Charang the oldest monastery of Kinnaur

Charang Monastery: The Oldest Temple in Kinnaur

My first ever trek was to Kedarnath in Rudraprayag, Uttarakhand, a small town in the Garhwal Himalayas flanked by snow-covered peaks, famous for its Shiva temple.

Almost a decade later, when I got the opportunity to do the Kinner Kailash Parikrama trek, I was thrilled! After traveling in public transport, bikes, and cars, what I enjoy the most is to walk.

Chitkul to Charang pass panorama
Kinner Kailash parikrama: on top of Charang La pass

Beginning of the trek to Charang, from Thangi through Lambar in Moorang is a moderate one; the challenge starts after crossing Lalan Ti pass all the way to Charang La pass till you reach Chitkul.

It is one of the more challenging & difficult treks in the Himalayas in Himachal, once in a lifetime experience!

Charang village of Tidong valley in Kinnaur
Charang village and chorten

Charang Monastery, Kinnaur 

Charang is a delightful little village near the Indo-Tibet border in Kinnaur – the less explored & non-touristy part of Himachal Pradesh in India. 

The Kinner Kailash Parikrama is considered incomplete without receiving blessings at the ancient 11th century Charang monastery also called the Rangrik Shungma – the holiest temple of Kinnaur.

Charang Buddhist monastery picture collage
Charang monastery panorama

Just 2 km from the Charang village, it’s more like a stroll on a narrow path along the river up to the monastery. And we walked leisurely, through fields surrounded by harsh rocky mountains, chatting with the friendly locals we met on the way.

Barley harvest in fields of Charang villager of Kinnaur
Heaps of Barley
Wild flowers in Charang
Flowers of Charang
Ponies in Charang
Donkeys on Charang monastery trail
People of Charang village
Charang monastery trail
Charang village landscape
Tidong stream flowing below Charang village. ITBP has built a Helipad by the stream.

It’s a gorgeous monastery made of mud, stones, and wood but very different looking than any other I’ve visited before. Once a center of learning & worship, it has some of the oldest Buddhist texts, murals, and Thangka paintings.

Brightly colored flowers manicured all around the temple complex and a room with a collection of bone and ivory knives & daggers, which only men could view!

Charang monastery entrance
A chorten inside Charang monastery premises
Picture collage of monastery gate of Charang
Charang monastery entrance
Buddhist Thangka wall painting on Charang gate
Left: Charang monastery premises Right: Thangka painted roof of the monastery
Chorten inside Charang monastery
Left: A wall around Charang monastery, Right: A chorten inside monastery premises.
Charang monastery windows
Windows of Charang monastery
Roof of Charang Budhhist monastery
Left: Charang monastery premises Right: Charang Monastery roof
Charang monastery door and courtyard
Left: Gate of Charang monastery, Right: Charang monastery campus
Buddhist prayer flags in Charang
Buddhist flags fluttering over a house in Charang

Two Buddhist nuns take care of the monastery and live there; they greeted us with endless cups of butter tea!

One of the nuns at the monastery was suffering from fever and chapped lips caused by the extreme cold and dry weather at that altitude.

We offered her some medication and she remembered my brother! Pointing at the holy thread around his neck, as she could barely talk with her broken lips, she said, “Oh, I remember you. You were here last year and had offered some medicines then too! How have you been? You are still wearing the holy thread; get a new one this time. It’s so nice to see you again!

Jomo or Budhhist nun at Charang monastery
A Jomo(nun) of Charang monastery(Rangrik Tungma)
Budhhist nun (or Jomo) serving salt tea at Charang monastery
Nuns of Rangrik Tungma monastery of Charang
Cute Hupso gaddi dog in Charang village of Kinnaur
A cute dog of Charang village
Buddhist prayer flags in Charang monastery of Kinnaur
Charang village landscape

Sipping on delicious tea amidst conversations, I wondered how it would be to live in this remote little place tucked deep within the mighty Himalayas cut off from the world, with nothing but the beauty and fury of nature.

And as exciting as it felt, I shivered at the thought of it. But in retrospect, I guess this thought prepared me mentally for what was ahead of us – the Kinner Kailash Parikrama! And I feel fortunate to have had this opportunity. It would be another challenging experience to visit Charang in winter, all covered in snow!

View from Charang monastery
View of Charang village in the distance from the monastery

This arduous trek was special in so many ways, and it got even more memorable. One of my landscape images (Panorama from Charang La pass – beginning of this post) of the Kinner Kailash Parikrama Trek, adorns a center spread in the book Guge – Ages of Gold!

The book is by Peter Vam Ham, a Frankfurt-based author, and photographer, who has researched Himalayan culture for nearly thirty years and documented it in a dozen books to date.

It showcases breathtaking views of the temple complexes, relics from the era that have survived to the present day, from both the Indian and the Tibetan side of the old Kingdom of Guge. I feel honored, and it inspires me to travel more and share my stories! 🙂

Courtyard of Rangrik Tungma monastery in Charang
Rangrik Tungma or Charang Monastery

Ritu Saini


One response to “Charang Monastery: The Oldest Temple in Kinnaur”

  1. Garima Kaushik Avatar
    Garima Kaushik

    Lovely article. Enjoyed reading it. Thanks. Is this place a convent for Buddhist nuns or does it house monks too? Would love to hear from you. Best,

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