It is situated at an elevation of 3,894 metres (12,774 feet) in the Spiti Valley above Dhankar Village, between the towns of Kaza and Tabo. The complex is built on a 1000-foot (300-metre) high spur overlooking the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers - one of the world's most spectacular settings for a gompa. Dhang or dang means cliff, and kar or khar means fort. Hence Dhangkar means fort on a cliff.
Below the Gompa lies the small village of Shichilling which contains the new Dhankar Monastery, home to about 150 monks belonging to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Beyond the surrounding harsh, lunar landscape, notable sights at Dhankar Gompa include a statue of Vairocana consisting of four figures seated back-to-back, in addition to various crumbling thangkas. There is a small museum in the gompa. In 2006, World Monuments Fundselected Dhankar gompa as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. A nonprofit group, Dhangkar Initiative, is attempting to organize its conservation.
Dhankar is approachable by a motorable road, good for small vehicles only, that branches off for Dhankar from the main Kaza-Samdu road at a point around 24 km from Kaza. The branch road is 8 km in length up to Dhankar.
Dhankar was the traditional capital of the Spiti Valley Kingdom during the 17th century and has some features dating back to the 12th century. It was the seat of the early rulers of Spiti, the Nonos, who had the right to cultivate the government lands nearby and were required to keep the fort in repair. They also dispensed justice to the people and were noted for their harsh penalties until the British replaced them.