Spiti, locally pronounced “Piti”, is bounded on its south and west by the valleys of Kulu and Lahaul; the region of Ladakh lies to the north, and the Kalpa valley lies to the south-east. Geologically and archaeologically, Spiti is a living museum. The mountains are devoid of vegetation, and erosion by wind, sun and snow over thousands of years has laid bare the rocks. The rugged and rocky mountain slopes sweep down to the riverbeds giving the landscape a moon-like appearance.
Rudyard Kipling describes Spiti in “Kim” in these words: “At last they entered a world within a world – a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of the mere rubble and refused from off the knees of the mountains… surely the Gods live here”. The topographical similarity with Tibet and widespread prevalence of Tibetan Buddhism has led this region to be referred to as Little Tibet.
Kaza, the capital of Spiti Valley, is located at an altitude of 12000 ft / 3650 m, our retreat in Kaza is an oasis of comfort in this mountain desert and the perfect base to see the wonders of Spiti & Lahaul: incredibly located & ancient monasteries like Ki & Dhankar; the world’s highest inhabited villages – Hikkim & Komic, the breathtaking pasture lands of Kibber & Gete, the spectacular Pin Valley National Park…
Ki Monastery or Key Gompa is also spelt Ki, Kye or Kee.
The spectacular monastery is located at the height of 4116m and 7 km from Kaza. It is the largest monastery in Spiti Valley. Established in the 11th century has ancient Buddhist scrolls and paintings. It also houses a large number of Buddhist monks and nuns and a cafeteria.
It is the biggest monastery of Spiti Valley and a religious training centre for Lamas. It reportedly had 100 monks in 1855. In the architectural definitions given to various monasteries, Ki falls in the ‘Pasada’ style, which is characterised by more stories than one and often plays the role of a fort-monastery.
Key Gompa is said to have been founded by Dromtön (Brom-ston, 1008-1064 CE), a pupil of the famous teacher, Atisha, in the 11th century. This may, however, refer to a now-destroyed Kadampa monastery at the nearby village of Rangrik, which was probably destroyed in the 14th century when the Sakya sect rose to power with Mongol assistance.
Key was attacked again by the Mongols during the 17th century, during the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and became a Gelugpa establishment. In 1820 it was sacked again during the wars between Ladakh and Kulu. In 1841 it was severely damaged by the Dogra army under Ghulam Khan and Rahim Khan. Later that same year, they suffered more damage from a Sikh army. In the 1840s, it was ravaged by fire, and, in 1975, a violent earthquake caused further damage, which was repaired with the help of the Archaeological Survey of India and the State Public Works Department.
The successive trails of destruction and patch-up jobs have resulted in a haphazard growth of box-like structures, and so the monastery looks like a fort, with temples built on top of one another. The walls of the monastery are covered with paintings and murals. It is an outstanding example of 14th-century monastic architecture, which developed as the result of Chinese influence.
The key monastery has a collection of ancient murals and books of high aesthetic value, and it enshrines Buddha images and idols in the position of Dhyana. There are three floors, the first one is mainly underground and used for storage. One room, called the Tangyur, is richly painted with murals. The ground floor has the beautifully decorated Assembly Hall and cells for many monks.
Key Gompa now belongs to the Gelugpa sect, Tabo Monastery and Drangtse Monastery, one of three in Spiti.