Home of the Khardang Gompa: Keylong, Himachal Pradesh
Located at an altitude of around 11,286 feet above sea-level (3440 m) is the town of Keylong in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. Keylong is the administrative head-quarters of Lahaul and Spiti district. The town of Keylong is like an oasis of greenery amidst brown barren mountains.
Keylong is an important transit hub for travellers heading to Leh and Spiti valley. This town is only accessible during the summer months from June to October, when the Rohtang pass is open. During season there are regular government buses from Manali to Keylong, the bus ride takes around five to six hours depending on the traffic leading up to Rohtang pass.
The local buses are the best way to travel and experience a one of a kind ride with the locals of Himachal. It is advisable to book the bus ticket a day or two in advance and always try taking the first bus to Keylong since that is the best way of beating the early morning traffic.
Hiring a jeep is also a good option for travellers who are in a group and are looking for a road trip around Lahaul and Spiti valley. A jeep for a drop from Manali to Leh via Keylong is a costly affair and not worth the money since once in Leh only local taxis can be hired and driven around.
The town of Keylong owes its consequence to Khardang, erstwhile capital of the 10th century kingdom of Guge and the seat of the renowned Khardang Gompa. The town was built on the left bank of the Bhaga river in a spot sheltered by tall cliffs that dissolve into gentle slopes and pastures.
Keylong is the most populated place in Lahaul region and also is home to all the government offices in the district and is also a major traveller hub since all the long distance buses to Leh, Manali and Kaza start from the Keylong bus stop. The Manali-Leh highway is seven kilometres from Keylong.
The main attraction is Kardang monastery which is the largest and most important monastery of the Drukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and lies opposite the town. The other attractions are Sissu for Siberian wild geese and ducks during spring. Famous gompas are Guru Ghantal, Tayul and Gemur which are famous for their arts and Buddhist faith.
The inhabitants are Buddhist and every festival is celebrated with participation of Lamas and monks. During the month of July, the annual Lahaul festival is celebrated with great pomp and attracts locals and travellers from all over. Several cultural activities are organised during the festival.
The best time to visit Keylong in Lahaul district is during the summer months from end of may to end to October as the town is cut off from the rest of the country by road during the winter months with the closing of the Rohtang pass.
Keylong has a couple of ATMs but it is always advisable to carry enough cash while travelling to the Himalayas. There are also a couple of internet cafés, phone network might not be very good.
Accommodation in Keylong is of various kinds, from pay per bed backpacker dorms to a budget guest house opposite the bus station and a few better hotels located in close proximity to the bus station. The town has plenty of restaurants and dhabas that serve really good food. The dhabas are better option to eat at and try some local food and drink.
Even though Keylong is more of a place which attracts travellers only because of its strategic location the village, river and mountains makes this place a picturesque town to visit.