Phugtal monastery

Phugtal monastery Ladakh

PHUGTAL MONASTERY or PHUGTAL GOMPA ( often transliterated as PHUKTAL) is a Buddhist Monastery, located in the remote LUNGNAK VALLEY in south eastern ZANSKAR, in the autonomous Himalayan region of Ladakh, in Northern India.

It is one of the only Buddhist monasteries that can still be reached “only on foot”.  Supplies to the monastery are brought on horses, donkeys and mules in the warmer months, and in the frozen winters, they are transported through the frozen Zanskar River.  A road is expected to be built up to the monastery, however, for now, it is a day’s walk from DORZANG, the end of the road leading from PADUM.

Phugtal monastery Ladakh

The monastery owes its legacy to powerful and renowned scholars and teachers, who resided in the cave around which the monastery has been built, and has long been a place for retreat, meditation, learning and teaching.  This is reflected in the name PHUKTAL, which is derived from PHUKTHAL, made up of PHUK meaning “cave’ and TAL or THAL meaning “at leisure” in the endangered Zanskar dialect of the Tibetan language.  An alternate spelling of PHUKTAL is PHUKTHAR, where THAR means “liberation”.  Hence, the name PHUKTAL means “the cave of leisure” or ” the cave of liberation”.

Phugtal monastery Ladakh

The Monastery is built around a natural cave, which is believed to have been visited by numerous sages, scholars, translators and monks around 2,550 years ago.  The remote location of the Monastery was ideal for monks looking for peace and solitude to meditate.  The present Phugtal Monastery was established in the early 15th century by Jangsem Sherap Zangpo, a disciple f Je Tsongkhapa.

Believed to be one of the earliest residents of the cave are the 16 ARHATS, or the legendary followers of Buddha.  The images of the Arahats appear on the cave walls.  The eminent scholars and brothers Dangsong, Pun and Sum, who were believed to have the supernatural power of flight gave teachings on Dharma at Phugtal.
According to legend, the spiritually-gifted Zangpo caused a spring to appear and run from the cave, a tree to grow on top of the cave and for the cave itself to grow larger in size.  Then, under his guidance, the present structure of the Monastery was built around the cave.  It is built in the Cliffside like a honeycomb.  The cliff is part of a lateral gorge of a major tributary of the LINTI – TSARAP River.  The Monastery houses a main temple, prayer rooms, a library with rare sacred texts, apartments and living quarters, teaching facilities, a kitchen and, of course, the original cave and the sacred spring, which is protected.  It is home to about 70 monks.  There is a stone tablet which serves as a reminder of the stay of Alexander Csoma de Koros at Phugtal, while he worked on the first English-Tibetan Dictionary between 1826 and 1827, when he explored Ladakh.

Phutgal monastery view

The Phugtal Monaster maintains a Traditional Tibetan Medical Clinic, catering to the local community. There is an on-site AMCHI (a traditional Tibetan Physician) who provides natural SOWA – RIGPA medicine, many of which have been prepared at the monastery itself.  The village life in the Lungnak Valley revolves round the monastery.  Monks from the monastery attend local village events of significance, such as births, deaths and weddings, performing traditional prayer ceremonies.  The villagers visit the monastery to offer prayers, consult the Amchi and to attend festivals and special events at the monastery.

puja phutgal monastery

On December 31, 2014, a landslide occurred between the Shun and Phuktal villages.  This caused the formation of a landslide dam on the Phuktal River.  IT was first noticed due to the recession in the water level of the NIMOO BAZGO Hydroelectric Plant down the river.  The lake formed, behind the dam, increased in length and height as compared to the height of the blockade.  In May 2015, the Phuktal river flooded and washed away the entire school campus.  The building, equipment, materials and stores were all destroyed.  The Monastery has applied to the Jammu and Kashmir State Government and the Central Government for grants and financial aid to help rebuild the school and monastery and undo the damage of the flood.


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