Monasteries

The many monasteries of Ladakh are a main attraction for many visitors. Many cling by their toes to the sides of precipices or perch atop rocky outcrops. Others lie near the verdant settlements amongst apricot trees, rose bushes and flower gardens, which provide a riot of summer blooms.

The monastic communities belong to various orders, and there are differing philosophical and ritualistic traditions. All integrate the local pre-Buddhist deities of the Bon tradition, as well as other influences and teachings. Buddhist tales are illustrated alongside ancient myths and legends in the beautifully colorful murals inside the monasteries.

The tradition really comes to life during the monastic festivals, with their masked dances, although most of these take place during the winter months. Tantric rituals involving drums and cymbals are designed to drive off evil presences. Other figures in richly decorated masks exhort listeners to remain true to the teachings and delightful children’s dances lend a light-hearted atmosphere.

Apart from these celebratory high-points of the year, monastic life is peaceful. The days of the monks are filled with work, prayer, meditation, study, philosophical debate and teaching. The ancient writings that have been handed down in the form of thankas, carefully stored in silk cloths, form the basis for religious discussion. The elders in the strict hierarchy govern who is entitled to take part in the philosophical debates, as well as other aspects of monastic life.

Ladakh provides an escape from the hectic pace of modern western life, on the roof of the world. Even the peace of monastic life can be experienced. lease contact us for details; just tell us your main interests and how many weeks (months) you would like to tour around Ladakh’s culture!

Visiting some of the historic monuments and major Buddhist monasteries (gompas), is a major draw of Ladakh. The Indus valley, particularly the stretch from Upshi to Khalse, which is the region's historic heartland, is dotted with all the major sites connected with the former kingdom’s dynastic history. Some of the main monasteries in and around Leh can be visited easily.

Leh palace

Built in 17th century by the greatest of the Ladakhi kings, Singge Namgyal, the nine-storied Royal palace is traditionally built. Its form resembles that of the Potala palace in Lhasa, also situated on a hill, in the heart of a city – in this case, Tsemo Hill, overlooking the city of Leh.

The palace was later abandoned when Kashmiri forces besieged it in the mid-19th century. The royal family moved their premises to Stok palace.

 

Leh Palace

Spituk Monastery

Spituk monastery is built on a rocky hill on the right bank of the Indus. It is one of the most influential monasteries of the “yellow hat” or Gelugpa-sect, and was built in the 15th century on the ruins of an 11th century gompa. Meanwhile, Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo (the great translator) visited this monastery. In those days the gompa belonged to the Kadampa School but Gelugpa order was introduced during the reign of king Dragspa Bum-Lde, when Lama Lhawang Lotus restored the monastery. The "Spituk Gustor" takes place in the courtyard of the monastery, on the 18th and 19th of the 11th month of Tibetan Calendar.

Sankar

Sankar monastery and the village of the same name are tucked away deep in a valley to the north of Leh. It is associated with its sister monasteries far south in Spituk Valley, belonging as it does to the Gelugpa order or the yellow sect.

It is also the residence of the greatly revered Kushok Bakula who, apart from being the head of the principal monastery of Spituk, is also the most senior in the hierarchy of the incarnate Lamas of Ladakh.

Sankar village

Stok gompa and palace

Stok, 14 km southeast of Leh, is a present-day residence of  Ladakhi royal family. The three days trek from Stok to Spituk and the 8 day Markha Valley trek both start here.

King Tsespal Tondup Namgyal built Stok palace & Museum in the year 1825, following Zorawar Singh's annexation of Ladakh. The royal family has resided here since Ladakh lost to Zorawar Singh. The palace houses an exhibition of royal dresses, old Thankas, crowns etc. that is open for visitors. Gurphuk gompa, a branch of Spituk Monastery, is a short walk away from the palace, and is famous for its festival, "Guru Tsechu", held on the 9th and 10th days of the 1st month of the Tibetan Calendar.

Shey gompa and palace

Shey, around 15 km south of Leh was the seat of power of the first king of Ladakh, Lhachen Spalgigon, who constructed the hill-top fortress. The ruins can be seen further above the present Shey palace.

The palace is surrounded by hundreds of Chortens (stupas), and neighbors Dresthang gompa, which is attached to the Thiksey Monastery. King Deldan Namgyal built Shey palace at the beginning of the 17th century AD.

The main image in the monastery is the three-storey copper-plated statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, which was made by Deldan Namgyal in memory of his father Singay Namgyal. The statue is the only one of its kind in the region.

Dresthang gompa near the palace was built during the reign of king Singay Namgyal, and hosts a three-storey statue of Buddha.

The "Shey Srubla" festival is also celebrated here at Dresthung gompa. The Rock-carved statues of five Buddhas that can be seen below the palace on the roadside were probably carved during the reign of Singay Namgyal.

Chulichan

Around 1 ½ km below the main gompa at Chulichan, you will find another, female gompa-population. These nuns provide food and clothes to the monks, as well as attending to their own practice, including morning and evening prayers etc. 

Thiksey Monastery

Thiskey gompa, 17 km south of Leh, is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the monasteries in Ladakh. It belongs to the Gelugpa order. The gompa was first founded at Stakmo by Sherab Zangpo. Later his nephew, Paldan Sherab, established the Thiskey gompa on a hilltop to the north of Indus River.

The Thiksey festival (Thiksey Gustor) is held in October or November. Around 80 monks reside here at present.

Dukhang Karmo is a vast, long assembly hall, which hosts the statue images of Shakyamuni and Maitreya Buddha. Near the gompa’s upper inner courtyard, Chamkhang contains the newly-constructed three-storey Maitreya Buddha.

At the top, Dukhang is the setting for images of thousand-armed Avaloketesvara, Shakyamuni Buddha and Bodhisattavas.  Gonkhang contains the statues of Vajra Bhairava, Mahakala & Dharmakaya, the goddess Paldan Lhamo and Cham-sring.

Alchi

Alchi Choskor, "Religious Enclave", is 69 km west of Leh.  This most famous and largest of all the gompas was built by Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo. He appointed four families to look after Choskor, as there was no established monastic community there.  Later, in the 15th century, Choskor was taken over by the Likir gompa and it has enjoyed that patronage of Likir gompa ever since. The monastery consists of Dukhang (The Assembly hall), Sumtsek Lhakhang (The Three-Storied Building), the Lhakhang Soma (The New Temple), Jamyang Lhakhang (The Munjushri Temple), Lotsava Lhakhang (The Translators Temple) and Kangur Lhakhang. The sculptors and wood carvers are said to have been brought from Kashmir in or around the 11th Century.

Hemis Monastery

The Hemis Monastery is around 45 km south of Leh. It is one of the largest and most famous monasteries, and belongs to the Drukpa order. The monastery founded by the first incarnation of Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso in 1630.

He was invited to Ladakh by a King Singey Namgail, who offered him a religious estate throughout the region. The King’s youngest son, Nawang Namgail, became a monk and his name was changed to Zamling Drags. The Monastery was named Changchub Samling and the community was established. The Hemis festival is held in the month of June.

Matho gompa

Matho gompa, around 26 km south-east of Leh, is the only gompa belonging to the Saskya order. It was founded by Lama Tungpa Dorjay in the 16th century and the gompa was named Thupstan-Sharling Choskor.

In order to encourage the nascent Monastic community, the king offered the religious communities estates in neighboring villages and the Nag-Rang festival was established.  This is still held on 14th and 15th day of the Tibetan calendar.

Rizong

Rizong lies around 73 km west of Leh, to the north of the Indus river and Uleytokpo village. It is beautifully set in the valley, in a gorge and is home to the most isolated monastery in Ladakh, which was founded by Lama Tsultim Nima about 137 years ago.

Chemre

45 km from Leh towards the Changla pass, the Chemre gompa and Chemre Village are perched on a high rock. The gompa is supposed to have been built in the 17th century by Stagtsang Raspa under the royal patronage of Sengge Namgyal. This monastery belongs to the Drugpa Kargyudpa or “Red hat” order.

Stakna

Stakna means "the tiger nose".  25 km south of Leh, it is a small monastery comprising a few dozen monks, which was founded during the reign of King Jamyang Namgyal in 1580, by saint Chosje Jamyang Palkhar.

The most important statue in the monastery is said to be of Arya Avaloketesvara. The monasteries like the one in Sani, Bardan and Stakrimo, in Zangskar are branches of this monastery.

Likir gompa

Likir (the Naga-Encircled), around 53km west of Leh, belongs to the Gelugpa Order. The Alchi Monastery is a branch of Likir. Lama Durwang Chosje founded this monastery in 1065 A.D. during the reign of king Lhachen Gyalpo. It was named 'Klu-Khil-GA-Ladan-Dar-Rgyas-Ling' and hosts a monastic festival, Likir Dosmochey, on the 28th & 29th days of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar. The newly-built future Buddha, (Maitreya) of Likir is the tallest statue in Ladakh, at 70 ft/ 21 m.

Takthog

50 km east of Leh is Takthog, meaning “rock roof”, since the roof and walls of the gompa are all made of rock. It is said that in 8th century Padmasambhava stopped here to meditate, while on his way to Tibet.

Takthog monastery is built around this cave.  It is the only Nyingmapa monastery in the whole of Ladakh. The Nyingmapa is the oldest of the Tibetan monastic orders, and lays emphasis on secret tantric teachings.

 

Takthog, © JL Taillefer, France

Phyang

Phyang, 17 km west of Leh, is perched incredibly on the hilltop. The gompa belongs to Dregungpa order. It was founded by Chosje Danma Kunga, during the reign of King Jamyang Namgyal in the 16th century AD. It has about 50 monks in residence. Phyang also has a festival called 'Phyang Tseruk' on the 2nd & 3rd days of the 6th month of Tibetan Calendar.

Basgo palace

Basgoo "Basgoo Rabtan Chartsekher", to the west of Leh, was built by Kings Jamyang Namgyal and Singey Namgyal in 16th Century AD. Singey Namgyal is responsible for the three-storey copper-plated Maitreya Buddha, which serves as a memorial for his father Jamyang Namgyal.

Shanti Stupa

The Japanese for World Peace built the Shanti Stupa, at Changspa, on the hilltop, and was inaugurated by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama in 1985. Its state of the art work attracts a lot of tourists to Ladakh and is spectacular to watch.

Gompa Soma (Jokhang), Leh

The Ladakh Buddhist Association in 1957 built the small gompa opposite to SBI, in the main bazaar, which is open throughout the day for visitors. The gompa contains a statue of Joyo Rinpochey (crowned Buddha).

Tsemo in Leh

King Gragspa Bum-Lde built the "Red gompa" known as Tsemo gompa in 1430 AD. The monument has three-storied Maitreya Buddha's statue and a one-storied statue of Avaloketesvara and Manjushri. The Tsemo Sungbum Chenmo (sacred text) was written in gold and silver,

   

Tisuru Stupa consist of 108 temples, which were remarkable work completed in the reign of king Graspa-Bum-Lde. The Namgyal Tsemo (victory Peak) was built by King Tashi Namgyal after the reunification of upper and lower Ladakh and victory over Hor. Their (Hor) bodies are placed under the image of Mahakala, the guardian deity to stop further invasion of Hor.

The Leh palace known as 'Lechen Palkhar' was built by Singay Namgyal in the beginning of 17th Century A.D. The nine-storied palace is now deserted, and the ASI (Archeological Survey Of India) has taken up the renovation work.

Mangyu Monastery

Mangu is situated to the south of Uletokpo and around two hours walk west of Alchi. Taking this track, you cross the Indus by a means of a small bridge and, passing Gera village, you enter a deep gorge. The track ascends on the right bank of the stream, before crossing to the left, after sharp turn. After around two and a half hours’ walk, Mangu Village comes to sight, picturesquely standing on the foothills, above the ravine. Mangu gompa is constructed on flat land, like Alchi and Tabo Monasteries. The great translator Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo probably founded this monastery during the same period as the foundation Alchi Choskor. The monastery comprises four temples. The smaller temples, on either side of the main temple, house statues of Avaloketesvara and Maitriya in the standing posture. The right-hand temple has a central statue of a four-headed Vairocana. The wall has Mandala murals.

Sumda Chun Monastery

Sumda Chun gompa is around 65 km southwest of Leh. One can approach it by means of a motorable road as far as Sumda. One then continues on foot, following a track that ascends through a gorge to the west, along the left bank of the stream. At one point, the track crosses to the right bank and the ascent becomes little more difficult. One or two houses are passed on the way before another gorge appears on the right.  Follow this to the Sumda Chun Monastery (a path to the left leads to Sumda Chenmo). The track follows a stream that has been planted with willow. After an hour’s walk the monastery is visible above the village houses.

 

The Sumda Chun Monastery was probably founded during the period of Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo, together with Alchi Choskor and Mangu gompas. The monastery comprises of three temples. The assembly hall’s central image is of four-headed Vairocana, and its altar is notably exquisitely decorated. The wall has murals of four Buddhas, namely Ratnasambhava, Akshokhya, Amitabha, Amogasiddhi and Vairocana.

Temisgam palace

Tingmosgang is situated in a valley, to the north of the Indus River and around 92 km west of Leh, along the Likir to Khalsey trekking route. King Gragspa Bum, younger brother of Gragspa Bum-Lde, who was ruling over Sham, built the Tingmosgang palace. A fortress wall encircles the palace.

Lamayuru Monastery

The Lamayuru "Yungdrung" gompa is remarkably built atop a rocky outcrop, around 125 km west of Leh, on the Leh -Srinagar highway. Lamayuru belongs to the Drigunpa order of Tibetan Buddhism. The history of the monastery begins with the visit of Arahat Nimagung to this place, when there was nothing there but a lake.

It is said that Arahat made a prophecy that "a monastery will grow up at this spot" and he made offerings (of prayers and grains of corn) to the Nagaserpent spirits.

The corns mixed with the earth and formed in the shape of Swastika (Yungdrung), whence the monastery later came to be known as Yungdrung gompa.

The Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo constructed a temple here in 11th Century. Naropa also visited Lamayuru and meditated here.

The Gelugpa or Kadampa school of Tibetan Buddhism initially patronised Lamayuru, but later; it was later taken over by the Digungpa Order. Its monastic festival is called "Yuru Kabgyat", and takes place on 17th and 18th days of the 5th month of the Tibetan Calendar.

Deskit Monastery

Lama Shesrab Zangpo of Stod founded the Deskit gompa around 1420 AD during the reign of king Dragspa. Approximately 100 monks reside here. This monastery is a branch of Thiksey Monastery. The monastic festival, called Gustor, takes place on the 20th and 29th days of the 12th month of the Tibetan Calander.

Korzok gompa

The original name of this monastery is 'Thupstan Sningpo Druprgout Standar Chosling”. It was founded between 1851-1861 by Lama Kunga Lodos Snyingbo and sponsored by head of Rupsho Tsering Tashi Namgyal. The main statue in the gompa is of Shakyamuni Buddha's, Guru Snang-Sret-Zinlnon, Statue of first incarnation of Stagtsang 'Nawang-gyatso' and copper gilt Opakmed statue.