Monasticism is intrinsically rooted in Buddhism as a temporary retreat for monks and nuns. But with their rising popularity in terms of teachings and architecture, they have gradually evolved as centers of spiritual and philosophical development showcasing impeccable architecture in the most magnificent settings.
So here we introduce to you the best monasteries in Asia. These relics of history are beautiful and mystical travel attractions besides being a religious place for prayer.
1. Xuan Kong Monastery, Shanxi, China
Aptly eulogized as ‘The Hanging Temple’ is the surreal Xuan Kong monastery, a 1400-year-old divine beauty perched on a cliff overlooking Mount Heng. From afar, it appears to be supported by extremely thin stilts that seem to crash down any moment the wind blows. But call it the grace of god or some impeccable structural engineering; this monastery has survived many earthquakes over the centuries. Its extraordinary architecture boasts 40 halls and rooms that follow the craggy contours of the cliff.
2. Taktsang Monastery, Paro Valley, Bhutan
Built in 1692 and renovated in 1998, ‘The Tiger’s Nest’ clings to the side of a 3,000 ft cliff in the Himalayas. The folklore goes that the second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, arrived to this cave sitting on a great tigress and meditated here. The cave is, till today, intact in the monastery walls. Reserved strictly for Buddhism practitioners, it doesn’t allow tourists inside.
3. Phugtal Gompa, Himalayas, India
Phugtal Gompa was built in the 12th century by Lama Gangsem Sherap Sampo. Housing over 70 Buddhist monks, it lies to the southeast of Zanskar region, perched atop a several thousand feet high cliff near a massive gorge. Despite being built of stones, wood and mud bricks, this religious place has managed to survive all along.
4. St. George Monastery, Israel
Be very careful while walking your way up here, you may get scared of the sheer drop down one side. On the west bank of Palestine is this 6th century masterpiece that can be accessed by a pedestrian bridge across the Wadi Qelt. It is purposefully built near a religiously significant cave where Prophet Elijah was believed to have been fed by ravens. The hallowed walls of the place let you see the bones and skulls of monks killed by Persian raiders shortly after it was built!
5. Sigiriya, near Dambulla, Sri Lanka
The aesthetic look of Sigiriya with an elliptical shape and sloping top is a gift from a magma plug of an extinct volcano. A palace converted into a monastery, it boasts a number of gardens with some of them having boulders, water features and terrace gardens. The frescoes of this monastery are ornate with Ajanta styled paintings, while the entrance is in the shape of a lion’s claw. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
6. Yumbulagang Monastery, Tsedang, Tibet
In Tibetan language, the name stands for ‘A Palace of Mother and Son’. Claimed to be the first building of Tibet is Yumbulagang, a 2,000-year-old masterstroke. This is another palace turned monastery (until the 7th century) that is now dedicated to a motherly deity. The building walls are adorned with gorgeous murals with one of them being about the first Tibetan King Nyatri Tsanpo.
7. Taung Kalat, Burma
The most daring of all, this monastery is built atop a silent volcano plug, offering the most breathtaking site in the country. It is also a ‘healthy’ one as it makes you climb 777 steps to reach the summit! Pay treats to the countless Macaques as you go up. From there, you can embrace gorgeous vistas of the ancient town Bagan along with Mount Popa, a gigantic solitary conical peak.
You don’t need an excuse to visit these Gompas. Just answer to the ‘calling’ and give a head start to your most enlightening travel expedite ever!