Phugtal Monastery: A Remote Monastery Perched On A Cave

Located in the cliff-sides of Lungnak Valley mountains of Ladakh, this monastery is only accessible by foot.


Nestled in the crags of a high and rugged mountain, reaching the Phugtal Monastery, should be considered an achievement in itself. In order to stand facing this about more than 2500 years old Buddhist monastery located in the Lungnak Valley in south-eastern Zanskar, in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, in Northern India, one will have to cross the arduous Zanskar-Rangdum road. This place can only be reached by foot — one of the few monasteries in Ladakh to be accessed so.

One of the easiest paths of approach will be to take the Padum-Manali trek route. Once there, a gorgeous gorge will remain as a permanent view.


Accessible Only In Winter


It is so inaccessible and remote that necessary supplies can reach the temple residents only when the Zanskar river becomes frozen during the winter, for the horses, mules and donkeys to bring in the rations. A road leading right up to this place is supposedly in the works, but for now, one will have to trudge along a day’s walk from Village Cha or Village Khangsaar, which can be gotten to from Padum.


Built along the lines of the ancient Indian traditions, like a honeycomb, it experienced modernity through electrification only when a team from the Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) installed a micro-grid solar unit in 2016.


Leisure / Liberation Cave


True to its disposition as a retreat and a site for learning, meditation, and teaching, Phukthal derives its name from Phuk meaning ‘cave’, and Tal or Thal meaning ‘at leisure’ in the endangered Zangskari dialect of the Tibetan languages. Even an alternative spelling, Phukthar, harks to its spiritual essence. ‘Thar’ means ‘liberation’, thereby denoting the abode to be, ‘the cave of leisure’ or ‘the cave of liberation’. No wonder this isolated location was settled on by the monks looking for peace and solitude and to liberate themselves from the physicality of the existence.


Secluded But Hospitable


Anywhere between 40 and 70 monks may be found living in the various monastery quarters. They might be living in seclusion but are forever ready to welcome and teach the proper way of living to an eager learner. Outsiders are allowed to offer prayers and can even stay to know more about the cultural practices, the history of this place and the Buddhist teachings.


Community Interface


The monastery runs a traditional Tibetan medical clinic, with the help of an Amchi, a traditional Tibetan physician, offering its services self-prepared medicines to the Lungnak Valley villagers. The villagers also visit for prayers and other festivities, while the monks reciprocate by attending their major life events.

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