Ladakh has the largest concentration of (Vajaryana) Himalayan Buddhist monasteries, or gompas, and chortens, or stupas, outside Tibet. Monastery hopping is one of the main attractions of this beautiful land and makes for enlightening travel.
Buddhism first made its way here during the time of the Kushan dynasty, which ruled in neighboring Kashmir and north India in the beginning of our era. Subsequently, it came from Tibet after the 8th century. The early streams of Buddhism have disappeared from Ladakh, but almost every school of thought of Tibetan Buddhism is represented here by way of monasteries and shrines. Each one is a veritable museum, lavish with colorful murals, ancient frescoes, idols, sacred texts and religious paraphernalia.
The monasteries may require you to pay a donation by way of an entrance fee. It hardly ever exceeds 80 cents. For those seeking a morsel of Buddha’s infinite wisdom, keep in mind that not every maroon clad monk is an expert on the religion. Contrary to the popularly idealized opinions of the tourist crowd, most monks love being photographed and many actively solicit handouts. Nevertheless, permission to photograph a person must still be sought before taking photos, and visitors must be wary of causing disrespect by way of conduct or dress, for it insults the sentiments of the local populace.
3 Hours Before Flight Time
Our Local representative will greet you at the international airport and help you transfer to the hotel.
You will have an early morning transfer to the Domestic Airport for the flight to Leh. This must be one of the most sensational flights in the world! On the northern horizon you may be able to pick out K2, the world’s second highest peak, and other Karakoram mountain giants. On your left you can see Nun and Kun the highest peaks in Ladakh at 7100m and 7080m. On your arrival in Leh we will transfer you to your hotel. You will have the rest of the day at your leisure for acclimatization to the altitude.
Evening meeting with tour teacher.
Early morning drive to Hemis monastery to witness the festival performed by Hemis and Chemdey monasteries monks. During the Hemis Festival, a huge thangka made of silk and embroidered with pictures of various Buddhist deities, is hung in the courtyard. It is displayed once every twelve years, this, the largest thangka in the world, was last shown in 2004. On the gruesome end, the hands of the artist who painted this thangka are preserved here as holy relics, though not on public display.
Hemis is the largest and the richest monastery of Ladakh. The monastery was founded at the foot of a gorge in 1627 by the king Singe Namgyal and the first incarnation of Lama Stagsang Raspa. After surviving a volatile history of diplomacy and intrigue, the monastery continues to be the leading Buddhist institution in the region. Apart from the 12th century Kashmiri Bronze Buddha, it also contains a large collection of golden statues, stupas, relics set with precious stones, and numerous thangkas, including the world’s largest one.
This is probably the most visually imposing monastery of Ladakh. Looming right above the Manali-Leh highway, it belongs to the Gelukpa (yellow hat sect) order, and is built in the traditional Tibetan style, housing 10 shrines, one containing a 15 meter-tall statue of Buddha. There are terrific views of the Indus valley and the surrounding mountain ranges from the roof.
The 500 year old Sakya school monastery is known for its two auguric oracles. Local people ask for their divination and prediction during the annual festival.
Nearby Stakna, which belongs to the Drukpa order has a marvelous collection of thangkas and frescoes, as well as a small marble statue of Buddha donated by an ancient King of Assam. Check out the small museum containing various ancient relics, weapons, and the human bone musical instruments. Stakna means Tiger nose, and it was founded by Lama Chosje Jamyang Palkar during the reign of King Jamyang Namgyal in 1581.
Shey Palace is the oldest capital of Ladakh. The main image in the palace is a three story statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. Shey was the oldest capital city of Ladakh.
Takthok or “rock ceiling” belongs to the Nigma tradition. The monastery came into existence when the tantric teacher Padma Sambhava meditated in the cave. You can still see the footprints.
Chemday Monastery belongs to the Kargut pa sect. It used to be a palace for King Singe Namgyal in the 17th century. Later on it was offered it to Lama Stagsang Raspa and since then it has been used as a monastery.
Spitok is located atop a crag right at the end of the Leh airport’s runway, thus providing dramatic sights of the planes taking off, and a panoramic view of the Indus and the Stok range to the south. It has three shrines, one with very intricate decorations. Of late, the monastery has fallen into disrepair and a large section collapsed during a landslide. Moreover, a strong Hindu patronage has all but converted the 1000 year-old temple dedicated to the Dalai Lama’s protector, goddess Palden Lhamo, into a Kali temple–with the apparent blessings of the monks themselves!–explaining the mound of empty whiskey bottles staked besides the shrine.
Phyang Gompa belongs to the Red Hat sect. Located slightly off the Leh-Srinagar highway, it has an impressive number of wall paintings along with a number of shrines. Check out the dark, all-enclosed Tantric hall. Not overrun by tourists.
We will visit the 11th century Alchi monastery. It is one of the earliest monasteries built in Ladakh, and was erected by Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo. To build the monastery, he brought in 32 sculptors and artists from Kashmir and signed a treaty with the King of Tibet, who agreed to provide a few artisans. Consequently, the famed paintings of the monastery, though depicting Tibetan and Buddhist themes, reflect a distinct Kashmiri style of painting.
Liker belongs to the Gelukpa order. The monastery was founded in 1065 by the Lama Duwang Chosje. The king was Lhachen Gyalpo. Over night in Temisgam Guest House.
The Kagyupa monastery at Lamayuru is attributed to Naropa, the 11th century Indian Buddhist saint who is said to have spent many years meditating in the cave connected to the prayer hall. The area was supposedly a lake until Naropa caused a split amidst the surrounding hills and all the water emptied out. Over night in Temisgam Guest house.
We drive back to Leh and on the way visit Rizong. It is dutifully set in the valley of a gorge. it was founded by Lama Tsulthim Nima and belongs to Geluk school. Beside the monastery there is a nunnery with approximately 20 nuns.
The Castle of Bazgo contains two amazing future Buddha statues and beautiful paintings. It was built in 16th Century by King Jamyang Namgyal and Singe Namgyal, father and son. Overnight in Leh.
Continue your exploration of Leh, go shopping or witness a cultural show in the evening.
Our representative will meet you and transfer you to your hotel.
Late night transfer to International Airport.