Narrow bumpy roads traverse rocky terrain amidst terrifying heights along one of my favorite travel routes in North India. More than thirty monasteries are scattered within Himachal Pradesh, making a journey to see all of them a rather cumbersome task. In an effort to ease the process of visiting as many noteworthy locations as possible, I’ve broken the routes into separate itineraries. The first is aptly titled: North India Buddhist Circuit I. This itinerary starts in Delhi yet doesn’t cover any Buddhist sights until late in Day 2 upon the arrival in Rampur, Himachal Pradesh.
If you’ve traveled this route already, share your thoughts or comments below.
Day 1: New Delhi
Arrive and Depart from Delhi. With a world class international airport and access to a plethora of travel agencies, arranging ground transportation from this North India city is simple. Overnight on any budget, departing the capital city early the following morning for Shimla by car and driver, train or plane.
Car and Driver
Pre-book before arrival to India. Cost should be inclusive of unlimited mileage, with optional accommodations reserved. For convenience may travelers enjoy having all arrangements handled prior to departure. Budget tourists will find it far less expensive to book rooms on the spot upon arrival in each city. This also allow more freedom to stay longer or skip destinations in favor of another location.
Rail transportation will get travelers as far as Shimla. Depart from New Delhi (NDLS) to Chandigarh (CDG), where you will need to transfer on to Shimla (SML). From here a pre-arranged taxi or car and driver service can be met.
Transportation via bus will significantly increase the amount of time needed to cover all the recommended destinations. Daily bus service in the more remote areas is limited to one bus per day, and only during the summer through late fall months. Depart from Janpath Road, New Delhi, with a final destination of Shimla. Transfer to local HRTC bus service for the remainder of the itinerary.
Day 2: Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Chances are you’ll want to stay outside of Shimla city to save precious hours of bottleneck traffic plus the hassles of too few parking spaces. Although a terrific city for sightseeing, unless you have spare time combined with a high tolerance for delays, Shimla is best kept to an overnight stay.
This day takes travelers further into the foothill of the Himalayas. Depart at an early hour to arrive in Rampur in time to view the Dumgir Buddhist Temple before retiring for the night.
Day 3: Rampur, Himachal Pradesh
Wake up early to depart for Reckong Peo with a side trip to beautiful Sarahan or Sangla if time permits. In Sarahan you can visit the Hindu Bhimakali Temple which looks deceptively like a Buddhist complex or discover the Kamru Fort in Sangla before continuing onto Chitkul for breathtaking views of the Sangla Valley. Backtrack to the main highway and continue on to Reckong Peo for an overnight stop.
Day 4: Reckong Peo, Himachal Pradesh
Several monasteries can be found within, or nearby, the city limits of Reckong Peo. The most interesting is Brelengi Gompa, where a 10 meter tall statue of Lord Buddha Kinnaur overlooks Kinnaur Kilash mountain peak.
Spend the day touring monasteries before moving on to Jangi (a short distance away) for an overnight stay.
Day 5: Jangi, Himachal Pradesh
Explore the monasteries of Lippa, Jangi, and Kannam villages during the day. In the afternoon take a short ride to Puh to explore the monastery here before finishing the day in Nako.
Day 6: Nako, Himachal Pradesh
Two monasteries worth seeing on this day are located in Nako as well as Chango. Only 11 kms separates the two making this sightseeing day a bit more on the relaxing side. You’ll want to complete your adventures early as the ride to Tabo for an overnight stay is worth seeing in daylight.
Day 7: Tabo, Himachal Pradesh
Unlike the other monasteries to be seen in the area, various buildings within the Tabo Monastery complex date back hundreds of years. Paintings inside the older temples are what brings a larger crowd of foreign tourists. Don’t forget to walk over to the caves which peer down onto the village of Tabo.
Day 8: Dhankar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Awake early and depart Tabo for the short drive to Dhankar village. Visit the breathtaking monastery perched upon a rock cliff before hiking the 5 kms to Dhankar Lake. Return to the village for an overnight stay.
Day 9: Kungri, Himachal Pradesh
Move on to Kungri in the morning. After a stop at the monastery, continue down the road to the village of Mud. You can hike on the popular Pin Valley trail for a few hours or just take lunch and return to the car for the nearly 60 kms drive to Kaza.
Day 10: Kaza, Himachal Pradesh
The gorgeous new monastery of Kaza is perfectly situated with striking views of Spiti Valley. Many guesthouses nearby make it hard to leave the area. One option is to tour the monastery here, then either hike or drive to Langza. From here, continue by foot to the 14th Century built Thang Yud Gompa. Return to Kaza for another overnight stay.
Day 11: Key, Himachal Pradesh
Ki/Kye/Key, what’s in a name? Travelers to Dhankar Monastery will feel an eerie deja vu when arriving at Kye Monastery. Also perched on a rock spur, the monastery appears to cascade down the mountain side in a series of small buildings built into the rock. Hike to Gete 30 kms away or continue on to Kibber.
Day 12: Kibber, Himachal Pradesh
Optionally you visited the monastery of Kibber the day before or even two days before if time didn’t permit a more casual pace. A visit to the monastery doesn’t fill an entire day, but a 30 kms hike to Gete or Dangmachan peak will. Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary is also worth a visit if time allows.
Day 13: Losar, Himachal Pradesh
Settle in for a rough day of travel along the mountain roads to Losar from Kibber/Kye or Kaza. Depending on your attitude, the rock scenery between locations is either magnificent or a brown blob or boring.
Day 14-15: Keylong, Himachal Pradesh
Depart early for the long trip across Kunzum Pass and subsequent terrible roads that follow until reaching Gramphu. Continue on to Keylong for a multi-day stay. Tour the surrounding monasteries of Tayul, Shashur, Khardong, and Gurughantal as you complete Circuit I of the Buddhist Monasteries of North India.
Day 16: Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
Return to Delhi via plane from Kullu or by train from Shimla. Both options entail backtracking to Gramphu where you’ll turn due south to reach the airport located near Kullu.
Daily service from Kullu to Delhi is provided by Air India.
Jump back on board at Shimla (SML) to Chandigarh (CDG) to New Delhi (NDLS).
Daily service back to Delhi is available.
Day 17: New Delhi
Depart for home or optionally stay for sightseeing.
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