What was labeled as the Bir Monastery, according to a HPTDC tourism pamphlet, was neither located in the small village of Bir, nor just a monastery. So finding the breathtakingly gorgeous building pictured in my official tourism guide took a little patience and a lot of help from the locals. This area in the central part of Himachal Pradesh, a state in North India, is known for soapnuts, apples, mountain trekking and Monasteries. In fact, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state is the Buddhist monastery circuit; This route swings along the right side of the state winding down to Bir, where a large concentration of monasteries are within walking distance of each other.
Nods coupled with waves of hands and shrugged shoulders became the theme during my multi hour walk along two main roads that comprise Bir’s monastery hub. It was clear I needed a vehicle to cover the ground quickly enough before nightfall. Rakesh, my trusty driver and friend went to work racing down small artery roads. Some were paved, some were gravel, and all were well traveled with locals. Finally, a break. A large figured woman, figuratively and literally speaking, pointed us in the direction of what she thought was a newly constructed complex near the outskirts of Bir.
The sun was beginning to set fast as the four wheels beneath us sped forward. She was right. We had found the right area. And like urban sprawl in the USA, with big box discount stores sprouting on both sides of the road where vegetation once grew, monastic styled buildings were now dotting the landscape.
Turns out, that building pictured in the tourism guide labeled as the Bir Monastery was actually the Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lödrö Institute; A college for Buddhist teachings established by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. The Bhutan born man, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, leads Siddhartha’s Intent, a Buddhist organization with a mission to preserve Buddhist teachings and principles. The result is an impressive smattering of locations all over the world from monastic centers in Bhutan and India, retreat centers in Bhutan, Canada and Australia, and urban centers in Bhutan, India, Australia, China, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Europe.
A rather low-key sign on the roadside serves as the only location marker for the complex built in 2003, and inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many lamas and dignitaries. The Institute is administered by Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk and Khenpo Jamyang Lösel, together with a faculty of ten khenpos. The student body is composed of over 500 monks from various locales and monasteries, representing all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The curriculum encompasses a complete theoretical education in Buddhism over nine years of study (for a Shastri degree) or eleven years of study (for an Archarya degree). Graduates may pursue further studies and responsibilities and become teachers or khenpos.
As long as the sun would hold out I snapped photos. Tourists are allowed entry only into the main square shared with the Institute’s monastery. From here, guests can check into the visitor’s center while sneaking a glimpse at a semi circular dormitory building that rivals some luxury hotels in India. Picture taking is allowed in this area but of course, discretion and respect is expected of the monks.
Well off the tourist path, travelers with access to car and driver, and an interest in monastic architecture are well advised to make the trek to Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lödrö Institute. Plan on an hour to properly view the complex. Curious monks may stop for a chat as well as offer insight to the area.
There is no entry fee or fee for cameras. Please keep in mind this is not a true tourist destination. Given this is a working college, depending on time and day of your visit, you may be turned away.
Related Posts You Might Like:
Recent posts in Destinations