Keylong is an intriguing little mountainous town located along the River Bhaga. It is the district headquarters of administrative district Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. Located at an elevation of 3350m, Keylong lies 6 kms from the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers at Tandi Junction. This is not a regular travel destination but perfect for those yearning for the offbeat experience mixed with adventure and an insight into Buddhism.
Keylong is a primitive and spiritual region as most of Lahaul. It is dotted with monasteries or Gompa’s considered great centers of Buddhist learning, art and culture. It was the base of the Moravian missionaries who planted the poplar trees still growing in the region. It has a marketplace, fuel stations, medical facility and banks. State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, State Bank of Patiala and The Kangra Central Co-operative Bank have branches in Keylong.
My recent visit to Keylong in July 2015, made me realize that this beautiful town deserves more than the tag of being a stopover destination for Leh bound travelers. The cluster of typical Lahauli houses around the market road which forms the small village is straight out of the fairytale books we grew up reading. The people are extremely warm and welcoming with smiles that light up their eyes. Local women are draped in the long brown traditional coats. The market has shops selling woolens, clothing, dry fruits, grocery items. etc. The main occupation is agriculture and land is cultivated between April and October. Potato, Peas, Cabbage, Cauliflower and Lettuce are the main produce of the region. The locals are extremely hard-working and endure 8 months of extreme winter every year when the entire region is cut off from the rest of the world.
Places to Visit in Keylong:
Monasteries: Renowned culturally and artistically rich center of Tibetan learning.
- Shashur Monastery (3kms, 10 mins.): Shashur means ”In the blue Pines” and the gompa gets its name from the surrounding blue pine forest. Founded in the 17th century by Lama Deva Gyatso of Zanskar (who was a missionary of Nawang Namgial), this monastery is known for its paintings and images. As legend goes, the King of Bhutan, Gyatso, renovated the present monastry and stayed here till his last. When he was being cremated his heart did not burn and was enclosed in a black image of Gyatso. A statue of Namgial is also installed in the Gompa. The Gompa also has a 15 feet high Thanka and invaluable wall painting depicting all the Sidha of Lord Buddha. In the month of June/July every year, the festival of Shashur Tseshe is held with great pomp in the month of June. The Chaam or devil dance is performed where monks dance in colourful masks and costumes in the open courtyard. A large number of devotees gather here from nearby villages to celebrate the religious occasion.
- Kardang monastery (5kms, 15 mins.): The village of Kardang was once the capital of Lahaul. The Kardang Monastery dates back to the 12th century and is considered one of the most sacred places of Drug-pa sect (Red Hat). It lies across the Bhaga River with the bare lofty mountains as a backdrop. The large library has a rich collection of exquisite Kangyur, Tangyur and Thangka paintings. Old weapons and traditional musical instruments have also been kept on display. Scores of monks of monks and nuns inhabit the monastery.
- Tayul Monastery (3.5kms, 10 mins.): The prayer wheel at this monastery is said to rotate at its own will. ‘Tayul’ means the chosen place and it stores 101 volumes of the sacred Kangyur text. It has a gigantic statue of Padmasambhava.
- Guru Ghantal Monastery (8.6kms, 30 mins): This is the oldest monastery in Lahaul. Buddhist literary experts and translators Richensang-Po and Padmasambhava were associated with it. A deity of Vajreshwari Devi (Do-jeLha-Mo), a wooden idol of Buddha and a marble head of Avalokitesvara is enshrined in the monastery. The legend behind the marble head of Avalokitesvara is that was seen emerging at the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga Rivers and was retrieved by someone before the rest of the body emerged. It is also believed demon Tsedak who ravaged the area was captured and his visage is kept in a sealed room in the monastery. It is located 1.5 kms before the Tandi junction where the Chandra and Bhaga Rivers merge. There is a Fuel station near the monastery.
- Tupchiling Gompa: (7 kms, 20 mins.): Located near the Guru Ghantal monastery.
- Gemur Monastery (18kms): A small monastery popular for its dance festival held in July.
- Sissu (30 kms, 1.5 Hrs.): Located on the banks of the Chandra River at an altitude of 3100 m, the monastery enshrines a deity of Gyephang. During the warmer months, the Lake at Sissu and marshy banks is a favourite haunt for migratory birds specially the Siberian Geese and ducks. Sissu has a helipad from where helicopters ply on a regular to Bhuntar airport to provide access to the residents of Lahaul during the winter months when Rohtang Pass is snowed out. Sissu and Gondhla Fort can be visited which enroute to Keylong from Manali.
Gondhla (16kms, 45 mins.): Located along the Chandra River on the Manali-Keylong route. It is located at an elevation of 3160m. Sissu and Gondhla can be visited while enroute from Manali to Keylong. A towering 8-storied building catches the eye and is said to have been the home of the village chief. A large fair is held at the local monastery with dances in colourful masks. A 1500 m high vertical cliff is a breathtaking sight.
- Shansha (27kms, 1hr 30 mins): It has a shrine of the deity Gyephang who is supposed to have been born here.
- Jalma(33 kms, 2 hrs): Revered as the abode of many deities of Lahaul, Jalma is a sacred destination in the Pattan valley.
Tandi (9.3 kms, 30 mins.): Located at the confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers, Tandi is a small village 9 kms before Keylong on the Manali – Leh highway. At an elevation of 2673m, it is an important stop for travelers going to Leh as the last fuel station on this stretch is located here. Legend has it that the Chandra (Daughter of the moon) and Bhaga (son of the sun) fell in love and were united at Tandi after travelling all around Lahaul. There are small shops and restaurants or dhabas just before the Tandi Bridge where one can take a tea or meal stop.
Triloknath Temple (49 kms, 3 hours from Keylong): Triloknath Temple is Located on the Tandi-Kishtwar road, on the banks of the Chenab River. It is around 46 kms from Tandi and takes about 1.5 hours to reach there. Once you cross the Tandi bridge, take a left at the fork towards Lote. The road from Tandi till Thirot is great with a few rough patches. The view and mountain-scapes are mind-blowing with green fields, colourful flower beds and glistening glaciers. But the last stretch from Thirot to Triloknath is a terribly bumpy and strenuous ride though a dirt track ridden with mud and stones. The small temple of Triloknath is located at an elevation of 2760m. It is considered sacred and highly revered by both the Hindus (as Lord Shiva) and Buddhists (as Avalokiteshwara). The festival of ‘Pori’ is held in August every year with great fanfare and festivities. There are a few small shops outside the temple. A few of the locals offer very basic stay options. A better place for an overnight stay would be at Keylong, the district headquarters, about 2 hours from Triloknath on the Manali-Leh Highway.
Udaipur Temple (53 kms, 3.5 hours from Keylong): It is Located on the Tandi-Kishtwar road, on the banks of the Chenab River at an elevation of 2520m. Udaipur is famous for the Durga Devi temple. The temple is renowned for its exquisite wooden carvings.
Khoksar: This is the first village as one descends from Rohtang on the Manali-Leh highway. Located a little ahead of Gramphoo, it has a police check-post where an entry must be made for vehicles travelling ahead to Keylong and Leh. Khoksar has many small restaurants serving hot steaming food which is welcome in the cold weather. It has basic bathroom facilities for travelers.
Winter: November-May: Due to heavy snow, Rohtang Pass is closed during winters from November to May and the entire Lahaul valley is cut off from the rest of the world. Heavy woollens are required.
Summer: July-October. Climate is hot and dry during the day and cold at night. Light & heavy woollens recommended.
Monsoon: Rainfall is scarce in this region. The region is a dry and arid.
Best time to Visit: June to October
What to Buy in Keylong:
Woolens: Shawls, Sweaters, Jackets, Local Tweeds, Caps
Fresh fruit, Natural Olive and almond Oil
Silver Jewellery, Rugs and Footwear
Metal and Bamboo handicrafts
Colorful Tibetan Prayer Flags
Route to Keylong and Distances
Manali-Keylong (118 kms, 6 hours): via Manali-Leh Highway – Palchan – Rohtang Pass – Gramphu (Turn Left) – Khoksar – Sissu – Jagle – Raling – Khangsar – Gondhla – Thorang – Tandi Junction – Keylong.
- Khoksar – Tandi (40kms, 1.5 hrs): Khoksar – Sissu – Jagle – Raling – Khangsar – Tandi.
- Tandi – Keylong (9.3kms, 25 mins): Khoksar – Sissu – Jagle – Raling – Khangsar – Tandi.
- Kaza-Keylong (187 kms, 9 hours): Kaza – Sumling – Moorang – Hal – Hull – Jugmothang – Kiato – Hansa – Losar – Kunzum La (Pass, 4551m) – Batal – Chhatru – Gramphu (Turn right at the fork) – Khoksar – Sissu – Tandi Junction – Keylong.
Leh-Keylong (358 kms, 10 hours): via Leh-Manali Highway – Leh – Upshi (Turn right) – Gya – Debring – Pang – Naki La (Pass, 15547 ft) – Drive along Tsarap River – Gata Loops – Sarchu – Baralacha La (Pass, 4891m) – Suraj Tal – Zingzingbar cafe – Deepak Tal – Darcha – Lingkyam – Jispa – Gemur – Kawaring – Yurnath – Keylong.
- Delhi-Keylong (690 kms, 30 hours): Delhi – Ambala – Bilaspur – Manali – Manali-Leh Highway – Palchan – Rohtang Pass – Gramphu (Turn Left) – Khoksar – Sissu – Jagle – Raling – Khangsar – Gondhla – Thorang – Tandi Junction – Keylong.
Buses and taxis ply from Manali to Keylong on a regular basis once Rohtang Pass is opened in May/ June to October every year.
Nearest Airport: Bhuntar (166 kms, 9 hours)
Accommodation in Keylong:
Hotels in Keylong are open from June to October.
Dekyid Hotel: A lovely hotel located towards the town end with a great view of the the snow capped ranges and valley around. Nice clean rooms with a restaurant and good food. One of the best stay option in Keylong.
Hotel Dupchen: Hotel in the market with basic clean rooms and a restaurant.
Hotel Geyspa: A small hotel in the market with basic rooms and a restaurant.
The Chandra Bhaga: This is a HPTDC run budget hotel functional from June to October. It is located just above the Manali-Leh highway at Keylong and has a restaurant and parking facilities. A little isolated as it is away from the market. Rooms are not very clean or maintained but offers nice views of the Kardang monastery and snow clad peaks from the hotel. Phone: 0190-222247/222393.