Set against a backdrop of snow-flecked mountains and clinging to the steep sides of a windswept conical hillock, Ki Gompa is a picture-book example of Tibetan architecture and one of Himachal’s most exotic spectacles. Founded in the sixteenth century, Ki is the largest monastery in the Spiti Valley, supporting a thriving community of lamas whose Rinpoche, Lo Chien Tulkhu from Shalkar near Sumdo, is said to be the current incarnation of the “Great Translator” Rinchen Zangpo. His glass-fronted quarters crown the top of the complex, reached via stone steps that wind between the lamas’ houses below. A labyrinth of dark passages and wooden staircases connects the prayer and assembly halls, home to collections of old thangkas, weapons, musical instruments, manuscripts and devotional images (no photography). Many of the rooms have seen extensive renovation since an earthquake struck in 1975; a new prayer hall, dedicated by the Dalai Lama, was also added in 2000. During the new moon towards late June or early July, Ki plays host to a large festival celebrating the “burning of the demon” when chaam dances are followed by a procession that winds its way down to the ritual ground below the monastery where a large butter sculpture is set on fire.
Ki village lies 12km northwest of Kaza on the road to Kibber, and Ki Gompa is a steep 1km walk up from the town. The most scenic approach is to take the 5.30pm bus from Kaza to Kibber; get off at Ki village and walk the last section to appreciate the full effect of the gompa’s dramatic southern aspect. Alternatively, the 8am bus from Kibber detours to the monastery on its way down to Kaza. Accommodation in Ki is scant.