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Buddha Ladakh is often referred to as Moon Land due its stark barren landscape, though villages far and in between appear as small green oasis' with their wiry willows and poplars and lush green fields. Ladakh has an immense variety of landscape with human habitation limited to heights between 2700 and 4500 metres. However the high plateau of Changthang where the nomadic shepherds ‘the Changpa' graze their sheep at still higher altitudes. The unifying factor among the people is their language and religion - a form of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. The minorities here comprise of Muslims and a few Christian families. Ladakh is known for its ancient and austere Buddhist monasteries all of which house priceless works of art and religion in the form of gilded images, silver chortens, and intricately painted thangkas, besides amazingly well preserved wall paintings of the Buddhist divinities.

Leh, the capital of Ladakh is a spread out town and is approachable by road only during the months of June through October due to the high mountain passes being snowed in during the severe winters. Two highways connect Leh to the other parts of the country – The Srinagar – Kargil – Leh Highway 434 Kms and the Manali – Leh Highway – 475 Kms. On the other hand, Leh can be accessed by air during the rest of the year it being connected to Delhi by daily flights. Leh today is a laidback town experiencing the influx of numerous overseas and domestic visitors during the high season from June to October.

Snowbird Adventures offers you insightful culture tours in this fascinating region for both the adventurer, the historian, philosopher and the leisurely traveller.

S. No. Tour Days
1.

The Insightful Monastic Package
Delhi - Leh - Monasteries near Leh - Delhi - Agra - Delhi

8
2.

The Far Flung Monastic Tour
Delhi - Leh - Nubra -Leh - Delhi - Agra -Delhi

10
3.

The Ladakh Exploration Package
(Delhi - Leh - Monasteries - Nubra Valley - Leh - Pangong Tso - Leh - Delhi- Agra - Delhi)

12

Among the famous monasteries which play a central role in every Ladakhi's life are:

Hemis Gompa
 
Thiksey Gompa
 
Phyang Monastery
 
Shey Gompa
 
Stok Palace
 
Likir Gompa
 
Alchi Gompa
 
Lamayuru Gompa
 
Chemrey Gompa
 
Leh

Hemis – It is the largest and wealthiest of all Gompas in Ladakh. Founded in the 1630s by Stagtsang Raspa under the patronage of King Sengge Namgyal, Hemis lies tucked away in a mountainside in the Zanskar range about 40 Kms from Leh. The approach road from the main Manali- Leh highway offers camping grounds and an open air restaurant and picnic spot. It is famous for its two day festival where monks enact masked dances that project the victory of good over evil. Once every twelve years the largest thangka (of Padmasambhava) in the world a priceless piece of work which is embroidered not painted is displayed in the courtyard of the Gompa. Within the Gompa are immense images, beautiful wall paintings and prayer wheels.

Thiksey – This is one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh founded around the mid 15 th century and is immensely impressive in its architecture which faintly resembles the Potala Palace of Lhasa in Tibet. It is a complex with several building rising up a craggy hillside above a village of the same name. Within are numerous murals depicting the Maitreya Buddha's life, decorative pillars and painted doors and windows. A large library holds volumes of ancient scripture. There is also a two-storied building built in 1980 and dedicated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The rooftop terrace affords magnificent views of the Indus valley from Stakna to Shey and Matho.

Phyang – Resting atop a small hill overlooking a beautiful village, Phyang Gompa was founded by King Tashi Namgyal in the late 16 th century. Neat and clean the interiors contain new detailed wall paintings in bright colours. The lintels and doors are also immaculately decorated with religious art. Phyang also has an interesting collection of 14 th century Kashmiri bronzes, arms and armour. The rooftop also offers beautiful views of the fields and the Indus River .

Shey – Standing about 14 Kms from Leh upriver, Shey Gompa was once the capital of the upper Ladakh kings and you can still see the ruins of fortifications on a ridge. Another striking feature of Shey is the numerous Chortens around the village, palace and the windswept plains to the north. On the approach to the Gompa you also see a rock face with engravings of the Five Meditating Buddhas that reflect a Tibetan cultural influence. Within the palace there is large copper gilt statute of Sakyamuni fronted by glowing butter lamps one of which is made of silver studded with turquoise. There are also some beautiful wall paintings that were restored in the 1980s. A good deal of light filters into the chambers. The wall paintings are detailed and represent the sixteen original disciples of Buddha and also Padmasambhava, Tsonkapa and Atisa the preachers.

Stok Palace & Museum – Still the residence of the descendents of the Ladakh Kings, a part of the 77 room palace is now an interesting museum. Here the royal family's heirlooms and relics are displayed which include beautiful 400 year old intricately painted thangkas depicting Sakyamuni's life, large images in bronze and gold one of which is of Avalokiteswara and others made in the Kashmiri style. The museum also contains other religious items of prayer, an interesting collection of ancient arms like guns, bows and arrows, shields and swords. You also get to see silver and copper utensils, pots and pans and porcelain and jade cups once used by the royal family. There is also an exquisite collection of the queen's ornaments that include finely created necklaces of pearl and turquoises, a veil of pearl and a crown along with ceremonial gowns and boots.

Likir – A two hour drive from Leh between Basgo and Saspol Gompas stands the impressive Likir Gompa on a small hill with beautiful views of the village and terraced green fields. On one side of the complex stands an immense statue of the Maitreya Buddha. A Gompa of the Gelug pa sect, it was founded in the 15 th century and is presently presided over by the Ngari Rinpoche the younger brother of the Dalai Lama. It holds a number of scriptures, an image of the level headed Avalokiteswara and fine wall paintings. Excellent workmanship is reflected in the beautiful images kept in a small chapel besides a number of outstanding thangkas.

Alchi – Beyond Saspol Gompa across the Indus River is the ancient Alchi monastery which houses the Alchi Choskhor (religious enclave) one of the most significant historical sites in Asia. This oasis of green fields amidst a landscape of sand dunes, the Choskhor was once a site of great importance. Kept in good state of preservation by monks from the Likir Gompa, Alchi was founded in the 11 th century. Within are some of the finest examples of Indian Buddhist iconography as exceptional as those in Tabo monastery in Spiti (Himachal Pradesh). Consisting of five temples, Alchi houses priceless paintings and thangkas unlike any other Gompa in Ladakh. There is also a finely carved mammoth four armed Maitreya. An unusual three storied temple with fine wood carvings on the façade, houses three huge heads of Bodhisattva that extend into the second storey. The paintings and art in Alchi are some of the best in Ladakh and the world and well worth a look.

Lamayuru – One of the most dramatically situated Gompas and the oldest in central Ladakh Lamayuru stands on a mountain spur high above a tributary of the Indus. A small temple within the complex has an image of Vairocana and the murals now a bit faded show a mandala and some other divinities. The main prayer hall or du-khang is built in an opening to a cave containing life size images of the sage – Marpa and his disciple Mila Respa. There is also an enormous chorten within a glass case seemingly of carved and painted wood but actually made of butter peculiar of an esoteric art form common in the old Gompas of Tibet.

Chemrey – Located in a tributary valley of the Indus 45 Kms south east of Leh stands the Chemrey monastery built in 1646. On a small hill Chemrey holds the images of Stagtsang Raspa and other images besides a large silver Chorten. The murals are mainly of Sakyamuni and mandalas of Kalachakra and Akshobya. There are also priceless volumes of scripture of which the title pages are in glistening silver while the text is lettered in gold.

Thak Thok – This Gompa is just a few kilometers beyond Chemrey and is located above the village of Sakti. Founded in the 16 th century during the reign of Tshewang Namgyal, this monastery is built around the cave of Padmasambhava. Unfortunately the centuries of soot emitted from butter lamps have obscured the wall paintings and even the floor is sticky. A nearby cave serves as a kitchen where enormous vessels are used to provide food to visitors and pilgrims during the annual festival. There are more newer paintings in the verandah and the prayer hall.

Spituk – Founded in the early 15 th century, Spituk Gompa is located on a steep craggy hill. Standing 8 Kms west of Leh Spituk is known for its 23 manifestations of the Goddess Tara. These images show exemplary workmanship. There are also other images of divinities and also a small Chorten. Nearby are rock engravings of Tsonka pa and his disciples and alongside a non descript large figure of a Bodhisattva.

The other Gompas, and there are a multitude of them in Ladakh and Zanskar, include – Mulbekh off the Leh Kargil Road, Wanla near Lamayuru, Ridzong , Shergol, Basgo, Matho, Stakna, Chemrey, Spituk and Sankar . The Zanskar Gompas include Rangdum, Sani, Phuktal, Karsha , Bardan and Stongde all of them ancient monasteries housing priceless images, wall paintings and thangkas.

 


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