The monasteries of Ladakh are one of the reasons for visiting the mystical land. As I have always mentioned in my previous posts, Leh is a place that never fails to amaze its visitors. Be the landscapes or the rugged mountains or the mystic monasteries. Here is another list, if you are looking for an inspiration to visit Leh, Ladakh.
Ladakh is mainly inhabited by the people of Tibetan descent. So rich is the influence of the Tibetan culture on the lifestyle of the people of Ladakh, it is often called the “little Tibet”. Monasteries and gompas are strewn across Ladakh. Most of them are built on hillocks and are a treat to the architecture enthusiast. Not to forget, the majestic view these monasteries offer, they are a treat for the photographers as well.
# 1. Mulbek monastery
As you are entering Ladakh by the Srinagar-Leh highway, you get a glimpse of what is in store for you. About 45 kms from Kargil, at Mulbek, stands the Mulbek monastery. The Mulbek monastery stands with two gompas and a 9 metre tall statue of Maitreya Buddha. The monastery has some priceless statues and frescoes.
# 2. Lamayuru monastery
The Lamayuru monastery is the oldest and one of the largest monasteries of Ladakh region. A few kilometers after the Fotu La on the Srinagar-Leh highway, the first view of the Lamayuru Monastery is enough to mesmerize anyone. The striking architecture is the resident of about 400 monks. Legend has it that Lamayuru was once a lake. A lama blessed the place and the lake receded to give space for the construction of the monastery. The monastery houses a rich collection of paintings and thangkas. Every year on the 17th and the 18th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, a holy masked dance is performed by the monks of the monastery.
Lamayuru is also known as the moon land. On a full moon night, the valley beside the monastery gets a silvery hue due to the moonlight falling. Lamayuru is one of the most majestic structures of Leh.
# 3. Hemis monastery
The best place to revere the ancient artifacts and relics of Buddhism is the Hemis Monastery. It is the largest monastery in Leh situated some 45 km from the Leh city on the western banks of the Indus river at the Leh-Manali highway. The monastery has a amazing collection of various statues, paintings and thangkas.
Hemis festival is an annual festival held in the month of June to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. In this festival, the monks perform dance wearing colourful dress and masks. Hemis festival is a spectacle worth watching.
# 4. Thiksey Monastery
Experience the tranquility of Leh at the Thiksey monastery. About 17 km from Leh town, Thiksey stands as an imposing structure and provides a perfect example of Ladakhi architechture.
It is a smaller version of Potala Palace of Lhasa in Tibet. The 12 storey monastery complex contains numerous stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings, swords and a large pillar engraved with the Lord Buddha’s teachings.
The main prayer hall has a 50 feet tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha. The monks are quite friendly and will patiently tell you about the history of the place. The Maitreya Buddha is seated in lotus position and the murals behind the statues depict the scenes from his life which is the future.
There is also a temple dedicated to Goddess Tara here. The Thiksey Gustor Festival is held here during the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar when the sacred mask or Cham dances are performed by resident monks and nuns as a part of a ritual.
# 5. Alchi Monastery
Alchi Monastery is one of my favourites. The unique feature of this monastery is built on flat ground instead of hilltop. Also this Gompa contains plenty small images and idols of Lord Buddha. The monastery was built around the 12th century and is believed to be one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh. Alchi has the oldest and the rarest collection of thangkas.
The Bollywood movies Dil Se and Tashan was shot at Alchi.
# 6. Likir Monastery
Likir Monastery stands at one of the most picturesque locations. A giant Buddha statue is placed outside the monastery building.
Likir, originally called Lu-Khyil (water spirits circled) owes its name to the Nagas (water spirits) who once lived there. Likir Das-mo-che or the Likir festival is held annually from the 27th to the 29th of the 12th Tibetan month.
# 7. Diskit Monastery
Enjoy the view of the imposing Diskit monastery at one of the cold deserts of the world. As you traverse the pitch black roads beside the white sands, you will see the imposing structure of the old Diskit monastery as well as the gigantic statue of the Maitreya Buddha standing tall. Feel the calmness of the place and bask in the varied landscapes of the enchanting Nubra Valley.
The Diskit Monastery is about 350 years old and the murals and paintings of the monastery are sure to bewitch you. And after your visit to the old monastery, come to the Maitreya Buddha statue 106 feet in height. It is as if Lord Buddha oversees each and everyone and everything in the valley.
# 8. Spituk Monastery
Feel the tranquility of the location at the Spituk Monastery. Located about 7 km from Leh very near to the Leh airport, the Indus flows beside the monastery. A reflection of the gompa in the clear waters of the river is sure to leave you stunned. The monastery was founded in the 11 th century. The monastery was named “Spituk” meaning exemplary by the great translator of Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo. The old gompa has been carefully restored while a new complex has been contructed within the monastery. The largest building, the Dukhang Hall, has seating along the wall with a throne at the far end. A little higher up the hill is the temple of Goddess Vajrabhairva. The statue of the Goddess is kept covered throughout the year and is unveiled only during the Spituk festival which is held in the eleventh month of the Tibetan calendar. The monks perform dances wearing colourful dresses and masks depicting the life of Buddha.
# 9. Phugtal Monastery
Phugtal or Phuktal monastery is the remotest monastery at the Zanskar region in Ladakh. The monastery stands at the mouth of lateral gorge of the Lungnak or Lingti-Tsarap River and looks like a honeycomb nestled between the cliffs. The monastery can be reached only by foot adding to its grandeur and mystery.
Many other monasteries, gompas and chortens are strewn across Ladakh. These monasteries located in serene locations are sure to remove all your stress and help you to connect with your inner self if you want. These monasteries are the best places to see, learn and understand the history and culture of Ladakh. So while your visit to Ladakh, do keep these monasteries in your itinerary.