Key Monastery (Gompa) – The Most Breathtaking Monastery of Spiti Valley

Himachal Pradesh

Key Monastery Spiti Valley

Last Updated on: May 13, 2024 

About the Blog: Key Monastery or Kee (Ki) Gompa is one of the major attractions of Spiti  Valley. Located atop a hillock, the gompa looks majestic. Key Monastery was one of the major highlights of our Spiti trip, however cliched it might sound. This blog is all about our visit to this magnificent monastery. Along with that we have added all the little facts and information needed to visit Key village and the gompa.

We have been traveling together for more than 15 years now and in these times there were only a few places and moments that completely entranced us. Our first look at the Phugtal Monastery in Zanskar was one such instance. One year later, we were again totally and completely enamored by Spiti Valley. Standing atop a small hillock behind Key Monastery in Spiti Valley on a late afternoon in April, I was just looking at the impressive architecture of the Key Gompa and the Spiti River as it branched through the valley below.

The majestic Key Monastery Spiti

The sun was setting just behind the mountains and the monastery was lit in the subtle glow of sun rays. The winds were howling and we were shivering in the cold. Agni was trying to take the perfect photograph of the Key Monastery while I was trying to set my GoPro to capture the sunset. What all we do for taking photographs and videos! Nevertheless, we were quite ecstatic as we witnessed a wonderful sunset beyond the monastery.

About Key Monastery

Key Monastery is perhaps the most iconic attraction of Spiti Valley. And Spiti itself is a different world altogether. Remote, barren, desolate, high and completely surreal. Located at an altitude of 4166 meters near Kaza town, Key Gompa was once a remote place to reach. But I would say that it is remote anymore. Roads have been built. You can reach Kaza in one day from Manali and cars can now go to the base of the monastery. Yes, it is a difficult place to reach during the winters because of the harsh cold and snowfall. 

Looking at the Key Gompa in awe

I think the remotest monastery that we have been to goes to Phuktal Monastery in Zanskar. And trekking to Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan was tough. 

Key Gompa also called Ki or Kee Monastery is the largest monastery in Spiti Valley and holds a great spiritual significance in the region. The monastery was believed to have been established in the early fifteenth century by Sherap Zangpo, a follower of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of Gelugpa Sect. 

Not only was the gompa subjected to the ravages of time, Key Monastery faced attacks by various factions time and again. During the 17th century, Mongol armies attacked the monastery. It also suffered loss during the Ladakh-Kullu conflicts in 1820 and in 1841 suffered heavy damages by the Dogra army and later by the Sikh army later that year. The earthquake of 1975 also wreaked further damage to the monastery. Later, the Archaeological Survey of India and the State Public Works department made some renovations to the monastery.

Architecture of the Key Monastery

Architecture of Key Monastery

Key Monastery is built according to Pasada style of architecture that is characterized by two or more stories so that they can serve as both monastery and fort. In the case of Key Monastery, there are three floors – the underground, ground and first floor. The underground serves as storage rooms while the ground floor contains assembly halls and small living rooms. There is also a chapel with the protector deity of the monastery on this floor.  

First floor of Key Gompa

The first floor has rooms for monks and prayer halls. Some of the rooms on the first floor have interesting murals, paintings, ancient texts and musical instruments. Most of these artifacts were brought from Central Tibet. The uppermost floor also has an apartment for His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Key Gompa is the home to around 200 monks. There is a school and education center for the young monks inside the monastery complex where they receive secular and religious education up to the tenth grade before moving on to the learning of advanced Buddhist teachings. 

With so many attacks and natural calamities faced by the Key Monastery, there have been several structures constructed over the time. The outer part of the monastery is white in color and the top portions have maroon color. From a distance, Key Monastery looks mysterious and magical. 

Reaching Key Gompa

reaching the monastery

We had started from Langza in the morning that day. Previously, we had decided to stay at Kaza for the night and explore Key, Kibber and the other villages from there. But while driving from Langza, we suddenly had this change of mind. We decided against staying at Kaza and zeroed on Key. 

Leaving Langza, we arrived at Kaza and then drove to Key village where we found a homestay to stay. We dropped our luggages and drove further to visit Chicham Bridge, Kibber, Gette and Tashigang village. Key monastery was kept for the end of the day. 

By the time we arrived at Key Gompa after exploring the rest of the places, it was almost 4 PM. The cars now can go till the base of the monastery. From there we just had to walk a little to reach the monastery gate.

Gate of the Ki Gompa

As we reached the gompa, we saw so many young monks playing around. It was perhaps their free time. There were a few playing cricket and a few were just running around. As much as I wanted to talk to a few of them, we decided to visit the monastery first as it was getting late.

Key Monastery

Key Gompa entrance - Spiti Valley Road Trip

As we entered the monastery, we saw prayer wheels on the walls – something that we see in most monasteries. Once we entered the complex, we walked through a dark narrow corridor to reach an opening. There was a prayer hall there. We also entered a room that had some very unique murals and paintings. Photography is not allowed inside these rooms to protect these ancient paintings and murals.  

Inside Kee Gompa

We explored the monastery, looked about here and there. We climbed down to a place that looked like a terrace. There we met two young monks. They were enjoying their time after their classes. They were studying at the monastery school and stayed inside the monastery itself. One of them said that his favorite subject was Mathematics! They shared with us tidbits of their life at the monastery and of life at Key. 

Meeting the Monks of Key Gompa

Meeting the monks at Ki Gompa

After talking to the young monks, we were back again at the main area of the monastery. While we were leaving the monastery, we met another monk (not a young one this time) who asked us where we had come from. He then asked us whether we had visited the main prayer hall. It was closed when we arrived and so we answered in negative.

He took us to the main prayer hall and opened the gate. It was newly built and had many wall hangings and a statue of Guru Padmasambhava.

He also told us to visit the meditation rooms. These are small and dark rooms accessible by narrow passages deep inside the monastery. The rooms are square in shape and dark, having only a single light source. Several small rooms are located side by side, as if a long corridor had been separated by walls. Monks meditate in these small rooms, sometimes even for days. Even outsiders can come here and meditate. You only have to take permission from the lamas in the Key Gompa. But I think the rooms where outsiders can meditate are different from the ones where the monks meditate. 

View from the Key Gompa

Anyways, we visited these meditation chambers. Once we were there, we could understand why these places were used for meditation. There was such peace and calm there. 

Before leaving, we thanked the monk profusely for showing us the wonderful place. There was a festival a week later at the monastery. The monk invited us to attend the festival over a cup of butter tea. As much as we wanted to attend the festival, we could not as the next few days were planned. Maybe some time later, we can revisit and attend this festival. Because, we will come back to Spiti Valley again!

Taking Pictures in Cold

Taking pictures in the cold

After exploring the monastery, we took the road behind the monastery. In the meantime, we also met some young monks playing cricket and spoke to them. They were a bunch of very mischievous kids!

Just beyond the Key Monastery, there was a small hillock. You get the best views of the Key Monastery if you climb that small hill. So we took our cameras and climbed up that hill. By the time we hiked up, it was almost sunset. It was getting colder, the wind was blowing quite strongly. We were shivering in the cold as we waited for the light to be perfect. Finally Agni got his shots as I stood like a statue in the cold.

Sunset at Key

Soon it got dark and we got down from the hillock, got in our car and drove to our homestay.

It was a hectic day and once we were there at our homestay, we had a nice dinner, took some night photographs of the Key monastery and went off to sleep. Oh, did I tell you that we got a very clear view of the Key Monastery from our homestay?

View of the Key Monastery at night from our homestay

The next morning

We wanted to watch the sunrise and so once again went to the Key Monastery early in a godforsaken hour. Once again we climbed the hillock and this time watched an amazing sunrise while Agni took some more pictures.

Sunrise at the Key Gompa

“It’s all about the light”, he said. “Morning light is different from the evening one”. I could only nod in agreement.

Key village

Key village is a quaint little village where the Key Monastery dominates the entire village both physically and metaphorically. The Spiti river flows by the village and you can see the mountain ranges surrounding this village. The place is pleasing to the eyes. In the morning, we walked around the village and met a few local people.

Key Village in Spiti Valley

Well, that was also our last day at Spiti Valley. We were leaving for Manali and had just come to know that roads to Manali were opened and we wanted to utilize this opportunity to the full. We just prayed to the deities that Chandratal Lake should also remain open.

After a great breakfast of thentuk, we started our journey towards Manali keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for Chandratal to be opened. Let us see what the journey has in store for us!

Landscape of Spiti

How to reach Key?

Key village i s located about 15 km from Kaza town in Spiti Valley. You can reach Kaza in Spiti either from Manali or Shimla. The road from Shimla is open throughout the year. But the roads from Manali remain closed in winter. Head over to our blog on Spiti Travel Guide to know more.

From Kaza, you have to take a car to visit Key Monastery. There are no direct buses from Kaza to Key. You have to take the bus that goes to Kibber and get down at the main road and then walk to the monastery. 

Where to stay at Key?

Tanpala Guest House at Key village

There are a few homestays and camps at Key village. We stayed at Tanpala Homestay. It was more of a guest house than a homestay. But the stay was cozy and the food was good.

You can also stay at the monastery paying a nominal charge.

Usually, Key Monastery is done as a day trip from Kaza along with Kibber and Chicham Bridge. Kaza has a lot more stay options than Key village.

What to do at Key Monastery?

Magnificent Key Gompa

There are so many things to do in Key Monastery. Here is just a list of things to do in points. I am sure you will find your own things to do there. 

  • Explore the monastery
  • Talk to the monks
  • Take photographs
  • Have a cup of butter tea. You will be offered a cup if you reach during their lunch time. 
  • Walk behind the monastery and climb the hillock. There are also statues of three deities that I could not recognise. If you walk a few meters along a road behind the Gompa, you will see them. 
View of the river and valley from Ki Gompa

What is the best time to Visit Key Monastery?

The best time to visit Key monastery is also the best time to visit Spiti valley, that is between June to September. It is an excellent time to visit SPiti Valley as the weather is at its best. Even during the monsoon months of July and August, Langza receives very less rainfall. However, the roads leading to Kaza from either Manali or Shimla can witness heavy rainfall and landslides. 

Key Monastery in the Winter

During the winter, Key Monastery is a winter wonderland. The place is covered in snow and it looks magical. But it is difficult to reach Kaza and Key during the winter. Only the roads from Shimla remain open. Also the weather conditions are harsh. The temperature is sub zero and you will need proper winter attire for visiting Key during winter. 

Exploring Key monastery

Hope this blog will help you plan your trip to Key Monastery. If you liked this, please share it with your family, friends and neighbors.

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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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2 Comments

  1. kavite

    Very Nice Post

    Reply
    • Agni Amrita

      Thank you!

      Reply

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