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Rewalsar/Tso Pema (Tibetan: Tsopema where Tso means lake and Pema means lotus) is an amazing town built up around Lake Rewalsar in Himachal Pradesh.

Most people come for a day or two and are not sure what to do when they are here. But you may find that the atmosphere, energy, and holy sites entice you into staying a few days longer. It is a great place to let go of the tensions of traveling, connect with a sense quiet inside as well as outside, and discover something new about India, about yourself, about what’s really real in the world.



Three religions consider Rewalsar to be a special place – Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs. Each has staked out their territory around the lake. In Buddhist lore, the lake was created by the great guru Padmasambhava, an Indian siddha (accomplished master) from the 8th century, who came to the area to teach Buddhism to Mandarava, the King of Zahor’s daughter. Local gossip began about Princess Mandarava spending a lot of time with what looked like a vagabond , and when the rumors reached the King’s ears, he had Mandarava thrown in a pit of thorns and put Guru Padmasambhava into a fire. The fire created a lot of smoke but did not die down after a few days. When the King and ministers when to check on what had happened, they found an eight year old boy sitting on a lotus in the middle of a lake. Lake in Tibetan is tso, and pema means lotus, hence the name Tso Pema.

The king, understanding at this moment that he had made a grievous error, gave his entire kingdom, even the clothes he was wearing at that moment to Padmasambhava, and begged for forgiveness and to be taught the Dharma. Mandarava, initially refusing to come out of the pit of thorns, acceded to her mother’s pleading and then joined Padmasambhava in studying and practicing Buddhism in caves in the hills above Tso Pema. At present, the caves are a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world, and many disciples of Padmasambhava live in small huts and ancillary caves around the main caves, living and practicing there for their entire lives.

In Mandi, the closest city to Rewalsar, the King’s family now runs the King’s Palace as a hotel. There is also a museum commemorating Mandarava there.

Get in[edit]

Most people come to Rewalsar because they wound up in Mandi on their way to or from somewhere else. There are regular buses from the Mandi bus stand, or you can take a taxi, which should cost about Rs. 600. Travel to Rewalsar from Mandi should take about 1-1.5 hours.

From Dharamsala, there is also a bus; this takes 6-9 hours, depending on how many changes must be made. It is also possible to hire a car from Dharamsala - the cost is currently Rs. 2650.

Get around[edit]

Rewalsar is so small, there is no need for any transport. Nearly everything worth seeing is within walking distance. Padmasambhava's cave is a challenging 40 minute hike, or a Rs 500 taxi ride away. There are also buses which go up in the morning for Rs 15.

See[edit][add listing]


For such a small town there are four decent sized monasteries, each from a different tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

  • Nyingma Gompa The 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 7am and 3pm to hear and see their daily pujas.

  • Drikung Kagyu Monastery Home 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 Monastery This 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 Monastery This 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.

Temples There 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).

Do[edit][add listing]

Act like a local[edit]

  • Take a kora - Walk around the lake Locals of every stripe take walks around the lake – it is part exercise, part social interaction, part ritual. Most go clockwise around the lake – with the lake always to your right side. Sometimes you’ll notice the Sikhs going in the opposite direction. Buddhist do three rounds, three times per day for a total of nine. You will often see Tibetan women picking up worms and insects to remove them from harms way. Many carry a mala, which they use to keep track of mantras which they chant as they walk around. People often chant OM MANI PADME HUM, the mantra of compassion, and OM AH HUM VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM, the mantra of Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche.

There is a path within the fence, though it has collapsed due to erosion from the rains, so at times you have to find a path through the high grasses on the side. Around the lake are also several pavilions where groups often have teachings, and people sit and talk, picnic, or pray.

  • Turn prayer wheels All the monasteries and the small temple to Padmasabhava on the lake have prayer wheels. Prayer wheels contain mantras printed on paper, and spinning the wheels send the blessings of the mantras out into the world to bless all sentient beings.

Often they are in groups of 9, 27, or 108. They are always spun in a clockwise direction. Spinning prayer wheels accumulates merit (the Buddhist terminology for doing good things that will benefit you in your next life), and you can, if you’re feeling generous, dedicate the merit you accumulate to all sentient beings, which multiplies the merit even more.

  • Feed the fish The fish in Tso Pema (Lotus Lake) are among the luckiest in the world. Tourists and locals spend Rs. 10 and feed them biscuits and crackers and puffed rice all day long. They are well trained, so even the sound of the bell from the temple on the lake in the morning sends them into a frenzy of mouth opening competition to get the most morsels. It is quite a spectacle, and good karma to feed the fish too.
  • Meditate in Mandarava’s Cave A hidden gem in Rewalsar is Mandarava’s cave. Just as you pass Norbu’s Café on the lake side of the road, there is a sign on the next building pointing to the left. Down that unassuming alley is a rock with OM MANI PADME HUM painted on it, and to the left, there is a notice board and a door. Knock on the door, and sometimes you will be rewarded by finding the nun who guards and lives in the cave in a receptive mood. She will usher you in to the cave, and, depending on unknown and unseen forces, will allow you to stay for as long as you like or usher you back out quickly. Just sitting for a moment in the cave will give you a sense of Mandarava’s power and compassion – one person described it like receiving a warm hug from a loving and caring mother.
  • Touch the Ganesh Between the Dhabas and Momo Shops on the left side of the street as you go from Kora Café toward the Nyingma Gompa, up a short flight of stairs is a well kept painted carving of Ganesh. Locals take off their shoes before touching their head to connect with Ganesh’s spirit and receive his blessing.
  • Respect the Cow and Tree Near the Hindu temple is a sacred tree, where devotees light candles on special days, and Hindus bow and touch their head to the platform surrounding this tree for blessings. Around the corner, there are two statues of cows, and also likely to be some live cows as well. All are treated with reverence and respect.
  • Go to the local pujas Most of the monasteries do not mind if you walk into the temple while they are doing puja – as long as you are respectful and quiet, it is even welcome.

Sometimes there is space along the sides so that you can sit to listen and watch the puja as well. On ceremony days – the 10th, 15th, 25th, and 30th of the lunar calendar, there is often tsok – offerings to deities and enlightened masters of the lineage. They will often give tsok to visitors or have a bin where you may help yourself. Tsok is to be treated with respect – it is thought of as food that was offered to deities, so should be eaten mindfully, and never thrown away if it can be helped. If you cannot eat it for some reason, you can give it to a beggar or feed it to the fish.

  • Climb to Padmasambhava’s cave If you enjoy a challenging walk, definitely do the climb to Padmasambhava’s Cave. It is arduous, but it is very quiet and, during monsoon season, the rushing water of the waterfalls serenades you as you climb up. The path begins behind the statue. Instead of going up into the statue, continue up the stairs along the side of the statue. They curve around the back and come up on a road. Across the road, some stairs continue upward. Keep following the stairs – for the most part, the path is pretty obvious, often it is alongside or even in the river that cascades down during monsoon, or is a dry bed of stones after monsoon season. The locals will always point you in the right direction if you look lost.

Two hours Trekking to Naina Devi temple is an enjoyable experience. On way there are many Buddhist caves and lakes. If the climb seems too daunting then you can take the easy option and jump on a bus all the way up to the caves and Naina Devi Temple above. The bus ride takes about half an hour and departs from from the Rewalsar bus stand.

Buy[edit][add listing]

There are not many things that you can buy in Rewalsar that are impossible to find elsewhere, but if you have been looking for certain things and they sell them at the monastery stores, it is nice to support the monasteries and buy here. They generally have good quality items at reasonable prices, so there is no need to bargain, as everything is at a fixed price. Emaho cafe a nice selection of incense, oils, soaps, and notebooks, as well as some traditional Tibetan clothing that is well-made of good quality cotton.

The Nyingma Gompa sells blessed colored strings, a nice gift for a group of friends or colleagues, and the juniper incense that is used in the big smoky incense burners that they use to “cleanse” the temples and other buildings. It is a very traditional formulation, and while it may be available in other places, it is only Rs 30 for a small bag if you wanted to try it yourself.

The shops in the Tibetan side of town – just past Mandarava's cave, sell a selection of decent quality Tibetan items - anything from bells and dorjes, singing bowls, clothing, kataks and other Tibetan trinkets. A couple of shops sell Kullu shawls and scarves.

Just past the Tibetan block of shops you enter the Hindu Temple area. If you are looking for a good book to read try the Guru's Feet Coffee Shop next to the Shiva Temple, they have a nice selection and you can pick up some Indian handicrafts and gifts there as well.

Eat[edit][add listing]

The food in Rewalsar is decent, with a modest selection of restaurants, many places serving both Indian and Tibetan food, and a smattering of Chinese dishes as well.

  • Kora Community Café, run by the very friendly Vijay, is the de-facto place for visitors to Rewalsar of all stripes. Kora has a decent menu, including pancakes on the breakfast menu, and a selection of Indian and Chinese and Tibetan momo dishes on the lunch/dinner menu. The cashew nut fried rice is very good, the thali is an ample amount of food for a good price. Though the portions are small relative to what you’d get in a dhaba, the cooks are very accommodating of people who prefer not very spicy food. The prices are on the high end for Rewalsar, but inexpensive relative to the rest of the region, especially if you come to Rewalsar from places like Mandi or Dharamsala.

The restaurant at the Lotus Lake Hotel has good food as well – go up the driveway to the main building to get faster service.

Near the Zigar Drugpa Kagyud Monastery is a Tibetan Restaurant – a fine selection of Indian and Tibetan dishes, the prices are similar to that of Kora Community Café, and the portions are a bit bigger.

Cafés There are the usual outdoor stands selling things from corn to puffed sweets filled with cream, cucumber and tomato sandwiches, and the ubiquitous chai and bread. It is nice to try some of them, as it gives the locals some business.

If you’re hankering for coffee, there are a couple of choices. Emaho! Café attached to the Drikung Kagyu Monastery has the only espresso machine in town, Westerners can get their caffeine fix here, and, if you’re lucky, there are pastries and homemade cakes and muffins to go with it – just like Starbucks and Peete’s Coffee back home, only better. Ask Tendzin Dawa about the 21 ingredients that go into his lovingly prepared cakes, baked fresh every day.

On the other side of the lake, the Guru's Feet Coffee Shop sells Italian stove-top style Espresso and Cappuccinos served with home-baked granola bars or yummy chocolate muffins. You can chill here without hassle and pick-up a book or people watch.

Kora Community Café serves filtered coffee, the early-morning favorite before Emaho & Guru's Feet open their doors after 9am.

And of course, there’s always chai from the stands and dhabas.

Indian food Dhabas on the market road near the bus stand offer basic indian fare for very cheap prices. Check out the ones on the lakeside of the road for hearty aloo (potato) parantas in the morning, and a hearty serving of rice, dal, and cucumber in the afternoon and evening.

  • tea shops. there is one really good tea shop on lake road near the hindu temple it serves delicious pakoras and chai and if you are lucky enough you may get fresh ladoo's  edit

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Monastery Guest Houses[edit]

Most of the monasteries have guest houses, which are a significant source of income, and often very comfortable places to stay. It can be difficult to arrange in advance, but if you hop off of a bus at a reasonable hour (between 9am – 7pm), you can inquire at all of them about availability of rooms. Except for peak season (Oct-Nov), there will be no problem finding a room at the last minute. If you are going to arrive late or very early, it is best to book ahead so they are expecting you.

Drikung Kagyu Monastery The bus will let you off in the marketplace. If you walk back on the road the bus pulled in on toward the arch that leads to the inner ring road of Rewalsar, go through the arch, on the right you will see Drikung Kagyu Monastery. On the road is the monastery’s café, called Emaho! Inquire inside about available rooms. Rooms range from Rs 150 (shared bath, no hot water) – Rs 750 (attached bathroom, hot water shower). Drikung Kagyu has the best views of the big statue of Padmasambhava from the rooms and the café. There are rooms with views of the statue and lake at every price level. Rooms are available for longer stay (week/month)at discounted price. Email : [email protected], Cell : 9816735264

Nyingma Gompa If you start to circle the lake clockwise (as is the custom), you will come upon the Nyingma Gompa (monastery). Go into the shop on the left to inquire about rooms. Rooms range in price from Rs 100 – Rs 500 per night.

Zigar Drugpa Kagyud Monastery Continuing up the hill past the Nyingma monastery, the road goes down to the right to continue around the lake. Go up to the left, and at the next juncture you will find the Zigar Drukpa Kagyud Monastery. You can inquire about rooms next to the Tibet shop on the right. They have two guest houses. One is in town, where rooms range from Rs 100-Rs300 per night, and the other is behind the big statue of Padmasambhava, which is a little bit of a hike, but has great views of the rest of Tso Pema. Rooms at the Statue are Rs 500/night with attached bathroom and hot water.


Lotus Lake

Comfort Hotel

  • HPTDC's Hotel Rewalsar

Get out[edit]

Buses to Mandi leave at least every hour, starting around 6am.

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