The Ultimate Guide to Tabo Monastery

Tabo monastery located in the higher reaches of Himalayas is indeed one of the most awe inspiring locations in the entire Spiti valley. Situated in the remote Tabo village in Spiti Valley, tabo monastery in Himachal Pradesh was founded in 996 CE.

Where is Tabo Monastery

Located in Spiti valley, the Tabo monastery is just above the Tabo village and lies on the left bank of Spiti River. Tabo village is a flat bowl shaped flat valley village and is monastery also lies in this low lying village. This is quite unlike other monasteries that are usually perched on the hilltop.

A unique attraction above the monastery is numerous caves that are usually used by monks for meditation. Tabo monastery description is incomplete without the mention of assembly halls that are located in these caves and lend an aesthetic look to the entire ambiance of the place.

Tabo Monastery Architecture

Tabo Monastery architecture richness is another reason that visitors get attracted towards it. The monastery is spread in an area of 6300 sq. metres and consists of nine temples and gompas. Tabo monastery Spiti has many murals and stucco sculptures on its walls which remind the visitors of Ajanta Caves.

Rinchen Zangpo, the Buddhist translator is credited with creating this architectural marvel way back in 996 AD. You will get a glimpse of Himalayan culture and history as you pass through these murals and statues.

The monastery can be cited as a fusion of Himalayan and Tibetan architecture and continues to hold its sway among visitors who come from all over the world, attracted by its charm. One of the reasons for popularity of tabo monastery located in Spiti region is that the paintings and murals still seem fresh even after so many centuries.

The monastery was damaged to a large extent after an earthquake struck the region in 1975. Large scale restoration work was initiated and the monastery also gained international recognition when in 1983, the 14th Dalai Lama conducted the religious Kalchakra festival here.  

The Main Complex

 Tabo monastery Spiti Valley Himachal Pradesh has a total of 9 temples, cave shrines and four decorated stupas. The paintings in the main temple are from 10th-11th century while those in the stupas are from 13th to 14th century.

Tabo monastery architecture has been planned in such a manner that the main temple entry hall is followed by the assembly hall. The walls of the entry hall have pictures of founders of this temple.

Scriptures written on wooden planks also adore the wall of the main temple complex and add to its beauty.

One of the worth visiting location in the Tabo Monastery complex is the Golden Temple or gSer-khang which was covered in Gold at one time. The magnificent murals from 16th century add to its beauty and uniqueness.

Tabo monastery spiti also has many stupas in the temple complex and four of these have paintings in its interior areas. Based on the assumptions indicated on the paintings, it can be said that two of these stupas are from 13th century.

tabo monastery spiti valley
Image Courtesy: Outlook India

Strong Foundation and Well built

Tabo monastery located in Tabo Village has been built as if it was a fort. The walls are strong indeed and this is one reason that Tabo monastery has survived all these years without any major breakdown. Temples, chortens and residences for monks from a part of this monastery complex and this unique architecture definitely lends it a unique look.

Festivals in Tabo Monastery

Many festivals are held in the premises of the Tabo Monastery every year. Chakhar Festival is one of the most popular one held here. In case, you wish to witness this exclusive festivity and frolic filled atmosphere of tabo monastery in himachal Pradesh, September to October is the best time to visit the same. However, this festival is held once in every three years only.

How do I get to Tabo Monastery?

This is one of the common questions that most of the visitors and travellers have about tabo monastery. If you are also wondering on how to reach tabo monastery, there are quite a few ways of making this possible.

Travel by Bus

You will have to reach Recong Peo in Kinnaur to further travel to Tabo. While the direct Shimla-Kaza bus can take you directly to tabo monastery spiti, the journey will exhaust you no end. The better way is to travel to Recong Peo, rest a night, acclimatize and cover the next 150 Km in the early morning bus that leaves Recong Peo at 6:30 am. Be sure to catch this bus as it is the only bus to Tabo during the day.

Driving on your own

In case, you intend to travel to tabo monastery in your own car, there are two ways available. Either you can take the Manali route that covers 250 Km in roughly 7-8 hours. The other route passes through Shimla, Rampur and Kinnaur and is 377 Km which takes over 10-12 hours depending on the condition of the road.

Travelling by Train

You can travel upto Chandigarh by train and further travel to Shimla by the famous toy train from Kalka to Shimla if you have time to spare. Else, taking a bus from Chandigarh to Shimla or Manali or further will do the work for you.

Tabo Monastery

Travelling by Air

 Bhuntar Airport in Kullu and Jubbarhatti Airport in Shimla are the nearest airports to Tabo. You can continue the further journey by road, either by bus or taxi.

Best time to visit Tabo Monastery Spiti Valley Himachal Pradesh

January to April should ideally be avoided as the weather is intense cold and the roads are majorly closed due to snowfall in the region. Even if you make it to Tabo Monastery during these months, you will hardly find anyone outdoors and the entire fun of travelling would be ruined. It is another thing if you are a solitude lover, than you will definitely enjoy the serenity and calmness of the place.

May to October is considered to be the best time to plan a visit to Tabo and the Spiti Valley. Though this region lies in rain shadow area but the lower regions of Kinnaur receive heavy rainfall in monsoon. During the monsoon months it is generally advised not to venture here as getting caught in a landslide can create unimaginable problems.

The region however warmly welcomes visitors from May to September-October and you can plan a visit to Tabo and neighbouring region accordingly. Ideally, a 7-8 day trip would suffice for exploring the entire Spiti valley including the tabo monastery.

Beautiful Spiti Valley

What to Explore in Tabo

Local Food

A visit to tabo monastery and the region will be incomplete without getting a taste of the local food. You can explore some of the Tibetan cuisine at numerous eateries in Tabo.

Explore Nearby Villages

Tabo to Dhankar monastery distance is 35 Km and you can visit the Dhankar Gompa and fort here. You should also check out the Key monastery which is at a distance of 54 Km from Tabo and is considered to be the largest one in the region. Head to Kibber, the highest village around 64 Km and Kaza around 50 Km, the district headquarter before you bid a goodbye to this amazing valley.

Explore the Caves and visit the Public Library

Tabo monastery Spiti is also known for its public library. The library has countless books highlighting the architectural richness of the place. In addition, you will find deep insight into Buddhism here by indulging in learning sessions with monks, in case you are interested in that.

A visit to the caves in Tabo would be a refreshing experience for any photography enthusiast and take my word on it, you would not want to stop clicking and return back, once you have got a clear shot.

Tabo Monastery opens at 6 AM and visitors are welcome to explore the same until 7 PM in the evening. A day spend well at the monastery would be definitely an occasion for you to remember for long. Tabo monastery guest house is also available for visitors and in case you are lucky, you might get the dormitory here. There are however many options to stay at Tabo and you can find a good one, in case, you desire.

Historical perspective on Tabo Monastery

 Built in 996AD, by Yesho-O, the Buddhist king, the tabo monastery still stands strong. This was initially built along with Tholing monastery in western Tibet. The royal dynasty ruled over the entire region and both Tibet and Spiti were their domains back then. It is indeed heartening that the Tabo Monastery is well preserved even now and Archeological Survey of India has done a marvelous job of restoring and maintaining the same in its original sheen so that visitors from across the globe can visit and admire this magical essence of nature.

Where to stay in Tabo

While there are some dormitory option at the Monastery guest house, there are some good homestays and hotels in Tabo for a comfortable stay.

Maitreya Regency Tabo

You will feel as if you are in a Buddhist monastery while at Maitreya Regency. This is one of the best hotels in Tabo and has a cool Buddhist architecture that definitely attracts the visitors. Spacious rooms equipped with all modern amenities including television, geyser, and 24 hours power back up and a restaurant serving traditional and continental cuisine adds to its facilities.

Located on the Gompa main road, Maitreya Regency has rooms from Rs 2,200 to Rs 6,200/-

Image Courtesy: Maitreya Regency

Hotel Siddharth

If you are a little tight on the budget, Hotel Siddharth at a distance of 1 Km from the tabo bus station could be a good choice. Rooms start here from Rs 1200/- The hotel has all the modern amenities that you could desire at any premium property in Tabo.

Tow Dhey Hotel

You can also choose to stay at Tow Dhey Hotel, a property that has private balconies for all its rooms. The morning sunrise view from the balcony would definitely be mesmerizing and something that you would desire to cherish for long.

Tow Dhey hotel is located on the Tabo Kaza road and rooms here start from Rs 2,000 and go up to Rs 3,200/-

Tiger Den Tabo

Centrally located, Tiger Den is a property that has balcony for every room, offering the opportunity to admire the natural beauty of tabo from close quarters. Rooms here cost around Rs 1,500 and the warm and friendly staff of the hotel will definitely take care to ensure that your trip to this mesmerizing valley is full of memories.

Sonam Homestay

If on your visit to tabo monastery, you have the desire of spending your evenings in local ambiance with a loving family that offers home cooked traditional food with elegance, Sonam Homestay is the place to be at. It is ideally located near the tabo monastery and has stay options in the range of Rs 800-1000/- which can definitely be considered to be budget friendly.

What to eat in Tabo

Spiti is a different land and Tabo is no exception. When in tabo, you must definitely try some local cuisine. Most of the restaurants and eateries offer traditional Tibetan food as the region has affinity with Tibet, even though if borders have changed the entire spectrum. Thupka, Momos and chowmin taste definitely different and better in Tabo as they are cooked by locals who have grown eating and serving these delicacies.

Tabo Monastery
Image Courtesy: Empty Rucksack

Mutton momos are a must try if you are a non vegetarian. For booze lovers, local variation of chang and ark is always available which does the same effect as any liquor but does not have any side or ill effects on health.

Breathe in the fresh air, sit a moment and admire the beauty of Tabo Monastery and this sleepy town in remote corner of Himachal Pradesh before you head to Kaza and other locations in Spiti!

Author: Lovnish Thakur

Development Sector Professional who loves to read, write and travel

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