Buddhist circuits

An Introduction to Buddhism

As the dew-drop slips into the shining sea so does the individual merge with the Universal Life” … Thus spoke the Buddha ’The Enlightened One’ (c563 – c483 B.C.) who attained ’nirvana’ and freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirthFormerly a prince, (Siddhartha Gautam) the Buddha, aged 29, embarked on a quest for enlightenment and relief from the world of suffering. He finally achieved ’nirvana’ (the state of full awareness) at the age of 35, at Bodhgaya. His teaching were oral, but were eventually recorded by his disciples. Critical of the caste system, dependence upon Brahmin priests and an unthinking worship of the gods, Buddha urged his disciples to seek truth within their own experiences. Although his message spread far and wide and Buddhism is one of the major religions of the world today, in India only some six million people practice Buddhism that too along the Himalayas its birth place.

Buddha taught that life is based on Four Noble Truths: life is rooted in ’dukkha’ (suffering); suffering is caused by ’tanha’ (carvings) for worldly things; one can find release from suffering by eliminating carvings- and the way to eliminate carving is by following the Noble-Eight-Fold Path. This path consists of right understanding; right speech; right action; right livelihood; right effort; right awareness; and right concentration. By successfully complying with these things one can attain nirvana.

Trans Himalayan Buddhism

Twelve centuries after the Buddha attained ’nirvana’, the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (Sron – bTsan Sgam – po) who ruled from 618 to 649 A.D. married Wen Cheng from the court of China’s Tang dynasty and Bkrikuti Devi, a Napalese princess. Under their influence, Buddhism slowly developed in the Central Himalayan regions of Tibet, Spiti, Lahaul and Ladakh till it became the predominant faith.

A great impetus came when king Trison Detsen (Khri-Sron-Ide-bTsan, 755-797 A.D.) of Tibet embraced the teachings of the Buddha. He sent to India for great masters like Santarakshita and the famous teacher and tantric, Padmasambhava. Under Padmasambhava’s influence, Mahayana Buddhism, the ’Greater Vehicle’ fanned over the world’s highest plateau.

Known to the Tibetans as Guru or Origin Rimpoche, the precious Master, Padmasambhava began the synthesis of Mahayana practices, yogic tantricism, and the native Bon religion-retaining a large measure of its nature worship and demonolatry. The combine of ritual, faith and philosophic content created what we recognize today as Vajrayana Buddhism, the “Thunderbolt Vehicle”.

The ninth century brought a break in the speed of Buddhist learning when the king, Lang Darma rejected it and began supporting the Bon faith. He was murdered by a Buddhist monk, Pal Dorje, and the tenth and eleventh centuries witnesses the grand revival of Buddhist learning. It was an age of great teachers- Atisha, Marpa, Rinchensang-po and Milarepa.

In 1357 A.D., the towering reformer Tsong Khapa began the religious renewal that emphasized Atisha’s teachings and a purity of doctrine. He founded the Geluk – pa sect, the ’Yellow Hats’, who grew to hold considerable sway – and from which the Dalai Lamas were to come. In 1578 AD a descendant of Chengis (Ghengis) Khan and ruler of China, Altan Khan, had given Sonam Gyatso the title of Ta – le, now written as Dalai – and which means the ’Master of the Ocean of Wisdom’. When the kingdom of Guge rose in western Tibet after the assassination of Lang Darma, it encompassed the present day tracts of Spiti, Lahaul, Zanskar and upper Kinnaur. The strong cultural and religious identity of the regions dates back to those years.

Buddhist Circuits

Circuit – I (Chandigarh – Leh)


The capital of the states of Punjab & Haryana, this showpiece of modern architecture is the start of this circuit. Chandigarh is well serviced by Air, Road and Rail links. It already has variety of accommodation.

Swarghat (88 Kms from Chandigarh)

This is the entry point of the route to Leh through Himachal Pradesh. Recently, the HP TDC complex.

Bilaspur (40 Kms from Swarghat)

The historic city of Bilaspur was submerged by the waters of the Gobind Sagar. Subsequently a new city took shape by the shores of this large man made lake. The city has water and aero sports already available but there is considerable scope for expansion. The importance of the place lies in the fact that it lies mid way between Chandigarh & Manali.

Mandi (60 Kms from Bilaspur)

Mandi is often called ’Kashi of the Himalaya’ and is famous for its finely crafted temples. It is also a district headquarters.

Rewalsar (22 Kms from Mandi)

Legend has it that this was the place from where Padmasambhava left to spread the word of the Buddha in the eight century. This has three monasteries built around a small lake. Now rebuilt, the oldest one belongs to the Nyingma-pa order. Adorned with tiny prayer flags, the lake has tiny clusters of floating reed, which are regarded to embody the spirit of Padmasambhava.

Kullu (70 Kms from Mandi)-Manali (45 Kms from Kullu)

Existing tourist destinations, Kullu and Manali have four recently built Buddhist monasteries. The main one is located in the city centre. Manali is the melting pot in which the Buddhists from Lahaul, Kinnaur, Spiti, Nepal and Tibet live side by side with the local Hindu population.

Rohtang (50 Kms from Manali)

The once dreaded Rohtang Pass is the only land link between the Kullu valley and Trans Himalaya Lahaul. It is the gateway to the route to Leh.

Koksar (15 kms from Rohtang)

Koksar is the junction of the roads that lead to Lahaul and Leh on one hand, and to Spiti & Kinnaur on the other.

Keylong (35 Kms from Koksar)

Keyong is the district headquarter of Lahaul & Spiti. It is perfectly sited for visiting for several Buddhist monasteries and the ones that can be conveniently visited from Keylong are – Guru Ghantal (8 Km), associated with both Padmasmbhava and the Great Teacher and Translator, ’Lotsaba’ Rinchensang-po: this is regarded to be the oldest one in Lahaul. Kardang (5 km), is one of the most revered places of the Drug-pa sect. Tayul (6km) and Gemur (18 km) are other important monasteries near Keylong. The monasteries ofShashur, Guru Ghantal and Triloknath are other famous ones to visit.

Jispa (35 Kms from Keylong)

Jispa is a new tourism centre coming up with the monasteries of Yarji and Photang where his Holiness the Dalai Lama gave the Kal Chakra sermon a few days back to the Buddhists all over the world. The mountaineering Institute of Manali has a sub centre here for adventure tourism.

Sarchu (114 Kms from Keylong)

Sarchu is the last inhabited point in Himachal Pradesh on the Manali-Leh route- which is regarded as one of the highest highways in the world. Presently, it has tented and limited built accommodation.

Leh (246 Kms from Sarchu)

Leh lies in the head of a triangular plateau in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It is renowned for its unique architecture, rich culture and its monasteries.

Circuit – II (Shimla – Koksar)

Shimla (120 Kms from Chandigarh)

Shimla is the present day State Capital of Himachal Pradesh and the former ’summer capital’ of British India. Its several attractions include two recently built monasteries. The Geluk-pa sect has one at Sanjauli and the Nyingma-pa one is at Kasumpti.

Rampur (135 Kms from Shimla)

Built by the waters of the Satluj, this was the capital of the erstwhile princely state of Bushair and even today is an important trading center. Rampur has an old Buddhist temple.

Reckong Peo (100 Kms from Rampur)

Reckong Peo is the district headquarters of the district Kinnaur. There are 33 Buddhists monasteries and temples in Kinnaur and the Nyingma-pa, Drug-pa and Geluk-pa sects are well represented. Recknong Peo has a recently built gompa where his Holiness the Dalai Lama conducted a ’Kalachakra’ ceremony in 1992. The ancient settlement of Kalpa with spectacular views, lies just above Reckong Peo. Here is the Hu-Bu-lan-kar gompa said to have been founded by Rinchensang-po (950-1055 A.D.).

Rarang, Jangi, Lippa, Kanum & Pooh

These are small villages with a predominantly Buddhists monasteries and temples. For example, Lippa has 3 temples, 2 houses the sacred Kangyur and Tangyur texts, and the third is the ’Goldang Chakodar’. Kanum is a complete monastic village and dates back to the time of Rinchensang-po. Pooh is along the highway and houses a fairly large Drug pa gompa. Jangi is the start of the famous Kinner Kailash ’parikarma’.

Nako (88 Kms from Reckong Peo)

On a side-road bifurcating near Yangthang, the village of Nako is built around a lake. On its northern side are 4 Buddhists temples with stucco images and murals. Within the village, two temples house large prayer wheels. Near Nako is a rock where a footprint-like impression is ascribed to Padmasambhava.

This is the base for the trek to Pargail peak and is en-route to the Thashigang monastery, where an image is said to grow hair.

Tabo (70 Kms from Nako)

Tabo is in arid Spiti where there are thirty monasteries spread over its rugged terrain. This is the largest monasteric complex in Spiti and has nine temples, 23 ’chortens’, a monks chamber and a nuns chamber. The Tabo ’Chos-hKhor’ or Doctrinal Enclave, was founded in 996 A.D. by the great teacher Rinchensang-po and is renowned for its breathtaking murals and stucco statues. This has been declared a ’World Heritage Site’ by UNESCO. In terms of sanctity in Trans Himalayan Buddhism, this is regarded as next only to the Tholing monastery in Tibet.

Dhankar Gompa (32 Kms from Tabo)

This rests high over the valley and is a stupendous example of local architecture. It is regarded to have once been a fort and was also the residence of the ruler of Spiti- the Nono. Dhankar is a repository of Buddhist scriptures in the Bhoti script.

Kaza (29 Kms from Dhankar)

Kaza has the administrative offices for Spiti. It has accommodation and essential facilities. The Ki (Key), Hikkim (Tangyud), Komic and Langja monasteries are accessible from Kaza.

Kye Monastery (7 Kms from Ki)

This labyrinth of rooms and corridors once as a fort. It houses valuable ’thanka’ paintings and offers a panoramic view of the area. Some scholars believe this to have been built by Dromton (1008-64 A.D.). Others differ and place its origins in later centuries, but by and large, most concur that it was built before the fifteenth century. In the architectural definitions given to various monasteries, Ki falls in the ’pasada’ style which is characterized by more stories than one and often plays the role of a fort monastery.

Kibber (11 Kms from Ki)

Kibber is the highest permanently inhabited village of the region connected by a motorable road and has a small Buddhist monastery.