One of the most isolated monasteries in the Zanskar region and probably in the entirety of Leh, that itself is the beauty of this place. The remotest of Monastery could be reached only through Trekking. It is in the southeastern part of Zanskar region in the district of Leh. The monastery when looked from a distance resembles a honeycomb. It is built with the help of mud and timber on the face of a natural cave. The Lungnak River runs aside this monastery. It is believed that the monks who used to pass through this area used to use the cave for shelter and the river water to quench thirst. Slowly the place developed into a monastery.
The monastery was established in 12th century by Gangsem Sherap Sampoo. The name Phugtal comes from the Tibetan word Phug meaning cave and Tal meaning at leisure or liberation. The name thus means ‘the cave of liberation’ or ‘the cave of leisure’. The monastery has just one tree above it which is believed to be the place where Rimpoche’s soul dwells.
The initial inhabitants of the cave were three Indian saints and Gangsem Sherap Sampoo who happened to visit the place ordered for building a monastery at this site resulting in the origin of the Phugtal monastery. The story goes that the saints said to the Lama that the cave is too small for a monastery and lama using his magical powers made it grow bigger. Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism is followed by the monks of this monastery.
LOCATION AND CLIMATE
Phutgal is located in the South Western part of Zanskar sub-district. The trek to the place shall be adequately planned as it is a remote village. Essential things to the monastery are brought on horseback and with the use of Donkeys and mules. The average temperature of the place is 4 degree Celsius and remains cold most of the time.
HOW TO REACH
One of the few monasteries in Leh Ladakh region to which you will have to trek. Till Padum one can go by cab from where one will have to hike. The trekking will take one to two days, through the villages of Chatang and Purne. From Purne, a person will have to walk 7 km further to reach the monastery.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
June to October is the best time to visit the monastery. Most of the festivals happening around January to June. Those interested could visit the place at that time. However, the journey is tedious during freezing weather.
The monastery in itself is the primary tourist attraction. Being a natural cum human made structure, this has a peculiarity in its very being.
Many festivals are celebrated in the monastery which gives greater insight into the life of Tibetan Buddhists.
Inside the monastery, there is cave art dating back to the 2nd century. The illustration shows the Arhats the initial inhabitants of the Phuktal village.
With water that is crystal clear, Lungnak river is just in front of Phuktal monastery and is a major tourist attraction
FAIRS AND FESTIVALS
Festivals are a significant part of life in Phutgal Monastery. The celebrations begin at the month of February and happen at regular intervals. Some of the festivals celebrated at the monastery are
Smonlam Chenmo means ‘The Great Prayer’ in Tibetan language. It marks the beginning of the year or instead is the Tibetan New Year Celebration. It either happens at the end of February or beginning of March or focuses on the well-being of people around the world and world peace.
The festival worships 13 of the deities in Tibetan Buddhism and usually happens in the month of March.
This is a harvest festival. The lamas of the monastery will prepare a statue made of butter and barley called as torma. Villagers pray to Torma for their well being.
This festival is celebrated to increase the lifespan of Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.
Jigched Lhachusum Ceremony
Either held at the end of March, end of may or the beginning of June.
Initiation of Vajrabhairava
Vajrabhairava is the god of death. The festival is celebrated as a part of worshipping him.
A fasting ceremony, so that one can give away all their Sins and work towards better Karma in rest of life.
Yarnas cannot be attended by everyone. Prior permission is required to witness Yarnas. During this festival, the monks will not come out of monastery for a day or two and performs daily pujas to remove negative karma from the things around.
This lighting ceremony is done in the first weeks of December, to commemorate the death anniversary of Je Tsongkhapa, the Buddhist monk who established the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhists.
The most important festival of Phugtal Gompa, this marks the end of a Tibetan year. It is attended by most of the localities.
THINGS TO DO
Phugtal is all about trekking, photography and sightseeing. A trek from Padum is an interesting one. One can opt for Cab from Padum till Icher. The trek could be started from Icher. 4-6 hours of trekking can make one reach Anmu and 2-3 hours of trekking can take one to Chah from Anmu. Chah is the closest village to Phugtal. The route through which the trekking is arranged is lovely.
WHERE TO STAY
Phugtal is a remote area and is disconnected from the mainland. A mentioned earlier one can reach the place only through Trekking. There are neither hotels nor homestay. However, there are homestays available at the nearby villages of Anmu, Chah and Purne. Purne village also has a shop for buying necessary stuff and a guest house too. Accommodation could be arranged inside the monastery; there is one guesthouse with attached bathroom. Another option is to find Camping sites, most of the time villagers permits the tourists to camp for a minimal payment. The next central town to Phugtal is Padum, which has many hotels and homestays.