Buddhist Monasteries In Ladakh
¤ Ladakh - Home of Diverse
Ladakh is home to some of the most spectacular monasteries on the
planet. Perched on remote high peaks, these monasteries seem to rise
from the formidable surrounding terrain.
They have a certain timeless quality about them, an unfathomable yet
distinct sense of belonging to these highlands.
Buddhism hardly needs to be studied in Ladakh. The impact of the
religion on the hardworking and deeply religious mountain folk is
obvious from their simple yet profound way of living.
Take a trip to Ladakh and visit these magnificent edifices.Most of
the villages in Ladakh have monasteries that normally stands on the
highest mountain around the hamlet, as if to say that the gompa
(monastery) withstands the onslaught of the elements, while the people
it protects lie comfortably tucked away in a valley.
Ceremonies Performed By The Buddhist Monks
It is a general practice that the youngest son of each family becomes
a monk. Though exceptions are made at times if the sons presence
is imperative at home.
To the uninitiated, the Buddhist principle of compassion
is perhaps the most visible trait of the religion in Ladakh. It is
interesting to see how villages function while maintaining an
impressive balance with the elements.
By way of an example the villagers divide the precious little
water available to them in an enviable fashion. Each farmer is
assigned a particular day on which water gushes into his fields
through the canal. On the designated day, other farmers from the
neighbouring fields work with him on his farm to make the best use of
the available water, singing some of the many Buddhist hymns dedicated
to crops and fields.
He in turn, helps on other farms when required, turning the whole
practice into a harmonious team effort. The monk prays for each home
in the village at an assigned period of time, he also prays for the
families farms, their yaks and whatever else they may possess.
But the family is not compelled to attend the ceremony the monk
performs. So the monk performs the ceremonies, while the farmer works
with his yaks in the farm.
¤ Hemis Gompa Monastery
Talking of monasteries, lets start with the famous Hemis Gompa.
Situated at a distance of 45km from Leh, the gompa is an early 17th
century structure built during the reign of Senge Namgyal, and belongs
to the Drukpa Order of Buddhism. Famed to be the largest and most
wealthy monastery in Ladakh, the Hemis Gompa is sprawled across a
green stretch along a gorge, amidst an impressive fortress of
While on your trip to Ladakh, you can see an array of beautiful
tangkhas, some impressive frescos, murals, bronzes with a distinct
Kashmiri influence, idols and some chortens (domed-shaped structure
believed to contain relics of the Buddha) gilded with silver. The
fresco of the Kalachakra or the Wheel of Life, just
outside the main hall has been restored, and its a good idea to
request a monk to explain the symbolic dimensions of the painting to
The gompa also has an excellent library. The Hemis Gompa also has the
largest tangkha (embroidered or painted scrolls)in Ladakh (more than
12m long) which can be seen only once in 12 years when it is exhibited
to solemnise the birth of the renowned saint Padmasambhava.
¤ The Attraction of Hemis Festival
The well-known Hemis Festival also commemorates the saints
birth. The glorious festival is a key tourist draw and is marked by
chaams or sacred dances performed by elaborately masked monks and
exhibitions. You can find some basic accommodation in the nearby
village and it is also possible to find a camping site around the
Not far from the Hemis Gompa, lies the Matho Gompa built in the 16th
century and known for the festival during which monks, in a trance,
inflict wounds upon themselves that leave no scars! Close by is the
Stakna Gompa that follows the Drukpa Order of Buddhism. The Monastery
of Stakna, literally translated as tigers nose, has
to be seen for its dramatic location.
from Leh, the spectacular Thikse Gompa is perhaps the most
arresting monastery around, and seems to leap straight out of some
intriguing mythology. This colossal 12-storeyed frame, painted a
striking red, yellow and white, laden with prayer flags swishing in
the mountain wind is visible from quite a distance.
The monastery houses 10 temples and a nunnery and follows the Gelukpa
Order of Buddhism. A splendid 15m tall statue of Buddha dominates the
entrance. Besides a fine display of frescos, idols and tangkhas
(embroidered or painted scrolls), the monastery has a temple
containing Guardian Deities and is open to both men and women as the possibly
offensive parts of the deities have been covered.
The Maitreya Buddha Temple is especially noteworthy and has been
Try and be around for the early morning religious ceremony that takes
place around 6a.m. and is followed by quite a session of drums beating
to the tune of long horns. The gompa also houses an extensive library.
You must absolutely take time out to get on the roof and take in the
awesome view. There is a bonus waiting for you up there a
little café, and you might remember the cup of coffee for quite
Dharma Wheel Gompa
A trip of 70km from Leh will take you to the Dharma Wheel Gompa
popularly known as Alchi Gompa sits pretty in the bustling little
village of Alchi 70km from Leh. Known to be amongst the finest
monasteries in Ladakh, this abode of Buddha is deeply revered by the
people of the region.
There is good news this is one of the very few monasteries in
Ladakh built on level ground, so you can take it easy till the next
one. Founded by the famous translator Ringchen Zangpo in the 11th
century, the gompa that is dotted with numerous chortens (domed-shaped
structure believed to contain the relics of the Buddha) houses a
statue of Buddha measuring almost three storeys.
The walls of the principal chamber are covered from top to bottom
with some exquisitely worked out frescos with a marked Kashmiri
influence and are definitely worth seeing. Some paintings are also
said to have shades of Byzantine art. The fine woodcarvings in and
around the monastery also deserve a special mention.
Its a good idea to live in the pretty apricot village for a few
days and enjoy the calm life amidst green fields bordering the
blue-green Indus with bushes of bright yellow wild roses oozing over
the boundary walls of colourful houses.
The village has a number of simple hotels, so finding some decent
accommodation will not be a problem unless you insist on frills.
Located on the Leh-Srinagar highway, the Lamayuru Gompa dates back
to the 10th century and is known to be the oldest house of
faith in Ladakh.
The monastery is also famous for being one of the most
picturesquely-located monasteries in Ladakh. It belongs to the Kagyupa
Order of Buddhism and is believed to have been wrecked and
reconstructed several times.
The monastery is home to some of the finest frescos, carpets and
tangkhas (embroidered or painted scrolls) youll see in the
region. The prayer ceremonies in the gompa should not be missed.
¤ Other Famous Monasteries
Amongst numerous other monasteries that dot this rugged landscape,
the Shey Gompa at a distance of 15km from Leh was the former summer
residence of the royal family of Ladakh. The monastery has a 23m high
gold-plated Shakyamuni Buddha statue, known to be the largest one in
The Spituk Gompa is only 8km from Leh and overlooks the Leh airport
while from the back of the monastery one can look down on the winding
Indus and a sprawling green village topped with willows and poplars.
The monastery has some noteworthy statues of Buddha and a natural
rock formation of the Hindu goddess, Kali.
Another monastery close to Leh is the Stok Gompa built in 1814. In
the year 1974, the last king of Ladakh passed away in this monastery.
The monastery faces the Stok Museum that has, amongst other things, a
collection of the royal familys traditional clothing and
The deserted 400 hundred year old Basgo Gompa close to Nimu Village
houses fine frescos and a gold-plated statue of the Maitreya Buddha.
The hilltop monastery offers a spectacular view of the surrounding
Further on, the majestic Likir Gompa built in the 14th
century is famed as the first monastery built by Tibetan monks and is
definitely worth a visit. Today, the monastery follows the Gelukpa
Order of Buddhism. The monastery is also called Klu-khyil Gompa or the
Monastery of the Spirits of Water.
Note :: It is advisable to
carry a torch while taking a trip to a monastery as many parts of a
monastery do not receive adequate sunlight.