Amazing mountain monasteries
Throughout the ages, magnificent architecture has given expression to spiritual and religious devotion. Nowhere is it more striking than in these amazing mountain monasteries found in remote and barely accessible locations around the world. Each has its origin in the search for a solitary place to reflect, far removed from human distractions, and close to nature. Their stories, equally amazing, often read like something out of a fantasy novel.
Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan
Paro Taktsang, or the Tiger’s Nest, seems to come straight out of the imagination. Perched high on a mist-shrouded cliffside in the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan, with brilliant white walls and rainbow strands of fluttering prayer flags, it is surely closest thing to Shangri-la in this world. It was built in 1692 on the site where Buddhist Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. According to one legend, he flew there on the back of a tigress from Tibet.
Translated as “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”, as in meteorite, the six temples of Metéora are certainly deserving of the name. These Eastern Orthodox monasteries in central Greece stand on natural sandstone rock pillars, some of which tower to a height of 550m above the plain below. These pillars have been inhabited by monks since the 9th century, when a group of hermit monks moved up to live in the caves and crevices. Beginning in the 14th century, 20 monasteries were built in the area, access to which was made deliberately difficult to preserve the monks’ seclusion. This inspirational area has often found its way into popular culture, perhaps most notably as a location for James Bond in You Only Live Twice.
Taung Kalat, Myanmar
Situated atop a volcanic offshoot from neighbouring Mount Popa in central Myanmar, the monastery at Taung Kalat (pedestal hill) is a breathtaking sight. Its golden spires encrust the top of the rock, and standing at over 700 metres can be seen gleaming for miles across the arid plain like a mirage, a beacon marking the oasis that surrounds the volcano as well as a symbol of the country’s Buddhist devotion. Taung Kalat is also home to a big gang of Macaque monkeys.
Sumela Monastery is so thoroughly embedded in the face of Melá Mountain (Black Mountain), Turkey, that you could almost miss it. This Greek Orthodox monastery was originally founded in 386 AD. Legend has it that two priests undertook its creation after discovering a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary in a cave on the mountain. Nowadays there is only one service a year, held on August 15, and special passes are required. But if you don’t have them, you can still observe the event on widescreen televisions at a cafe 100 metres away. Not sure if that was part of the priests’ original plan, but a nice gesture all the same.
Phuktal Gonpa, India
Phuktal Gonpa‘s honeycomb-like cluster appears like an almost natural outgrowth of the sandy rock. Located in the remote Lungnak Valley of Zanskar in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, northern India, this Buddhist monastery is built around a natural cave thought to have been visited by important sages, scholars and translators from around 2,550 years ago. The Phuktal monastery can still be reached only by foot. All supplies are brought by horse and donkey, and, in winter, on the frozen river.