Monk for a Month is a Buddhist spiritual experience program launched by Conscious journeys in partnership with Ecosphere and World Weavers. The purpose of this experiential learning program is to promote cultural exchange, deep understanding of the Buddhist teachings and of the monastic life in “Buddhist” India and also exposure to the socio-economic conditions and the culture of predominantly Tibetan making Spiti Valley, an important preservation area for Tibetan Buddhism. Spiti Ecoshpere is an award winning social enterprise that has been operating responsible travel and community-based tourism in the majestic Spiti Valley since 2004. The area itself is located in the north eastern part of India, high in the Himalayan mountains on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. A distinctively Buddhist region, Spiti Valley is one of the least-populated areas in India.
The program schedule:
The program schedule begins in the Tibetan quarter of Delhi before we wind our way up deep into the Himalayas and the hidden vistas of Spiti Valley. The heart of the program is the contemplative experience of living in a traditional Tibetan monastery high in the breath-taking mountains. During the 10-14 days in the monastery you will learn about Buddhism from the source while practising the path and having a living-experience of daily life of Tibetan Monk and Nuns.
The program concludes with a very special 3-day pilgrimage to Dharamsala, the seat of the Dalai Lama. Our program guests are afforded a privileged insider’s perspective to the many spiritual treasures in the “heart” of Tibetan Vajrayāna Buddhism.
A mosaic of unadulterated moonscapes and invigorating spirits, the land that time forgot, the symphony that resonates across centuries, a muse of the mystics, an emotion and not a destination, ‘the Spiti valley – a unique haven of environmental, spiritual and architectural integrity’.
It is here that we have developed this unique yet engaging program to enable one to go deep into a space where entry is possible only for the initiated.
The monk for a month program is a journey that takes you into both the external as well as internal spaces that surround our physical, mental and spiritual grounds and gives you the opportunity to withdraw temporarily from all preconceived notions of religious, spiritual and mundane notions.
As the sage says “Your cup is full. How can I put anything in it till you empty it out first?”
Category: Buddhist Retreat
Duration: 22 Days
Mode of Travel: Jeep and Walking/Hiking
Accommodation: Monastery, Hotel and Guesthouse
When to go:
The best time to follow this program is from May to October.
Prices from € 2.450 per person
Day 01: Arrival Delhi
Duration: 1 Hour
Today we arrive in India in the city of New Delhi and start our initiation into one of the most challenging, intimidating and yet, mystical cities – varying from one extreme of madness & bewilderment to repose and bliss. From the airport we head straight to our guesthouse in a pre-booked taxis. Depending on the time we arrive, the day is free for us to roam or relax as we deem fit.
Day 02: Delhi
Duration: 2-3 Hours
Summers are a time for getting in and getting out of Delhi at ones earliest convenience. We shall spend part of the day today at the Tibet House, located in the very heart of Delhi. The Tibet House was established in 1965 by the Dalai Lama with the sole objective of sharing the traditions of Tibet, especially that of Tibetan Buddhism. The centre is
known for its Museum that houses rare artifacts representing the Tibetan culture as also for its library. Later today we shall receive an introduction into Tibetan Buddhism.
Day 03: Delhi to Shimla
Gradient: Gradual ascents
Duration: 8-9 Hours
Accommodation: Guest House/ Hotel
Today we depart Delhi early morning and head to Shimla through the famous Grand Trunk road and across the Shivalik ranges. Shimla was the summer capital during the time of the British Raj and still has some remnants of the same.
Day 04: Shimla to Kalpa
Gradient: Gradual to steep Ascent & Descent
Duration: 8-9 Hours
Being in the mountains has its spiritual sides and once the woods of the middle Himalayas have stirred that spirit, only the most intense experiences can satiate the quest. As we drive out of Shimla and move towards the Greater Himalayas (Kinnaur region) the views of the Kullu and Spiti ranges keep us abreast with what lies ahead. The fir, birch, Cedar and Oak forests intermixed with apple orchards along the national Highway 22 are a perfect companion and more than often they seem to tempt us to get lost in their myriad spaces. From the cedar, fir and birch forests of Kufri and Narkanda the road takes a steep descend down into the valley of the Sutlej river. The initial part of the route is where the valley gorges into a deep abyss and frowning rock jaws descend sleepily from great heights and the roar of the Sutlej surely rises ominously from those Shadowy depths. Taranda cliffs are one such sight.
The latter section of the journey along the Sutlej is bit of a sore as huge hydro dams have completely changed and impacted the entire topography and ecology of the region. At Poari we leave Sutlej and make our left bank ascent to Kalpa.
This region of Kinnaur is known as the Sairag region and for a long time “Chini” in this area was the only place in Kinnaur of which the outside world had some knowledge perhaps due to Lord Dalhousie’s two summer visits as Governor General of India in the middle of nineteenth century and a mention in Rudyard Kiplings “KiM”. This region offers some of the most dramatic scenery in the Himalaya. Here the Kinner Kailash range appears to spread itself out for the admiring gaze of the visitor. Not so close as to induce claustrophobia, yet almost to hand, the Mountains rise majestically from the river bed up through orchard forest and glinting glaciers to rocky pinnacles and snow-capped tops. The semicircle of peaks includes Raldang, Jorkanden and Kinner Kailash. Close to a saddle on the northern shoulder of Kinner Kailash, one can pick out the 17
meter rock pillar of “Shivling”, changing colors with the movement of the sun.
Day 05: Kalpa to Tabo
Gradient: Gradual Ascent
Duration: 8 Hours
Altitude: 3300 mts
Our journey today, is to a region which was opened to tourists only a couple of decades ago, from Lower Kinnaur to Upper Kinnaur and eventually to Spiti, it’s a transition in the landscape, beliefs and life styles, a 200 km journey through the history and culture of this amazing region. Before starting today, we will have to get Inner Line Permits made as the route today crosses into the inner line of the international border.
The journey moves into high altitude territory as we enter Khab, the confluence of the Sutlej and Spiti rivers. Tibet is a stone throw from this point and the Shipki ranges rise majestically on the eastern sides. From here on it is the Spiti river that will be our companion through some rugged backcountry. We will drive through the Hangrang valley of Upper Kinnaur and will pass through the well known village of Nako.
We continue on our journey and enter Spiti at a place called Sumdo. From here we will follow the Spiti river and gradually make our way to Tabo. The terrain keeps subtly changing its form and the scale gets ever larger. Tabo, our halt for the night is at the very centre of spiritual energy of this amazing region and you are sure to feel its presence here.
Day 06: Tabo to Dhankhar to Kaza
Mode: Jeep & Trek
Gradient: Gradual to steep ascents
Duration: 3 to 4 hours
Accommodation: Hotel/ Guesthouse
Altitude: 3700 mts
Tabo is a quaint little village famous for its Monastery, which celebrated 1000 years in 1996. This is one of the largest monastic complexes of Spiti and is referred to as ‘the Ajanta of the Himalayas’, because of its rich repertoire of wall paintings, frescoes and Thangkas. Tabo has been declared as a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India and is a classic example of a well-preserved Tibetan monastery.
We shall visit the monastery here and even some of the meditation caves to get an insight into life of the monks here. This monastery belongs to the Gelugkpa sect of Vajrayana Buddhism. The Gelugkpa is the dominant sect in Spiti and 3 of the 5 major monasteries belong to this sect including Tabo, Dhankhar and Kee.
From Tabo we head to Dhankhar village, the ancient capital of Spiti. Dhankhar is known for its ancient monastery and Fort.
The Monastery is perched precariously between unique wind eroded structures and offers some stunning views. Remnants of the Dhankhar Fort, which housed the royal family of Spiti, still remain and one can walk upto the top and see the relevance of its strategic location. Ecosphere works very closely with the Dhankhar monastery and we are promoting renewable energy alternatives and have converted most of the monk residences into solar passive homes, besides setting up greenhouses for vegetable cultivation and solar water heating systems for their kitchen.
Dhankhar is also known for its lake which is surrounded with legends. The lake is a short hike (approx. 1 hour) from the village and ideal to visit during sunrise and sunset. Set amidst stark bronze folds Dhankhar Lake has its own story to tell. If time permits we can hike up to the lake. The pass at the top of the lake offers stunning views of the Dhankhar village and the confluence of the Spiti and Pin rivers at the base.
From Dhankhar we head onto Kaza, the capital of Spiti where we spend the night.
Day 07: Kaza
Altitude: 3750 mts
Orientation forms another important part of this journey as much as acclimatization forms the essence of being in harmony with the rarefied air in this high altitude territory. We spend the day with members of the Ecosphere team and get oriented on Spiti, Ecosphere and the monk for a month program. Today will also get a brief introduction on Buddhism in Spiti as well.
Day 08: Kaza to Kee to Kungri
Gradient: Gradual ascents & descents
Duration: 3 to 4 Hours
Altitude: 3650 mts
After breakfast we get back onto the road and follow the Spiti river upstream for a short while where we will visit the Kee Monastery which belongs to the Gelukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Kee Monastery is one of Spiti’s most spectacular monastery perched up on a small conical hill. We will spend time exploring the monastery, head back to Kaza and grab a quick lunch before we head further downstream till we reach the Pin Valley. Pin valley is home to the Niyangma sect of Vajrayana (Vehicle of the Thunderbolt – a.k.a Tibetan/Tantrayana) Buddhism, which is the oldest of all the Vajrayana Bushhism sects and was founded by Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). We visit the Kungri monastery, the only monastery in the Pin valley. Here we shall learn about this unique sect and its practices and get a brief insight into the lives of the monks and their responsibilities over the next week.
Day 09 – Day 14: Kungri
The next 6 days is a deep contemplative and learning curve that will provide a deeper understanding of the day to day life in a monastery along with some basic practices of the Nyingma Sect. The Kungri monastery/nunnery belongs to the Nyingma sect of Vajrayana Buddhism and is approximately 600 year old. The Nyingmapa School is the oldest among the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the others being the Sakyapa, Gelugpa and Kagyupa. While the basic teachings of the four schools are similar, the Nyingmapa sect differs in being more focused on the Tantra phase of learning. This difference is attributed to the founder of Nyingmapa, Padma Sambhava, who was proficient in the practices of Tantra.
The beginning of a serious engagement and we need initiation to be able to start our monastic stay. We start our program by getting formally inducted into the monastic system and a small ceremony is performed to offer us the vows and precepts that we need to adhere to during the course of our stay in the monastery. The vows are offered by the teachers in the monastery and form an integral part of ones commitment to the spiritual tradition.
The next few days present an opportunity to get to understand the different aspects of a monks life. One of the key aspects pertains to following the daily schedule of the monastery that we shall adhere to very strictly. The daily schedule is developed in a manner that enables the monks to get ample time for self-study and this time shall be used by us to get deeper insights and better understanding of some of the key teachings.
Some of the things that we shall be learning during the course of the stay will pertain to the importance of Bhoti (Tibetan) language, as most of the major Tibetan Buddhist treatise are available only in this language. Bhoti is also the medium of instruction and learning at all higher levels. This is definitely a tedious task and one that cannot even be remotely comprehended within a short window of 6 days. However, it is just to give one a brief insight into this script and how the monks are going about their process in slowly progressing through different stages. Another important aspect is the learning of English and Hindi and here we shall be able to make some contributions by participating in the teaching of either language that we are proficient in if time and schedules permit.
A very significant aspect in the life of a Tibetan monk is the playing of musical instruments. These are not only important in terms of the latters resonance creating capabilities to enhance spiritual experiences and means of assistance in reaching deeper states of consciousness through meditations but they are also typically significant in many of their ceremonies and festivals such as the “Cham” and also other ceremonies and prayers performed in peoples homes.
We shall try and get a brief insight into some of these instruments such as Thung, Gyeling, Rolmo, Tehlu, Dhonpo & Kaling and a few quick lessons and hands-on training by an expert monk on how to play them. The science of yoga lies in the subtle linkages of the concepts of Yantra, Mantra and Tantra and their mutual coamalgamation. The science of Tantra has been expounded and expanded to great extent in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. It is also regarded as one of the most advance sciences in the field of Yoga and spirituality in general. However, it is pertinent to master the use of the Yantra and Mantra for finally being able to move to the science of Tantra. A lifetime of commitment is absolutely imperative to get deep into the science of Tantra – however within our available window we get insights into mantras and how they assist in the process of spiritual evolution in the Nyingma tradition and its significance in moving further into more tantric practices useful in the path towards liberation.
We shall use our stay in the monastery to get a brief insight into the significance and usage of mantras and how they form the most significant proportion of a Tibetan monks life and practices in their quest for spiritual progress. There are specific mantras dedicated to different deities and Bodhisattvas. The Dorje Tsempa mantra and the Avalokitesvara mantra are some of the more common ones that we shall learn about. The recitation of these mantras and the turning of the rosary form an integral part of the practices and something that has to be adopted as part of our genetic mapping during the course of our stay. Prayers and mantra recitation form part of the daily routine of the monks and something that we shall also participate in regularly. One of the things that we shall be doing as part of our daily schedule. As part of our stay at the monasteries we shall have some sessions that the Monastery teachers will take to introduce concepts of Nyingmapa Buddhism to the participants. Some of the key topics that shall be addressed as part of the philosophical teachings pertain to Discipline, Truth, Compassion and Wisdom. We shall also hear the views of the teachers in the monastery about Samsara and why we are born in Samsara. The 3 poisons and their role in keeping us lurking in the world of Samsara again and again. Meditation forms an important aspect of spiritual practices at the monastic institutions – however the practices of meditation in the Nyingma tradition need specific initiations – since one has to take refuge in Yidams (deities) as per the tantric teachings. However, we shall be learning some very basic techniques of meditation during the initial part of our stay in the monastery and something that will form part of our daily routine during our stay. Along with meditation we also shall be practicing Longro (the practice of cleaning ones body of the 3 poisons every morning through breathing techniques and meditation).
Two very significant aspects of life in a monastery revolve around making Tormas and Mandalas. We shall try our hand at these and learn more of their significance in the monastic traditions as well as in the process of spiritual evolution. Last but not the least is the Nuangnay initiation that we shall undertake at the end of our stay at the monastery. This is a traditional fasting and silence retreat that one must take to further deepen their practices. The teachers at the monastery shall initiate us into the nuangnay practice. As part of our stay at the monastery we have the option to see a Bhuchen Performance. The Bhuchens are a rare and unique sect of Tibetan Theatrical artists who are found only in the Pin valley. The Bhuchens have multiple facets to them – they are theatre performers, entertainers, exorcists, socio-religious messengers and more. The art form goes back to the 11th C AD and if keen you can inform your guide and he can organize a performance of the Bhuchens at an additional cost.
Day 15: Kungri to Phukchong
Gradient: Mostly Gradual
Duration: 30 mins
Today is our last day at the monastery. We continue to follow our daily schedule and slowly prepare ourselves for heading on for another short retreat to a village dedicated for serious retreats for monks and nuns.
The morning session is all about another initiation today into the practice of Nuangnay – traditional fasting and silence retreat. Our teacher shall initiate us into the same. We shall also get the opportunity to bid goodbye to our hosts and to express our gratitude to the monastery and its resident monks and nuns.
Day 16: Phukchong
Our nuangnay retreat shall continue in Phukchong today.
Day 17: Phukchong to Kaza
Gradient: Gradual ascent & descent
Duration: 2 Hours
Accommodation: Hotel/ Guesthouse
Our brief retreat at Phukchong comes to an end today and we finish our nuangnay practice today as well. Hopefully the silence and fasting would have exposed us to new avenues of our own being.
We will slowly break our silence and post breakfast will head off back to Kaza. The rest of the day can be spent at ease or exploring the market for any last minute shopping that we may like to do in Kaza. Do remember to meet with the Ecosphere team to give your feedback and suggestions.
Day 18: Kaza to Manali
Gradient: Gradual to steep ascents and descents
Duration: 10-12 hrs ( travel time )
Today is an early start. We drive over the Kunzum la (pass/4551mts), which divides Lahaul and Spiti. We spend some time taking in the fabulous views of the Chandrabhaga range of mountains, visit the Buddhist shrine at Kunzum and get into our waiting jeeps. We drive along the valley of the Chandra river until we ascend to the Rohtang pass (separating Kullu from the Lahaul valley), and descend into the valley of the Kullu valley. Though the journey is long today, one hardly notices it as the changing landscapes enroute keep one mesmerized. Today we make our way back into the hustle and bustle of urban spaces. Evening is free for us to explore Manali town.
Day 19: Manali to Bir
Gradient: Mostly Gradual with minor ascents and descents
Duration: 8 hrs
Accommodation: Guest House
Our halt in Manali is a short one and after a relaxed breakfast we make our way to the Mandi and Kangra valleys of Himachal. We follow the Beas river all the way to Mandi and cross the famous town of Kullu enroute. From Mandi we head towards the Dhauladhar ranges which form a perfect backdrop for the Kangra region as also for the better known town of Dharamshala. Our halt for tonight is at the small settlement of Bir, which is well known for its Tibetan community as also for its monasteries.
It is an evening to soak in the small place and to take it easy after the days journey. Bir has also recently come onto the international map for being a world-renowned location for para-gliding. The 2015 Paragliding World Cup was held in Bir.
Day 20: Bir to Dharamshala
Gradient: Mostly Gradual
Duration: 3-4 hrs
Accommodation: Guest House
Today we shall be spending some time at the Deer Park Institute, a very interesting institute dedicated to the spread of Indian philosophies and religions. The buildings in which the Deer Park Institute is located used to be a living monastery till a very short while ago. Currently the monastery has shifted some 7-8Kms away from its earlier location and is one of the largest monasteries in the region. For those interested in trying their hand at some world-class paragliding you can inform your guide and he will enquire about the possibility of flying. Later today we head on towards the seat of the exiled Tibetan Government at Mcleodganj, Dharamshala. Enroute we shall first pay a visit at the Norbulingka institute for a quick insight into some of the Tibetan arts and how they are being taught and preserved within the premises of this institute.
Day 21: Dharamshala
Accommodation: Hotel/ Guesthouse
Today we shall explore Mcleodganj and its many faces. A visit to Mcleodganj is incomplete without visiting the The Dalai Lama’s monastery, temple and his residence. There are some other interesting places one can explore around Mcleodganj such as the Tibetan Men-tse-khang medical centre, the quaint little village of Dharamkot, Bhagsunath and Galleu. Depending on time available we shall visit some of the places.
Evening is again free for us to explore the market.
Day 22: Dharamshala to Delhi
Duration: 12 hrs
We shall leave early morning today for our journey back to Delhi. It is a long day on the road and an early start is ideal. We shall settle into our guesthouse in the evening and relax and unwind.