Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh

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In this series of posts on a travel guide to Ladakh, we will journey to have a look at the top Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh. Those which are easily accessible from the capital city of Leh. These monasteries are considered to be one of the top attractions in Ladakh. Additionally, they also figure in the list of places to visit in Ladakh. They form a part of the cultural heritage. We will also discuss the best time to visit Ladakh to see these monasteries and also look at some top Ladakh images to frame.

Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh - Ladakh Photos
A monk continues with his day at Thiksey Monastery- Ladakh Images

Culture in Ladakh

Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh serve as beacons and anchors of belief for the people out there. The Buddhist monasteries amalgamate culture and tradition as a way of life which is the social fabric here. The Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh portray the rich cultural heritage of this region even to this day. They form a significant part of attractions in Ladakh checklist. Do not forget to click some memorable Ladakh images in your visit to this region. These can always become a part of your favourite instagram images feed.

Speaking of culture,i spent some months in state of Tamil Nadu, also known as land of 1000 temples. I have collated few posts on the architectural beauty and relevance of the temples of Tamil Nadu. You might wish to read them here as well as here.

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About Leh-Ladakh

What is Ladakh, where is this fabled place that has mystified people across the world? Nestled high up among the Himalayan Ranges reached through narrow passes. With each passing day, the region is opening up to those willing to make an effort to come out here. Above all braving physical discomfort, also banking on their mental will to experience something that is different .

Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh - Ladakh Photos
Land of High passes – Leh ( Ladakh Images ) Have an interesting post , an account of my crossing these passes. Read here

It is my personal belief that no one can see Ladakh only once and accordingly not make the resolve to see it again. The journey to Ladakh(read about my very first) is a symbolic journey of exploration in itself. My soul and thoughts are open to getting covered with experiences that would find a place in my subconsciousness moulding me. For the most part influencing me at times when am surrounded by humdrum of city life and its trappings. The attractions in Ladakh cast a hypnotic spell on all those who come visiting this region.

Journey to Ladakh

The real journey to Ladakh and not the touristic variety becomes not only a crossing of physical and social boundaries but a passage across another border that renders defunct the traditions of city life which have been acquired and shared. Exploring culture in Ladakh and capturing some memorable Ladakh images is something which I would recommend each of those planning to visit this region to do.In today’s age where Instagram is the medium to share visuals of what we see, make sure you click some favourite instagram images for your feed.

Let us look at what is the best way to explore Ladakh and how to visit the top locations and attractions in Ladakh.(read about my second journey to Ladakh here )

Travel Guide to Buddhist Monasteries of Ladakh

What is the best way to explore Ladakh

 Best way to explore Ladakh. It is to be remembered that to reach most of the top attractions in Ladakh, one would need some form of transportation as walking is not a viable option. The best way to explore Ladakh, see the local sights is to rent taxi/self drive or have oneโ€™s vehicle. I generally get my vehicle when I visit Ladakh in order to visit the top attractions in Ladakh. The drive to reach this region is a journey in itself and can click some memorable Ladakh images as well. Read here how i prepare my sedan for a drive to Ladakh/ for an upcoming Road Trip.

Attractions in Ladakh

Attractions in Ladakh. The places to visit in Ladakh is divided into broad categories ranging from the culture & tradition of Ladakh right down to adventure activities which even involve white water rafting on the Tsarap Chu river considered to be one of the best in Asia. The list of attractions in Ladakh is exhaustive, and no one post can cover all of it if spoken comprehensively. I have an interesting post for you on the various high altitude lakes in Ladakh, read here. These are some of my favourite images for my instagram feed as well.

Top instagrammable images of Pangong Tso

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Buddhism in Ladakh

Buddhism in Ladakh. Furthermore I would like to mention a few facts about Buddhism before we go further. Buddhism in Ladakh is namely an offshoot of Tibetian Buddhism, also known as Lamaism. Tibetian Buddhism has 04 main sects: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug. It is from the Gelug sect whose head eventually became the Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism. Though Buddhism declined in the 13th century in other parts of India however it continued to flourish in Ladakh.

One generally sees in monasteries a community of male lamas. This is based on tradition followed wherein the second son of a Ladakhi family takes the path of the Lama. So without further ado let me begin with the series on famous Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh.

Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh

Hemis Buddhist Monastery, Ladakh

At 12500 feet, places pause
Other attentions move towards them 
Moments cease 
Look and see : Monks of Hemis arrive .....

Hemis Monastery, based on the Kagyu sect, is one of the most prominent and prosperous gompas in Ladakh. Established in the 17th century, the gompa is one of the largest in the region. Primarily consists of two prayer halls facing a massive courtyard that greets the visitors as they climb up the stairs leading to the monastery.

Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh - Ladakh Photos
Prayer Wheel@Hemis – Ladakh Images

Account of constructional features of Hemis Monastery

These prayer halls are known as Dukhang Barpa and Dukhang Chenmo. They contain statues of the protector of the monastery in his aggressive form as well as a benevolent Shakyamuni. Two different contrasting images indeed.

Though in construction, it is not as grand as some of the other monasteries; however, it does awe the visitor. There are two levels in the main gompa building. Thes building construction and colours signify a positive impact in the Buddhism religion.

  • Hemis monastery - Ladakh Images
    Stairs leading to the central courtyard
  • Hemis monastery - Ladakh Images
    Both Dukhang Barpa, Dukang Chenmo & Staircase leading
  • Hemis monastery - Ladakh Images
    Front Facade accentuated colours of Maroon, Yellow & White
  • Hemis monastery - Ladakh Images
    Three prayer flags one each for Dukhang Barpa, Chenmo & one for Rinpoche

Images of Hemis Monastery – Ladakh Photos

Hemis Museum

To the left of it central courtyard , one can visit the Hemis Museum. Is quite comprehensive, houses respectable collection of books, tapes and memorabilia relating to Buddhism and the history of the Kagyu sect and Hemis itself. There is also a lower room where one can see the important relics associated with monastery and is a must-visit.

What can the visitor see within the central building

The upper floor of the central building gives the visitor a peek into the two-story-high statue in sitting position of Guru Padmasambhava. The status is one of most captivating of all images in the monastery. Not many visitors come visiting this room. I recommend a visit to this room. There are various other small temples, including a tara temple as well as a Durga temple however most of these generally remain closed and one needs to speak to the head monks to gain access to these.

Hemis Monastery Photos – Ladakh Images

One of the key attraction is the 70 feet long handpainted Thangka. This rare Thangka depicting eight different forms of the Buddha is unfurled only during the Hemis Festival, which is held every year. Thangka is a vibrant coloured painting depicting the Life of the Buddha or a kind of Mandala on a silk/cotton cloth. Owing to the delicate nature of the Thangka, this is generally kept furled up and displayed only on occasions. These serve as essential teaching tools for the young monks at the various monasteries.

As I wandered through the various rooms and prayer halls, framed pictures of manuscripts, murals, small Thangka and the portraits of the high priests/lamas looking down upon me casting a hypnotic charm over the entire experience. These rooms were either large prayer halls or small dimly lit prayer rooms, but both exuded a powerful soothing vibe that touched the soul. It was as if one could feel being in the company of these purists and exalted souls.

Prayer Lamps at Hemis

Buddhism in Ladakh and elsewhere put a lot of focus on the burning of lamps. The presence of silent butter lamps burning aided this pull towards the vibes of this place. Butter lamps are lit in all the monasteries in the Himalayan region. It is said that these lamps aid in meditation as well as symbolically signify the transition to enlightenment and upliftment.

Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh -
Butter Prayer Lamps – Ladakh Photos

As i sat in the hall of Guru Padmasambhava,  in the stillness of that hall under the presence of the constant glare of his eyes searing into me, the flicker of the butter lamp made me realise that the lamp is also a symbolic representation of the fluid nature of life and its situation wherein each aspect good or bad will eventually come to pass however what will remain constant is the inner conscious of the soul which is the core energy in the flickering flame of the butter lamp.

Celebrations at Hemis – The Hemis Festival

Hemis Festival. The annual Hemis festival attracts a large number of visitors from the region and a few outsiders as well. This Hemis festival is held to celebrate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava and is held in July which again I would say is one of the best times to visit Ladakh. I would strongly recommend a visit to this place to see the famous mask dance performed by the Lamas as well as the Thangka.

Also, one is treated to a visual extravaganza of seeing the men and women dress up in all their traditional finery during the festival. This festival finds a central place in the calendar of Ladakh every year and is awaited by the local people eagerly.

So remember to take your time in your visit here and donโ€™t forget to click some memorable Ladakh images incorporating the vibes of Hemis Monastery.

Location of Hemis Monastery

Hemis monastery is not very clearly visible from the National Highway which passes to the left few km away. The long winding road to reach the monastery does not give any inking to the visitor as to what lies ahead and only at the base of the mountain range does one come face to face with Hemis Gompa. Truly a marvellous moment that when the visitor is greeted with the vibrant outer facade of the monastery and a huge revolving prayer ornamental prayer wheel installed just at the entrance.

How to reach Hemis Monastery

The distance to Hemis from Leh city is 45 km, and one travels on the Leh- Manali Highway and travelling time is around an hour. I would recommend that one keeps aside close to three-four hours to see this monastery, interact with the monks as well participate in any prayer if going at that pint of time.Hemis remains one of top attractions to see when visiting Ladakh.

Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh - Ladakh Photos
Ladakh Photos – Hemis Monastery

Note. Do carry cash as one can buy memorabilia from the Museum shop. There is also an entrance fee to visit this monastery.

Choose From these, My Favourite Instagram Locations – Ladakh

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Deskit Buddhist Monastery,Ladakh 

Nubra Valley is one of the most sought after and visited valleys in Ladakh. Nestled in the Northeast of Ladakh, it is known traditionally as the valley of flowers. Bounded and interspersed by the Shyok and Nubra rivers.

Journey to Nubra Valley, Ladakh

The journey to this valley after crossing the hugely popular Khardung La pass is documented by extensive landscapes gigantic mountain ranges, shimmering rivers. As one enters the valley, the myriad colours of small vegetation make this place the Valley of Flowers. Remember to stop and click some memorable Ladakh images of Nubra Valley.

  • Explore Nubra Valley- Leh Ladakh
    The Shyok Valley - Leh Ladakh Photos
  • Explore Nubra Valley- Leh Ladakh
    Northern Ladakh - the gateway to the elusive Siachen
  • Explore Nubra Valley- Leh Ladakh
    Shyok River - Leh Ladakh Images
  • Explore Nubra Valley- Leh Ladakh
    Ladakh Road Trip

Exploring Leh-Ladakh region (Towards Nubra Valley )

Deskit Village is the main headquarters of Nubra Valley and here is where the visitor will find the Deskit Monastery.

In a still space voices gesture
A body resounds in a circle of harmony 
speaking a language of the eternal faith 
the prayer hall of Deskit Gompa comes Alive 

Account of constructional features of Deskit Monastery

Most of Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh are basically of mixed structure with outer walls of stone and sun dried brick while the inner is wooden construction. Scarcity of timber could be one of the reason. Also, with roofs being generally flat each winter monks spend considerable time clearing roof from snow that falls out here.

What to see in Deskit Monastery

The main prayer hall of Deskit Monastery holds statue of Maitreyi Buddha regarded as future Buddha of this world. The approach road to the monastery is slightly narrow and on an incline. From car parking, I walk a flight of stairs to reach the step that leads to the main prayer hall. To the left of main prayer hall are series of narrow steps that lead to the various quarters of the monks as well as the kitchen and other rooms.

  • Deskit Monastery - Ladakh Images

    Central outer Facade- Deskit Monastery

  • Deskit Monastery - Ladakh Images

    Karmapa reincarnations - Dharma of Buddha has flown through them into the world for the past 900 years

  • Deskit Monastery - Ladakh Images

    Chortens spreading vibes into the air - Ladakh images

  • Deskit Monastery - Ladakh Images

    Tara, the Mother Goddess in her multiple forms - the female form of Buddha

Deskit Monastery photos – Ladakh Images

Morning prayers

It was 530 AM in the morning when I rushed to reach the main prayer hall and participate in the morning prayers. I reached in time in the central prayer hall where there were rows of small low desks with a copy of the sutras in front. Soon the monks started arriving, and I think in order of precedence took their seats.

The prayer soon began with the chanting of hymns, crashing of cymbals and lighting of incense sticks. I sat in the corner of the prayer hall, and not many took notice of me. The rhythmic chantings and reading of the sutra by so many throats was indeed a therapeutic experience. In between small children came to offer salted tea, and this gesture touched me to the core. This was the first time that I had salted tea in Ladakh, and the way of it being offered to me will make it most memorable.

Conversations and thoughts

After the prayers, as I sat on the steps outside an elderly monk approached me, and we started talking. In the conversation, I realised that purpose of Buddhist prayers was to awaken the inherent capacity of strength, courage and wisdom rather than asking the same from the external forces. Something to think and ponder.

He invited me to his room for another cup of tea which I gladly agreed. So we went through the narrow winding staircases to his small room. On reaching, I looked around observing that walls were all covered with images of various bodhisattvas as well as Buddha.

What is the essence of your mind like ? Lamaji asks me as we sit having
a cup of butter tea

There was the cymbal as well as multiple butter lamps. Lamaji explained that a monk prays even when he is in the room; it is a subconscious way of life. Graciously preparing tea for me we conversed for a while on my journey until it was time for me to bid adieu to Lamaji. This personal touch in this visit to Deskit Gompa is cherished by me ever since.

Deskit Monastery experience

Coming outside the Gompa, one can see the 32 mt,  statue of Maitreyi Buddha which faces the Shyok river flowing across the valley floor. The direction of the statue signifies the protection of Deskit village and a desire for world peace for all. This is a special place. Do not forget to take your camera out and click some memorable Ladakh images with Maitreyi Buddha in the frame.

Maitreyi Buddha – Nubra Valley, Ladakh attractions

Walking down the inclined road with mani walls lined with white washed chortens, I resolved to keep the fragile link formed with Lamaji and Sonam( the Guest House owner ) where i stayed . They were my link to the vastness of the Nubra Valley besides the images that i so carefully treasured in my memory card. Years have passed and conversation with Lamaji still happens as long as the phone network permits and Sonam is getting impatient over me not coming to spend some time with his family. The apricots trees have grown he says and the new floor of the Guest House has been completed. It is these links that i treasure which solo travel ensures are formed.

How to reach Disket Monastery  

The distance to Deskit from Leh city is 150 km and one travels across the Khardung La pass. Travelling time is around five hours subject to how Khardung La behaves. Best way to explore Ladakh as stated would be hiring a taxi with a reliable driver. 

Best time to visit Ladakh would be in the months of July-August as the vegetation would be in bloom. I would recommend that one keeps aside a suitable time in the evening to see this monastery, interact with the monks and click the gorgeous sunset that happens in Nubra Valley. During the next morning one can participate in the prayers before commencing the journey ahead.

Beauty of Nubra Valley - Ladakh Attractions
Beauty of Nubra Valley – Ladakh Attractions

Note. Do try to give some offerings as this will go for maintenance of this age-old famous Buddhist Monastery. One can visit Hunder sands for glorious visuals of high altitude arid desert at the foothills of the Karakoram ranges.

Epilogue

I end this post here; this was the first post in a tri-series covering the Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh. Ladakh has been close to my heart. This post is an attempt in documenting my experiences in this region, which I visited as a regular traveller just like anyone of you would visit. Do share your comments and experiences in the comments section, would love to connect up with each one of you.

Choose From these, My Favourite Instagram Locations – Unseen Ladakh

For further visuals ranging from architecture to travel destinations, flora and fauna of India; so do click on below mentioned link which houses all my Stock collection in HD format.

https://www.traveldreamsbysumit.com/

FAQ

I, also wanted to speak about a few queries quickly, for those visiting Ladakh for the very first time . These are just pointers

  1. Acclimatise diligently upon reaching Ladakh. If arriving by flight, 24-30 hours of sleep,rest,normal walks is MUST prior to leaving Leh City or indulging in sightseeing.
  2. There are multiple places to stay in Leh city, one can book though any portal. I use personal references to book my stay or refer to travel communities.
  3. Understanding the role of a taxi is one critical aspect. I am linking an article from one of travel communities which I also refer to for information exchange . Read Here
  4. Some references of recommended taxi drivers as posted by travellers can be found here
  5. In case you are looking at a comprehensive list of what to see in Ladakh. How to travel to some off beat locations or any other query just ping me in the comment section and i will be glad to help out .

78 Replies to “Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh”

  1. Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, a very well researched and neatly put together blog. Leh Ladakh holds a special place in my heart, your blog refreshed my memory of this magical place on Earth which I was fortunate enough to visit couple of years back. Sumit, I admire your ability of putting facts and figures together alongside your personal anecdotes from the journies you undertake. Each blog of yours is special because you add your personal touch without sounding like a typical travel blogger. Keep up the great work and I eagerly look forward to your next blog. Cheers!!!

  2. Very Nice and Informative. The visuals are also great. Surely does generate interest in learning more about these monasteries and Buddhism.

  3. Well descriptive and informative post. The images leaves a hypnotic charm on us. Had a surreal glimpse of the culture of Ladakh and Buddhism with your personal memorable touch to this article. Waiting eagerly for your next blog in this series.

  4. Such a beautifully written post. I have to point out your write up on prayers with butter lamp and it’s comparison to life really stuck with me and couldn’t agree with you more on that. Ladakh is absolutely beautiful and a place I was just discussing with my partner to want to explore it post the pandemic. Nothing better than being in nature, experiencing and learning about Buddhism and praying surrounded by lamps followed by starry nights. That’ll be so perfect and therapeutic post being cooped up inside.

    1. hi
      glad you found the post interesting . I think you must plan that trip as the region will be opening up soon enough . This season i think will be better on account of less travellers

  5. I have read the the Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh are a must visit. This virtual tour is very detailed and the photos are captivating. The mountains in Ladahk and the Shyok river are perfect for instagram photo shoots! Hope to visit it one day. Cant wait for your next blog post

  6. I’d be really interested to visit here as the scenery looks beautiful and it also looks like a very spiritual place to encounter, but I hope you don’t mind me saying, but it is so stuffed with keywords that I found it very very difficult to read. The same term is used multiple times in the same paragraph and that’s just not a natural way to speak or write, which is what makes it challenging to read. Just thought I’d mention it, as you’re obviously an amazing researcher and love sharing travel tips.

    1. hi
      gla that you made the observation for it will help me to refine the succeeding blog posts , thanks a lot for this genuine observation.

  7. I loved the monasteries in Ladakh. Even though I did not have enough time to go to Deskit monastery, I would love to go back to see and spend more time at Ladakh.

    1. hi raksha
      well Ladakh is a region that cannot be covered in one go , it needs multiple visits and i am sure you will find the opportunity to cover it again

  8. Lovely post depicting the cool calmness of these monasteries of Ladakh. Through your,as always,beautiful pictures. Must confess lots of learning too about Ladhakh having had a sketchy picture till now as had not researched much before. Being from Gaya monasteries have always been close to my heart and seeing the monks gets me excited. The other reason I wish to visit Ladakh is to understand the immense work this famous personality Sonam Wangchuk has done for the community there.

    1. hi
      yup Ladakh is one destination that needsto be visited again and again. It is a region that has so much to offer,from history tradition to a complete way of life and some amazing vistas all around

  9. I wasn’t familiar with Ladakh before reading this. Very informative post. You really cover it all!

    1. hi mike ,
      glad that you the post interesting. Ladakh is one of those amazing places which makes one see the old ways of the world

  10. Fantastic post, I feel like i’ve been on a journey just reading this! Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. This is an amazing travel you’ve had. For now, I will be dreaming of visiting this place until travel is back to normal, plus when it is affordable again to visit.

      1. Yes, definitely! Even though I am not a religious person, I respect many teachings of Buddhism and more of them makes sense to me. This place I believe is a good place for meditation, and think about life that we want. I will definitely going to add this to my travel list, and tag my boyfriend.

  12. Wow, it is one of my biggest travel dreams! Thank you for this post. I love North India. But the furthest I was in Dharmasala and around, so far. I dream of going to Ladakh and visiting Buddhist monasteries too. I heard of the Hemis Festival, and I would like to see it. I add your post to my favorites. I hope to go there one day.

  13. This is a very detailed blog on Buddhism in Ladakh. I loved reading about the Hemis Monastery. Matreyi Buddha is also very eye-catching. I wish to attend the morning prayers in one of the monasteries if I ever get a chance to visit the place.

  14. I love reading about this beautiful culture! These locations are so interesting. Thank you so much for sharing

  15. This is a very detailed blog post. It made me feel like i was really in the Monasteries in Ladakh. You also have amazing photos!

  16. Nicely written… This is one of the places in my list that i wanted to visit. This was very helpful and this will be my next destination.

  17. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing! I’ve heard of Ladakh and have always wanted to visit! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Thank you for this level of depth! I really felt like I was there through your descriptions

  19. I have always wanted to go to Ladhak .. and especially love Monastries for their art and architecture, so bookmarking this for future reference.

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