(Monasteries) in Ladakh
A typical character of the monasteries is that each
monastery has a courtyard where main rituals in gathering are performed or yearly festivals are celebrated. The walls of stones which are inscribed with prayers and religious figures are called mani
walls. On the outer walls one can notice the lines of
‘prayer wheels’. Prayer wheels are wood and metal cylinders with prayers written on the long pieces of paper inside. Every rotation of teach cylinder is
equated to prayers written on the paper and are sent to Buddha. This is the reason that the pilgrimage keep on rotating the cylinders. There are also many Stupas (know as chortens). Stupas
are are shrines containing relics of some religious
Small prayer wheels can also be bought as souvenirs in the shops. All religious instrument are sacred and are to be taken care with respect.
Mostly inside the monasteries, the walls are decorated with paintings and thangkas
and some of the monasteries also have a collection of
precious manuscripts, many statues of Buddha as well
as musical instruments and colorful masks which are
used for ceremonies and at the time of festivals.
Every monastery has many prayer flags on which prayers
are written and they are fixed horizontal or vertical
so that they have maximum exposure to wind and flatter
at every blow of wind. The flags flattered by the wind
- multiplied by the time prayers are written on them -
are conveyed to Lord Buddha.
These flags also pay an important role for the outer
decoration of a monastery and create the religious
atmosphere. In Ladakh, monasteries are traditional
centres of culture, religious activities as well as of
power. Monasteries are also owe big lands. The
Monasteries in Ladakh earlier depended only on the
donations from the villagers. Now most of them are
charging a small amount as entry fee which is used for
the maintenance and restoration work. The visitor
should keep in mind that they are not visiting a
museum but a religious place. Visitors are expected to
wear dresses that do not expose their body too much.
Visitors should remove their shoes before entering the
monastery and should not eat, drink or smoke. The
mural, paintings and other religious objects and
decorative parts should no be touched. One should
photograph only if this is allowed as per the
Guidelines (like avoid flashlights).
On the way from Kargil to Leh, you
will visit the Lamayuru monastery, one of the mysterious and the oldest
monastery of Ladakh. The Lamayuru monastery is situated about 10 kms from Leh, on a big rock overlooking the Indus River. It is believed that one of the great Tibetan teachers, Norapa, meditated here for several
years. Like all other Ladakh monasteries, it is also a complex of
buildings with shrines dedicated to different gods and
incarnations of Lord Buddha. The complex, thought to be the oldest in the region, was founded in the 11th century and belongs to the Tibetan Kagyupa sect. It was party destroyed in the 19th
century. Some of the murals, however, which are a combination of Indian and Tibetan styles have been preserved. The main hall
of this monastery is very impressive and is
worth a visit. There are caves carved out of the
mountain wall and some of the rooms are richly
furnished with carpets, Tibetan tables and butter
The village of Alchi is situated around 70 km from Leh
on the left banks of the Indus river.
The village has been described as one of the monastic jewels of Ladakh.
The village Alchi differentiate itself from other villages of Ladakh by being so lush green. Now most of the small houses are made of bricks. You will be
welcomed by a smile by the people in the streets. The main road at both side is covered by the Apricot trees. It is a normal sight
to see the donkeys (Mules) laden with wares and building
material during the summers when all the activities are at their peak. The Alchi region too received cultural influence from other areas. Alchi had contacts with Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism, however the Alchi’s isolation
helped the village and the Gompa to keep their culture and traditions intact. Alchi was also on the main trade route of central Asia. The route along the Indus via Leh was connected to the
The main centre of
attraction in the Alchi village is the Alchi Gompa (monastery
and temple complex). The Alchi monastery dates back to nearly one thousand
years and so the effect of the Tibetan influence can be seen in the local culture. Since last 500 years, the religion is not practiced in the Alchi monastery.
Over a period of time the Yellow hat sect (Gelugpa) shifted the religious activities to another place which is 30 kms away, known as Likir. The
surrounding of the Gompa offers a very friendly atmosphere for the visitors as there are small restaurants, tea stalls
and as well as souvenir shops welcoming the tourists. The visitors
who have a very less time to visit Leh can have an excursion
to the Alchi monastery.
How to reach Alchi:
The nearest airport is located at Leh, about 70 km from Alchi.
Alchi is situated about 541 km from Manali and 364 km from Srinagar.
Where to stay in Alchi:
During peak season, some of the guesthouses operate in Alchi. Alternatively, accommodation can
also be booked in Leh.
The monastery of Hemis is situated on a green hill, surrounded by spectacular mountains. Hemis is
situated around 45 kms in the south of Leh on the west bank of the Indus
river. The Hemis monastery is the biggest monastery of Ladakh. It is not visible from the road as it is located in a side valley. The monastery is decorated
on all the four
sides by the colourful prayer flags which flutter in the breeze and send the prayers to
Lord Buddha. The main
building has white walls. The entrance to the complex is through a big gate
which reaches to a big
courtyard. During the festival time, the religious dances are performed in this
courtyard. The stones of
the walls are decorated and also painted with the religious figures. On
the north side there are two assembly halls which are accessed
by the stairs.
As in most of the monasteries one can see here also the guardian deities and the Wheel of Life. Both of them are in good condition.
The Hemis monastery also has an important library of Tibetan styles books and a very impressive and valuable collection of thangkas. One of the largest
also displayed every 11 year during the festival time. Hemis can be visited from Leh
comfortably in one day if one is traveling by car or jeep.
Hemis High Altitude National Park:
Hemis High Altitude National Park
is another attraction in Hemis. The park covers 600 square km and contains some rare species of flora and fauna. Snow
leopard, ibex, Bharal and Shapu are some of the rare and endangered species.
Phyang monastery is located around 6 km away from the
Srinagar-Leh highway and around 20 kms. from Leh, the
capital of Ladakh. The Phyang Gompa (Monastery) is a
traditional monastery of Ladakh and is famous for its
spectacular religious festival with masked dances.
This monastery being on the hilltop resembles quite
like the monastery of Likir. The Phyang Monastery was
built in the 16th century and belongs to the Red Cap
sect. The festival of Phyang is called Tseruk' and
falls on the 2nd and 3rd day of the 6th month of
Tibetan Calendar. The Phyang Monastery was the
first monastery, which introduced the Degungpa
teaching of 'Skyob Jigsten Gonbo' in Ladakh. These
teaching were introduced by Chosje Danma Kunga, during
16th century AD
as King Jamyang Namgyal ruled.
of Phyang is the museum. This ancient 900 years old
museum has a spectacular collection of Chinese,
Tibetan and Mongolian articles including fire arms and
weapons. After a recent renovation the monastery is
worth visiting. Travellers can also make a visit to
the Phyang lake just a few kilometers away.
Shey is the oldest capital of Ladakh from where its earliest Tibetan kings ruled. The Monastery or Gompa of Shey is located ideally on a high rock
about 15 kms. south of Leh on the eastern banks of the Indus
river. Until the 16th century, Shey was the royal residence.
One of the attraction of the Shey is the victory stupa which is topped with gold. As there was attack from the Dogra
military the royal family moved to Stock in order to escape.
Much of the palace and fort have fallen into ruins. But on the
eastern side there are extensivea large number of chortens.
The Gompa of Shey along with Thikse is regarded as an auspicious place for cremation. The palace Gompa has a 12 meter high Maitreya Buddha (Buddha
of future) which was commissioned by Senge Namgyal. This
figure is made of copper and brass and glided and studded
richly with precious gem stones. As the Shey monastery is not
grounds with in regular use, it is opened only in the early hours, normally from 07 till 09 AM. It is advised to leave early from Leh to visit the Shey monastery without being under time pressure. The palace museum of the
Shey has collection of beautiful
royal costumes and jewellery, rare thangkas (Thangkas are religious themes and icons painted and embroidered on cloth), porcelain, jade, weapons and
Spituk is yet another interesting monastery,
about 8 kms. from Leh on Srinagar road. The Spituk monastery
offers a commanding view of Indus. It has a totally new Gompa within the monastery as well as the old Gompa has also been restored meanwhile. Higher
up in the hill is a chamber which houses the enormous statue
of goddess. Its face is covered and uncovered only once in a
year during the festival time. The Spituk Gompa was founded in 11th century by
Od-De the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub-od, the Gompa named Spituk (which means exemplary).
As the great Rinchen Zangpo translator came to this place and he predicted that exemplary religious community would rise.
Initially the Gompa was run according to the Kadampa
school then during the reign of
king Gragspa Bumide he converted it to Gayluk Pa
order. Many icons of Buddha and 5 thangkas can be
visited in this 15th century monastery. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms, and
an inspiring image of Mahakala. Every year, on the 17th and
19th day of the 11th of the Bodhi month, the Gelukpa order of monks celebrate the festival of Spituk known as
During the festival, the lamas wear the masks of religious deities
and perform the dances, which is normally about good and evil and mythological stories related
to the Buddhism.
situated about 10 kms south of Leh, on the west banks of the Indus
river and close to the Choglamsar bridge. Stok is more a Palace than the monastery.
palace was built in 1825 by king Tsespal Tondup Namgyal as there were invasions by the Dogra forces. The last kind died in 1974.
The rest of the family including his son continued to use the palace and the prince
was coroneted soon.
Stok Palace has now become the home of the erstwhile royal
family. The Palace Museum at Stok has wonderful
royal thangkas, royal crowns, dresses, coins, precious stones and turquoise head dresses (still used by Ladakh
women as their traditions). The visiting hours of this museum
is from 0700 – 1800.
is situated about 17 kms. from Leh. It is a old monastery
which is around 600 years old and at the same time one of the
largest monasteries of Ladakh. As most of the monasteries in
Ladakh, Thiksey is also situated in picturesque surroundings
on a hill-top. The location of the monastery offers grand view
of the Sindh Valley below. The monastery has around 10 temples
which are full of interesting figures and other religious
objects. Around 100 monks of the yellow hat sect reside in
this monastery. Just after the main entrance one can see a
large statue of Buddha. This Buddha statue was constructed
under the guidance of the present local head lama. This statue
is 15 meters tall and was built in the year 1980. This statue
of Buddha is the largest Buddha figure in Ladakh which took
four years to built. The statue is made of clay and covered
with gold paint. This wonderful Buddha statue was made
entirely by the local craftsmen and represents Maitreya (the
Buddha of future). The walls of the monastery is full with the
religious figures, murals, Tibetan calendars and with the
wheel of life. There is also a prayer room which contains many
books, some of these books are handwritten or painted. Block
printing is a recent modern addition to the hand written work.
In the main prayer hall there is a image of Sakyamuni (the
past Buddha) with two Bodhisattava. This image is one of the
main attraction. On the left hand one can see the image of the
eleven- headed Avalokitashwara (a form of Buddha). On the roof
top of the monastery there is a temple which can be visited
only by men. On the top floor there is also a library which
contains numerous volumes of Kangyur (Buddhas teaching) and
Stangyur (comments on Buddha's teaching) texts. Above the
temple there is a narrow room used as classroom of the school
which also belongs to the monastery. Main religious Lamas here
are the teachers who teach the children Buddhist religion and
in future some of the children would be selected to become
lamas. Earlier it was a tradition in Ladakh that the families
would donate one son, normally the elder one, to the local
monastery to become the lama. But, in these days, however due
to the impact of modern life this tradition has almost
During the festival of Thiksey monastery, the religious dances
are performed. These dances are known as Cham or mask dances.
These colourful Cham dances are an important part of the
Buddhist culture. In these dances, important religious stories
are told and the victory of good over devil is celebrated.
This is also an annual occasion for the villagers to be
together. These festivals are related to other social
activities like planning the marriages etc. The festival of
the Thiksy monastery takes place every year on the ninth
months of Tibetan calendar. Thiksey Monastery is also known
for making the Mandalas. At the Thiksey monastery, the Lamas
make Mandala three times in a year. Natural colours like the
powder of the crushed stones are used. The specialty of the
Thiksey Monastery is sand Mandala as it may take many days to
produce them and once finished they put the sand in the water
which symbolizes the cycle of life.
The Thiksey monastery community has a school which is run by
the monastery management. It not only includes the knowledge
of Buddhism but also other subjects including the computer
operation are taught. Children from poor families are provided
free education. The Monastery also take care that the children
and other lamas have food as well as medical assistance.