Gandhola Monastery

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Gandhola Monastery
Gandhola Gompa.jpg
Gandhola Gompa, 2004.
Gandhola Monastery is located in Himachal Pradesh
Gandhola Monastery
Gandhola Monastery
Location within India
Coordinates: 32°4′48″N 76°00′15″E / 32.08000°N 76.00417°E / 32.08000; 76.00417
Monastery information
Location Lahaul and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India
Founded 8th century; probably earlier
Type Tibetan Buddhist
Sect Drugpa
Dedicated to Padmasambhava

Gandhola Monastery (Gaṅdolā, also called Gondla, Gondhla, Kundlah, or Guru Ghantal Gompa) is about 18 km before Keylong in Lahaul, Himachel Pradesh, India on the road from Manali. It is located on a hill above the Tupchiling village at the sacred junction of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers, which together form the Chandrabhaga or Chenab River.[1][2] The village is at 3,160 m (10,370 ft) and is famous for its 7-storey tower fort.[3]


The monastery is said to have been founded by Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava in the 8th century CE.[4] It is now connected with the Drukpa Kargyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, but its history long precedes the formation of that sect. According to local tradition and also the Tibetan terma text, the Padma bKai Thang, discovered in 1326 CE, at Yarlung by Urgyan Lingpa, the site was associated with Padmasambhava.[5] But the site was a Buddhist establishment even earlier than that:

A chased copper goblet dated to the 1st Century BC was found here in 1857 by a Major Hay and is considered to be evidence of Buddhist monks' cells being located in a cave monastery at that time. The frieze on the vase denotes a chariot procession and is considered one of the oldest examples of metalwork to be decorated in this way in India. Known as the Kulu Vase, it is now kept in the British Museum.[6] A damaged marble head of Avalokitesvara also found here, is kept in the Guru Ghantal Monastery itself, and is claimed to date back to the time of Nagarjuna in the 2nd century CE.[7] This seems to be the only monastery in the region other than Sani Monastery in Zanskar which has a history which is claimed to go back to Kushan times.

There is also a black stone image of the goddess Kali, called Vajresvari devi (rDo-rje Lha-mo), and a wooden statue of the Buddha said to have been installed by the monk Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055), a famous lotsawa or translator of Sanskrit Buddhist texts.

The monastery was originally probably a larger complex of purely Indian style of which nothing now remains. The present structure is two-storied, 17.3 x 11.6 metres facing the northwest. The Assembly Hall or du-khang is on the ground floor. In 1959 the monastery underwent extensive repairs and a small pagoda roof of Kangra slates was added in a rather haphazard manner, which is surrounded by the mud roof which covers the monks' cells and kitchen on the second floor.[8]

The monastery has distinctive wooden (as opposed to clay) idols of Guru Padma Sambhava, Brijeshwari Devi and several other lamas.[9]

About 800 years have elapsed [by 1885 when the account was recorded] since Rānā Nīl Chand came from Kolong in the district of Bangāl to settle in Lāhul. At the same time Ţhākur Ratan Pāl of the Pāl family, a resident of Gond in Bangāl, came to Lāhul and settled in Tīnan, and named Tīnan Gondala after his first place of residence; and of his family at the present time Ţhākur Hīrā Chand is alive and the holder of the jāgīr of Gondala."[10]

Gandhola Thakur's 7-storey tower fort

Gandhola, like all the Drukpa monasteries in Ladakh and Lahaul, owes allegiance to H.H. the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, or Drukchen Rinpoche, Abbot of Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, who, in turn, owes allegiance to the head of the order in Bhutan.[11]

Gandhola is also famous for its seven story fort with alternating layers of stone and timber, which was once the seat of the local Thakur or chieftain, but is no longer occupied. It is a 4 km walk from the village of Tupchilling, in which the monastery is set.[12] it was built by Raja Man Singh, the ruler of the Kulu Kingdom in the early 1700s as a castle for the local thakur.

"Still preserved in the dilapidated tower is a prized heirloom of the thakur family: the 'sword of wisdom'. Made of thin wires hammered together in the style developed in Toledo in Spain, when it was under the Moors, the sword was given to one of their forefathers by the then Dalai Lama; in Tibetan Buddhism, it represents the battle against religious ignorance, and the divine Manjushri is normally portrayed wielding one. The sword is not on display but is shown if requested."[13]



  1. ^ Francke (1926), Vol. II, pp. 211, 215, 223.
  2. ^ "Lahaul and Spiti Tourism:Monasteries". District Lahaul & Spiti. Retrieved November 29, 2010. 
  3. ^ Ladakh, Kashmir, Manali: The Essential Guide. Partha S. Banerjee. Milestone Books, Calcutta. 2008, p. 37.
  4. ^ Francke (1926), Vol. II, pp. 211, 215, 223.
  5. ^ Handa (1987), pp. 57, 69, 75-77.
  6. ^ British Museum Highlights [1]
  7. ^ Handa (1987), pp. 50-52.
  8. ^ Handa (1987), pp. 75-77.
  9. ^ "Lahaul and Spiti Tourism:Monasteries". District Lahaul & Spiti. Retrieved November 29, 2010. 
  10. ^ Francke (1926), Vol. II, p. 203.
  11. ^ Rose, H. A., et al. (1911), p. 249.
  12. ^ Singh (2007), p. 339.
  13. ^ Ladakh, Kashmir, Manali: The Essential Guide. Partha S. Banerjee. Milestone Books, Calcutta. 2008, pp. 37-38.


  • Handa, O. C. (1987). Buddhist Monasteries in Himachal Pradesh. Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi. ISBN 81-85182-03-5.
  • Kapadia, Harish. (1999). Spiti: Adventures in the Trans-Himalaya. Second Edition. Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi. ISBN 81-7387-093-4.
  • Janet Rizvi. (1996). Ladakh: Crossroads of High Asia. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Delhi. ISBN 0-19-564546-4.
  • Cunningham, Alexander. (1854). LADĀK: Physical, Statistical, and Historical with Notices of the Surrounding Countries. London. Reprint: Sagar Publications (1977).
  • Francke, A. H. (1977). A History of Ladakh. (Originally published as, A History of Western Tibet, (1907). 1977 Edition with critical introduction and annotations by S. S. Gergan & F. M. Hassnain. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi.
  • Francke, A. H. (1914, 1926). Antiquities of Indian Tibet. Two Volumes. Calcutta. 1972 reprint: S. Chand, New Delhi.
  • Rose, H. A., et al. (1911). Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province. Reprint 1990. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 978-81-206-0505-3.
  • Sarina Singh, et al. India. (2007). 12th Edition. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-74104-308-2.