The five-(5)-kilometre-walk from Keylong (3,350 meters) to Kardang requires about two (2) hours. At an altitude of about 3,500 meters, Kardang Monastery crowns a hill in Kardang village, the ancient capital of Lahaul located on the left bank of the Bhaga River. The nine-century old monastery, managed and maintained by nuns and monks of Drukpa Kagyud order, is built on stilts. The monastery with a scenic backdrop of Rangcha Massif was probably built in the 12th century and renovated in the early twentieth century.
Highlights of the Monastery
- A huge prayer wheel contains a million pieces of paper. “Om mani padme hum” (“Hail to the jewel in the lotus.”) mantra is written on each paper.
- Old and retouched frescos cover the shrine walls.
- The big library features Tangyur and Kangyur in Bhoti language.
- Both monks and nuns have equal status. Married monks spend winter at the monastery and summer at their homes to look after the fields.
- The main temple houses statues of three Buddhist deities: Vajradhara (Left statue if you are facing the statues), Buddha (centre), and Padamasambhava (right)).
- The monastery complex affords sweeping views of Keylong and its neighbourhood.
The monastery does not have specific visiting hours. You can look for a nun or monk and request her/him to open the shrine.
Photography is prohibited inside the monastery. I was curious to know the reason behind the ban. The mid-aged monk who showed me the monastery said that police in Keylong has imposed this ban. I was wondering why the police banned it. But the monk had no answer to my question.
However, you can photograph exterior of the monastery.
Trail Description and Directions
The trail has bushes / trees with big or small canopies that protect against the direct sunrays, but most of the trail is steep.
Main Bazaar – Civil Hospital
The road sometimes climbs up and other times descends.
Civil Hospital – the Bridge spanning the Bhaga River
This downhill section of the trail is narrow and runs across the backyard of Keylong. The backyard is not so clean. The smells from the backyard may twitch your nose. Sometimes lovely wildflowers and lush patches of fields please your eyes and mind, as I observed on June 29, 2014.
This somewhat smelly section ends at the bridge.
At the bridge, you will get a clear view of the Bhaga rushing through the narrow course hemmed with rough mountains. Cross the bridge and follow the uphill cemented path and/or stony and muddy trail that ends at Kardang village.
This trail section is generally laced with wildflowers of different hues. The flowers attract a variety of insects. The section offers panorama of Keylong village. A few fields pop up from the land of wildflowers.
Kardang Village-Kardang Monastery
When you enter the village, take a right turn.
Before Jabjes Monastery, you will find chortens / stupas on the left side of the muddy road. Jabjes Monastery with unimpressive exterior houses a religiously important rock featuring imprints of genitalia and knees of Gyalwa Gotsangpa. According to a legend, Gyalwa was passionately trying to chase and cuddle a dakini who took shelter in the rock.
Take left and walk through the narrow lanes surrounded by village houses.
As you reach the fields, a small board in English reads “Way to Kardang Monastery.”
Follow this slim trail winding through the fields until the monastery. This slim part of the trail is adorned with lush fields of peas, medicinal plants (e.g. Kuth), and vegetables. The hedges of wildflowers frame the fields.
As you go up, the trail lends itself to the sweeping views of bare and snow-capped mountains, the Bhaga and its tributary supplying water to Keylong town and Billing village and their temples including Shashan Monastery.
During cultivation season, the farmers apply water to the fields as per the requirements of the crop. You may therefore have to walk the water covered trail at some places while going up. While coming down, the “canal” direction may have been changed and a different section of the trail may be covered with shallow layer of the fast moving water. Do not leave the trail.