Phugtal Monastery

Phugtal Gompa – Remotest Buddhist Monastery in Asia

The treacherous trek to Phugtal Gompa was no deterrent to the fulfilment we were seeking from the monastery. The feeling upon reaching remotest monastery in Asia is difficult to put down in words.

Right out of the movies, I felt a calling and had to tread towards it. Life had turned topsy turvy recently with one challenge too many. My mind was so entangled in the chaos that I needed to find a way out. Out of nowhere, my girlfriends from childhood started planning a trip to Zanskar, the remotest part of India, tucked away in Ladakh. As if my friends had felt the low i was going through, I instantly replied back, “Phugtal Gompa? Count me in.”

Phugtal Gompa is Asia’s remotest Buddhist monastery, founded in the 12th century. Built around a natural cave in the mountain range beside Lungnak, a tributary of Zanskar river, it is believed to have been regularly visited by sages, scholars, translators and monks around 2,550 years ago. The monastery looks like a honeycomb hanging from the cliff while a river flows beneath.

After several rounds of virtual discussions, we finally met at the airport to catch a flight to Leh. As excited to meet each other as we were to explore the unexplored, we couldnt stop ourselves from praising each other for taking up two months of regular, rigorous fitness training for trekking upto the remotest monastery in Asia.

It was the month of June with summer at its sweltering most in the plains of North India. However, as soon as we landed at Leh, we scampered to layer ourselves to brace the chill of Ladakh. We had planned our itinerary to include a stay of 2 days in Leh to acclimatize ourselves to the high-altitude weather. We spent some leisurely time in Leh, mainly bonding with each other, spending time at the local market shopping for local souvenirs, handwoven woollen clothes and savouring lip-smacking Ladakhi cuisine. It was a cherished time for the four  of us, who have been together through thick and thin since our school years. As we chatted over bowls of authentic thukpa and steaming momos sitting in cosy cafés, we were swinging between nostalgia of our childhood days to the upcoming adventure.

After thoroughly studying our route, we started confidently knowing we were well-prepared. It was a two day journey we undertook from Leh via Kargil to Padum. What made it unique and enjoyable were the golden brown mountains, the clear blue sky, the curvy smooth roads and the company of friends. We were talking non-stop since each one of us had mountains of experiences and stories to share.

There is another shorter route from Manali to Padum, which cuts the travel time by 6 to 7 hours. Also Zanskar may soon be connected to the other parts of the world by an airstrip to let people fly in to discover this hidden jewel.

By the time we reached Padum, it was dusk and the clear blue sky was now turning tangerine and crimson. Fatigued but raring to reach our goal, which was the Phugtal Gompa monastery, we headed for our homestay – stepping inside which was a feeling of being present in another world – a world untouched by modern fallacies, chaos or instant connectivity. We were already feeling calm and soothed.

After a hearty meal and a goodnight’s sleep, we woke up to the freshest air and unbelievable view of the mountains. We then made our way to the hidden oasis of peace, the Phugtal Gompa. 

All roads end at Padum and a road less travelled emerges to take one to the Phugtal Gompa monastery. A 5-hour trek, it demands a solid level of fitness and determination to reach and see the unknown.

Inspite of the rigorous fitness routine we had adopted prior to this trip, we found it extremely challenging. What kept us going were the monks and other local people who were traversing the way with ease and swiftness. We also had another beautiful companion, the Lungnak river. It flowed consistently, reminding us that we needed to go with the flow. Drained but with a resolve to reach Asia’s remotest monastery, we finally reached Phugtal Gompa and what we felt was hard to put down in words.

The monastery is made up of mud and timber and has solar panels for light. There are 4 prayer rooms, a library, teaching facilities for lamas or young monks, guest rooms and rooms for around eighty monks.

As we started talking to the monks, we learnt about their extremely disciplined lives and the hard work put in by them daily. Comparing it to all the luxuries of life we are blessed with, we couldnt help but fold hands in gratitude. I for one, found myself to be a very tiny speck in this huge universe. As if coming out of a daze, we were then served piping hot rice and curry in steel thalis. The fatigue of the hike completely vanished from my body.

Phug means cave and tal means liberation. And that is exactly what I experienced. Standing on top and overlooking the steadily flowing river below, I found my mental state remarkably clean and rejuvenated. It felt as if I had left all the troubling questions  behind. I could not even recall any of my stressors. The clarity of mind was so empowering, refreshing and energizing that I was ready to trek down and face life with a renewed vigour.




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