LEH & LADAKH- A GLIMPSE OF THE ENCHANTING MONASTERIES

The diverse landscape of the Indian subcontinent has attracted large number of tourists from all over the world. Prosperously, India has been blessed with the beautiful cities of Leh and Ladakh which are truly all backpackers’ haven. The rich cultural heritage and scenic views speaks volumes about this place that has been rightfully termed as “the land of monks and monasteries”, right from its inception.

‘Buddhism’ in Ladakh is widely practiced and has served as a popular theme for cultural trips for tourists. Leh and Ladakh have been home to numerous world-renowned monasteries flocked by Buddhism followers for centuries. These Buddhist monasteries, popularly known as ‘vihara’, have attracted worldwide followers of Buddhism with great zeal and endeavor every year.

Blessed with their breathtaking architecture and serene ambiance, the mesmerizing locations in and around these monasteries are sure to leave any traveler spellbound. Served with delicious local food amidst the picturesque view of the nature, these monasteries are the perfect place to unwind your inner-self, and experience the eternal bliss and existence of solitude in abundance. Most of the Buddhist monasteries here offer the privilege for tourists and adventure enthusiasts to stay and rejoice the heavenly experience.

Monasteries in Leh-Ladakh are not just epitome of religion, but also the perfect place to attain the innermost salvation. So, just when you plan a trip to Leh and Ladakh, brace yourself to embrace the mélange of breathtaking topography, covering wide expanse of cold deserts, serene mountain passes, vivacious lakes, and dream-like monasteries. Experience the magnificence of these holy sites and you’ll know why Leh-Ladakh has always been every traveler’s dream destination!

Front view of Sumtseg of Alchi Monastery

ALCHI MONASTERY

Alchi Monastery, situated around 70 km from Leh, on the banks of river Indus, is one of the oldest hub of Buddhist preaching in Leh-Ladakh region. Built between 958 and 1055, this monastery is a popular national heritage site with its distinctive, flat-ground architecture.

This unique monastery is a clump of ancient Buddhist shrines comprising of four separate portions, together which constitute one of the prime religious centers in Ladakh. The interesting part is that these individual portions consist of monuments built at different times. The main complex has three temples, each depicting a main temple, the Manjushri temple and an assembly hall.

The mesmerizing Mughal imprints on the rare murals of over a thousand Buddhas in Alchi Gompa form the center of ancient artworks that have enthralled tourists for years. The beautiful and elaborate walls are adorned with paintings depicting the details of Hinu kings and also the teachings of Buddhism. A huge, imposing Buddha statue in the complex, truly accounts for an awe-inspiring scenic view that is a real treat to one’s eye.

The period between the months of May to September are most suited to visit the Alchi monastery. Currently, the ancient heritage of this place is preserved and promoted for cultural tourism in Leh-Ladakh. The place is sprawling with numerous food joints and souvenir shops and make them as one of the most popular tourist destinations in and around the region.

Courtyard at Hemis

HEMIS MONASTERY

The Hemis Monastery is the largest and wealthiest of its kind, situated on a hilltop nearly 44 km away from the beautiful valley of Leh. Re-built in 1672, its stems its roots to one of the ancient disciples of Buddhism, ‘Naropa’, who is known to have attained enlightenment in this region.

Home to a beautiful collection of ancient statues, sacred thangkas and many other master-pieces, this popular monastery and the congenial villagers residing here extend accommodation during tourist season, serving local delicious cuisines that you can relish. Going further down, the road leads to Hemis National Park that is a retreat that promises serene and soothing ambiance for all the wildlife enthusiasts.

Embarking on a vibrant holiday spree, the two days ‘Hemis festival, in June-July is one of the star attractions here. The festival is celebrated to worship Lord Padmasambhava and is marked by amazing local dances and Buddhist rituals. Witnessing the local Buddhist population dressed up in ethnic attires is a real eye candy and the villagers graciously welcome each tourist with open arms.

Each year, this monastery attracts large number of tourists and the number shoots up during the famous Hemis festival. Interacting with the locals and taking part in their processions definitely guarantees endless frolic and countless cherished memories. The best thing during Hemis festival is to wake up early and take part in the morning prayers that leave you awe-struck by the soothing atmosphere of the soulful music echoing all around. The ‘Mask Dance’ is the highlight of the festival while you can attend the fair sprawling with wonderful handicrafts later in the daytime.

Lamayuru Monastery

LAMAYURU MONASTERY

The Lamayuru Monastery is situated en-route Leh-Kargil and beyond doubt, is going to be one of the most enthralling and spirited monastery in the Leh-Ladakh region that you can ever come across. The seclusion of the place from the cacophony of bustling urban life and its ravishing divine beauty is what attracts wanderers from near and far.

With just over a 50 hermits staying in the Lamayuru Monastery, it is always a cherished sight to engage yourself in a friendly conversation with these monks as they give you a deeper insight into the place and the areas adjoining the Leh-Ladakh region. The temple complex comprises of three chortens, a cave and the main temple and serves as an ideal stay destination for travelers who seek rejuvenation and peaceful stay. The local Tibetan delicacies served in surrounding eateries and hotels keep you hooked with delight with its rich aroma. The hotels nearby provide stay options that are easy on your pocket, promising sheer comfort at the same time.

Overall, if you are seeking a divine experience, Lamayuru is just the right place to be at. It is as beautiful all-round the year but the best time to visit is May to September.

matho monastery

MATHO MONASTERY

The Matho Monastery is situated on the beautiful Indus valley, nearly 26km away from leh and runs adjacent to the Thiksey Monastery. This splendid Tibetan Buddhist monastery dates back its construction to over 500 years and follows the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism. With a bountiful and mesmerizing collection of ancient Thangas, the place is the apt for Buddhist preaching and inscriptions.

Over 50 lamas and 30 monks dwell in the Matho Monastery and it is widely popular for its oracles. The Cham dance and the scene of oracles perform under the effects of supernatural powers during the processions leaves every tourist spellbound. The festival of oracles, or the Matho Navrang festival, as it is popularly called, is celebrated in the month of March, during Buddhist New Year.

The monastery is blessed with amazing architecture and comprises of an assembly hall, temples and chapels. The hall, or the dukhang, have walls adorned with beautifully crafted paintings, while the chapel have images of Sakya Pandita and lamas embossed on them. The gigantic statue of blessing Buddha, Maitreya and Sakyamuni are simply jaw dropping, in conjunction to a thousand armed statue of Avalokitesvara.

Owing to limited stay and dining options in Matho, it is suggested to stay at Leh and visit this monastery during the day. The period between May and September is the most suitable as most routes remain closed during snowfall in the later parts of the year.

Thiksey Monastery

THIKSEY MONASTERY

Credited to being the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, the Thiksey Monastery is situated nearly 20 km from Leh, in the Indus valley. The place is marked by scenic landscape and gives a picturesque view of clear blue skies and wide range of mountains in its periphery.

The sight of the entire town of Leh is magnificent and the ambiance just gets better on a cloudy day. Alternatively referred to as ‘Mini Potala Palace’ by the local inhabitants owing to its striking resemblance to the Potala palace in Tibet, the place is inhabited by friendly monks and nuns who carry out their daily custom with great zeal.

Thiksey Monastery symbolizes the art and architecture of Ladakh in the true sense. It has a 12-storey magnificent structure and includes over 10 temples, a grand assembly hall and is a home to more than 120 monks and nuns. The mouth-watering delicacies served by the locals, coupled with serene landscape, makes this one of the most appreciated monastery in Ladakh.

The monastery has a beautiful museum inside that is known to preserve items that reflect Buddhist art and history. These items include stupas, thangkas, statues and swords, amongst many others. Maitreya temple inside the premises is fondly thronged by tourists each year as it has a 49 feet tall statue of Lord Buddha in its premises. The carvings on the wall pillar inside depicts the preaching of Lord Buddha in a detailed manner. Souvenir shop, eateries and cafes inside the huge piece of architecture makes it one of the most amazing Monastery in India. Visit this place and witness the aura of Lord Buddha and also the breathtaking respite of nature, while you catch the sight of this amazing piece of architecture that is no less than a dream.

Zongkuyl Monastery

ZONGKUYL MONASTERY

The Zongkuyl Monastery is deemed to be one of the most striking monastery in the Zanskar valley of Leh district in Jammu and Kashmir. It is a popular belief that the foundation for this magnificent Gompa was laid by the great Mahasiddha Naropa from Vikramshila, who even has his footprints carved in the rocks and holy spring in the region. The dual caves inside the shrine has also been the hub for Naropa’s peaceful meditation for years. Since then, the place has attracted eminent Mahasiddhas for meditation, including Dubchen Nawang Tsering, Dubchen Kunga Gyatso, and Dzadpa Dorje amongst many others.

Countless shrines within Zongkuyl Gompa makes it an ideal setting for a peaceful respite and salvation. Many items of historical and spiritual importance have been preserved in the shrine including an ivory image of Samvara, a beautiful crystal Stupa as well as biographies and songs penned by many Mahasiddhas. The shrine is also home to ancient Murals and holy preaching of Buddha. One of the prettiest site is the visual illustrations of Buddha, Mitukpa, Mahakala and Padmasmbhava, thereby personifying the beauty and essence of the Zongkuyl Monastery to a large extent.

The period between July and early November is considered to be the most ideal time to visit the shrine. Owing to lack of Road accessibility, trekking is considered to be the most convenient way to reach the place. Many treks in and around the region, namely the Stongdey and Burdam treks are available for the sake of convenience and to ensure a memorable visit to this magnificent piece of architecture.

Phyang Monastery

PHYANG MONASTERY

Established in the year 1515 by Chosje Damma Kunga, the Phyang Monastery is one of the most spectacular Monasteries in Ladakh. It is located in Fiang village, around 40 kms west of Leh and is headed by the Red Hat Sect of Buddhism to this day.

The shrine complex is home to numerous religious sites adorned with wall paintings that depict an elaborate royal era. The place, with a 900 years old museum attracts large number of tourists every year, and takes pride in an extensive and rare collection of thangkas, idols, weapons, firearms and other significant items of historical and religious importance.

The Phyang Monastery is quite accessible to tourists, with Spituk being the closest spot with a mere distance of around 10 kms. This Gompa can be beautifully seen in white and ochre hues and its location over a hill top gives away the enchanting view of an entire village. One of the star attractions is the Gang-Sngon Tsedup festival that is celebrated each year from the 17 th to the 19 th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. The Sacred Dance festival is equally popular and takes place on the second and third day of the sixth month of Tibetan Calendar, and is celebrated with great deal of enthusiasm. In all, there are countless reasons to witness the beauty of this monastery and is worth a visit at least once in a lifetime.

Likir Monastery

LIKIR MONASTERY

Likir Monastery, or the Likir Gompa, is one of the unique shrines in Ladakh that has been able to retain the aura of Buddhist heritage graciously with its mesmerizing architecture. Situated within a radius of about 60 km to the west of the city of Leh, this monastery was built by Lama Duwang Chosje somewhere during the 14th century, as per the instructions of Lhachen Gyalpo, the fifth king of Ladakh.

As per the Buddhist mythology, the Likir Monastery is known to be one of the pioneer construction sites, and has been significant in flourishing of many other monasteries and enchanting structures in Leh and Ladakh. It also has a beautiful museum inside its premises that displays a wide range of artifacts and handicrafts that symbolizes the rich heritage and culture of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Likir Monastery dates back its roots to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The site is also the center for teachings of Buddha and three unique disciplines of Pratimoksa, and is flocked by tourists in large number to seek divine pleasure every year.

This monastery is easily accessible via local transport and buses ply every few minutes between Leh and Likir from morning till early evening, making it a very popular travel destination for tourists from within the country and abroad. The place is also famous for its ‘Likir Dosmoche fest’ that is celebrated every year from 27th to 29th, during the 12th month as per the Tibetan calendar. The fest highlights many religious dance performances by the local inhabitants and accounts for a mesmerizing view for travelers. Be a part of this amazing festival, and witness the beauty of Ladakh, that is going to leave you enthralled for years to come.

Spituk Monastery

SPITUK MONASTERY

The Spituk Monastery, popularly known as the Pethup Gompa by the native inhabitants, was built in the 11th century by Od-de, the elder sibling of Lha Lama Changchub. It is situated at an approximate distance of 10 kms from the main city of Leh and is appreciated by travelers for its artistically designed architecture and finesse.

This beautiful shrine has been the dwelling for over 100 hermits and seeing them perform their daily rituals at dawn is a pleasant sight for tourists. The Spituk Monastery has three magnificent chapels called the Stok, Sankar and Saboo, each known for its grandeur and beauty. A large museum inside the premises has a wonderful collection of rare artefacts, idols, statues as well as scriptures and inscriptions of religious significance.

A beautiful temple inside the shrine is home to a gigantic statue of goddess Kali, Vajrabhairava deity and an enchanting idol of Amitayus. Tourists can catch a glimpse of these idols on the eve of the Gustor festival that is held in the Spituk village every year during the eleventh month of the Tibetan calendar.

Even though the Spituk Monastery was discovered in the form of a Red Hat institution, it has been taken over by the Yellow Hat Sect since the 15th century. The place is fondly remembered by tourists for its utterly stunning view and artistic design and is highly recommended if you have Leh-Ladakh travel plan in your mind.

Stakna Monastery

STAKNA MONASTERY

Surprisingly known as the Tiger’s nose by the native population, the Stakna Monastery is a perfect example of peace and serenity in the region of Leh and Ladakh. Dating back its roots to the Dugpa sect of Buddhism, it is situated at a distance of around 25 kms from Leh, on the banks of the Indus River.

It was built in 1580, during the reign of King Jamyang Namgyal and offers a breathtaking sight of the Indus valley and river. It belongs to the Dugpa sect of Buddhism and is home to over 30 hermits and nuns. A beautiful museum inside the shrine is quite popular amongst the historians and has a mesmerizing collection of rare artefacts and paintings. It also has many sister monasteries like the Sani, Stakrimo and Zanskar-Bardan and has the famous Thathok Monastery in the proximity, nearly 50 km from here.

This monastery exemplifies the rich heritage and elaborate culture of Buddhism and India, as a whole. It consists of a large assembly hall called the Dukhang, with beautifully decorated walls and paintings of Sakyamuni, Tsephakmad and Amchi. A seven feet tall silver chorten with idol of Lord Buddha and image of Arya Avaloketesvara from Kamrup, beholds the tourists’ attraction for its charming beauty.

The Stakna Monastery is the perfect depiction of consecutive reincarnations of Stakna Tulku and are known to inculcatethe teachings of Dugpa order. Additionally, the paintings of Bodhisattva, Tshong-san Gompa and Padma Sambhava succeeds in adding to the beauty of this appealing shrine.

Takthok Monastery

TAKTHOK MONASTERY

The Takthok Monastery is one of the most gorgeous shrine located in the Sakti village in Ladakh, around 46 kms east of Leh. The only monastery that follows the Nyingmapa tradition, it served as the meditating ground of Mahasiddhas ‘Kunga Phuntsog’ before its origin. Since both the roofs and walls are built of rocks, the name of the shrine has a literal meaning ‘Rock roof’.

This monastery belongs to the Nying-ma-pa sect of Buddhism and has an enchanting architecture, marked by a large courtyard in the centre, an assembly hall, elaborate murals and not to forget, the divine throne of Dalai Lama. It is also inhabited by over 50 lamas and has carefully preserved 108 extensive volumes of Kandshur teachings.

The cave chapel and images of Padme Sambhava and Avalokitesvara adjacent to the chapel captivate tourists with their beauty. A small cave behind behind these images are believed to be the center of meditation for Padme Sambhava for three long years. Dukhang, or the main assembly hall, lies to the right and is decorated with murals and paintings of many deities.

Every year, the Takthok monastery attracts large gatherings of tourists during an annual festival that is celebrated on the 9th and 10th days of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar. The celebrations are marked by holy dances and hurling of votive offering. A remarkable notion is that the cave inside has been shaped into a kitchen, with giant stoves, in order to produce adequate food to feed the tourists during that time of the year.

Even though there are no fancy hotels around, guest houses and the monastery itself, serves as an ideal stay for a divine trip. Local inhabitants graciously serve delicious meals for tourists Duration between the months of June and September are perfect to visit this place as its remains snow-filled during rest of the year.

Rizong Monastery

RIZONG MONASTERY

The Rizong Gompa in Ladakh has its roots from the Gelugpa or the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism and is situated 73 kms from the city of Leh. It was established by the majestic Lama Tsultim Nima in 1831 and is popularly called the Yuma Changchubling in the nearby areas.

Staying true to its name as ‘The Paradise for Meditation’, this monastery is a home to over 40 monks who are bound by rigid rules and are not allowed to carry anything except books and their attires. It also has large number of shrines in the premises that promise appealing views for all.

The Rizong monastery encompasses an extensive collection of painting blocks of Lama Tsultim Nima’s biography and books written by Sras Rinpoche. The place symbolizes consecutive reincarnations of Lama Tsultim Nima and his clan.

There is also a Chulichan nunnery around 2 kms from the shrine and is home to about 20 nuns, and is run under the governance of the Rizong Monastery. Chomos, or the nuns, pray daily at the temples situated in the monastery itself and engage themselves in numerous activities like milking, weaving, spinning wool, extracting oil for temple lamps and more. This nunnery, along with the Rizong Monastery, is a must visit for all for its scenic view overshadowing the Indus valley atop a hilltop.

Shey Palace And Monastery

SHEY PALACE AND MONASTERY

The Shey Monastery is situated 15 kms south to the city of Ladakh. It was built in 1655 in the ‘Summer Capital of Leh’ on the instructions of the king of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal, in the memory of his departed father Singay Namgyal. This shrine is located 4 km from Thiksey Monastery and lush chorten fields, with hundreds of whitewashed shrines pave way to the path leading to Shey Palace.

A magnificent imagery of seated Buddha Shalyamuni inside the Shey Monastery is one of the biggest metal statue and second largest Buddha statue in Ladakh. It is built in copper sheet and enclosed in gold, rendering it a dazzling appeal. It is provided with a large wax bowl with a flame that depicts divinity and purity, and is believed to have lighted continuously for a year, before getting replaced.

Walls on both sides of the Buddha statue are adorned with 16 Arhats, while the back wall of the statue depicts images of two main followers of Buddha, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. The Shey Palace has an awe-inspiring architecture. The lower storey has a large library while the second story showcases exquisite murals and various murals of Buddha in different hand gestures.

Tourists flock in large numbers in Shrey Gompa every year, especially during the 30th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar during the Rupla festival to symbolize the harvesting season. Local inhabitants dress up in tiger costumes and celebrate the processions with great zeal. Another festival, the ‘Shey Doo Lhoo’, is held on 26th and 27th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar and marks the onset of the sowing season.

Castle Of Sani

CASTLE OF SANI

The Sani Monastery is located 6 km to the west of Padum, in Zanskar, in the village of Sani. Also popular as Turtot Gyat, it is believed to be amongst the 8 sacred Buddhist sites with blessings bestowed by Padmasambhava of Oddhiyana.

This magnificent shrine lies in the southern branch of the Drukpa Kagyupa School, on the road leading to Kargil. The gigantic monastery has been built in sections, with each part symbolizing a different century. The oldest part of the Sani Monastery houses a chorten that is said to be erected in the 2nd century AD. While the assembly hall was built in the 17th century and the entire Monastery has been rendered the appeal of a castle.

The backyards of the shrine has the Kanika Stupa and the main praying hall is located in the main building, and is home to a large collection of eminent Buddhist statues and majestic lamas. A cemetery ground, filled with trees and springs, and a footprint of Guru Nima Odzer, adorn the center of the rock face of the shrine.

The Sani Gompa has its roots dated to ancient Indian Yogi Naropa, who is said to have meditated in a small room adjacent to Kanika Stupa, where now a beautiful bronze statue is at display. Each year, the statue is unveiled in the month of July, and is marked with the festival of Naro-Nasjal. During this festival, many lamas from the Bardan Monastery perform masked dances as part of their ritual. The festival is celebrated each year between the 15th and 20th of the sixth of Tibetan month with great enthusiasm. Be a part of these celebrations and you will take back with you tons of memories to cherish with your loved ones.

Karsha Monastery Zanskar

KARSHA MONASTERY ZANSKAR

The Karsha Chamspaling Monastery is the largest Monastery in Ladakh and is situated in the Karsha village of Zanskar. It was founded by Phagspa Shesrab, the translator of Zanskar and till date, it is home to over 100 monks. However, this monastery boomed under the efforts of Dorje Shesrab, the teacher in Zanskar.

The Karsha Monastery is surrounded by monasteries of Khagsar, Purang and Phagspa and a nunnery by the name of Dorjezong overlooking the vast expanse of the valley. The Gustor festival in Karsha, is celebrated on the 28th and 29th of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar and the elaborate affair is marked by performances of sacred dances.

The monastery is not just an epitome of religion, but the artistic craftsmanship of the ancient architecture is a sight to behold. The walls of the shrine are beautifully decorated by numerous wall paintings depicting the rich cultural heritage of Tibetan Buddhism, executed by the great Lama Dzadpa Dorje. It is also a sight for Bone relics belonging to Dorje Rinchen. The monastery has 2 enchanting temples in the proximity and are quite popular amongst people seeking divinity and purity.

CASTLE OF TINGMOSGANG

CASTLE OF TINGMOSGANG

The Castle of Tingmosgang was built in the middle of the fifteenth century, during the reign of King Gragpa Bum, the seventeenth king of the empire of Ladakh. He was so smitten by the beauty and picturesque view of the area that he chose Tingmosgang Monastery as the capital of his kingdom. It is situated in one of the largest village of Ladakh and is around 91 km to the west of Leh.

The Tingmosgang Monastery holds great historical and cultural significance. It was here that the treaty of Tingmosgang was signed between Ladakh and Tibet, and even the boundaries between the two countries is astonishingly visible. During this time, the self-originated image of Avalokitesvara from Kamrup was allowed and set up inside the premises of the castle. Today, this magnificent imagery serves as an excellent pilgrimage center, thereby enhancing its popularity amongst the many enticing travel locations pan India. Even prostration has been offered to this imagery by the then Dharmaraja of Ladakh as well as by the entire population of Ladakh.

Just before its inception, there was the Red Chapel ‘Tsuglagkhang Marpo’ with the enchanting imagery of the Buddha Maitreya, as tall as the height of 3 storeys. The monastery is blessed with fresh gush of air, continuous flutter of prayer flags and the aroma of fresh flowers. The palace of the king and temple located right in the center of the village, atop a hill increases its beauty quotient manifold.

Leh Palace And Namgyal Tsemo

LEH PALACE AND NAMGYAL TSEMO

Also popularly known as ‘Lhachen Palkhar’, the Leh Palace was built in the 15th century. It is named after the king Tashi Namgyal, who founded the monastery, and was an ardent follower of Buddhism. The palace is blessed with a scenic landscape, with the view of flowing Indus river, gush of cold air and snow covered peaks of Zanskar mountains.

The Leh palace boasts of a majestic architectural style and has a three-storey tall idol of Maitrieya Buddha made of solid gold. It is also home to statues of Avaloketesvara and Manjushri, nearly one storey high. There is also an old fort in its periphery which is mostly in ruins at present. The nine storey majestic monastery is surrounded by Sankar Monastery, Mani Stupa and a New Monastery with a sacred imagery of Buddha Sakya.

Also present are quite a few temples in the region that are open for tourists during morning and evening. It is a pleasant sight to catch a glimpse of a monk from the Sankar Monastery visit and cater to the butter lamps in front of the images. The walls of the shrine are also decorated with beautiful paintings and manuscripts. The premises includes an assembly hall and magnificent statues of Lord Buddha. The region is as beautiful throughout the year, however the period between the month of June and September is the best time to visit the Leh Palace.

Stongdey Monastery

STONGDEY MONASTERY

The Stongdey Monastery of Ladakh is the second largest monastery in Zanskar and was discovered by Lama Marpa Lotsawa, a famous disciple of Naropa in 1052 CE. It is situated at an approximate distance of 18 kms to the north of Padum, on the road leading to Zangla. The monastery belongs to the Tsongkhapa order and the inscriptions signify the successive rebirths of Nari Tulku.

The monastery overlooks the mesmerizing landscape of towering mountains, prosperous Indus valley and the entire town of Leh. It is home to over 60 monks and is popular for its annual Gustor festival that is characterized by sacred dance performances of local inhabitants. The festival is celebrated on the 28th and 29th day of the eleventh month of the Tibetan calendar and is a pleasant sight to witness.

The Stongdey Gompa in Zanskar has seven exquisite temples in its premises, the walls of which are decorated with beautiful paintings, enhancing the charm of its interiors. Some of them also include paintings of deity outlined in gold in the background. Majority of the Stongdey Monastery comes under the direct governance of Shakya Zangpo and is one of the most spectacular monasteries for a divine retreat.

Bardan Monastery

BARDAN MONASTERY

The Bardan Monastery is one of the most enchanting shrine in Ladakh. It is located nearly 12 kms to the south of Padum and belongs to the Dugpa-Kargyud order. It is blessed with a splendid view atop a hill and gives away the scenic landscape of the city of Leh. It has its roots dated back to the 17th century.

Sani Gompa and quite a few other smaller monasteries come under the direct governance of the Bardan Monastery. The highlight of this enchanting shrine is an imagery of a 2 feet tall Andhra statue of Buddha Maitreya. Also visible are the ruins of an ancient monastery and a stupa that can be seen from the apex of the mountain named Ha-Ha.

The Bardan Monastery has been artistically designed and is well appreciated by tourists from all parts of the world. It boasts of an assembly hall, called the Dukhang, while all other structures are built in the periphery of the assembly hall. Several magnificent statues of Buddha deities and few small stupas made of clay, bronze, wood and copper are preserved in the Dukhang. One can also visit the Monastery of Muney that is at a short distance from the Bardan Monastery and is very popular for its spectacular art treasures.

Basgo Castle

BASGO CASTLE

Basgo Monastery is a popular Buddhist Monastery situated 40 kms from Leh on the route of the Leh-Kargil-Srinagar highway. It was initially built as a fortress and it was the place of authoritative rule of the kingdom of Namgyal. It was also noted as the hub for cultural and political activities in the region.

The highlight of the Basgo Monastery is a gigantic 75 feet tall statue of the future Buddha. Because of its magnificence, the statue also made a mark as one of the many endangered sites of the world by UNESCO in 2001. Since then, the local inhabitants and many historians have pledged and succeeded in preserving the statue kept inside the monastery premise situated on cliffs around 300 m above the ground.

The Basgo Monastery has a spectacular view from a hilltop overlooking the entire expanse of ancient towns. The towering Buddha statue and elaborate murals are the main attractions that enthrall tourists till date. The monastery also witnessed the construction of a palace in the middle of the 15th century.

The scene in the evening is even more breathtaking from the monastery. Experiencing the sight of the spectacular sunset as the golden hues of the rays overshadows the shrine is totally worth a watch.

Chemday Monastery

CHEMDAY MONASTERY

The Chemday Monastery was built in the 17th century by Lama Tagsang Raschen under the majestic guidance of Dharmaraja Singey Namgial. Situated around 40 kms to the east of Leh, this monastery is renowned for its enchanting Buddhist culture and preaching. It is believed that consecutive reincarnations of Lama Tagsang Raschen serve as the incumbents.

The Chemday Monastery belongs to the Dukpa Kargyut Pa sect and is run under the governance of the 6th Skyangon Stagsang Rinpoche. It is believed to have been constructed more than 400 years ago and was initially suggested to serve as a huge monastic community under Shamo Natha. The charming gold plated one-storey tall divine imagery of Padmasambhava is a rare sight that is appealing to the eyes of all.

Home to more than 100 monks inside the arena, the monastery also includes an intriguing museum that was inaugurated by the majestic 12th Gyalwang Drukpa in 2009 and witnesses the presence of thousands of people every year. The Chemday Monastery is also widely popular for its annual festival that takes place on the 28th and 29th days of the ninth month as per the Tibetan calendar. During the festival, sacred dances are performed by the local population in full swing.

LINGSHED MONASTERY

LINGSHED MONASTERY

The Lingshed Monastery is situated in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, about 224 kms south-west of Leh in the Lingshed village. En-route the trekking trail from Lamayuru to Padum Zanskar, this monastery has its roots belonging to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It has a rich heritage and is believed to be as old as a thousand years. It was founded by Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche, and till today, is a home to over 60 monks who prefer to stay here for a divine retreat, giving away all the worldly pleasures of the world.

Staying true to its name, it is also popularly known as ‘Kumbum’ which means ‘A Hundred Thousand Images’. The best thing is that it is headed by the younger sibling of Dalai Lama himself, Ngari Rinpoche. In 2009, the place got a new dimension as Dalai Lama stayed here for a night and preached his disciples about pivotal teachings of the Buddha and enlightened them about the beauty and culture of the Zanskar region.

A large prayer hall inside the monastery, ‘Dhoklang’, includes stunning statues of Buddha, Mahakala and Yamandhaka and over 200 volumes of Tangyur books. It also showcases collection of rare artefacts, murals and manuscripts. The structure is so designed that it is provided with six temples, kitchens, storage rooms and an apartment which is visited by lamas who frequent there often.

The monastery also witnesses the annual celebrations on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar. It is only then that the statue of Yamandhaka is unveiled for the general public. The monastery offers comfortable stay options to tourists within the premises and it is a pleasant experience to interact with the monks and learn about Buddhist philosophy. The period between May and September is most suited to visit this place and experience the divine beauty with great zeal.

STOK PALACE AND MONASTERY

STOK PALACE AND MONASTERY

The Stok Palace and Monastery is a subsidiary of the Spituk monastery. It was founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus somewhere in the 14th century. This monastery is located at a distance of nearly 15 km to the south of Leh. It stems its roots from the yellow-hat-sect of Buddhism and is quite popular for its scenic beauty in the region of Leh-Ladakh.

To this day, the Stok Monastery is home to around 20 monks and nuns. Surprisingly, the oldest portion of the monastery is as old as 500 years, while the assembly hall has been constructed relatively recently, around 50 years ago. This assembly hall, or the Dukhang was refurbished and repainted, not a very long ago, and showcases an exquisite collection of thangkas and stunning paintings. The verandah houses vibrant friezes, personifying the Guardians of all Four Directions we live in.

There is also a small chapel outside the assembly hall that is deemed to be one of the oldest piece of architecture inside the Stok Monastery of Leh. The key highlight is the central imagery of Tsong-kha-pa, the founder of the yellow-hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Also found are the images of the four-armed manifestation of Avalokitesvara and Maityreya, also known as ‘The Buddha of Compassion’. Another chapel in the vicinity boasts of many Buddha images, with the stunning depiction of his eight hand gestures.

A striking feature of the Stok Monastery is its own library, with an entire set of 108 volumes of Buddha’s teaching, or Kandshur, a term popular amongst the locals there. Also, the Gompa is marked by an annual festival on the 9th and 10th day of the first month of the Tibetan Calendar, which is celebrated in the form of sacred mask dance rituals.

WANLA MONASTERY

WANLA MONASTERY

The Wanla Monastery is amongst the most enchanting Buddhist Monasteries situated on the ridge that overlooks the Wanla village in Ladakh, around 65 kms from Leh. With its inception dated back to around 1000 A.D, the main building is flanked by two shattered tower remnants over a 14th century fortress. The monastery is believed to be built around the same time as the monasteries at Alchi by Lhotsava Rin-chen-bZang-Po. Today, it is considered to be one of the few blessed Gompas in the region and attracts large number of tourists every year.

The Wanla Monastery is a part of the Lamayuru Monastery and is situated in its proximity. It is one of the 108 monasteries that were built during 958-1055 AD, under the reign of the then King of Ladakh. The task of carrying out of everyday rituals and granting entry to the temple lies in the hands of a caretaker monk, the glimpse of whom can be seen in the early hours of the day.

The monastery boasts of a three-storey tall image of 11-headed Avalokitesvara. It also showcases exquisite collection of paintings of Buddha, Bodhisattvas and Mandalas. The monastery includes three main structures, each designed specially in its own unique way. The upper level remains ventilated with small windows for allowing the light to pass, while the ventilation in the lower level is done through cut out holes in the center of the roof. The artistic architecture is worth a visit and has captivated tourists every single day.