Phuktal Monastery website
(Zanskar – India)

Located in the heart of the Zanskar mountains, in the Indian state of Ladakh, Phuktal Monastery, also known as Phuktal Gompa or Phugtal Gompa, is one of the Himalayas’ most remote and spiritually significant gems.

This Buddhist monastery, with its breathtaking architecture, almost seems to merge with the cliff on which it is built, overlooking the Tsarap river.

Its rich and fascinating history goes back centuries, tracing a heritage of devotion and scholarship.

Phuktal Monastery (Zanskar - India)

The history of the Monastery

Legendary origins

Phuktal monastery takes its name from the Tibetan word “Phuk” meaning “cave” and “tal” meaning “mouth”, reflecting its construction around a natural cave.

According to legend, the cave was a place of meditation for many sages and scholars long before the monastery was established.

Oral tradition has it that the cave was once inhabited by 16 Arhats, disciples of Buddha, who meditated there, imbuing the place with a special spiritual aura.

The foundation by Gangsem Sherap Sampo

In the 12th century, Phuktal monastery was officially founded by Gangsem Sherap Sampo, a disciple of the great Tibetan master Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Attracted by the tranquillity and serenity of the cave, Sherap Sampo decided to build a monastery around it, making Phuktal Gompa a centre for prayer and meditation.

A place of knowledge and wisdom

Over the centuries, Phuktal monastery has become not only a place of religious devotion, but also a centre of learning and philosophical reflection.

The monastery has been home to many scholars and sages who have contributed to the preservation and transmission of Buddhist teachings.

Ancient manuscripts and sacred texts have been copied and studied here, making Phuktal a beacon of knowledge in the region.

There is also a stone plaque commemorating the stay of Sándor Csoma de Körös, author of the first English-Tibetan dictionary, who explored Ladakh and stayed in Phuktal from August 1825 to November 1826.

Stone commemorating the stay of Sándor Csoma Körös in Phuktal

A spiritual and cultural heritage

Today, the Phuktal monastery continues to play an important role in the spiritual and cultural life of the region.

Life at the monastery follows a secular rhythm, marked by daily prayers, teachings and rituals, perpetuating a heritage that is centuries old.

The architecture of Phuktal monastery

Its spectacular cliff-side construction and harmonious integration with the natural environment make it an outstanding example of Tibetan monastic architecture.

This chapter explores the unique architectural features of Phuktal Gompa, highlighting the deep spirituality that has shaped this sacred site.

A monastery built into the mountains

Phuktal Gompa - Monastery on a mountain

Phuktal Monastery is built around a natural cave, perched at an altitude of around 3,900 metres, overlooking the Tsarap river.

The building itself seems to emerge from the cliff, creating the illusion of a structure carved directly into the mountain.

This organic integration with the surrounding landscape is not only aesthetic but also functional, offering natural protection from the elements.

The walls of the monastery are mainly made of mud and stone, readily available local materials.

Mud, mixed with straw and water, is used to make sun-dried bricks, while the stones are carefully stacked and held together with clay.

This traditional building method is not only durable but also suited to the region’s harsh climate.

Arrangement and layout

Inside Phuktal Monastery

Phuktal Gompa is made up of several interconnected structures, each with a specific function.

The labyrinthine layout of the monastery, with its narrow corridors and steep staircases, creates a sense of discovery and mystery.

The Grotto and Main Temple : At the heart of the monastery is the natural cave, which houses the main temple. This cave is considered to be the holiest place in Phuktal, where the first sages are said to have meditated. The temple contains Buddha statues, colourful murals (thangkas) depicting Buddhist scenes and mandalas, as well as sacred relics.

Meditation rooms : Scattered around the monastery, the meditation rooms offer quiet spaces for contemplation and prayer. These rooms are decorated with murals and religious motifs, creating an atmosphere conducive to deep meditation.

The Library : Phuktal Gompa has a library containing a valuable collection of ancient manuscripts and sacred Buddhist texts. These documents are carefully preserved and used by the monks to study and teach Buddhist doctrines.

Monks’ accommodation : The monastery is home to around 80 monks, who live in modest cells spread throughout the different wings of the building. Although simple, the accommodation is designed to be functional and comfortable, offering shelter from the harsh winter weather.

The Central Courtyard : At the centre of the monastery is an open courtyard, where monks gather for ceremonies, philosophical debates and community events. The courtyard offers breathtaking views of the valley and surrounding mountains, adding a spectacular dimension to the daily rituals.

Phuktal cuisine

Traditional building techniques

Phuktal is built using traditional techniques handed down from generation to generation.

Local craftsmen use age-old methods to work the stone and mud, ensuring the durability and stability of the structure.

These environmentally-friendly techniques also contribute to the harmonious integration of the monastery into its natural setting.

Preservation and renovation

The interior of a room in the monastery

Over the centuries, the Phuktal monastery has undergone several renovations to maintain its structure and preserve its artistic heritage.

These preservation efforts are often carried out by the monks themselves, with the support of the local community and donations from pilgrims and benefactors.

Renovations are carried out using traditional methods, guaranteeing the authenticity and continuity of the original architectural style.

Phuktal, a monastic school

The Phuktal school

Phuktal Monastery is not just a place of prayer and spiritual retreat, but also a dynamic center of Buddhist education.

The monastic school of Phuktal plays a crucial role in the transmission of Buddhist teachings and in the training of young monks.

→ Read more : The Phuktal School

Religious festivals in Phuktal

Religious ceremony at Phuktal (in winter)

Phuktal Monastery is the heart of the religious and cultural life of the Zanskari community.

Religious festivals, marked by complex rituals and colourful celebrations, play a central role in the lives of the monks and the people of the region.

These festivals are moments of intense devotion, community gathering and transmission of Buddhist traditions.

Below is an overview of the main religious festivals celebrated in Phuktal:

Smonlam (days 8-11 of the 1st month of the Tibetan calendar) : Special veneration (puja) for world peace and the well-being of all peoples.

Chudsum Chodpa (days 12-13 of the 1st month of the Tibetan calendar) : Veneration of thirteen special deities.

Chonga Chodpa (days 14 and 15 of the first month of the Tibetan calendar) : Important harvest ceremony for which the monks create a special torma or offering statue made of barley flour and butter, which is visited and honoured by the villagers.

Gyalwe Jabstan (days 18-19 of the first month of the Tibetan calendar) : Special puja for the long life of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Vajrabhaivara initiation (days 8-18 of the 4th month of the Tibetan calendar) : Veneration of Vajrabhaivara, the most wrathful form of Manjusri.

Syungnas (days 2 to 5 of the 6th month of the Tibetan calendar) : Fasting ceremony for good karma.

Yarnas or Varshavas ceremony (from the 15th day of the 6th month of the Tibetan calendar to the end of the 7th month of the Tibetan calendar) : The monks remain confined within the monastery and a limited peripheral area, performing special daily pujas to avoid the negative karma associated with trampling plants and insects.

Note : visitors must obtain special permission from the monastery’s head lama to attend a short part of the Yarnas.

Gadam Nagchod or Enlightenment Ceremony (days 23 to 27 of the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar) : Celebration of the birthday of Tsongkhapa, the great scholar and founder of the Gelug sect.

Gustor (27th to 29th of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar) : The most important festival celebrated at the Phuktal monastery for peace and harmony in the world. Many Zanskaris and inhabitants of greater Ladakh take part.

Religious festivals at Phuktal Gompa are not only moments of celebration, but also opportunities to strengthen the community and pass on spiritual values.

These festivals, marked by elaborate rituals, ritual dances and collective prayers, strengthen the bonds between monks and laypeople, while perpetuating Buddhist traditions in this isolated region of Zanskar.

Location and access to Phuktal

Entrance to the Phuktal Monastery

Phuktal Monastery is nestled in the heart of one of the most remote and spectacular regions of the Himalayas.

Located in the Lungnak Valley in the Zanskar district of the Indian state of Ladakh, Phuktal is a place where natural beauty and spirituality meet in a unique and inspiring setting.

Phuktal’s remote location contributes greatly to its mystical aura and role as a spiritual haven.

The geographical isolation provides a tranquillity conducive to meditation and contemplation, attracting those seeking a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

A journey of adventure and devotion

The way to phuktal

Getting to Phuktal Gompa is no easy task and requires a certain amount of determination.

The monastery, located in a very remote part of the Himalayan range, was until 2017 accessible only on foot.

Its isolation makes it a destination of choice for trekkers, adventurous travellers and determined pilgrims.

The most common starting point for Phuktal is Padum, the main town in the Zanskar valley.

→ Read more : How to reach Phuktal Monastery

FAQ: frequently asked questions about the Phuktal monastery

Is there accommodation available at Phuktal ?

Yes, it is possible to spend the night in the guest house or on the campsite run by the monastery and located just a few hundred metres from the monastery. Reservations are not required.

How much does it cost to enter Phuktal Monastery?

Visiting the monastery is entirely free, and the monks will not ask you for any money… But it is advisable to make a donation on leaving.

Is it possible to attend ceremonies ?

We invite all visitors to explore the monastery and attend daily pujas, ceremonies and annual festivals. Daily prayer services are held throughout the year.

Pujas schedule :

  • Summer : 4.30am, noon, 7pm
  • Winter : 8am, noon, 5pm

When is the best time to visit Phuktal ?

Phuktal lies in the Himalayan range at an altitude of 3,900 metres. To go there outside the summer is very difficult, even dangerous. The best time to go is therefore July and August.

How many monks live in Phuktal ?

There are around 80 monks in Phuktal, including around 45 children.

What are the sources of income for the monks at Phuktal ?

The monks live mainly from donations and offerings. Local villagers and pilgrims pay for the organisation of religious ceremonies.

And with the monastery’s growing international reputation, thanks in particular to documentaries and press articles, foreign benefactors are also making donations.