Tabo Monastery – sometimes referred to as the Ajanta of the Himalayas – is the oldest earthen Buddhist monastery in the Himalayan region to have survived unchanged and comparatively well intact. It was established over 1,000 years ago. Today, the old temple site is made up of nine temples and several stupas, in addition to cave shrines along the mountain slope. The shrines are decorated with murals and are traditionally used for meditation. A new assembly hall, the Kalachakra Temple, was built for the first Kalachakra initiation carried out by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in Tabo in 1983, and a Kalachakra stupa was inaugurated in 2009.
The monastery was founded during the period of the Purang Guge Kingdom, which established many trade routes and constructed temples along these routes, in a period known as the second spreading of Buddhism in Tibet. The monasteries built during this time – and in particular Tabo, with its location on the route between Tibet and India – were instrumental in the development of Buddhism, and played a role in the exchange and debates that took place between the Tibetan and Indian Buddhist traditions. The temple complex houses a unique collection of Buddhist paintings and statues that illustrate this history of Tibetan–Indian Buddhism. They show the local characteristics of the time and also include non-Buddhist traditions.
The preservation of this historical cultural heritage is of the highest priority. The emphasis is not only on preserving Tabo as a piece of unique cultural heritage, but also on keeping alive a particular Buddhist tradition, as well as the ethics of Tibetan Buddhism.