Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Buddhist Monasteries Around Leh

Thiksey Monastery

Most dominant religion in Ladakh is Buddhism. The Buddhist temples, called Gonpas or Gompas in local language, are visible most prevalently in Central and Eastern region of Ladakh. From layman’s point of view, the barren hills, interspaced with multi-storied Gompas, break the monotony and give it a spectacular look. A visit to Gompa entails climbing a few hundred steps, to reach the worshipping place, where gigantic Buddha statue, decorated exquisitely, takes one’s breath way. The prayer hall walls have Thankas or paintings on scrolls, giving the visitor an insight to Buddhist religion. The entry to prayer hall, will have more often than not, murals or wall paintings, some of which may be centuries old.
Prayer Wheel At Leh
The prayer wheel, found at every destination in Ladakh, is drum shaped, pivoted along vertical axis, on surface of which the Buddhist prayers are inscribed. The normal practice is to rotate the prayer wheel in clock-wise direction when viewed from top, which implies that the prayers have been read. 
Chortens At Shey
Near Gompas, one observes, Chortens also known as stupas, which are built around sacred relics of religious heads of Buddhism.  Mani walls are stone structures, found around Gompas, which are carved with Buddhist inscriptions. Mani Stones are stone tablets, inscribed with mantra or devotional designs, found on wayside to monastery. 
Mani Stone At Shey
On 25th May 2010, we took the opportunity to acclimatize ourselves further in high altitude destination, after previous day’s arrival at Leh, by availing of jeep safari covering monasteries of Shey, Thiksey, Hemis and Stok. Shey is located  15 km south of Leh, in a small village, on the bank of river Indus. Gompa building, viewed from road looks elegant, clutching to the rugged mountain side. 
Shey Monastery
The prime attraction is 17.5 meter high Maitreya Buddha, which is made with copper and brass and decorated beautifully with gem stones.  Around the Buddha idol, ancient, religious, range of artifacts, paintings and Thankas catch our attention. 
Maitreya Buddha At Shey
The Buddhist monk in his red robe seated nearby was intently reciting from the religious scriptures and tapping simultaneously by means of a curved stick, on a vertical circular drum making a rhythmic sound, interspaced with metallic sound from giant cymbals, emanating from somewhere, giving a divine dimension to the prayer hall.
Buddhist Monk At Shey
The entrance road to the Gompa is lined with large number of small sized Buddhist prayer wheels. The scene around this place is one of the best I have seen at Ladakh. There is a small pond named as ‘Holy Fish Pond’, full of black and white ducks gliding elegantly on water surface. The rows of chortens nearby, beautifully painted, blends with lush green environs, as far as eyes could go. The distant snow peaks, the fresh green meadows, nurtured by melting snow in early summer, is an eye soother. One can perhaps spend a full day here by soaking into the nature. 

At about 19 km south of Leh, slightly on the eastern side is Thiksey Monatery. Thiksey will remain one of the most picturesque, best maintained monastery in Ladakh. From the base of the hill on which it is located, the multistoried gompa structure, a grand view, impresses one and all. The winding asphalt road along a gentle upward gradient leading to Gompa, give a side view, which is even more impressive as seen in following frame.


Thiksey Monastery Side View
As we walk through the well decorated arched gate, the museum and the restaurant on left hand side, catch out attention. We have noodle soup to eat at the restaurant and spend some time at the Museum, looking at artifacts, then take to the steps leading to Gompa on right hand side. The main Gompa Hall has 49’ high Maitreya Buddha, looking very gorgeous as shown in following frame.  
Maitreya Buddha At Thiksey Monastery
Hemis monastery is situated 45 km south-East of Leh, jutting out from hill top, has attained fame because of Hemis festival which is celebrated with much fan fare, amidst sacred mask dance, performed in the month of July. We in our tour to Hemis, missed out on Gompa Hall which houses the Buddha idol, as some maintenance work was in progress.
Hemis Monastery
We spent some time in visiting the Gompa Museum containing, Thanka paintings and artifacts, some of which are centuries old. The extensive museum area has to be covered in bare feet and camera has to be deposited at a counter near the entry point. A photo of murals on walls of the courtyard is in the next frame.
Murals At Hemis
Stok Gompa is situated 15 km south of Leh town. Stok is more of a Palace than a monastery. From distance, view of the monastery is one of the best visual I had, amidst the scenic splendor.  The frontal area of the palace is strewn with pebbles. 
Stok Palace
One of the large halls in the palace is converted into Museum, which has a wonderful collection of Thangkas, royal crowns, dresses, coins, antique ritual objects, ceremonial sword, precious stones and traditional head dresses worn by Ladakhi women. The courtyard at Stok Gompa consists of a large number of prayer wheels.  The entrance to the Gompa hall has colorful murals - photo of one of them is uploaded.
Murals At Stok Palace


The Gompa gate being closed we did not have darshan of Lord Buddha; we spent some time in courtyard, and took our own time to photograph the vista around Stok Palace, from top most spot on Gompa building, which in one word is magnificent.


2 comments:

  1. Very Nice and informational blog post. Leh is home to several Buddhist monastries, study centers and monuments. Also, check out these Leh hotels offering memorable stay.

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  2. I read your blog. Such a great information. I feel to visit Leh-Ladakh and enjoy every thing.Leh Ladakh is beautiful place. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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