Dhankar Monastery and Dhankar Lake Trek in Spiti Valley

Himachal Pradesh

Dhankar Monastery Spiti Valley

Last Updated on: May 13, 2024 

About this Blog: Dhankar Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Spiti Valley. Read this blog to know about the gompa and our experiences of Dhankar Monastery and Dhankar Lake Trek. Also included all the practical information for traveling to Dhankar. 

Just as I thought that the day couldn’t get better than it already was, I saw a glimpse of Dhankar village at a distance from the road. It was just before the sunset, the time which photographers term as golden hour. The sun was getting ready to set behind the mountain peak. There was a golden glow on the cliff on which DhankarMonastery is perched. The entire Dhankar Village was aglow with a soft golden light. This is something I can neither describe in words or show you in a photograph. You have to be there to actually experience it.

Dhankar village during sunset

After exploring Nako Lake, Gue Mummy and Tabo Monastery we were finally near Dhankar village. After driving for almost an hour from Tabo, we reached Shichling and took the diversion towards Dhankar village and started on our uphill journey towards the village. It was at that time we saw the wonders of colors in the sky. Now, we had two options – to carry forward to Dhankar village or just stop at that vantage point and watch the sunset, which I am sure was going to be a mesmerizing one.

So, we did what most of us would do at that time. We stopped at a vantage point which gave perfect views of Dhankar village, the Spiti and Pin Rivers flowing in the valley below and the promise of a glorious sunset.

A Few Sunset Pictures of Dhankar Village

Dhankar village during sunset

Dhankar village looks as if it has been just placed on a windswept cliff. The houses seem to be jutting out of the cliffs in a precarious way. And what can I say about the monastery? It seems that the gompa is just hanging over a cliff. In the twilight, the entire place looked more enigmatic.

Confluence of Spiti and Pin River at Dhankar in Spiti Valley

As nature had promised, we watched a wonderful sunset that I cannot define using an adjective. We sat there for some more time before heading towards Dhankar village.

Reaching Dhankar in Spiti Valley

We had started that morning from Kalpa and visited Nako, Gue and Tabo on the way. After exploring Tabo Monastery, we decided to drive over to Dhankar and stay here for the night.

Dhankar village is about 32 km from Tabo towards Kaza, but you have to take a diversion from Shichling. The road towards Dhankar from Shichling is about 8 km and it is an uphill drive.

Gate to Dhankar Gompa Spiti Valley

Dhankar monastery will be a part of your Spiti Valley trip. So you will probably have a car at your disposal for the entire trip. However, if you are backpacking and looking for budget options, you can avail local buses from Tabo and Kaza.

By the time we reached Dhankar village, it was already dark. There are a few homestays near the monastery complex. We asked around and found that most of them were closed as it was not the peak tourist season. Two of the homestays that were opened were already full. But one of them was ready to make some arrangements for us.

Homestay at Dhankar Village Spiti Valley

Fortunately, a couple from the village, who also runs a homestay, opened their house for us. There was only one caveat. They were leaving towards Kaza early the next morning and so they would not be able to provide us breakfast or any meals the next day. We were happy to stay at their place. Food can be thought of later.

The homestay was a basic one, but cozy. In the evening, we all sat in the kitchen and had sea buckthorn tea. It was so refreshing! All our tiredness seemed to vanish after that. For dinner, our host prepared thukpa which we enjoyed a lot.

The next morning, we woke up early and walked to the Dhankar Monastery.

Dhankar Monastery

Dhankar Monastery in Spiti Valley

Located at an altitude of 12700 feet, Dhankar Monastery looked imposing from a distance. The monastery is built on the edge of a high mountain spur overlooking the confluence of Spiti and Pin rivers as they crisscross the valley below. It looks as if the monastery is hanging on a narrow ridge. Once you see the monastery, you might wonder like me as to how the monastery has been standing there on such a ground for so many years. This is perhaps one of the most spectacular settings for a monastery.

The old Dhankar monastery has undergone a lot of ravages of time. The 1975 earthquake of Spiti had weakened its structure considerably. Also with constant erosion, the structure is in a fragile state. In 2006, the World Monuments Fund had included Dhankar Monastery in its list of 100 most endangered monuments of the world. A non-profit organization named Dhankar Initiative has taken up the task of conservation of the monastery.

Dhankar Gompa

Dhankar Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries of the region.

It is believed to have been built in the 1100s by a monk known as Lha-‘od. But the monks in Dhankar Gompa claim that the monastery is even older than that. In fact, there is a signboard at the entrance of the monastery that says “First of formation, last of dissolution”. This essentially means that this monastery was the first monastery to be built in Spiti Valley and if for any reason, the monasteries of Spiti are destroyed, this will be the last one. It’s a wonderful meaning, isn’t it?

As we entered the monastery, we were transported to a different era. The monastery is built of mud, stone and timbre. From the monastery, we got a sweeping view of Dhankar village. We could also see the confluence of the Pin and Spiti Rivers. The entire place looked absolutely breathtaking.

Confluence of Pin and Spiti River as seen from Dhankar Gompa

We met a couple of monks inside. However, they carried bad news. The monastery was completely closed down due to renovation works. No one was allowed to go inside the monastery. We were disappointed. Nevertheless, we roamed around the monastery and admired the structure and the surrounding views.

Inside the Dhankar Monastery, there is a statue of Vairochana Buddha and several murals depicting the life of Buddha. I am sure we would have loved to see the murals and paintings inside this monastery as well. Several corridors are cut inside the rock face of the monastery and these corridors lead to various chambers most of which were empty.

You can also climb up to the upper level of the monastery. However, the stairs are quite fragile and rickety.

There is also a small museum just outside the monastery. Once again the museum was also closed and we could not visit it.

To preserve and protect the monastery, another new monastery was constructed in the village in 2009 . This monastery is currently used by the present monks and lamas as their quarters.

Dhankar Fort

View of Dhankar Monastery and Dhankar Fort

Yes, Dhankar also has a fort. In fact, ‘Dhang’ literally means cliff and ‘kar’ means fort. Thus Dhankar literally means fort on a cliff. So why is there a fort here? For this you have to delve a little bit into the history of Dhankar village.

History of Dhankar Fort

Dhankar used to be the capital of Spiti and the seat of the early local rulers of the area known as Nonos. As a result, a fort was also built here along with the monastery.

The fort is situated just above the monastery with the main structure supported by a cliff base. The old fort can be reached by a short climb from the monastery.

In the earlier days Spiti were surrounded by powerful kingdoms like Ladakh, Kullu and Bushahr. These kingdoms invaded Spiti quite a number of times. During such attacks the mountains became a focal point. They used to light fire on top of high mountains and gathered people there to discuss further course of action. Dhankar being in such a strategic position, probably played a crucial role in this.

Spiti Valley

The people of Spiti did not prefer fighting in a war. They believed in the wisdom of the monks during such times. Many times, they would flee from their habitats taking their valuables and livestock and then hide into the mountains. Sometimes they used to hide in higher places like in Dhankar Fort. They would then wait for the winters to come. During the winters, which was quite harsh in Spiti, the invaders found it difficult to survive. By that time their resources would have dwindled and movement was also restricted. During such time, the Spitians would attack their invaders. Quite a strategy!

We just roamed around the fort for some time and then went back towards our homestay. On the way back, we found a small eatery and had our breakfast there. And then we were ready for our next adventure – to visit the Dhankar Lake.

Dhankar Lake Trek

Starting point of Dhankar Lake Trek

Dhankar Lake is located about 13,580 feet above the sea level. Although it is quite smaller than other lakes in the area, the place is absolutely breathtaking.

To reach Dhankar Lake, you have to trek about 3 km from the village. The trekking trail starts just near the new Dhankar monastery. We started climbing up the dry and gravelly trail. There are markers on the way, so there are very minuscule chances of getting lost.

After 15 minutes of trekking, we came to a position from where we could get a great view of the Dhankar Monastery and the village. We admired the views for some time. But the sun was high up in the sky and we were getting tired. So we started walking again towards our destination.After climbing for about an hour and a half, we reached the top of a ridge. After that the trail was flat and we walked for another half an hour to reach the lake. There were some sea buckthorn bushes also on the way.

It took us almost 2 hours with a few breaks in between to reach Dhankar Lake. But once we were there, we were totally mesmerized. Such a serene place. We sat by the lake for some time enjoying the peace there.

Back to the Village

View of Dhankar village

We started our descent after an hour of spending time at the Dhankar Lake. The descent was not that tough compared to the ascent.

Remember, Dhankar Lake is a high-altitude lake. Trek there only if you are physically fit. Carry a bottle of water and some snacks if you get hungry often like me. We would recommend you to go for Dhankar Lake trek only if you are planning a night stay at Dhankar. If it is just a day visit, then trekking to Dhankar Lake will take up almost your day.

Leaving Dhankar

Way towards Dhankar village

After trekking back from Dhankar Lake, we were quite hungry and we had some snacks from a local restaurant at the village. We would get lunch only after we reached Kaza.

So, bidding goodbye to Dhankar, we started for Kaza. We were going to make a brief stop at Kaza, refuel ourselves and our car and then head towards Mud village in Pin Valley. That is for the next post!

Some useful Information on Dhankar Monastery

How to reach Dhankar Monastery?

Dhankar village is about 32 km from Tabo towards Kaza, but you have to take a diversion from Shichling. The road towards Dhankar from Shichling is about 8 km and it is an uphill drive.

Dhankar monastery will be a part of your Spiti Valley trip. So you will probably have a car or bike at your disposal for the entire trip. However, if you are backpacking and looking for budget options, you can avail local buses from Tabo and Kaza.

If you are coming from Tabo, take the bus from Sumdo towards Kaza and get down at Shichling. You have to get down there and then hitchhike to Dhankar village. In peak season, you will probably get a lift to Dhankar. If not, then trust your good old legs. They should not fail!

Similarly, buses are available from Kaza. Catch the Kaza to Reckong Peo bus at around 7.30 AM from Kaza and get down at Shichling. It will take about an hour to reach there. After that, either hitchhike or hike.

At Dhankar village Spiti Valley

Where to stay at Dhankar?

There are only homestays available at Dhankar village right now. A few of them are right near the monastery. These homestays provide basic facilities with bed and food and basic toilets. Electricity is also not available 24X7.

Where to eat at Dhankar in Spiti Valley?

Food is mostly available in the homestays. The food will be basic, but homely and tasty. However, we saw a couple of small eateries that served tea, coffee and maggi. We also found a restaurant (this was with a homestay) near the monastery that served lunch and dinner. But you have to order them at least 2-3 hours before.

How is the mobile connectivity at Dhankar village?

When we had visited Dhankar, we did not get any network on both our Airtel and Jio sims. I heard BSNL has a network, but I could not confirm it.

Looking over Dhankar Monastery at Spiti Valley

In Conclusion

Staying at Dhankar village in Spiti Valley was an amazing experience. Dhankar Monastery and Dhankar Lake were both quite beautiful and we were quite glad to explore the places. Dhankar lake Trek also showed us how unfit we had become these days. Returning back, it seems we would have to start our fitness journey again.

Hope you liked this blog on Dhankar Monastery and Dhankar Lake. What are your thoughts on Spiti Valley? So let us know in the comments below.

If you are planning a trip to Spiti Valley, you can read our Complete Guide to Spiti Valley. If you have any questions, ask us in the comments below!

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Agni Amrita Travel Blogger

Hey! we’re Agni & Amrita.

We have been travelling together since the last 15 years and writing independent and personal travel content since 2014. Travel is one of the best teachers and through this blog, we aim to share our experiences and travel tips. We encourage you to travel more and see the world through your eyes and not through filtered templates.

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