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The Phuktal Monastery Project

Updated: 5 days ago

How it all began...

In February 2023, Dechen Kaning received an unexpected visit from faraway Ladakh. Dechen is a Tibetan who has lived in Switzerland since childhood. She is very committed to Buddhist and Tibetan issues.

Dr. Lama Tsewang Yangior received her address from friends and decided to visit her. He told his interested listener about the Phuktal monastery in the remote Zanskar valley in Ladakh, northern India, and what is currently happening there. The very old monastery, which is important for Buddhists, is in an existentially threatening situation. For several years, triggered by climatic changes, large stones have repeatedly broken off from the rocks above the monastery and caused immense damage to the buildings. Unfortunately, two monks have died as a result.

Dechen, Founder of the association | Dr. Lama Tsewang Yangior

Dechen immediately had the desire to help and she had the idea of tackling the issue through a film project. Pictures say more than a thousand words and moving pictures say even more!

She remembered Stéphane Kleeb, a former neighbor who makes documentary films. She didn't hesitate and just called him, who didn't hesitate for long and in August 2023 she, Stéphane, Röne Rüegg, a construction expert, and I, Silvia, as a sound assistant, traveled to Ladakh to the Phuktal Monastery.

Now, it's not that easy to get there. First of all, we needed a lot of different permits to even be allowed to travel there and film, and the monastery is only accessible on foot. So we had to be very careful when packing.

The idea was to first see what the situation was like and to record a few interviews with the monks and film landscapes so that a short, approximately 10-minute film could be made, which could then be shown to interested sponsors. As soon as the film is finished, probably this autumn, it will be posted on this website.

The monastery is located 3,900 meters above sea level in the Himalayas. From Leh, the capital of Ladakh, we traveled for two days by jeep over hill and dale over 5,000 meter high passes until we could only continue on foot.

The unusual altitude really bothered me and everything went much slower.

Finally we reached the monastery. What a fantastic sight! The individual buildings are stuck to the rocks like honeycombs around a large cave.

Hermits and yogis meditated in this cave over 2000 years ago. Since the 15th century it has been the Phuktal Monastery, which has great significance for the Buddhist Gelug lineage and is an important training place for monks.

We stayed at this special place for two weeks and the monks gave us permission to move around freely and film everything that interested us. It was a very intense and touching time to be so close to the monks and to take part in their lives.

Dechen Kaning-Emchi and Lama Chosphel Zotpa President of Himalaya Cultural Association

Back in Switzerland, we showed the pictures to a rock protection company and asked if something could be done to protect the monastery. It will definitely cost a lot and we therefore need donations.

This August, a team with the cameraman will travel to Phuktal again, this time an employee of the rock protection company will also be there to take a close look at everything.

In the longer term, a documentary film is planned about the protection and safeguarding of this very special architectural building and the spiritual community in the Phuktal Monastery.

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