©Abhyudaya Kishore

Although each construction was made of perishable materials, for example, bamboo, thatch, and wood, the structures included dwellings, private cells, porches, storage facilities, privies, promenades, wells, washing chambers, and halls for vague purposes. A similar variety of building capacities, usually in a secluded location however close enough to the populated areas.

There are three main elements of Indian Buddhist Monastic structures, i.e., the vihāra, the chaitya, and the stupa. In a Buddhist setting, vihāra refers to the private cells of monks and the courtyard they characterize. 

As a resident of a monastic populace is fundamental to spiritual life. In the dictionary of Buddhist architecture, chaitya is frequently a descriptive word for a hall (caityagṛha), and the most well-known type of chaitya is a stone cut or rock-carved worship cave with a stūpa inside. What’s more, a stupa is a huge stone piece surrounding which the monks and devotees meditate and pray.

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Phuktal monastery cutting out from the rocky mountains of Ladakh. ©www.famousplacesinindia.com

The Buddhist temples in Ladakh are commonly known as monasteries or Gompas. One such gompa in Ladakh lies at the height of 16,600 ft, on a magnificent snowy field, the Phuktal monastery competently signifies liberation. Arising drastically from a mountainside on the rocky piece of a gorge of the Lingti-Tsarap Chu, a significant tributary of the Zanskar river, is the great Buddhist religious community, Phuktal monastery. 

This majestic monastery amalgamates with the surrounding rocky mountains like it’s a part of the natural structure. This dreamlike projection, looking like a honeycomb, frames the feature of the trek from Darcha to Padum by means of the extensive snowfields of Shingu La (16, 600ft.). 

This Monastery lies in the southeastern Zanskar area in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir and requires five days to reach via foot from the closest road.

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Phuktal monastery cutting out from the rocky mountains of Ladakh. ©Dan Paton

This Gompa houses 70 lamas (monks), who are prepared to welcome and teach philosophy to whoever will learn and was sanctified by the visit of sages, researchers, and translators, for example, Padmasambhava, Phakspa Nestan Durdan, Milarepa’s educator Lama Marpa who lived in these caves, over 1,000 years back. The 16 Arhats, the ideal ones who were the legendary devotees of the Buddha lived here and their pictures embellish the walls of the caves. 

The historic scriptures say that the three academic siblings, Dangson, Pun, and Sum who were blessed with the extraordinary gift of flying, explained their Dharma Teachings here and departed subsequently to handing down this sacred place of worship to Jangsem Sherap Zangpo, a Tibetan Buddhist Guru. Zangpo caused the cave to become bigger, dividing a spring to run in the cave and a tree to develop over the cave. 

Phuk signifies ‘cave’ and tal signifies ‘leisure’. There is likewise a second name Phuktar where Tar signifies ‘liberation’. The monastery is open only for four months, i.e., July to mid-October, and is covered in snow for the rest of the year.

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A Monk Inside of the Phuktal monastery, Ladakh. © www.theHindu.com

This enchanted mud and wood development stayed covered up, until the 19th Century Hungarian history specialist Alexander Csoma de Koros, the pioneer of Tibetan studies and the creator of the primary Tibetan-English Dictionary visited this seclusion. He lived here from 1826-1827 and made it known to the world. 

The monks of the Blue hat deal with this monastery that has four spiritual meditation rooms, a library with rare Buddhist manuscripts, and an old chapel. There is a chamber above committed to Ma Kali. The natural spring inside flows over and splashes outwardly during the rainy season making an ethereal setting.

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Majestic newly built entrance to the Phuktal monastery, Ladakh ©Ronnie And Barty

The Phugtal Monastery is not any ordinary residence of the Buddhist monks, given the fact that it rests on verticals of a gigantic tough mountain. The whole Gompa is connected through some pipes so that when the bell rings at the time of prayer everyone is present. 

No wonder, it is a significant overwhelming position to arrive at this secluded monastery. Situated in the Zanskar Valley in Ladakh, Phugtal can be reached by going across the Zanskar-Rangdum road. 

A wonderful gorge is situated before the cave monastery, which offers a path to the tributary of the Lungnak road. Perhaps the simplest way that explorers can take to visit this Gompa is the Padum-Manali trekking route.

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Internal cave-like structure of the Phuktal monastery, Ladakh ©Ronnie And Barty

The main monastery is situated in a cave and its architecture depends on ancient Indian customs. Because of its secluded and practically blocked area, supplies to the Phugtal Monastery are sent by means of horses, donkeys, and mules (khachhar) in the hotter months, and through the frozen Zanskar waterway in the colder time of year. 

The Phugtal Monastery permits outsiders or explorers to stay, offer prayers, and know the cultural traditions and history of the spot. Furthermore, on the grounds that this Gompa is about 700+ years old and the caves in which it is built are around 2500+ years old, you may likewise think that it’s intriguing to hear each one of those fascinating tales about the extraordinary sages and enlightened creatures, who might visit this site to pursue their training or to simply teach the aspirants. 

Every traveler that has been to this monastery has explained the surreal calmness of the place through words, photography, and videos. But the whole experience of this phenomenal place, the direct connection to lord almighty, and the silence and realization of his presence, the happiness of being there cannot be captured in words.

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Lungnak river on the way to Phuktal monastery, Ladakh. ©www.devilonwheels.com
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Scary Kuchha(weak) bridge over Lungnak river on the way to Phuktal, Ladakh. ©www.devilonwheels.com

A highly motivated architecture student, environmentalist, reader & an energetic person, Vibhuti Bhambri is interested in various sustainable, historical, traditional and economical aspects of architecture, curious to learn, research and spread this knowledge via blogs and writings. Aiming to use knowledge and experience in day to day life.

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