“Enveloped in the beautiful ranges, cuddled in the picturesque ambience, The cultural heritage hidden in the monasteries has always been fascinating.”
Ladakh often referred to as ‘Mini Tibet’ is a land of Buddhist culture and magnificent monasteries. Most of the monasteries situated in the higher altitudes present a unique blend of Buddhist and Tibetan culture. There are several monasteries (more than 100) in the various regions of Ladakh where monks live, pray and meditate. The head of the monastery is known as the ‘Lama’. Besides paying homage to the Lord, the monasteries nestled in the serene landscapes are an empyrean for the photography enthusiasts also. The peace that the people experience in the tranquil environment of the monasteries not only knocks out their stress but also make them feel closer to God.
Here are some of the prominent monasteries in Ladakh that have stood timeless for ages and showcase the culture, history and tradition of the Buddhists:
Phugtal Monastery is nestled in Zanskar and is one of the oldest Gompas of Ladakh. Reaching the monastery, which is perched on a huge cave, is a very challenging task. There is a pristine gorge that is situated in front of the cave. This gorge provides a way to the tributary of Lungnak River. Visitors planning to visit the Phugtal Monastery can trek on the Padum – Manali trek route, which is one of the easiest ways to reach this monastery. The beauty and architectural work of the monastery reflecting the ancient Indian art captivates the attention of the visitors. There are around 40 monks who live inside the premises of the magnificent monastery. They help the tourists to offer prayers in the right manner and provide a useful insight about the cultural legacy of the monastery.
Do you really want to quench your desire to marvel at the ancient relics? If you have nodded your head in a Yes, then you must definitely visit the Hemis Monastery. It is one of the richest monasteries in Ladakh, situated around 45 kilometers from Leh, which magnetizes the tourists with its breathtaking beauty. The monastery houses an amazing collection of the age-old relics such as the idol of Lord Buddha made up of copper gilt, gold and silver stupas and revered thangkas. This monastery attracts visitors from various corners of the world mainly during the famous annual festival known as the Hemis Festival. The festival is organized to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. In this festival, monks perform dance wearing colorful dresses and masks. Furthermore, sacred thangkas are also displayed for the visitors.
Thiksey is one of the splendid and tranquil monasteries of Ladakh, devoted to the Gelugpa Order of Buddhism. This monastery was first constructed at Stakmo, by Sherab Zangpo of Stod. Later, the nephew of Sherab Zangpo, named Spon Paldan Sherab, reconstructed the monastery in the year 1430 A.D. The present day monastery is located in the north side of River Indus, on a hilltop. There are many holy shrines inside the monastery of which the famous one is the Lakhang Nyerma, dedicated to the Goddess Dorje Chenmo. When the shrine was constructed, it was one of the biggest of its time, but now only its ruins can be seen in the premises of the monastery. Moreover, the monastery contains a large collection of many ancient relics and sacred artifacts.
Shey Monastery is popular for containing the second largest Buddha statue in Ladakh. Situated about 12 kilometers to the south of Leh, this monastery contains a very huge idol of Lord Buddha in a sitting position. The idol is mainly made from copper and gold. There is a large bowl of wax with a flame that always keeps burning in front of the statue. The objective of burning the flame is to highlight the importance of integrity and spirituality to the tourists visiting the monastery.
It is the second largest monasteries in Zanskar, nestled around 18 km to the north of Padum. The monastery is situated at an altitude of 3,500 m, and dedicated to the Tibetan Yogi, Marpa. This beautiful monastery has plenty of wonderfully built temples. There are around 60 Gelukpa monks residing inside the premises of the monastery. In order to reach here, the tourists have to walk for nearly four hours, which is quite challenging for them. However, the pain or tiredness endured during the journey will soon be forgotten after seeing the serene locations and incredible view of the monastery. The monastery remains open for the tourists from mid July to early November.
Situated around 50 Kms from Leh, the Likir Monastery is also popular by the name Klu-Kkhjil (water spirits). The monastery was founded by Lama Dhwang Chosje, (having a great expertise in mediation) in the 14th century. The monastery is enveloped by picturesque surroundings that really fascinate the visitors. This monastery also belongs to Gaylukpa School and every year a Likir festival is organized by the monks of the monastery from the 17th to the 19th of the 12th month. The monastery houses different manuscripts, thangkas and religious clothing.
Nestled on the top of a hill, the Phyang Monastery is situated around 15 kilometers west of Leh. Denma Kunga Drakpa, the Dorzin (meditation master) laid the foundation stone of this monastery. The tranquil environment of the monastery and beautiful ambience provides visitors a great peace of mind and soul. The monastery has now been converted into a museum that contains a large assortment of the ancient statues, weapons, old thangkas, wall paintings and murals of Mahakala.
Sani Monastery is one of the most popular and visited monasteries of Ladakh. The monastery is also known by the name ‘Turtot Gyat’, and is located in the Sani Village around 6 kilometers from Padum. It was established in the first century of the Kushan King, Kanishka. The architecture of the monastery more or less resembles a castle and allures several tourists from various geographical locations of the world. The pivotal part of the monastery contains a large prayer hall that contains Lord Buddha idols. Many Buddhist saints and monks can be seen offering prayers to the Lord. The monastery contains around 108 stupas, a 20ft long Chorten (famous as Kanika Chorten) and age-old artifacts.
Lamayuru is an 11th century old monastery that was founded by Mahasiddhacharya Naropa. This wonderful monastery is the property of Red-Hat Sect of Buddhism. There are many myths or stories that are related to this monastery and the famous one is that Lamayuru was a once a pristine lake and after blessings of a lama, it ceded the space for the construction of the monastery. This monastery is nestled around 120 kms from Leh overlooking beautiful villages and amazing vistas. The monastery has a very rich assortment of wall 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.
Alchi Gompa is one of the oldest and most magnificently built monasteries of Ladakh. One of the unique features of this Gompa is that it contains plenty of small images and idols of Lord Buddha. The Gompa is majestically adorned with bright colors and there are three images of the Lord made up of clay. Besides the images, this Gompa also includes several Thangkas that are believed to be 11th or 12th century old. The main images that entice the tourists are the five Buddha pictures along with their families and followers. It takes around two hour time to see the whole Gompa.
This majestic monastery is located 8 km along the Indus River Valley from Leh. As you trek, the reflections of the monastery in the crystal-clear river will make you speechless. It is an 11th century monastery that inspires the individuals to follow the teachings of the Lord. The monastery was given the name Spituk by Rinchen Zangpo, who is believed to have spread the teachings of Buddhism in the various regions of Ladakh. The monastery has some great collections of age-old ancient masks, sacred clothing and a spectacular image of Mahakal.
The monastery is popular for its attractive murals. It is essentially a 350 year old monastery located in the enchanting Nubra Valley. The monastery is enveloped by the verdant landscapes and high hill peaks. The tranquil environment of the place just dazzles every tourist visiting the monastery. Here, the tourists can marvel at the rich collections of Lord Buddha idols. The superb interiors and architecture designs coupled with the religious atmosphere just spellbind the visitors. The Morning Prayer ceremony in the monastery is not to be missed.
If you are really fascinated by the rich culture of Ladakh, then a trip to the stunning monasteries must be on your bucket list. Most of the monasteries are located on the higher altitudes and trekking is the only way to visit them. Trekking to reach the monasteries is certainly an icing on the cake for you also get a wonderful opportunity to marvel at the awe-inspiring beauty of Ladakh and get to cherish some unforgettable memories.
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