The Shanti Stupa in Leh is a magnificent white-domed Buddhist monument. It is located atop a steep hilltop at a dizzying height of 11,841 feet. It is a religious place for Buddhists as it holds the relics of Buddha, consecrated by the 14th Dalai Lama.
It is also popular amongst tourists as it offers a sweeping view of Leh and the nearby Changspa village. Shanti Stupa looks exceptionally beautiful during the whole moon night when the moonlight naturally illuminates it.
Shanti Stupa was constructed in 1991 by Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu Gyomyo Nakamura. The construction was jointly done by the Japanese and Ladakhi Buddhists to mark the completion of 2500 years of Buddhism and promote world peace. It is a part of the peace pagoda mission, which aims to spread peace through the preaching of Buddha. Shanti Stupa is a perfect getaway for both- those looking to obtain peace from offering prayers to God and those waiting to be mesmerized by nature’s wondrous beauty. Read More.
Thiksey Monastery is a Tibetan-style monastery located 20km south of Leh, on Leh Manali highway. The twelve-story monastery is located on top of a hill, giving magnificent views of the town and the Indus valley below. The main highlight of Thiksey is the Maitreya Temple which houses a 15-meter high Maitreya Buddha statue. It covers two stories of the building and is the giant statue in Ladakh.
Thiksey consists of numerous white buildings arranged in hierarchical order, which stand out against the rocky golden brown hills. It resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Thiksey consists of 10 temples and is currently home to over 100 monks. The monastery houses Buddhist stupas, thangkas, swords, wall paintings, and statues. Other main attractions at Thiksey are Tara Temple, Lamokhang Temple, Assemnly Hall, Nunnery, Library, and the rooftop. The monastery also serves as a residential monastery for monks. Read More.
3. Shey Monastery & Palace, Leh Ladakh
Shey Monastery or the Shey Palace is an ancient monastery located 15km from Leh. It once served as the summer capital of Ladakh but is mostly in ruins now. Located on top of a hillock, it offers stunning panoramic views. The highlight of the Monastery is the 39ft tall Shakyamuni Buddha statue which is the second-largest Buddha statue in Jammu & Kashmir. Special permission needs to be taken to visit the Monastery.
Shey Monastery is often visited along with the surrounding Thiksey Monastery, Hemis Monastery, Stakna Monastery, and Matho Monastery. The monastery complex is adorned with various murals and rock carvings of Buddha. Four hundred meters away is another shrine that houses the Shakyamuni Statue in the sitting posture. The best time to visit the Monastery is during Shey Rhupla and Shey Doo Lhoo festival celebrated in July or August. In memory of his father, the Shey Palace was built in 1655 by Deldan Namgyal, the king of Ladakh.
- The inner sanctum of the Monastery is generally closed.
- No photography is allowed inside the inner sanctum.
- BSNL and Airtel postpaid numbers work well here
- Shey Monastery can be visited while going to or returning from Pangong Lake.
- There is a 4km long hiking trail to Shey Monastery through Ladakh’s chorten fields.
How To Reach Shey Monastery & Palace
Shey Monastery is located on the Leh Manali highway towards the Thiksey Monastery route. It can be reached easily by hiring a taxi or on a bike. Some buses are also available from nearby places.
4. Hemis Monastery, Hemis
Hemis Monastery is a Buddhist monastery located 45 kms south of Leh. Built by the Ladakhi king Sengge Namgyal, it is ranked as one of the wealthiest monasteries in India. Hemis Monastery is most visited during the annual Hemis Festival, held every year in early June.
Hemis Monastery houses a spectacular copper statue of Lord Buddha along with stupas made of gold and silver, thangkas (a painting on cotton or silk depicting Buddhist deity), and murals. The vast courtyard and a picturesque verandah are adorned with colorful paintings of Buddhist Kalachakra. Hemis Monastery belongs to the Red sect or Dugpa Kargyupta order of Buddhism. All four sides of the Monastery are decorated with colorful prayer flags which flutter in the breeze and sends out prayers to Lord Buddha. It is also an institution for the teaching of Tantric Vajrayana.
The history of Hemis Monastery goes way back to the middle ages. According to the legend, it is dated to the arrival of Naropa, a prominent Buddhist teacher, who arrived at some point in the 11th century. He was once the head of a monastery in Nalanda, from where he was forced to flee due to a sacking by an invading Muslim army. After that, he relocated to the Hemis Monastery and established the Kagyu school of Buddhism here. Written documentation by A. Grunwedel about the life of Naropa and his disciple Tilopa was later found in the neighborhood of the Monastery. It states that he met with Tilopa, a Tantric scholar, and assigned him to translate Marpa.
After its establishment, the Monastery went into oblivion for several centuries. In the 1630 Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso founded it which was then re-established in 1672 by the Ladakhi king Sengge Namgyal. It is owned by Drukpa Lineage or the Dragon Order of Mahayana Buddhism. His Holiness, the Gyalwang Drukpa, is the supreme spiritual head of this sect.
Another very odd legend associated with this place is a lost Christian gospel discovered here in the 19th century. The gospel indicated that Jesus Christ spent a few years in India, studying and meditating as a Rabbi. After a few years, it was proved that the gospel was a hoax. However, there are still many who believes that there might be some truth in it.
The Architecture Of Hemis Monastery
Hemis Monastery is an awe-inspiring site covering a large rocky hill. It has Tibetan-style architecture, which is very colorful and attractive. Surrounding the beautiful Monastery is a few more building intermingled with sparse vegetation and trees. The Monastery itself is like a maze of buildings, courtyards, and alleys. It is divided into two main parts – the assembly hall, known as Dukhang, and the main temple, known as the Tshogkhang.
The walls of the main building have a serene white color. The entrance to the complex is through a big gate that reaches the rectangular courtyard. The courtyard is also the venue for all the functions and public celebrations. The place is wide and open and has two raised platforms and a sacred pole in the center. It has a raised dais with a richly cushioned seat and a Tibetan table containing ceremonial items such as holy water, uncooked rice, and incense sticks.
The walls are decorated with paintings of religious figures. The Hemis Monastery also houses several gold statues and a stupa decorated with precious stones. It also has a collection of thankas (paintings) displayed only once in 11 years during the Hemis Festival. On the north side of the Monastery are two assembly halls that can be accessed from the stairs. As in most Buddhist Monasteries, the wheel of life and guardian deities can be found here. It also houses a library of Tibetan religious books.
The Hemis festival is dedicated to Buddhist Lord Padmasambhava, whose actual name was Guru Rinpoche. He is a prominent figure within the ranks of the Buddhism leadership hierarchy. He is believed to have been born on the 10th day of the fifth month of monkey year. His life’s mission was to enhance the spiritual experience of all living beings in the world. This Hemis Festival at the Monastery is celebrated to acknowledge his life, memories, and contributions. The observance of various spiritual customs in the festival is believed to give strength and good health.
The festival takes place in the vast and picturesque courtyard of the Hemis Monastery in June /July for two days.
Musicians play traditional music in the courtyard, and next to them, a place is assigned for the Lamas to sit. Several masked dances are also held on this day. The famous thankas showcased once in 11 years during the Hemis festival were shown in 1980, 1991, 2002, and 2013. The next showcase is in the year 2024.
During the festival, the locals dress up in traditional Tibetan clothes. Men wear cummerbunds, and women wear vibrant headgears and jewelry. The Lamas perform make dance known as Chaam, accompanied by drums, horns, and cymbals. This Chaam dance is a sacred Tibetan dance performance and is a fundamental part of the tantric tradition. The festival is a major tourist attraction.
How To Reach Hemis Monastery
Both buses and private cars/jeeps are available for reaching Hemis. Two routes are available to reach by road- Srinagar-Leh highway and Manali-Leh highway. It would take an average of 1 hour to reach the Hemis Monastery from Leh.
Apart from that, you can also hire a bike (Royal Enfield) to reach the Monastery.
5. Likir Gompa, Leh Ladakh
The Likir Monastery is the oldest in Ladakh, located around 52 km from Leh in the scenic Likir village. Belonging to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the main attraction is a 75 feet large seated statue of Maitreya Buddha gilded in gold. There are also various paintings of guardian divinities, murals, and thangkas that adorn the walls of assembly halls.
The Monastery is the seat of Ngari Rinpoche, the youngest brother of the Dalai Lama. ‘Likir’ means ‘The Naga-Encircled,’ representing the bodies of two great serpent spirits- Nanda and Taksako. It is believed that these serpents had guarded the Monastery.
Currently, there’s a school inside the Likir Monastery run by the Central Institute of Buddhist studies and a library open to visitors where old manuscripts, volumes, and books on Buddhism and the teachings of Tsong Khapa are housed. A temple named Gonkhang is also present in the complex having images of Sakyamuni and Tsongkhapa. The annual Likir Monastery festival is the most enticing event, including Cham dance performed by lamas and an exhibition of monastery collection.
Architecture & Layout Of Likir Monastery
Likir Monastery, perched on a hill in Likir village, is one of the oldest and well-maintained monasteries in the region. The white-colored buildings with red roofs and a massive 75 feet tall statue of Buddha offer a scintillating view. With wall paintings, art and crafts, the Monastery perfectly showcases the principles and culture of Buddhism.
To the right of the central courtyard, there is the main assembly hall or Dukhang. Both sides of the entrance are painted with the Guardians of the Four Directions. There is also a painting of a Wheel of Life mandala held by Yama. The hall has six rows of seats for the lamas and a throne for the head. It also contains statues of Bodhisattva, Amitabha, three giant statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya, and Tsong Khapa, the yellow-hat sect’s founder. The walls are lined with glass bookcases containing the Kandshur (the 108 volumes of the Buddha’s teachings) and the Tandshur (the 225-volume commentary on the Kandshur).
In the new Dukhang, which is around 200 years old, the left wall shows different ways in which lamas wear their robes while the right wall shows how lamas should behave in a gompa. There is also an image of Avalokitesvara with 1,000 arms and eleven heads. The head lama’s room, known as Zinchun, is on the first floor of the Monastery. When Dalai Lama visits Likir, he stays in this room. Images of various lamas characterize it. The most striking are the images of the 21 Manifestations of the White Tara, as each image is adorned with rich fabric.
How To Reach Likir Monastery
There are two primary routes to reach Likir Monastery by road- the Manali-Leh route (473 km) and the Srinagar-Leh route (434 km). The first route remains open from July to September, while the other remains open from June to October. Self-driving or hiring a taxi is the best option. Alternatively, you can hop on to local buses, which run from 5:30 AM to 3:30 PM between Leh and Likir
For more information about Leh & Ladakh Tourism, visit https://leh.nic.in/tourism/
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