Jettisoned straight out of Middle Earth and onto our planet, the Rinchenling Gompa is quite an otherworldly place. Located on the banks of a small tributary of the Limi River, the Halji Gompa is undoubtedly one of the highest temples in the world (approximately 3,600 meters). Adding to the Gompa’s ethereal qualities is its setting: Limi Valley, one of the most remote, and starkly beautiful regions of Himalayan Nepal.
The Rinchenling Gompa sits inside Halji Village, one of three small communities within Limi Valley. Access to electricity and warmth are difficult here. Small solar panels, along with a miniature hydro-electric plant provide light only during specified hours of the night. Warmth is provided by burning cow dung in hearths in each of the homes. It’s that remote. Because Limi Valley is right up against the border with Tibet, the Tibetan language is spoken and Tibetan religious customs are practiced in lieu of more Nepali traditions.
The Rinchenling Gompa was said to be founded by Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055 CE), an early translator of Buddhist texts into the Tibetan language. Rinchen Zangpo was one of the fathers of the “Second Dissemination” in which Buddhism was reintroduced to Tibet by leading scholars around the beginning of the 11th century. He is said to have established over 108 temples in his lifetime alone. While it is hard to gauge the veracity of these claims, recent C-14 dating of the Vairocana statue inside the temple point to a range in the early 11th century, well within Rinchen Zangpo’s lifetime.
In recent years, the Rinchenling Gompa has been threatened by flooding. In 2011, a glacial lake high above Halji Village burst, resulting in a flood that caused significant damage to many structures in Halji Village. Though no one was harmed during the flooding, the risk presented is severe. Without adequate restoration and protection, the Rinchenling Gompa is extremely susceptible to flood damages. A more serious flood could completely wash away over 1,000 years of history. International conservation organizations are starting to take notice, however, so there is some hope that the Gompa will receive the protection it deserves.
Know Before You Go
Physical fitness and experience traveling in developing countries are critical to accessing Rinchenling Gompa. It is roughly a six day walk from the nearest airstrip in Simikot over highly exposed trails. Accommodations are either the Halji Village guesthouse, or camping facilities.