Phugtal Gompa: A trek to the heart of Ladakh

Have you ever seen a monastery carved in a mountain cliff? Phugtal Gompa, better known as Phugtal/Phuktal Monastery, is located in the south-eastern part of Zanskar Valley in Ladakh.

The term ‘Phug’ in Phugtal stands for a cave. The history of this monastery can be traced back to the early 12th century when it was founded by Gangsem Sherap Sampo, a disciple of Gelug founder Tsongkhapa. It was deemed as a hidden gem till many years until Alexander Csoma de Koros, a Hungary-based philologist and Orientalist, visited it and lived here between the periods of 1826-27. Since then, the Phugtal Monastery is said to have a lot of spiritual significance as the monks started living here and meditating in its caves.


Housed in a corner, the place is home to a number of Tibetan monks well known for their special prayers and native lifestyle. Every aspect of Phugtal Gompa is visually and aesthetically fascinating as the journey begins with the sight of its marvelous structure. It is built with mud and timber at the entrance of a natural cave, giving it a unique look that attracts a number of visitors every year.


The Honeycomb

Built inside a mountain around a cave, Phugtal Monastery has small rectangular and square houses with big windows packed tightly around each other. Therefore, from a distance, it resembles the structure of a honeycomb hive set up by bees. Nearly 60 monks live in the area and it experiences no visitors for the cold half of the year. Zanskar valley faces heavy snowfall from October to March that jams the route to Phugtal Gompa – isolating the monastery from the world.


Phugtal Monastery

Inside the monastery, there are four prayer rooms, the main temple, library, kitchen, and multiple chapels designed with the customs and relics of Buddhism. Tibetan, Buddhist, and Indian ancient carvings dominate ceiling decorations as the chapels are filled with the aroma of incense sticks. The monastery plays host to a series of festivals in the summers and is frequented by a number of visitors during this time.

The cave is not inhabited as it serves as a passage for Tsarap River located above the monastery. According to legend, the water has a number of healing powers. All the groceries and supplies are stocked via horses and donkeys in summer for the year as it is difficult to make frequent trips to the Phugtal Monastery.


Trek Difficulty

Firstly, a drive or horse ride takes you from Padum towards the road for Phugtal. After this, one can continue on two to three days of trek marked with stupas, native stories, and chilling weather or opt for a horse or donkey to complete the journey. It takes a difficult trek for reaching this isolated monastery. That said, the difficulty is rewarded with picturesque views of prominent mountains engulfed by the bright blue Ladakh sky.

Undoubtedly, a trip to Phugtal Monastery is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and should be on every travel enthusiast’s bucket list!



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