Nepal's Buddhist monasteries stand out as unique and recognizable landmarks, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley. While these monasteries hold great significance for devout followers who visit for religious reasons, they also attract numerous visitors drawn by their remarkable architecture. Here are several monasteries worth exploring during your time in Kathmandu.
Around 11% of Nepal's population identifies as Buddhist, mainly belonging to Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups like Tamang, Sherpa, and Bhotey. Although Hinduism has absorbed much of Buddhism's influence, the two religions are interwoven to the extent that they share temples and deities. The pervasive influence of Buddhism in Nepali society often makes it challenging to distinguish between Buddhist and Hindu elements.
While there are many splendid monasteries globally, Nepal's best monasteries hold a special reputation. These monasteries are renowned for their dedication to spiritual lifestyles, a practice observed by both spiritual and non-spiritual individuals alike. This tradition has endured for centuries and remains relevant today. A journey to Nepal offers more than just the chance to visit breathtaking monasteries; it provides a lifelong and transformative experience.
Monastery In Kathmandu
When travelers visit Nepal, their base is often in Kathmandu, which can initially appear bustling and disorderly. However, Kathmandu's charm lies in its exploration of exquisite monasteries tucked away amidst its busy streets and outskirts. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a monastery is a structure where individuals (monks) live while adhering to religious vows. Within a monastery, there are spaces for work, prayer, sleeping, dining, reading, healing, and cleansing. Here is a compilation of monasteries located in Kathmandu.
Kathmandu is renowned as the "City of Temples," boasting numerous temples of varying sizes on virtually every street. Similarly, the city houses many monasteries situated throughout its nooks and crannies. These monastic establishments hold historical significance within Buddhism and exemplify spiritual practices. Monks and nuns engage in monastic life within these monasteries, adhering to communal regulations. Over time, the monasteries in Kathmandu have evolved into hubs of Buddhist education. With that in mind, the following is a list of some prominent monasteries found in Kathmandu.
1. Kopan Monastery
Located atop a hill, the Kopan Gumba stands as a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, attracting considerable attention from visitors. Among the many monasteries, Kopan is a highly frequented one, drawing a significant number of international tourists each year who come to delve into the teachings of Buddhism and meditation. It was established by Lama Thubten Nohe.
Kopan Monastery offers a range of courses covering diverse subjects including Mind Training, Karma, Death and Dying, Bodhicitta, and numerous other topics. These courses span different durations, lasting for 5 days, 10 days, and even a month, with a specific focus on meditation practices. Additionally, the monastery provides shorter courses in fields such as Tibetan medicine and the art of Thangka painting.
How to Reach:
To reach Kopan Gumba, there are two primary transportation options available:
By Bus: If you're coming from Ratna Park, you can easily catch a public bus that will take you to Kopan village. Once you arrive at the bus stop in Kopan village, a pleasant 10-minute walk will lead you to the serene surroundings of the monastery.
By Air: For those arriving by air, Tribhuvan International Airport serves as the nearest hub. Taking a taxi from the airport to Kopan Gumba is a convenient choice, typically taking around 40 minutes to cover the distance.
As for visiting the monastery, it's important to note that there are specific time slots when visitors are welcomed:
- In the morning, you can explore the monastery and its offerings from 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM.
- If you prefer an afternoon visit, the monastery's doors are open from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
These visiting hours allow you to immerse yourself in the spiritual atmosphere and appreciate the cultural richness of Kopan Gumba.
2. Seto Gumba(Amitabha Monastery)
The White Gumba, also known as Seto Gumba or Druk Amitabh Monastery locally, stands as a revered Buddhist monastery in Nepal. Perched on the hills of the Druk Amitabha Mountain, situated to the north of Swayambhu, this sacred site offers a captivating experience. The location is renowned for providing some of the most breathtaking views of sunrise and sunset within the Kathmandu Valley. Wrapped in vibrant greenery, the White Gumba showcases the essence of Tibetan architecture and culture. Amidst its serene setting, the monastery affords panoramic vistas of the Kathmandu valley. The monastery's spacious courtyard is adorned with fountains, murals, and statues, enhancing its charm.
A day hike leading to the White Gumba is a cherished activity among local travelers. Particularly on clear days, the monastery provides a stunning perspective of the cityscape. Furthermore, the monastery offers a tranquil sanctuary, making it an ideal refuge from the bustling energy of Kathmandu city. The hiking trails are enticing, and the monastery itself serves as a focal point for spiritual practices.
How to Reach:
By Road: It's important to note that there are no public vehicles directly reaching the monastery. However, your journey to this site can commence from two starting points: Sitapaila and Halchowk. Assuming you are in Thamel, you'll need to catch a local bus or hire a taxi to reach either of these two places. From there, your expedition to the White Gumba begins, allowing you to immerse yourself in its serene beauty and cultural significance.
3. Neydo Tashi Choling Monastery
Nestled a few miles away from the bustling streets of Kathmandu, the serene Neydo Tashi Choling Monastery graces the landscape. Situated in Pharping, a mere 20 km southwest of Kathmandu, this monastery holds significant prominence within Nepal. Despite its proximity to the city, it takes less than an hour's drive to reach this hidden gem. It offers an idyllic setting for meditation and an immersive experience of monastic life. Hosting nearly 200 monks who actively engage in the study and practice of Buddhism, the monastery provides an opportunity for visitors to gain insights into their dedicated way of life.
The monastery is notable for its colossal Amitabha Buddha statue, considered the largest of its kind in Nepal. Alongside this remarkable feature, the site also houses statues of Avalokitesvara, the embodiment of compassion, and Vajrapani. Rooted in historical significance, the Neydo Tashi Choling Monastery was established to uphold the Neydo Tradition, a lineage that emphasizes specific ritual offerings, prayers, and associated practices for the development of the monks.
How to Reach:
The most convenient way to access the monastery is by hiring a taxi, offering a straightforward route to the destination. With a mere 18 km separating it from Kathmandu, the journey is relatively short. Although the availability of public buses directly connecting Kathmandu to the monastery is uncertain, opting for a taxi ensures a hassle-free trip, granting you the chance to experience the tranquility and spiritual ambiance of Neydo Tashi Choling Monastery.
4. Pullahari Monastery
Nestled amid the northern hills of the Kathmandu valley, the Pullahari Monastery stands as a testament to beauty and spirituality. Established in 1992, this monastery has swiftly risen to prominence as a distinguished Buddhist pilgrimage site. With a rich history steeped in Buddhist culture and tradition, Pullahari Monastery has emerged as a hub of spiritual practices.
The monastery's charm lies not only in its spiritual significance but also in its picturesque architecture, enchanting garden, and monk's quarters. This amalgamation of elements creates an atmosphere of tranquility and serenity, offering a haven of peace for its visitors. While Pullahari Monastery might not be as widely known among both local and international tourists, it exudes a unique allure that captivates those who venture there.
Immerse yourself in the monastery's aesthetic beauty, bask in its spiritual ambiance, and find solace on the pristine white marble veranda. Alternatively, you can engage in meditation sessions, which contribute to a sense of calm and inner peace. The monastery also houses a cafe managed by monks, serving a variety of refreshments, including cakes, snacks, and hot, and cold beverages. Furthermore, the panoramic vista from the monastery's vantage point allows you to admire a 360-degree view of the Kathmandu valley. For those seeking more exploration, a 40-minute ridge walk leads to the renowned Kopan Monastery.
How to Reach:
To reach Pullahari Monastery, begin by heading to the Boudhanath Stupa. From there, take a taxi that traverses through the captivating forest route to Gokarna, ultimately leading to Pullahari Monastery. Alternatively, you can relish a brief hike to the monastery starting from Kapan village. These pathways grant you access to the peaceful oasis that is Pullahari Monastery, offering an opportunity to partake in its serene ambiance and spiritual offerings.
5. Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling
Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling stands as yet another remarkable monastery located on the outskirts of the bustling Kathmandu valley. Constructed in 1976, this Tibetan Buddhist monastery's foundations were laid in 1974. The name "Ka-Nying" is a fusion of the Kagyu and Nyingma schools, and it translates to "sanctuary for learning and practice." This monastery, which ranks among the largest in Nepal, offers a sanctuary for over 200 monks who have committed themselves to a monastic way of life.
Initiated by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and his family, the construction of the monastery was efficiently completed within two years. More than just a physical structure, Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling serves as a space where hundreds of monks engage in the teachings of Buddha. Legends recount the visits of numerous meditation masters who bestowed their wisdom upon this sacred ground. Additionally, the monastery houses the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, a hub for Buddhist studies where local and international students delve into the teachings of Buddhism.
How to Reach:
Situated in proximity to the Boudhanath Stupa, reaching Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling involves heading to the iconic stupa. Assuming you're in the Thamel area, you can conveniently catch a local bus or hire a taxi to transport you to the stupa. From there, the monastery's allure awaits, providing a haven for spiritual enrichment and serene contemplation amidst the vibrant energy of the Kathmandu valley.
6. Pranidhipurna Mahavihar
Pranidhipurna Mahavihar, also known as Pranidhipurna Mahavihar, stands as a Theravada Buddhist monastery atop Balambu Kathmandu. Merely 8 km from Kathmandu, this monastery holds a significant role as a hub for delving into Buddhism. Historical records tell us about the Buddhist monk Pragyananda Mahasthavir, who, dating back to the 14th century, inhabited this site and began imparting the teachings of the Buddha. During the Rana regime, when monks were banished from Nepal, a handful of monks found refuge in the nearby Balambu villages, contributing to the resurgence of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal.
Led by an abbot, the monastery provides a residence for numerous practicing monks who adhere to the original teachings of Buddha. Theravada Buddhism emphasizes self-liberation through a commitment to a life of full-time monasticism. Beyond religious ceremonies, the monastery also orchestrates various events such as retreats, dharma classes, and free health camps. The local community also frequents the monastery to host ceremonies marking pivotal stages in their children's lives.
How to Reach:
The monastery is conveniently located just 8 km away from Kathmandu, a quick 20-minute ride from Thamel. Notably, you can readily secure a taxi from Thamel to reach the monastery.
7. Jamacho Monastery
Jamacho Monastery, situated near Kathmandu, presents an enticing hiking opportunity for travel enthusiasts. Perched atop the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, this monastery offers a breathtaking panorama of the Kathmandu Valley and the Himalayas, with a particular focus on the Langtang and Everest ranges. The term "Jamacho" translates to the "celebration of the hill," capturing the essence of this elevated site. Both local and international travelers are drawn to this monastery not only for its cultural significance but also for the awe-inspiring vista from its view tower.
Positioned at an altitude of 2067 meters above sea level, Jamacho Monastery stands as one of Nepal's notable monastic sites. Adorned with fluttering prayer flags, the monastery features Buddhist stupas and two rows of shrines dedicated to Buddhist deities.
The Jamacho Day Hike ranks among the popular activities in Kathmandu. The journey to the monastery encompasses a 5 km uphill trek, typically lasting around 3 hours at a moderate walking pace. The trail is well-maintained and winds through the dense forest, carefully preserved by the Nepal Army. This hike is particularly suitable for beginners and can be undertaken in any season, excluding the rainy months.
How to Reach:
To reach Jamacho Monastery, make your way to the Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park. From there, you can arrange for a taxi to Kakani via the New Bus Park and commence your hike through the lush forest, ultimately arriving at the monastery.
8. Nagi Gumba
Nagi Gumba holds a prominent place among the monasteries in Nepal. Situated on Shivpuri Hill, it stands as an idyllic retreat from the bustling urban life of Kathmandu, particularly during weekends. This monastery is distinctively managed by a community of nuns and serves as the residence for approximately 200 dedicated practitioners of Buddhism. Often referred to as Ani Gumba, it earns this name due to its exclusive population of nuns.
The journey to Nagi Gumba involves a trek spanning a few hours through the lush forest reserves of Shivapuri National Park. As you traverse the path, which takes you through Budhanilkantha and Shivapuri National Park, you're treated to captivating vistas of the Kathmandu valley and occasional glimpses of the Langtang region. The trail is characterized by steep inclines and narrow passages, yet the experience remains invigorating and rejuvenating.
How to Reach:
Nagi Gumba is reachable after a few hours' walk from the entrance gate of Budhanilkantha. Begin by taking a public vehicle from the Ratna Park bus stop to Budhanilkantha. Keep in mind that you'll need permits to enter the national park, which can be obtained at the army checkpoint. Once inside the national park, follow the trail enveloped by trees for a few hours until you reach the gumba.
9. Khawalung Monastery
Khawalung Monastery, a picturesque sanctuary near Boudhanath Stupa, was inaugurated in 2005. Serving as a haven for monks hailing from remote regions of Nepal and Tibet, the monastery was established by the esteemed Vajra Master Jigme Dorje Rinpoche. Its fundamental mission encompasses the preservation, promotion, and dissemination of Buddha's teachings along with the treasure teachings (Termas) of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Within its premises, the monastery hosts both an elementary school and a training institution for young monks. Notably, the monastery features an awe-inspiring statue of Guru Rinpoche positioned adjacent to Vajrasattva and Chenrezig.
How to Reach:
Khawalung Monastery, situated within Kathmandu, can be conveniently accessed from the iconic Boudhanath Stupa. The journey is just a brief 10-minute drive from Boudhanath Stupa.
Monastery Outside Kathmandu Valley
Monasteries situated outside the Kathmandu Valley offer a unique opportunity for visitors to find solace, unwind, and deepen their understanding of Buddhism. These monasteries are characterized by their serene settings, far removed from the bustling urban environments. Take, for example, the Tengboche Monastery nestled in Nepal's Khumbu region, surrounded by majestic mountains. Rinchenling Monastery, Narsingh Monastery, Matepani Gumba, Phugmoche Monastery, and Charang Monastery are among the many monastic destinations located beyond the Kathmandu Valley.
Unlike monasteries within the Kathmandu Valley, these places of spiritual refuge demand a multi-day journey. Many of these monasteries require several days of trekking, while a few are accessible after a few hours' drive. Nonetheless, these monasteries continue to draw in numerous pilgrims and travelers, eager to immerse themselves in the monastic experience and offer their respects. The allure of monastic life captivates many, as monks renounce worldly pursuits to commit to their spiritual path. This choice stands in stark contrast to our own lives, often dominated by digital devices and daily distractions. However, through visiting these monasteries, we can catch a fleeting glimpse of this alternative lifestyle.
Below, we present a selection of exquisite monasteries located outside the Kathmandu Valley that hold great significance and are well worth a visit.
1. Tengboche Monastery
Tengboche Monastery, founded by Lama Gulu in 1916, holds its serene presence in the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal. Perched at an elevation of 3,867 meters, this Tibetan Buddhist monastery stands as the largest in the Khumbu area. Its establishment followed significant events, such as the reconstruction after the 1934 earthquake and the restoration after a fire triggered by an electrical short in 1989. Nestled within the Sagarmatha National Park, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery enjoys a stunning backdrop against the iconic Ama Dablam peak. Formally consecrated in 1993, Tengboche Monastery has garnered a reputation as one of Nepal's most renowned monastic sites.
Not only does the monastery beckons pilgrims, but it also welcomes trekkers journeying to the Everest Base Camp during each trekking season. Along the trail to Everest Base Camp, trekkers make it a point to visit the monastery, paying their respects to the sacred site. The month of October, in particular, witnesses the vibrant Mani Rimdu festival, a Buddhist celebration featuring colorful songs and dances, further attracting visitors to Tengboche Monastery. From Tengboche, trekkers can embark on their path to Everest Base Camp and the vantage point of Kala Patthar.
How to Reach:
The journey entails flying from Kathmandu to Lukla Airport, followed by a trek spanning 3 days to reach the monastery. For better acclimatization, a 4-day trek is recommended. The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla takes approximately 45 minutes. From Lukla, the trek proceeds through mountain villages, including stops at Phakding and Namche Bazaar, culminating in the arrival at the revered Tengboche Monastery.
2. Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery (Namobuddha)
Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery, also known as Namobuddha Monastery, is a Tibetan Buddhist sanctuary situated atop a hill within Namobuddha Municipality. Established by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche in 1978, the monastery officially opened its doors in December 2008. Within its premises, you'll find a Tibetan Medical clinic, a monastic college, a smaller shrine hall, and a school tailored for young monks. The school hosts over 250 monks who engage in the study of Buddhist philosophy.
The monastery offers visitors the opportunity to explore its captivating interior, adorned with a sizable Buddha statue accompanied by his five disciples. The serene atmosphere and the panoramic vistas of the Himalayas and neighboring villages are particularly cherished by those who visit. During meditation sessions, you can find a spot in the rear of the main hall to quietly observe the practices. Notably, the monastery commemorates special occasions like Kartik Purnima and Buddha Jayanti.
How to Reach:
Transportation is quite accessible. You can easily reach the monastery using a taxi or a private car, which should take no more than 2 hours. Public buses are also an option, though they tend to be slower. For a more adventurous approach, you can opt for a hike to Namo Buddha from Bhaktapur or Dhulikhel.
3. Rinchenling Monastery
Rinchenling Monastery, an exquisite sanctuary, stands majestically in Halji Village, forming one of the trio of small communities nestled within the Limi Valley. Established by Rinchen Zangpo, a visionary credited with founding over 108 temples, this monastery claims a place as one of the highest-altitude monasteries globally. Its allure lies not only in its spiritual significance but also in its ethereal beauty. Situated in proximity to Tibet, the monastery closely adheres to Tibetan religious customs and the Tibetan language permeates its surroundings. This alignment with Tibetan influences is hardly surprising given its geographical proximity. However, it's worth noting that the monastery sustained considerable damage in 2011 due to a glacial lake burst, rendering it vulnerable to future flood incidents.
The monastery's architecture is characterized by a three-story structure surrounding a rectangular open courtyard. Within its walls, one can find assembly halls, a library, quarters for the monks, a kitchen, and a storeroom. The upper two levels are reserved for religious activities. Particularly noteworthy is the Vairocana temple, which dates back to the 11th century, cementing its status as one of Nepal's most ancient temples. Owing to its remote location, Rinchenling Monastery enjoys a quieter existence, untouched by overwhelming crowds. To reach this serene abode, one must embark on a roughly 6-day trek from the nearest airport in Simikot.
How to Reach:
The journey to Rinchenling Monastery entails following the Limi Valley trekking trail from the closest airport in Simikot. You can start by catching a flight from Kathmandu to Simikot. From Simikot, the trek proceeds for about six days, ultimately leading you to the serene embrace of the monastery.
4. Narsingh Monastery
Narsingh monastery- believed to be a 1,250-year-old monastery Buddhist monastery located in the Mustang district of Nepal, to the northern side of the Muktinath temple. It is also called the temple of 1,000 lamps. Constructed with stone and mud masonry in the 6th century, the monastery houses a beautiful statue of Guru Padmasambhava. Hindu devotees also pay homage to the monastery as they consider the deity of this monastery as the Narasimha Avatar of Vishnu.
Narshingh Monastery was renovated in 2018 at the cost of Rs 28.5 million. This monastery is a common pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists, attracting hundreds of visitors and pilgrims alike. Admittedly, this monastery is not so popular but does hold historical as well as religious significance. Nepal's Government should preserve and promote this site by introducing standard trips to the site.
How to Reach:
To explore this ancient monastery, you will need to catch a bus from Kathmandu to Muktinath. It is a long drive of 15 hours. You can catch a bus from Gangabu bus park. Or, you can catch a flight to Jomsom from Kathmandu. And for the final hurdle, you will need to take a local bus or jeep. You can also hop on a helicopter to Muktinath.
5. Matepani Gumba
Narsingh Monastery believed to have an age of 1,250 years, stands as a significant Buddhist sanctuary in the Mustang district of Nepal, positioned to the north of the revered Muktinath temple. Often referred to as the "temple of 1,000 lamps," the monastery is an architectural marvel constructed with a combination of stone and mud masonry during the 6th century. Its premises house a striking statue of Guru Padmasambhava, a prominent figure in the Buddhist tradition. Interestingly, the monastery also holds importance for Hindu devotees, who venerate the deity here as the Narasimha Avatar of Vishnu.
In 2018, Narsingh Monastery underwent a renovation costing Rs 28.5 million, rejuvenating its historical and religious significance. Despite not being among the most widely known destinations, the monastery serves as a common pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists, attracting scores of visitors and pilgrims. While its popularity might not be on par with some other sites, the historical and spiritual value it embodies is undeniable. The Nepalese Government's involvement in preserving and promoting this site through organized tours could certainly elevate its recognition.
How to Reach:
To explore the depths of this ancient monastery, you can commence your journey by catching a bus from Kathmandu to Muktinath, a lengthy 15-hour drive. Buses from the Gangabu bus park are a viable option. Alternatively, you could opt for a flight from Kathmandu to Jomsom. From Jomsom, the final leg of the journey involves a local bus or jeep ride. If you're seeking a more expedited journey, you might consider a helicopter ride to Muktinath.
Thubchen Lhakang Monastery
Jampa Lhakang Monastery
Diki Chhyoling monastery
Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery
Pema Namding Monastery
Dongchu Monastery Monastery
In conclusion, if you have a desire to visit any of these monasteries, whether to honor your family's spiritual traditions or for personal reasons, you'll be pleased to discover a variety of options available. Nepal is home to a diverse range of Buddhist monasteries, making it relatively easy to find one that aligns with your preferences. Many of these monasteries are situated in remote mountainous regions, quite distant from urban areas, which might necessitate a break from city life. However, if you're open to spending a few days away from the urban hustle, it could be precisely the experience you're seeking.
The aforementioned monasteries represent a selection of Buddhist pilgrimage sites scattered across Nepal. These sites hold deep significance for both Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims, as well as for local Nepalese and foreign travelers. People visit these monasteries with various intentions—some to find solace in silence, while others embark on profound spiritual journeys. Regardless of the motivation, exploring and visiting these monasteries always offers a profoundly enriching experience.