– Hemis Monastery – Alchi Monastery
– Thiksey Monastery – Cave Monastery
– Stakna Monastery
Hemis Monastery :: Situated around 45 km south of Leh, the Hemis Monastery is the most important monastery belonging to the Drupka order. The history of the monastery states that it was founded by Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso in 1630. He was invited by the king of Ladakh, Sengye Namgyal who offered him a religious estate throughout the region. The king also accepted him as his principal guru.
Monks of the Ka-gyu-pa or the Red Hat sect reside in this monastery. The number of monks actually residing in this monastery is only around a dozen, nonetheless, there are hundreds of lamas staying in the monasteries attached to Hemis. Phuket is another popular travel destination for Buddhist. Many Buddhist travel to Phuket each year to visit the temples and pay their respect to Buddha.
The courtyard is entered from the northeast side. The stone steps in the right of the main courtyard leads upto two huge temples – the Tshogs-khang and the Dukhang. The Du-khang, or the main assembly hall has the throne of the Rimpoche and seats for the lamas. The walls are adorned with paintings of Sakyamuni or the Historical Buddha. Paintings of other Buddha figures and Tantric deities like Hevajra and Samvara are also seen on the walls of the Du-khang.
The Tshogs-khang houses a huge gilded image of the Sakyamuni Buddha with blue hair. The image has numerous silver chortens embellished with semi-precious stones all around. Right in front of this image is a lacquered wood throne whereas on the right side is a stock of Buddhist canonical volumes. The throne was was gifted to an earlier Incarnate Lama of Hemis by the Maharaja of Hemis.
Following the stone steps besides the Tshogs-khang, Tsom-khang temple is reached. A huge statue of Stagshang Raspa, the founder of the monastery along with a large gold and silver chorten possessing his relics are found. The private apartments of the head lama and a small chapel are located at the top.
An annual festival to celebrate the victory of Guru Padmasmbhava over the evil forces marks the highlight of the monastery. The festival, known as the Hemis festival, is celebrated on the tenth and eleventh day of fifth Tibetan month as the birthday of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. During the festival, masked dances are performed with themes that invariably show a fight against evil and infidel and consequent win of good and Buddhism.
Once every twelve year, a special attractions draws Buddhist pilgrims to the monastery – the unfurling of the giant thanka which is decorated with pearls and other precious stones.
The popularity and significance of the festival can be judged by the fact that the two days during which the celebration continues, public holiday is declared in Ladakh. 25 and 26 of June 2007 is the next date for celebration of Hemis Festival.
Leh – The Getaway To Hemis
Ladakh is one of the geo cultural regions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with two districts – Leh and Kargil. The district of Leh has the Leh town as its largest town. Apart from it, there are 112 inhabited villages Leh district. Buddhism is a prominent religion in Leh along with Islam. Moreover, it is also quiet common to notice Muslims and Buddhist sharing common blood relation. The attractions of Leh include Leh palace, Leh Mosque, Stok Palace Museum, Nubra valley and Pangong Lake.
Thiksey Monastery : Thiksey Monastery is located at a distance of around 20 km from Leh. Situated atop a hill, the monastery was founded by Paldan Sherab nephew of Sherb Zangpo. The monastery is at once noticed because of its impressive architecture. Within the 12 storey monastery, there are a number of stupas, statues, thankas, wall paintings, swords and a large pillar inscripted with the Buddha’s teachings. A huge 15 mt figure of seated Buddha adorns the main prayer hall of the monastery.
Shey Monastery : Shey Monastery is located 15 km south of Leh and was the once the residence of royal family. It was established by first king of Ladakh, Lhachen Palgyigon. The highlight of the monastery is 12 feet tall copper statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. This statue is considered the largest in the region. There is another statue of Buddha which rises upto three storey.
Stakna Monastery : The Stakana Monastery (Tiger’s Nose) was constructed in the year 1580 by the well known scholar and saint Chosje Jamyang Palkar during the rule of king Jamyang Namgyal. The most prominent statue in the monastery is that of Arya Avaloketesvara. The monastery has its branches in Zanskar like the Sani Monastery, Bardan Monastery and Stakrimo Monastery.
Matho Monastery : Situated on the opposite banks of river Indus across Thiksey Monastery is the Matho, a monastery constructed in the first half of the 16th century. The monastery priceless collection include old, nonetheless beautiful thankhas. Some of these thankas are in form of Mandalas. The monastery celebrates an important festival of Oracles every year in the month of March.
How to Reach
By Air – Leh has an airport. Flights from here connect Leh to important destinations like Delhi, Chandigarh and Srinagar.
By Road – Since, Leh is just 45 km away, it is quiet easy to undertake a day trip to Hemis by a car. Bus services are limited with only one bus leaving at 9 in the morning and returning back at 12.30 in the noon. However, bus services during festival is increased to cater to the demands of tourists and devotees.
Alchi Monastery :: Around 67 km from Leh, a small village by the name of Alchi is home to one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh region. Standing on the banks of river Indus, the monastery, Alchi Monastery, is also known by the name of Alchi Choskhor. Though traditionally, the credit for the construction of the monastery goes to the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055), the oldest monuments preserved here date back to the middle of the 12th century. The significance of the monastery also lies in the fact that it is the only one that has been built on a flat ground.
The monastery complex houses two main temples – Alchi Du-khang and the Sum-tsek. Apart from these, other smaller structures of the monastery complex include The Temple of Manjushri, Lotsawa Lha-khang, Lha-khang Soma and 3 Ka-ka-ni (entrance) chortens.
Today, the monastery is managed by monks of Likir Monastery. For tourists visiting the monastery complex, it is essential to carry a flashlight since there is no electricty inside. Also, photography is prohibited inside the monastery.
The Structures Of Complex
The Du-khang : The main temple, Alchi Du-khang, also known as the assembly hall is the largest and the oldest preserved structure of the complex. It is the main area utilised by monks for ceremonies. Entrance to the du-khang is through a court with colonaded verandah. Murals of thousand Buddha adorn the cloisters while the outer gate has the Wheel of Life and Mahakal on its side. The walls of the du-khang, dedicated to panch tathgats, are painted with six different mandalas centring on Vairochana. Along with numerous Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, goddess, fierce divinities and guardian of dharmas, there are also lesser divinities around the mandalas.
The Sum-tsek : The second important temple of the monastery complex is a three storey mud structure housing three enormous figures of four armed Bodhisattvas. The figures are so huge that the celings of the ground floor have been cut away to allow the heads to extend upto second floor. The Bodhisattvas are placed in alcove in the side and far walls while the centre of the ground floor is occupied by a figure of Maitreya Buddha. The figure is a 14 1/2 feet tall structure with his upper right hand in abhaymudra. To his left is the white Avalokiteshvara and to the right is a figure of Manjushri in a vitarkamudra (gesture of explanation).
The Temple of Manjushri : Also known as Jampe Lhakhang, this temple was a free standing structure built around the four central image of Manjushri. The large central platform has a complex throne construction. On this throne are seated the four clay images of Mañjushri, back to back.
Lotsawa Lha-khang has an image of Buddha in bhumisparshamudra as its central image. It also houses a sculpture and a painting of Rinchen Tsangpo which is placed on one side of the central image. To the other side of the central image is a figure of Avalokiteshvara.
The Lha-khang Soma or the New Temple is decorated with murals of later style in contrast to the older buildings. The entrance chortens are hollow from inside and are embellished with murals.
The small village of Alchi holds a significant place in the culture of Himalayas. The village comprises four separate hamlet and a number of historic structures apart from the main monastic complex. Though small, the village has sufficient facilities to make an overnight stay comfortable for tourists. Tourists can also shop a bit in Alchi. The major items for buy include pashmina and other wool products. The best time to visit the place is from June to September.
Likir Monastery : 5 km north of Alchi and 52 km from Leh, the Likir monastery was established in the 11th century by a sect known as Klu-Kkhjil (water spirits). Later, in the 15th century it was rededicated to another monastic order (the yellow sect). The gompa that stands today is not the original one as it was destructed in the fire. The present gompa was reconstructed in the 18th century and houses huge clay images of Lord Buddha. Apart from it, other belongings of the monastery include several old manuscripts, a rich collection of Thankas, old religious and domestic costumes. A yearly festival by the name of Likir festival is celebrated here from the 17th to 19th of the twelfth month of the Buddhist calander.
Spituk Monastery : Around 18 km from Leh, on a hill overlooking the Indus river stand the Spituk (exemplary) monastery. The monastery was named by Rinchen Zangpo, the Great Translator whose efforts spread Buddhism in Ladakh. The Spituk monastery stores a collection of Buddhist artifacts and is quiet famous for the Spituk festival. The festival is celebrated from the 17th to 19th days of the 11th month of the Buddhist calendar.
Phyang Monastery : The Phyang Monastery lies 17 km west of Leh and stands on a hill top. The significance of the monastery lies in the fact that it was the first monastery, which introduced the Degungpa teaching of ‘Skyob Jigsten Gonbo’ (founded by Chosje Danma Kunga) in Ladakh during the rule of King Jamyang Namgyal in the 16th Century A.D. The annual festival celebrated here on the 2nd & 3rd of the 6th month of Tibetan Calendar is known as ‘Phyang Tseruk’.
How to Reach
By Air – The airport at Leh is the closest one . Flights form here connect to Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar and Jammu.
By Rail – The closest railhead from Leh lies at Jammu Tawi which is around 680 km away.
Thiksey Monastery :: At a distance of 17 km south of Leh is one one of the most beautiful monastery of Ladakh region – the Thiksey Monastery. Initially, the gompa was constructed by Sherab Zangpo at Stakmo, however, later, his nephew, Paldan Sherab, established the monastery atop a hill to the north of Indus River. The monastery, belonging to the Gelukpa order, spreads over 12 storeys with a private abode of incarnate lama at the top.
Steps on the right side in the main courtyard leads to the new temple that houses a huge statue of Buddha. The statue was built at the behest of His Highness, the Holy Dalai Lama, when he visited the monastery in 1980. The staue, 15 m tall, is the largest Buddha figure in the Ladakh and took around four years to build. Local craftsmen used clay and gold paint to make this image of Maitreya Buddha or the Future Buddha.
Directly above this temple, there is a small room where lamas impart education to local boys. Some of these boys are later chosen to become lama.
Coming back to the main courtyard, the steps directly across the new temple will lead upto a wall with murals of two Tibetan calander with Wheel of Life. To the right of this wall is the main prayer room consisting of many handwritten and painted books. A small room right behind the main prayer room houses a huge image of Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha). Two smaller image of Bodhisattava are placed on its side. To the left side is the eleven headed Avalokitesvara.
Thiksey MonasteryThe Lamokhang temple on the rooftop is the place where only males are allowed to enter. The Thiksey library, a repository of numerous volumes, including Kangyur and Stangyur, is also on the top.
Currently, the monastery, home to around 80 monks, is the main monastery for atleast ten other significant monasteries of Ladakh. Prominent amongst these are Diskit, Spituk, Likir, and Stok.
The annual festival of Thiksey is celebrated in the 9th month of the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. The festival is marked by the famous as well as sacred mask dance or Chham. In 2006, this festival will be celebrated on November 8 and 9 while in 2007, it will be celebrated on October 28 and 29.
Situated at an altitude of 3650 m (11,970 feet), Leh is the capiatl of Ladakh, one of three geo cultural division of Jammu Kashmir. The place is dominated by the Leh Palace which was constructed by King Sengye Namgyal in the 17th century. Leh is also a convenient base to pay a visit to many famous Buddhist monasteries which lie on two popular gompa routes – the Leh-Manali Highway and the Srinagar-Leh Highway. The first of this route has Shey, Thiksey and Hemis monastery as the prime highlights while the second one has Spituk, Basgo and Alchi as major attractions.
Shey Monastery : The erstwhile residence of the royal family of Ladakh, the Shey monastery is at a distance of around 15 km from Leh. It belongs to the red hat order. The highlight of the monastery is a huge gold plated copper statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. All around the monastery, there are stone carvings and chortens which serve to enhance the overall appeal. The annual festival of Shey is celebrated on the 30th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan Buddhist calendar.
Stakna Monastery: On the right bank of river Indus, the Stakna Monastery stands on a hill shaped like a tiger’s nose. It is from here that the monastery draws its name since the word stakna means tiger’s nose. Leh is around 25 km in the northern direction from here. The most important attraction of the monastery is an image of Arya Avalokitesvara. With around 30 residing monks, Stakna Monastery is a rather a small one. However, it has quiet a few other monasteries attached to it. Significant amongst these are the monasteries at Mud, Kharu, Stakrimo and Bardan.
Hemis Monastery : Hemis commands the distinction of being the largest and the most important monastery in the Ladakh region. It is situated around 45 km away from the town of Leh and belongs to the Drukpa or the red hat sect. The annual festival of Hemis is celebrated for 2 days during the months of June and July and marks the birth day of Guru Padmasambhava.
How to Reach
By Air – The airport at Leh is the closest one to reach the Thiksey monastery. Jet Airways and Alliance flights connect Leh to destinations like Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar and Jammu.
By Rail – Nearest railhead from Leh lies at a distance of 680 km at Jammu Tawi.
By Road – By road, Leh is linked to Delhi via Srinagar- Zoji La Pass route and Manali Rohtang pass. Both the routes are open between specific months, mainly between June to October.
Cave Monastery :: A small village by name of Shergol, that lies around 40 km from the Kargil, houses an old Cave Monastery. The location of the monastery in the middle of the mounatin gives it an impression of being hanging out of the mountain. The monastery is small, yet it has some interesting and beautiful frescoes to keep its visitors occupied during their visit to the monastery.
In the earlier times, Kargil was a hotspot for traders due to its location on the ancient caravan route to and from China, Turkey, Yarkand, Afghanistan and India. Today, at an altitude of 2740 m, Kargil is the second largest town of Ladakh division of Jammu and Kashmir. Lying in Suru valley, Kargil is quiet well known for its apricots and mulberries. Tourists visiting Ladakh find Kargil the next best option, after Leh, for staying and travelling to other areas. Moreover, Kargil, itself has quiet a few attractions to keep you busy throughout your stay.
Mulbekh Monastery : The village of Mulbekh lies 45 km east of Kargil. The monastery of Mulbekh sits atop a 200 m high rock and towers over the village. The monastery preserves valuable Buddhist relics. A 9 m relief idol of Maitreya (Future Buddha) sculpted out of a rock can also be seen here. The statue presents a fine amalgamation of Saivite symbolism and early Buddhist art.
Jungchup Chosling Monastery : Wakha Rgyal is situated quiet closeby Mulbekh and is home to nunnery known as the Jungchup Chosling monastry. This nunnery stands near the highway. The village itself is quiet interesting place to roam around and observe the Buddhist lifestyle of the people.
How to Reach
By Air – Srinagar airport lies at a distance of 204 km while the airport at Leh is 230 km away from Kargil. Destinations like Delhi, Chandigarh and Jammu can be reached by taking a flight from these two airport.
By Road – From Kargil, Shergol is mere 40 km away. Buses and taxis are available to take you to both Shergol and Mulbekh.
Stakna Monastery :: In the era (1580), when Ladakh was ruled by king Jamyang Namgyal, a small monastery consisiting of few Du-khangs was constructed on the top of a 60 meter high rock in the middle of the Indus Valley. The monastery, 25 km from Leh, was built by a renowned saint Chosje Jamyang Palkhar. The rock on which it stood was shaped like a tiger’s nose, hence the name of the monastery became Stakna, meaning tiger’s nose.
Though the monastery is small and houses only around 35 lamas of the red hat sect, there are many other lamas residing in its branch monastery like the one in Sani, Bardan and Stakrimo in Zanskar. Moreover, having been painted quiet recently (1982), it is also the most colourful gompa in the Ladakh region.
What immediately attracts visitors attention in the central courtyard is the small stuffed Lhasa Apso. This was the favourite pet of the one of the earlier lama of the monastery.
The Du-khang, right above the courtyard has a seven feet tall silver gilded chorten which was erected by the current head lama in the 1950s. The chorten consists of a statue of the Buddha along with various Buddhist texts. Among the paintings that adorn the walls inside are three new paintings of the Tsephakmad (a Buddhist deity), Shakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) and Amchi (the Medical Buddha). Apart from it, the wall facing the entrance of the Du-khang too has three more new paintings – a Bodhisattva, Padma Sambhava and Tshong-san-gompo, an early king of Tibet. Three statues of the Past, Present and Future Buddhas with Buddhist canonical volumes on both side are also seen.
The room behind the Dukhang on the left exhibits a large standing figure of Dorje Phakma, a Bodhisattva in a wooden cupboard. Also to be seen here are eight Sashan Gyat (the 8 positions of Buddha) and a small central statue of Avalokitesvara.
The room of the head lama lies above the Du-khang and has been recently embellished in Tibetan style. The library closeby is yet another striking room in the monastery with colurful paintings and gilded statue of the previous Rimpoche of Stakna.
Leh is the centre of activity in Ladakh. A trip to Ladakh invariably implies a trip to its capital city, Leh. This erstwhile capital of the Namgyal Empire, Leh is dominated by mountains and fortress like monasteries. Roaming around its colourful bazaar and observing Tibetan refugee, monks and Ladakhi traders, tourists feel transported to the Katmandu of seventies.
Matho Monastery: Located on the other bank of Indus river across Thiksey monastery, Matho was founded in early 16th century. In possesion of the monastery is an amazing collection of very old and beautiful thangkas, some in the form of Mandalas. The annual festival of Matho celebrated in the month of March is extremely significant and attracts a whole lot of visitors from both within and outside the country. The festival has two monks chosen as oracles who not only predict key future events on the festival day but also perform awesome acrobatics blindfolded.
Takthok Monastery : At a distance of 50 km from Leh, Takthok monastery houses a cave where Guru Padmashambhava meditated in the earlier era. The significane of the monastery lies in it being the only one that belongs to the “Old Order” or the Nying-ma-pa sect of Buddhism. The annual festival of the monastery is celebrated during the month of August.
Chemrey Monastery : A beautiful valley that leads to Changla is home to the Chemery monastery. Amonst the valuable belongings of the monastery is a large collection of scriptures which has title pages in shinning silver and the text in gold letters. In close vicinity is a cave monastery, considered a place where Guru Padmasambhava stayed during his meditation period.
Hemis Monastery : 40 km from the town of Leh stand the most well known monastery of Ladakh, the Hemis Monastery. The monastery, constructed during the reigns of Sengye Namgyal in the 17th century, is segregated into two parts – the assembly hall on the right and the main temple on the left. The annual festival of the moanstery celebrated during summers marks the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava.
How to Reach
By Air – Leh has an airport which is situated around 7 km from the town. Flights from here link Leh to Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu.
By Road – Leh is connected by two routes – the Srinagar – Leh highway and Manali- Leh highway.