High in the Himalayas, an awe-inspiring sight greets the eyes of India-fatigued travellers trekking through the remote region of south-eastern Zanskar, in the far north of the country: Phugtal Gompa. Hanging onto the edge of a rocky gorge at the mouth of a giant cave, this strange, sacred construction is built directly into the cliff side, like some giant, human-sized honeycomb. Phugtal’s (Phuktal) devoutly busy bees would therefore be the 70 or so Buddhist monks who live there, dividing their holy time between the monastery’s library and prayer rooms.
Established in the 12th century by one Gangsem Sherap Sampo, this spiritual haven has weathered the attrition of time despite being made of mud bricks, stones and wood. In modern history, the Hungarian philologist Alexander Csoma de Korös, author of the first English-Tibetan dictionary, stopped by in 1826-27 – a stone tablet bearing witness to his visit.