I first chanced upon the scenic Key Monastery (also written as Ki, Kye) in Pooja Bhatt’s directorial venture ‘Paap’, a famed Bollywood movie, parts of which were shot in the monastery and other areas in the Spiti valley. This was more than a decade back during my student years and ever since, I had yearned to visit this remote corner of the country to experience its scenic and rich cultural heritage first-hand. However, professional and personal commitments always pushed my plans to an unknown time period in the future and it continued to remain so for more than a decade. Finally, after a time lag of more than a decade, I was excited to finally witness the sights of this monastery on the fourth day of my trip to Spiti Valley.
Perched atop a hill measuring more than 4000 meters above sea level, Key Monastery is probably one of the most famous landmarks of Spiti valley. It is located at a distance of 6-7 kilometres from Kaza and one can either choose to walk the distance or rent a car from Kaza. It takes approximately 45 minutes to reach Key from Kaza by car. For those interested in walking the distance, the time required would depend on their personal physical conditions.
The road from Kaza to Key is tarred and is in excellent condition, compared to other parts of the valley. The other good thing for city bred tourists like us is that the road takes you right up to the gates of the monastery. There is a car parking right at the entrance of Key monastery and tourists are allowed to take their cars right to the doorstep which moderates the effects of mountain sickness for tourists. However this was not always the case. Our cab driver told us that the road from Key village (below) to the Key monastery (above) was non-existent 20-30 years back (he was unsure of the exact time) and travellers had to trek up the distance, similar to Paro Monastery in Bhutan. Although trekking would have been adventurous, I was glad that this road had been built, as my AMS hit body would have been in no condition to trek it down.
Inside the monastery
As you enter the monastery gates, you will be greeted with an air of tranquillity. The sight of Buddhist monks, with glowing faces and going about doing their regular chores reveal a true sense of composure and peace. Although monks are men of religion, they are not always praying. You will see them engaging in their daily chores and oblige visitors with an occasional smile on being photographed. They also wilfully agree to pose alongside you, if you wish to take a picture with them.
Inside, the monastery is divided into various quarters. There is a big prayer hall, living quarters of resident monks as well as dormitories for visitors. I learned that outsiders could book a room in one of these dorms and spend a day or two in the monastery. Photography is prohibited in the main prayer hall. I recommend visitors to spend a few minutes inside this prayer hall and experience its calmness and silence. It was a soothing experience for me spending around 30 minutes inside the main prayer hall in pin-drop silence.
The highlight of the Key monastery for visitors is its rooftop that offers brilliant views of the valley. Visitors are allowed to carry their cameras to this place and are allowed to click photographs. If you are visiting this monastery, then make sure you visit the rooftop to experience a picturesque views of the valley.