The Enigmatic Cliff Monastery of Phugtal Gompa

phugtal-monastery(Image: Shakti, cc-sa-3.0)

Overlooking a massive gorge and rope-bridged river, Phugtal Monastery is situated on a sheer cliff face in the Ladakh Himalaya in Zanskar, northern India. Founded in the 1100s by Lama Gangsem Sherap Sampo, the structure, also known as Phugtal Gompa or Phuktal, rests on a foundation of twigs and mud at a height of over 3,800 meters.

A gompa is a Buddhist spiritual stronghold and place of learning inhabited by monks and nuns. Gompas often have a central hall containing sacred artwork called murti and thangka. These statues, paintings and tapestries are believed to embody divine spirits and provide the focus for worship, meditation and prayer, as well as being used to teach the history of the Buddha.

phugtal-monastery-2(Image: hamon jp, cc-sa-3.0)

Phuktal’s design and isolated location is of spiritual significance because ancient travelling monks sheltered and meditated in the caves of this area. Built in and around this particularly large cave are four prayer rooms, a library, kitchens, a guest room and living quarters for approximately 70 monks in residence.

phugtal-monastery-3(Image: kanglapass, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

This spectacular monastery is not only a tourist attraction but also preserves a way of life; guiding student monks through various means of worship including song, craft and religious artwork. As well as witnessing the monks perform a cham dance as part of an annual Gustor celebration, visitors have reported seeing an older chapel room in Phuktal featuring an historical painted ceiling. At the rear of the cave there is also a sacred spring which may be thought to possess healing qualities. Furthermore, Buddhist caves are not an unusual feature of this landscape.

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