The Dazzling White Temple: Wat Rong Khun

Nestled in the serene landscape of Chiang Rai, Thailand, Wat Rong Khun, commonly known as the White Temple, is a contemporary Buddhist temple. The temple’s design is unique and striking, featuring an intricate structure covered in white plaster and adorned with pieces of mirrored glass. This reflects the sun’s rays, creating a dazzling effect that symbolizes the purity and wisdom of Buddha.

The temple was designed and built under the visionary guidance of renowned Thai artist and architect Chalermchai Kositpipat and is proof of his artistic brilliance. Chalermchai’s vision has not merely bestowed upon the local residents a place of worship but has also transformed it into a sought-after tourist destination.

The white temple had been on my radar since the time a fellow photographer posted some pictures on 500px several years ago. When my dream of visiting Thailand was finally becoming a reality, there was no way I would miss this opportunity to visit one of the most iconic complex in all of Thailand.

Wat Rong Khun is not just a religious site but a masterpiece that has captivated the hearts of visitors worldwide. Chalermchai has been successful in creating a temple that not only serves as a place of worship but also as a work of art that transcends cultural and religious boundaries. Tourism in Thailand is seen as a way to increase the country’s reputation in the world. as a source of national pride and a modern symbol of the nation, the temple has now become an iconic landmark within the province and, to a significant extent, across the entire country.

The temple opens to the public after 8 am but since it is not hidden behind any enclosure, if you wish to observe the temple sans the crowds, you can come anytime in the early morning. There is a small shopping arcade nearby where you can wait for the temple to open over a fresh glass of fruit juice. The outer premises of the temple is decorated with statues of demons and other supernatural beings, manga characters, as well as depictions of several action heroes like Venom and Predator.

Even common signages like a No-smoking sign have been tackled in a creative way making them part of the architectural design of the temple.

Brief history of White Temple

Before we go into the intricacies of the temple it is important to know the name behind this masterpiece. Chalermchai Kositpipat was born in Chiang Rai. He is a renowned contemporary Thai artist and the visionary behind the iconic Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple. His artistic journey has left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of Thailand, blending traditional Thai artistry with modern expressions.

Built in the 1950s, Wat Rong Khun initially stood as one among numerous small village temples in Thailand. By the 1990s, this four-decades-old temple required extensive repairs. The dining hall and grand gate underwent reconstruction, supervised by Phra Khru Chakhriyanuyut, who also introduced a herbal sauna for the rehabilitation of drug addicts. Nevertheless, the main structure, known as the bot or ubosot, also demanded restoration, as it had become unsuitable for religious worship.

In 1996, the decision was made to demolish the old bot or ubosot to pave the way for a new hall. Regrettably, a year later, the financial crisis of 1997 gripped the entirety of Thailand. Faced with economic hardships, the villagers lacked the resources to contribute to the reconstruction efforts, resulting in the abandonment of the project and leaving them without a bot. Given that Rong Khun is his hometown, Chalermchai, determined to lend a helping hand, took charge of the situation.

In the late 1990s, he embarked on the ambitious project of transforming the decaying Wat Rong Khun into a masterpiece that stands as a symbol of Thai culture and spirituality. Wat Rong Khun is not only a place of worship, but also a symbol of Ajarn Chalermchai’s vision of a “new art form” in which traditional Buddhist teachings are blended with modern ideas and images.

The construction of the new temple was undeniably a monumental undertaking, unparalleled in scale across Thailand. The initial temple occupied 4 rai, equivalent to 6400 m2, a typical size for a village temple. However, Chalermchai’s expansive vision surpassed this modest scale, necessitating additional space. To accommodate his grand design, surrounding rice paddies were procured and integrated into the temple grounds. Consequently, the temple now spans 10 rai and 100 square wa, equivalent to 16400 m2, making it notably larger in comparison to other village temples in Thailand.

The construction of Wat Rong Khun began in 1997 and most of it was ready by 2008 when it was opened to the public. The temple is a testament to his artistic genius, featuring intricate handcrafted details, stunning architecture, and a fusion of Buddhist symbolism with contemporary themes. Kositpipat, however, has an even mega plan for the site. Once finished, the complex of the White Temple will comprise nine structures, incorporating the current ubosot, a relics hall, a meditation hall, an art gallery, and residential spaces for monks. By the time of writing this article, the project has cost him more than $30 million of his own money. If all goes well, the temple should be finished by 2070.

White Temple

The temple ground is rectangular, with a walkway as its main east-west axis. The ground is then divided into three sections, two on the southern side of the walkway and one on its northern side. The temple currently has nine main buildings, three in each section and some other minor ones. These three main sections are the Karawat, the Sanghawat and the Buddhawat. The Karawat is the section for the laity, with a shop, a bathroom and a preaching hall. The Sanghawat, the section for the monks, has the crematorium, the kuti or the residence for the monks, and a hall of contemplation. The Buddhawat is the section for the Buddha, where we find the bot, the pavilion of relics and the pavilion of images.


The Buddhawat occupies the entire northern expanse of the temple, separated from the Karawat and the Shangawat by a white picket fence. Within this section, three principal structures – the bot, the pavilion of relics, and the pavilion of images are aligned in a straight formation, with two bridges interspersed between them. This arrangement is complemented by various auxiliary constructions, forming an intricate and ornamentally adorned ensemble. The Buddhawat features an array of embellishments, including fountains, water pools, freestanding statues, meticulously tended trees, and bridges one situated in front of the bot and another linking the pavilion of images and the pavilion of relics along with other decorative elements.

The bridge of “the cycle of rebirth”

Once we crossed the gate into the Buddhawat, we were directed towards a path leading to the “bridge of rebirth.” It is the most iconic feature of Wat Rong Khun, which leads to the main temple. The “Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth,” is a long, white, and narrow bridge that stretches over a small pond. It is covered in intricate designs and symbols, including depictions of demons and other figures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology.

Before reaching the bridge, however, the visitors need to walk over Mara’s mouth, in which you can find hundreds of hands as well as a few feet and faces of people damned to hell. These hands and feet are close to the visitors, making this a physical and graphic journey through hell. This section of the temple attracts a lot of attention.

The bridge represents the journey from the cycle of birth and death to the path of enlightenment. The hands reaching up from the depths of hell symbolize the struggle to overcome worldly desires, while the heavenly figures on the other side signify the attainment of spiritual liberation. The bridge serves as a symbol of the journey from the material world to the spiritual world, and the process of attaining enlightenment.

The demons are meant to represent the obstacles one must overcome in order to attain enlightenment. The white color of the temple symbolizes the purity of the Buddha and the glass and mirror decorations are meant to represent the Buddha’s wisdom and the reflections of the visitors.

After traversing the representation of hell, visitors encounter two stylized demons, positioned on either side of the Bridge of Rebirth. While statues of demons are commonly seen in Thai temples, the ones at Wat Rong Khun differ significantly from the more conventional depictions typically found in expansive, traditional Thai temple grounds. The demons here at Wat Rong Khun bear a closer resemblance to characters found in graphic novels rather than adhering to the conventional styles of traditional Thai art.

Visitors must cross the Sukhawadee Bridge to enter the temple, representing the transition from the material world to the spiritual world. As they walk on the bridge, they pass by the statue of demons and other figures, which serves as a reminder of the negative qualities and obstacles that one must overcome in order to achieve enlightenment.

Gate of Heaven

Upon crossing the bridge, visitors reach the “gate of heaven,” protected by two creatures symbolizing Death and Rahu, determining the fate of the deceased. In front of the ubosot, numerous meditative Buddha images are displayed.

Below the gate, you can find a cute little pond with Koi fishes swimming in the clear transparent waters.

A statue of a Kinnaree is located just before the main hall of the temple. The statue is depicted with a serene expression and is holding a lotus flower, which is a symbol of spiritual purity and enlightenment. This statue serves as a reminder of the beauty and grace that can be attained through spiritual practice.

A Kinnaree is a mythical creature that is typically depicted as a half-human, half-bird being. In Thai Buddhism, the Kinnaree is associated with beauty, grace, and spiritual purity. The Kinnaree is often depicted in art and architecture, particularly in temples, as a symbol of the spiritual journey and the attainment of enlightenment.

In addition to the statues, the Kinnaree is also depicted in various other forms of art and decoration throughout the temple, such as in the murals and frescoes. This serves as a reminder of the importance of art and culture in Buddhism, and how it can be used to convey spiritual messages.


As I followed the only path available, I crossed the enchanting Bridge of Rebirth, finding myself standing in awe before the most captivating structure on the temple grounds – the Ubosot (main hall). The leaf-like patterns at the top of the bridge unfolded a story of Mount Meru, while the fountain-like structures beneath, nestled in the pool, mirrored the embracing mountain range.

My eyes were drawn to the four flame-like structures at the corners of the bot, each adorned with small human figures symbolizing the Buddha’s early disciples. As I gazed up at the pinnacle of the bot, the roof finials took on the shapes of stylized animals, gracefully representing the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. The intricate details painted a vivid narrative, making my journey through Wat Rong Khun an immersive and personal experience.

The temple is also adorned with pieces of glass and mirrors, which reflect the sunlight and give the temple a shimmering appearance. The main hall of the temple, known as the “Ubosot,” features a statue of the Buddha made of black glass and gold leaf.

The Ubosot is a large, all-white building that serves as the center of the temple complex. It is the place where the main altar is located and where ceremonies and rituals are held. The Ubosot is adorned with intricate details and symbols, including depictions of demons and other figures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. You will have to carry your shoes in your hand while entering the Ubosot.

The main attraction of the Ubosot is the statue of the Buddha made of black glass and gold leaf. The statue sits in the center of the hall and is surrounded by other statues and sculptures. Photography is not allowed inside. The statue is a representation of the Buddha’s teachings and serves as a reminder of the path to enlightenment.

A large mural in front of the statue depicts the struggle between Buddha and the demon Mara. It represents the final conflict of Lord Buddha’s own demon before he attained enlightenment. The eyes of the demon have George Bush and Bin Laden painted in the pupil area. When asked about these depiction, Ajarn Chalermchai had responded that it was to caution both as violence hurts entire humanity.

The Ubosot also features several other statues and sculptures, including statues of the Hindu god Ganesha and the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. These statues serve as a reminder of the universality of spiritual teachings and the importance of transcending cultural boundaries in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Once you come out of the Ubosot, you can find a small enclosure that seats about three people at a time. Here you can get back into your shoes.

From here you can continue on the circumambulatory passage going around the temple hall. On both sides of the main hall, there are beautiful depictions of Buddha sitting inside a lotus.

Just behind the main hall lies the Buddha Relics Tower. But it was closed at the time of my visit

In addition to the demon head and multi-armed statue, the Wat Rong Khun also features other monster idols such as a giant serpent and a demon emerging from the ground. These statues serve as a reminder of the dangers and obstacles that can arise on the path to enlightenment, and that one must always be vigilant in order to overcome them.

To come out of the temple you have to come out through this southern gate.

The exit gate features two of the most beautifully designed dragons.

Coming out of the main temple you will find yourself in front of another beautifully designed golden building. It is a restroom. Of course, when everything else is following the same pattern why not the restroom as well?

Just beside the restroom, there is an intricately decorated walkway that leads to the farther areas of the temple.

As we walked through the walkway, on the right we could see certain areas of the temple that were undergoing renovation.

When this area is finished, it will lead the visitors directly to the Buddhist Tower connected by a small bridge known as the Sukhawadee Bridge.

Buddhist Tower

Belfry at Wat Rong Khun

Dhamma Garden

Ganesha Temple

One of the most prominent symbols is the statue of Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom, knowledge and new beginnings.

Ganesha is often depicted as a figure with an elephant head and a human body. He is known for his intelligence and his ability to remove obstacles, making him a popular figure in Hinduism and Buddhism. Ganesha is often invoked at the beginning of any new venture or undertaking as a symbol of good luck and success.

At the Wat Rong Khun, the statue of Ganesha is placed prominently at the entrance of the temple. It serves as a reminder to visitors to approach their spiritual journey with wisdom and knowledge and to be open to new beginnings. The statue also serves as a reminder that obstacles may arise on the path to enlightenment, but with the guidance of Ganesha, one can overcome them.

The statue of Ganesha at Wat Rong Khun is also unique in its design as it is fused with traditional Thai art and culture. It showcases the blending of different cultures and religions, and how they can coexist in harmony. The statue symbolizes the universality of spiritual teachings and the importance of transcending cultural boundaries in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Wat Rong Khun has become a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the globe to Chiang Rai. The unique blend of traditional Thai spirituality and contemporary artistry has created a cultural landmark that transcends the boundaries of religious affiliations. The temple has not only contributed to the local economy but has also elevated Chiang Rai’s status as a must-visit destination in Thailand.

The temple’s popularity has led to increased tourism, benefiting local businesses and creating employment opportunities. Additionally, the revenue generated from entrance fees and donations is often reinvested into the maintenance and restoration of the temple, ensuring its continued splendor for future generations.

However, Wat Rong Khun has also been the subject of controversy and criticism. Some have criticized the temple for its commercialization and the inclusion of non-Buddhist elements in its design. Others have raised concerns about the temple’s environmental impact, as it was built on a rice field and required the excavation of a large area of land. Some also criticized the temple for its lack of religious significance, as it is primarily used as an art exhibit.

Despite the criticism, Wat Rong Khun continues to be a major tourist attraction and a symbol of Ajarn Chalermchai’s unique vision. The temple’s intricate and striking design, combined with its message of peace and unity, make it a worthwhile destination for those interested in Buddhism, art, and architecture. The temple is a reflection of the artist’s creativity, originality, and his passion for conveying the Buddhist teachings in a modern way. Wat Rong Khun is a thought-provoking and inspiring place that challenges traditional notions of Buddhism and art.

After thoroughly explorig the Wat Rong Khun, we walked into the Karawat gift shop. Unlike the usual gift shops associated with temples, especially those attracting tourists, Karawat breaks away from the norm. Instead of the typical religious-themed merchandise like amulets, Buddha statues, or Buddhism-related literature, this gift shop stands out by offering printed reproductions of the artist’s paintings, multiple biographies about him, as well as t-shirts and postcards featuring images of the temple itself.

What caught my attention was the absence of conventional Buddhist teachings and religious paraphernalia that are commonly found in gift shops at other temples. Positioned between a museum gift shop, showcasing art reproductions and coffee table books, and a typical tourist attraction gift shop with various t-shirts, caps, keychains, and trinkets, Wat Rong Khun’s gift shop is truly distinctive. It provides a unique opportunity to purchase printed copies of Chalermchai’s original works, adding an artistic flair to the temple visit. I myself purchased a canvas painting for my study room.

My heartfelt gratitude to each one of you who took the time to read through my article. If you liked it, please leave me a comment. If there are areas where you think I can enhance the storytelling, I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

Namgyal Tsemo

Mani and I were back in Leh. After a memorable experience in 2018, we had been thinking about going back to the “land of high passes” for some time. The tourist season in Ladakh starts around early May. This time, to escape the crowds, we came a month early in April itself. As we deplaned, the air was brisker and the Sun was softer. After settling in at the Hotel Kesaar Palace, which I totally recommend, we set out to revisit the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa.

The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery, also known as Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, is perched atop a hill overlooking the charming town of Leh. “Namgyal” translates to “victorious” in Tibetan, while “Tsemo” means “red hill.” It forms a part of the Leh palace complex and is maintained by monks from the Sankar Gompa.

When you meet locals in Leh, it is rewarding to wave, smile, and say “joo-lay”

Nestled amidst the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Himalayas, Leh, the capital of Ladakh, stands as a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage and historical significance. Among its many treasures, the Namgyal Tsemo Monastery holds a special place, offering a glimpse into the vibrant history and spiritual essence of the area.

King Tashi Namgyal

Built in 1430 CE by King Tashi Namgyal, the founder of the Namgyal dynasty, the monastery serves as a historical repository, offering a window into the past of this remote region. The Namgyal Tsemo is a testament to the flourishing cultural and artistic expressions of the time, as well as a reflection of the king’s commitment to Buddhism.

King Tashi Namgyal was a prominent historical figure in the region of Ladakh. He was the founder of the Namgyal dynasty, which ruled Ladakh for several centuries. He is credited with unifying the fragmented regions of Ladakh and establishing a stable and organized administration. His reign marked a significant period of political consolidation and cultural development. This monastery not only served as a place of worship but also as a symbol of his dynasty’s rule.

The typical ascent route to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa is from the Leh Palace road near the entrance to the Leh Palace. However, we had booked a cab for the day and he drove us right to the top of the hill and drpped us off at the entrance of the gompa.

The skies were sunny and blue as we walked up the stairs of the gompa. Indide the monastery one can find a large collection of scriptures, murals, and artifacts that offer insights into the spiritual practices and artistic achievements of Ladakh’s people. The intricate thangkas, vibrant murals, and meticulously handwritten manuscripts speak volumes about the dedication of the artisans and the reverence for Buddhist teachings. The monastery also hosts a three-story high solid gold idol of Maitreya Buddha.

Because we were ahead of the tourist season, the halls of the monastery were closed.

Even without the ancient artifacts, you can still enjoy the amazing view. The environment around Namgyal Tsemo Gompa looks very attractive surrounded by snowcapped peaks of the Zanskar range. The city, with towering edifices of granite and gravel mountains encompassing them, look frail and inconsequential.

Beyond its artistic treasures, Namgyal Tsemo Monastery is a living testament to the resilience of Ladakh’s people. Throughout its history, the region faced numerous challenges, including political upheavals and environmental adversities. The monastery’s continued existence amidst these challenges echoes the unwavering determination of the Ladakhi people to preserve their heritage and way of life.

Namgyal Tsemo also plays a crucial role in the spiritual life of the locals. The monastery serves as a place of worship, meditation, and reflection, offering an escape from the demands of daily life. The panoramic views from the monastery’s vantage point further enhance its spiritual ambiance, providing a sense of elevation both physically and spiritually.

In recent times, with increased tourism to Ladakh, Namgyal Tsemo Monastery has gained much recognition. Visitors from around the world are drawn not only to its historical significance but also to the ethereal beauty of its surroundings.

Views from the summit are spectacular – the town of Leh and the Indus Valley lies to the north and west at the foot of the hill. The smaller hill of the Shanti Stupa lies across town to the north. Leh rests in the “Trans-Himalayan” region of India — dividing the India Great Himalayan Range in the west from the Tibetan plateau to the east. Two smaller ranges surround the valley and are visible as distant snow-covered giants — the Ladakh Range to the east and the Zanskar range to the west.

We sat there for some time in silence watching the snowfall slowly engulf the far away mountains. It is exciting that such exquisite beauty can emerge from such simplicity. Even though the gomoa is ond if the mist important landmarks of the city of Leh, very few tourists visit the heritage site on a regular day. As we lay there, a breathtaking spectacle unfolded over the majestic Himalayas.

Leh is surrounded by some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. The town is nestled amidst the mighty Himalayas and the Karakoram Range, offering awe-inspiring views of snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, and serene lakes. The faraway mountains are generally veiled in thick snow. The town’s high altitude lends a rarefied quality to the air and offers panoramic views that are unlike those found in most other places. The clear skies and vibrant colors of the landscape add to the allure. It offers photographers a treasure trove of subjects, from stunning landscapes to intricate architecture and vibrant cultural celebrations.

Thanks for reading! Please leave your comments if you enjoyed my story or follow me on my journey as I visit the Stok Monastery on the outskirts of Leh.

Finding peace in Bylakuppe

Today we are going to explore Bylakuppe, a peaceful Tibetan refugee settlement near the town of Kushalnagar in Coorg.

Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe used to crop up regularly in my searches for interesting places to visit in Karnataka. Desperate to recover from the fatigue caused by urban living, I sought out this Buddhist monastery, to spend some time in peace.

Bangalore to Kushalnagar

Mani and I were on our first exploration trip in the southern part of India. The ride from Bangalore to Kushalnagar was just around 5-6 hours. We booked a rental car along with a chauffeur for the full trip. We had reserved “The Casiita”, a cottage-type resort in the quaint town of Kushalnagar. Having a car at our beck & call turned out to be very helpful, as we had to head out into the town every night because our lodgings didn’t serve any food apart from tea and biscuits.

Kushalanagar is the second largest town in Kodagu district, bordering Coorg. According to a popular myth, the name was given by Hyder Ali who was camped there when he received news of the birth of his son Tipu and named it Kushyal nagar (town of gladness).

One of the earlier mentions of Kushalnagar can be found in Tipu Sultan’s courtier-cum-biographer Mir Hussein Kirmani’s writings in the History of Tipu Sultan: Being a Continuation of The Neshani Hyduri.

Unfortunately, the town residents were not so “glad” when in 1788, Tipu marched into Kodagu and scorched entire towns and villages in Kushalapura (today’s Kushalnagar), Talakaveri and Madikeri.

Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery

The next day, we started from our resort at around 9 a.m. The sun was bright and the skies were blue. The town center was some 10 mins drive away. Once we were in town, we could find quite a few eateries. After a light breakfast of bread & eggs, we started for Bylakuppe which is about 6 km from Kushalnagar.

It takes about 30 minutes from the town center to reach the Tibetan settlement off the Mysore-Madikeri Road. We passed quite a few large tracts of empty fields along the way. The roads were decorated on both sides with colorful paper hung on a string, dancing crazily in the wind.

As we approached the monastery, the surroundings began to change towards vast stretches of flat fields interspersed with tri-lingual banners honoring the Dalai Lama in English, Tibetan, and Kannada. A few minutes into the drive we passed through what appeared to be a marketplace with many Tibetan restaurants. The area was teeming with shaven monks in their flowing dark red robes. The only signs that we were not in Lhasa but in a village in south India were the Kannadiga-speaking street hawkers.

Once we reached the Namdroling Monastery, the driver dropped us off and parked the car just opposite the main gate in a parking area for tourists. Near the monastery is a small bazaar known as “Camp 4 Shopping Center.” You can find several shops selling Tibetan souvenirs. We decided to check it out later on our way back and headed towards the entrance gate.

Beyond the gate is a huge open space, the size of a football field. As we walked towards the main entrance of the monastery, a couple of shops inside the premises were selling souvenirs and snacks as well. During festivals, this main courtyard becomes an open stage where masked dancers swirl in colorful costumes to the sound of gongs and massive ceremonial trumpets. After crossing the courtyard, we went past a small corridor that led to the main temple. There was so much silence, I was feeling guilty to even speak.

A brief history of Namdroling Monastery

To visit such an amazing place and not know the history makes me feel empty inside. So, before coming, I had breezed through some pages on the internet about this place. In the 1960s, the Tibetans facing Chinese invasion were fleeing Tibet in droves and found refuge in a number of settlements in India. During the same period, a monk named Penor Rinpoche, who was the 11th throne holder of the Palyul lineage of Tibet led his followers to Bylakuppe, a small village in Karnataka.

In 1963, he established Namdroling Monastery in the village with an aim to help the relocated monks live a peaceful life and continue their spiritual pursuits. Initially spread over an area of 80 sq. feet, a temple was constructed of bamboo from the forest donated by the Indian Government to the Tibetan exiles. The original name given to the monastery was Thegchog Namdrol Shedrub Dargyeling.

Though Bylakuppe is still referred to as a refugee settlement, it has grown into a full-fledged town. It is the second-largest Tibetan settlement outside Tibet, the first being Dharamsala. The village consists of two Tibetan refugee settlements, namely Lugsum Samdupling which was established in 1961 and Dickyi Larsoe which was set up in 1969. In 1999, a massive monastic temple, the Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara, commonly called the golden temple, was built here. The Dalai Lama inaugurated the monastic temple which has grown into a much sought-after tourist destination.

Unfortunately, even after six decades, because of no support from the UN, the Tibetans have not been able to return back to their homeland. Now with a growing number of schools and monasteries, Bylakuppe appears more like a center for Tibetan Buddhism rather than the refugee settlement it started out as.

Today the monastery is home to nearly 5000 monks and nuns, renowned as a center for the pure upholding of the teachings of the Buddha and popularly known as Namdroling Monastery.

Zangdog Palri Temple

The first building inside the compound, right next to the entrance is the Zangdog Palri Temple. A massive photo of Guru Rinpoche is displayed on the facade of the temple.

The Zangdog Palri Temple hosts five gold-plated statues including Buddha, Padmasambhava, and Amitayu.

It’s difficult to capture them together because of the huge stupa in the middle of the room. The hall is heavily decorated with a mesmerizing mandala adorning the ceiling in the center of the room.

The sides of the ceiling taper down to form an inner rectangle also decorated with various deities, some in dancing poses and others playing traditional Hindu instruments. Usually, devotees seek blessings by lighting the incense sticks after which they sit on the carpet to imbibe the piousness and spirituality radiating at this place.

Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara / Golden Temple

After spending some quiet time in front of the Buddha, we moved on towards the Golden Temple past the calm landscaped gardens. The architecture of the temple is in Tibetan style – with vibrant colors, artistic designs, sculptures, and paintings. The golden-colored deer and the wheel symbol of Buddhism crown the shrine. Wide steps lead into the temple with two life-size lion replicas on either side.

Before you step inside the hall, you are welcomed by this red door with an intricately crafted door handle. The Tibetan doors are no less than an astounding piece of art. Brass ornamentation, exquisite colors, holy symbols and decorative paintings are Tibetan traits of door decorations.

Inside there are three enormous gold-plated statues of Buddha Shakyamuni (60 feet), Guru Padmasambhava (58 feet), and Buddha Amitayus (58 feet) set against intricate murals. The idol in the middle is of Sakyamuni Buddha or Gautama Buddha flanked by those of Guru Padmasambhava to his right and Amitayus to the left. They are made out of copper gilded with gold. The inside of the statues contain scriptures, relics of the masters, small statues, and clay stupas.

Once inside the temple, you are almost immediately drawn to the three imposing gold-plated statues. The center statue is Buddha Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, who was born to King Shudodhana and Queen Mayadevi at Lumbini (currently in Nepal), about 2500 years ago. The altar is decorated with flowers, candles, and incense.

For those who don’t know: At the young age of 29, leaving the luxuries of the palace, Prince Siddhartha set out to search for an everlasting solution to end the cycle of birth and death that has tormented all beings from time immemorial. After many years of serious practice, he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya and became a Buddha.

The statue to the left of Buddha Sakyamuni is Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche. As prophesied by Lord Buddha, Guru Rinpoche was born twelve years after the passing of Lord Buddha, on Lake Sindhu, in the land of Oddiyana (present-day Afghan-Pakistan border). He is considered to be the heart emanation of Buddha Amitabha.

The statue to the right of Buddha Sakyamuni is Buddha Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life. Buddha Amitayus achieved Buddhahood countless eons ago, but his activity still remains connected with extending the lifespan of beings.

The prayer hall inside can house a few hundred monks at a time. The spacious prayer hall has seating arrangements in rows – for the monks – with prayer boxes and related artifacts. As we entered the hall, prayer was currently in session. The chanting of the mantras accompanied by the sound of drums and cymbals resonate with the place, creating a divine atmosphere.

Once you are inside the temple, please try to keep silent as it is one of the requisites inside the holy complex.

Tibetan Buddhist monks normally wear red costumes. The color red is auspicious in Tibetan culture. It is a sacred color, one of the colors of the five Buddhas and the color of the monk’s garments. It is believed to have protective qualities and is therefore often used to paint sacred buildings. The only color that supersedes red in Tibetan culture is the yellow color.

There is an ancient story that tells how yellow became the sacred color of Buddhism. When Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, left the throne to live a simple and thrifty life, he wore the white cloth that was used to wrap dead bodies. The cloth was tanned by the sun and moistened by the rain, and it gradually became wheat-colored.

According to historic documents, even a patch of yellow on the clothes of an average person caused people to salute him. It tells us that yellow was an exclusive color for monks.

Yellow was slowly replaced by red because Tibetan ethnicities increased their exchanges with Han ethnicities. To differentiate from the yellow that the royal family used, they changed into dark colors. Dark red is a mixture of red and black.

Today, Tibetan Buddhist monks normally wear red costumes. Yellow ones are seldom worn.

This is one of the rare monasteries where photography is allowed even inside the temple.

The walls of the Golden Temple are adorned with colorful paintings depicting gods and demons from Tibetan Buddhist mythology. One mandala that caught my attention was that of the Mahākāla. Mahākāla is the enraged form of the gentle and empathetic Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. In Tibetan iconography, Mahākāla is usually black although he appears in other colors in different paintings like the one below.

Here the Mahākāla is depicted in brown-reddish color. He has six arms and three bulging eyes with flames for eyebrows. He is adorned with a crown of five skulls, representing the transmutation of the five vices (pride, anger, ignorance, jealousy and attachment) to virtues.

In Mahākāla’s arms is Ekajati, also known as “Blue Tara.” In the mandala, Ekajati’s single eye gazes into unceasing space with a single breast that “nurtures practitioners as [her] children.” She is naked, like awareness itself, except for a garment of tiger skin around her waist. She is ornamented with snakes and a garland of human heads. Her body is deep blue in color. She stands on a single leg. With that foot, she steps upon a corpse.

According to Hinduism, Mahākāla is the ultimate form of Shiva, the destroyer of all elements. There is nothing beyond him, no element, no dimensions, and not even time. That is why he is maha (greater) kaal (time). In front of him is his consort is symbolized as Kali. Both Mahākāla and Kali represent ultimate destructive power, not bounded by any rules or regulations. They have the power to dissolve even time and space into themselves and exist as Void at the dissolution of the universe.

The two deities are surrounded by many kings with similar angry faces. The wrathful appearances of these kings are attributed to their ability to ward off all evils around and protect us.

We sat there for a long time as the hymns dissolved into a calming and blissful silence. This kind of place gives me a sense of isolation from the noise of the outside world. I am not religious. I was raised as a humble human being and my parents never asserted any kind of religious beliefs on me. But at some point in time, the temples’ serenity quietly slipped into my soul.

For people who are interested in learning more about the religion, the monastery is not just a temple complex. It also offers a structured course in Buddhist teachings at The Ngagyur Nyingma Institute. Tibetan history & Buddhism, ritual dance, music, mandala construction, and chanting are some of the subjects covered. The higher course focuses on sutra & tantra teachings of Buddha with debates and discussions on commentaries by scholars.

In my childhood, I was very much an admirer of Buddhism and on certain days did go through an urge to indulge in its teachings.

Before exiting the monastery, we lumbered around the souvenir shops. Tibetans have a penchant for colorful handicrafts like handwoven sweaters, shawls, and carpets. Giveaways like prayer wheels, caps, handbags, and umbrellas can be bought at a store located on the premises. Around it, you will find various stores selling traditional Tibetan jewelry and other artifacts. I purchased a small bell to tie around the door to the house.

Apart from these two attractive temples, the Monastery also has many other smaller temples like the Vajra Kilaya Temple and the Tara Temple. At the northern periphery is a series of 16 stupas exhibiting relics and scriptures of Buddhist teachings. Apart from the religious structures the market area also has a wonderful cafe. You can try their Tea with Yak milk. Although I should alert you it tastes a bit salty.

Potala Restaurant

While coming back, we decided to try one of the local Tibetan restaurants. There were a few, and all were very busy. We finally decided on the Potala Restaurant. It is a trendy restaurant on the first floor in the center of the marketplace. All individual tables were taken so we sat down at a large shared table with other guests. It took some time coming but soon we had our dumplings and some Tingmos (steamed bread in Tibetan cuisine) delivered to us famished souls.

You can shop for Tibetan and Chinese handicrafts, and decorative and religious items. The tiny Tibetan colony here is an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The enclosed calm and the spiritual ambiance of the place welcomes all the visitors. Along with Golden Temple/Monastery, there are many other sightseeing places near Madikeri, making it an ideal weekend getaway from Bangalore.

The best time to visit the temple is during the festive season. Various masked dances in their colorful attires can be seen performing their traditional dances in the main courtyard during the festival. During this time, the main courtyard turns into an open stage for masked dancers and performers to present live performances amid enthralling traditional music. The Tibetan New year (Losar) which usually occurs in the month of February or March is also a great time to plan your visit.

Please leave a comment if you liked my story or follow our journey as we head out to see the birthplace of the mythical river Kaveri.

What are the visiting hours of the Golden Temple?

The Golden Temple is open for visitors from 7 am till 7 pm daily.

How to conduct yourself inside the Golden Temple?

Inside the temple, please refrain from running and shouting. Please do not touch the statues and paintings. As the temple is a place of prayer and meditation, please keep silent and refrain from disturbing other visitors.

Why is the monastery called the Golden Temple?

The actual name of the temple is Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara, but local people and newspapers tend to refer to it as the Golden Temple.

When was the Golden temple constructed?

The construction of the Golden Temple began in 1995 and it was completed in 1999.

Where can I find the official information on Namdroling Monastery?