For such a small town there are four decent sized monasteries, each from a different tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
Nyingma GompaThe first monastery established in Rewalsar is the Nyingma Gompa, hence it’s position right along the lake front. It was created by Dudjom Rinpoche, a famous and accomplished master from the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Nyingma Gompa also hosts a Peace Bell, which is rung at around 6am and 8.30pm every day. Standing close by the bell when it rings is said to clear the body and mind of negative emotions and obscurations, bringing peace to mind, body, and spirit. This bell is one of 17 in various sacred Buddhist sites throughout Asia.
Inside the temple at the monastery is a large statue of Padmasambhava. All of the temples have statues of Padmasambhava – some schools of Buddhism make Padmasambhava the central figure, others will place him on the left or the right, typically with Shakyamuni Buddha as the central figure.
Pictured on the walls of the monastery are paintings of other important Nyingma masters, including Padmasambhava’s twenty-five disciples, the ones who helped bring Buddhism to Tibet by going to India, learning Sanskrit, practicing until they achieved high levels of attainment, then spreading what they learned by teaching others and writing and hiding texts to be found by masters in the future.
The Nyingma Gompa has rooms to rent, Rs 150 – Rs 500, and a small shop near the entrance that sells blessed protection strings, flags, kataks, and bags of juniper incense.
This incense is the monastery’s own formulation, and is made up largely of juniper. Juniper is a sacred tree for Tibetan Buddhists, use of juniper incense is mentioned in many ancient texts. In the mornings you may see and smell the incense coming from the monasteries and some of the Tibetan shops. It is used to clear the air and the environment of bad smells and energies. In Rewalsar, there is a man who goes around and clears spaces with a big incense burner that he swings back and forth. His other constant companion is a prayer wheel, which he rotates all day long as he circumambulates the lake. These two things are what he does all day.
Also visit the Nyingma monastery around 10am and 4pm to hear and see their daily pujas.
Drikung Kagyu MonasteryHome to about 40-50 monks and nuns ranging from 7-60+, it is the second monastery established in Rewalsar. The head lama or Rinpoche is Ontul Rinpoche, who came to Rewalsar from Tibet in the 1970s and created the monastery from scratch. It has grown into a beautiful gompa, set on the side of the hill, with guest rooms facing the lake behind its café and store, EmaHo! Deeper within the monastery is the Rinpoche’s house, and further up the hill is Namkha Ling, some of the best accommodation in Rewalsar. The rooms range from Rs 150 – Rs750 (for the luxurious room M, with a wood stove, wooden floors, marble bathroom, and windowed veranda. Inquire about discounts for longer stays.
Ontul Rinpoche sees visitors most afternoons during the week; people come to pay respects, ask for blessings, and give donations to the monastery.
Pujas in the monastery temple are from 6-8am and 2.30-4pm. It is also possible to see the temple at other times – just ask in Emaho or catch one of the monks between their classes.
Zigar Drukpa Kagyud MonasteryThis monastery, on the West side of the lake and on the side road, is the home of the big statue of Padmasambhava that can be seen in most of Rewalsar. The statue, completed in 2011, is 20 meters tall and cost $2 million dollars to build. The monastery received a generous donation to create this beautiful and sacred addition to Tso Pema’s sacred sites.
Below the statue is the monastery where about 50 monks live and study. They are connected to Zigar Kontrul Rinpoche, who comes every year in August for his birthday, during which there is a big celebration.
The monastery has two guest houses, one in town and one right behind the statue, accessible by going further up the road past the main monastery, then taking the ramp and steep stairs up.
When you get to the statue, be sure to climb the circular staircase to the level of the lotus base of the statue. Also, on the main level, there is a meditation hall that is open from 6am-6pm daily.
Zangdok Palri Palace MonasteryThis monastery, on the North side of the lake, is named for the Copper Colored Mountain Temple where Padmasambhava went to reside when he left Tibet in the 9th century. This is the newest monastery in Rewalsar. They do not have a guest house. They do regular pujas on ceremony days – on the lunar calendar these are the 10th, 15th, 25th, and 30th.
TemplesThere is a temple to Padmasambhava, with a big picture of the Dalai Lama right on the lake across from Kora Café. Turn the prayer wheels that line the ramp and encircle the building, beginning at the top of the ramp on the far side so that you circumambulate clockwise, and then, if Phuntok is there, the building is open and you can look closely at the statues, make a small donation, and do a prostration or three the normal amount.