Dharma Dreaming: Monastery Guesthouses in India

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Thousands line the ghats every morning to bathe and pray in the sacred river Ganges. To bathe in its waters is said to lead one on a path to Moksha (liberation).

Dharma Dreaming: Monastery Guesthouses in India

By Mary Ann Davis

Monastery Guesthouses in IndiaReligious pilgrims from all parts of Asia pass through the Buddhist center of Sarnath, India, near the city of Varanasi, and stay in its monasteries as they travel to other holy places.

Many of the monasteries welcome Western visitors as paying guests. The accommodations are inexpensive and the rules are basically the same in all the monasteries–no smoking, drinking or loud music. But staying in the monasteries and eating in tents with pilgrims and monks gives one a sense of the rhythm of religious life throughout Asia.


Dharmashala, the monastery operated by Sri Lanka’s Mahabodhi Society, is located on Sarnath’s main road, across from the park. The rooms are Spartan–bed frames with thin futons, a table and a broom–and Dharmashala’s electricity is unpredictable.

Sarnath Tourist Bungalow
Sarnath Tourist Bungalow

Bathhouses, sinks and toilets are in the inner courtyard. You must pump your own bath and laundry water. Women and men bathe at different times, everyone remaining partially dressed. There are no other bathrooms and no cooking facilities.

Tibetan travelers–traders as well as pilgrims– cook meals together in the evenings over fires in the courtyard. 50Rs/night.

The Dharmshala
Tel/fax: 91-542-385-380.

The Nyingmapa Tibetan Buddhist Monastery is another excellent place to stay. Professors from Sarnath’s Tibetan University teach courses in English in Tibetan philosophy and language.

The cost is a small donation. There are peaceful gardens and a community kitchen, too. The rooms are new, some with private baths. The rent is about 200 Rs daily.

The “Old Tibetan Monastery,” near the Mishra Communications shop and grocery, has basic rooms that are often filled by Tibetan and Ladakhi pilgrims.

This monastery serves as a gathering place for celebrations of all sects, including those of the Bon students from the University. (Bon is Tibet’s pre-Buddhist religion.)

In the courtyard, the always popular Tibetan restaurant tent, with its friendly monks and bright red benches, offers tasty meals from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. In the evenings, the cook plays recorded Tibetan folk music.

Monastery Rooms

The Chinese and Burmese monasteries also rent rooms. The Chinese monastery is basic and inexpensive, and the monks sometimes allow lengthy stays and cooking in the rooms. The Burmese monastery is very peaceful. Inquire at the monasteries.

The canteen at the Tibetan Institute for Higher Learning, on the outskirts of Sarnath, is an excellent place to meet young Tibetan students. The open-air canteen–just inside the Institute’s gates–is also a good place to learn about educational opportunities, upcoming ceremonies, and traditional dances.

The canteen serves basic, inexpensive Tibetan foods, including omelets, butter tea and hot Tibetan bread for breakfast.

Ask Dr. Dey at Gyan Joyti SDT
Tel: 91-385542

The Sarnath Tourist Bungalow
240 Rs per night per person with attached bath, restaurant available. The Jain Guest House
Tel: 91-52-385621
fax 91-542-385379
Several rooms and family-style vegetarian meals, 300 Rs per night

The Tibetan Institute has rooms only for its registered students and guests – email