01 Alchi temple
Renowned as the oldest Buddhist learning centre, the Alchi Gompa is one of the magnificently built monasteries in Ladakh. Located 70 kilometres west of Leh on the banks of the Indus River, it is also the largest and most famous of the gompas built by Tibetan translator Rinchen Zangpo in the middle of the 11th century. With the lack of a monarchy, he appointed four families to look after the monastery till the 15th century when it was taken over by the Likir Monastery.
Different from other monasteries, this one is built on flat ground instead of on a hilltop. It has three main structures. The Du-Khang is the assembly hall and the largest part; the Sum-tsek is a three-storied structure with a four-armed statue of the Bodhisattva occupying two storeys with figures of Maitreya Buddha, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri on the ground floor; the third structure is Jampeyang Lhakhang, a temple of Manjushri. This temple also has a sculpture and painting of Rinchen Tsangpo.
Adorned with bright colours and intricately made statues of Lord Buddha, it takes approximately two hours to completely admire the beauty of these monasteries in Ladakh.
02 Chlemdey Monastery
Chlemday Monastery is one of the ancient monasteries related to Buddhism religion and among those monasteries which still exists and are situated in India. This monastery is founded by Stagtsang Raspa, the great Lama along with co-operation from Dharma king Singey Namgial who acted as a supporter to the Lama for the establishment of this monastery. The monastery is well settled on the high mountain side ever since its existence in the early 17th century.
Chemday Monastery is located in the Chemday village which is almost 40 km away from Leh. The monastery is located midst the natural beauty making it a worth watch. The monastery is quite old but still the artistic beauty over this monastery is worth admiration and this is the reason why tourist, not only from India but from around the world makes a visit especially to Chemday village to enjoy the artistic beauty of this stunning monastery. Statue of Padmasambhava is another important attraction since this image is quite big, almost covering one storey of the monastery building. Along with it, there is a range of amazingly eye – catching shrines in the complex of this ancient Monastery.
03 Diskyid Monastery
Amidst the stark and barren Nubra valley stands the beautiful and milky white Diskyid monastery. The oldest and largest monastery in Nubra, Diskyid monastery is located at an altitude of 3142 meters. It was founded in the 14th century by Changzem Sherab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism, also known as the yellow hat sect.
Location: Diskyid Nubra
04 Hemis Monastery
The Hemis Monastery located around 45 km south of Leh is one of the largest and most famous monastery of Ladakh and belonging to the Drukpa Kagyu. 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, making it one of the richest monasteries in Ladakh.
The monastery founded by the first incarnation Stagtsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso in 1630, and when it was named Changchub Samling, the small Buddhist community here was born. This monastery has amazing collections of the age-old relics such as the idol of Lord Buddha made of copper gilt, gold and silver stupas. Being such a majestic monastery, it attracts visitors from various corners of the world, especially during its annual festival known as the Hemis Festival. This festival is a much-revered celebration to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava.
Held on the 9th and 10th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan calendar, you must watch the festival celebrations as monks put up dance performances wearing colourful dresses and distinctly the enchanting sacred mask dance.
05 Lamayuru Monastery
Renowned as Tharpa Ling which means the ‘place of freedom’; Lamayuru monastery is one of the oldest and largest monasteries in Ladakh and said to have been built around the same time as Alchi Monastery. It is located approximately 127 km from Leh on a steep mountain between Bodh Kharbu and Khaltse. The monastery belongs to Drigung Kagyu of Buddhism. At its peak, the monastery housed 300 monks but nowadays there are only 50 inmates.
This monastery was founded by Mahasiddha Acharya Naropa the 11th century who came to the place for meditation.There are many legends associated with the construction of the monastery, one such predicted that the lake would be dried and a monastery would be constructed at its place. When the lake dried, Naropa found a dead lion there and chose to construct the first temple of Singey lakhang (Lion Mound). The founder then constructed five buildings but only one exists today.
The monastery is famous for its rich wall paintings, a collection of thangkas, murals, scriptures and statues of different forms of Buddha and other deities. 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.
06 Leh palace
Founder of the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh, Tsewang Namgyal embarked on building the Leh Palace on the Tsemo Hill in 1553. The construction of this regal building was completed in the 17th century by Singey Namgyal known as the ‘Lion’ King. He was the nephew of Tsewang Namgyal. While the upper floors of the nine-storied palace were used for residential purpose by the royal family, the lower floors had storerooms and stables. The royal family had to desert the palace and shift to Stok Palace in the mid 19th century as the Dongra forces invaded and took over Ladakh.
Leh Palace also referred as the ‘Lhachen Palkhar’ this royal palace located in the picturesque Ladakhi Himalayan town of Leh in India. Designed in line with the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the construction of the Leh Palace began in the sixteenth century and it was completed in the 17th century, marking it as one of the tallest buildings of that era with nine storeys. The roof top of the palace provides spectacular views of the mountain of Stok Kangri and the Ladakh mountain range as also panoramic views of the entire town and its surroundings. The palace is now in a dilapidated condition being maintained by the ‘Archaeological Survey of India’ (ASI). However the majestic building with a museum holding over 450 years old artifacts in the midst of the mountains that provide breathtaking views of the snow cap mountain ranges.
07 Likir Monastery
Also known as lu-Khyil gompa, the Likir Monastery was ordered to built by the 5th king of Ladakh Lhachen Gyalpo and was thus founded by Lama Duwang Chosje in 1065. The monastery is of the Gelugpa sect or Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Even today, Buddhist teachings and the three basic Pratimoksha disciplines are preached on the site. Likir means the Naga encircled.
The monastery got its name as it is believed two serpent spirits, Nanda and Taksako guard it. The monastery also plays host to the annual festival held in the 12th month of the Tibetan Calendar from the 27th to the 29th of the month and this festival is celebrated with great pomp. The monks put up religious dance performances, also who perform sacred rituals on these auspicious days.
08 Matho Monastery
Founded by Lama Tungpa Dorje in the year 1410, Matho is the only monastery that follows the Sakya sect of Buddhism. In order to introduce the Monastic community, the king offered religious estate in neighbouring villages and the Nagrang festival was started, which is held on the 14th and 15th day of first month the Tibetan calendar. The monastery is home to more than 60 lamas, they are chosen as oracles every three years where they have to undergo fasting and meditation over the duration of few months to purify themselves.
Apart from the Nagrang festival, the other festivals also organised have performances of the Cham dance and acts of oracles which are done under the influence of supernatural powers. The oracles run barefoot on the parapets of the monastery roof leaving everyone in awe and fear of them.
Constructed around 500 years ago, the monastery has a marvellous collection of ancient Thangas, walls adorned with sacred paintings, statues of Maitreya, Sakyamuni, the blessing Buddha and a thousand-armed statue of Avalokitesvara.
09 Phugtal Monastery
A trip to the Phugtal Monastery is a surreal experience, portraying an image as if stuck in the mountains in the form of a honeycomb. Situated at the mouth of a cave, atop a cliff, it is close to a major tributary of the river Lungnak and was founded by Jangsem Sherap Sampo during the early 12th century. From here, the view is magnificent as it makes a picture perfect setting of the mountains, lush greens and the pristine Lungnak River.
This is the remotest monasteries in Ladakh and is a popular attraction for tourists visiting Ladakh. This Buddhist monastery is not only built on a cliff but it also has a natural cave. It is believed that around many many years ago important sages, scholars, and translators visited this place. The Phugtal monastery was and it still is a preferred place by the scholars and teachers to meditate. This monastery which has a library as well as prayer rooms houses around 70 monks.
This one of the most isolated monasteries of the region is made up of wood and mud. Trekking being the only means of reaching this monastery, it creates a calming and tranquil experience to reach to the top and absorb in the aura of this divine place.
Location: Phugtal monastery is located in Lungnak Valley, south of Zanskar
10 Phyang Monastery
Found in 16th century by Chosje Danna Kunga Drakpa, the Dorzin or meditation master laid the foundation stone of this monastery. Legend has it that Drakpa stayed in a tented camp to contemplate the beauty of this place and while meditating he saw Apchi the protectress on a blue horse. He took this as an auspicious sign and constructed this monastery to commemorate this event. The tranquil and serene environment of the place provides its visitors with the much-needed peace of mind, body and soul.
The name Phyang was derived from Gang Ngonpo that means the blue mountain, which can be seen right behind the monastery and belongs to the Dri-Gung-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Home to around 85 monks, the monastery also houses a school to impart training in Buddhism along with modern education.
With ancient wall paintings, collections of old thangkas and murals of Mahakala, the monastery also has a museum that has 900-year-old collections of idols, scriptures, Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian firearms and weapons. The Phyang Gompa becomes the venue of Gang-Sngon Tsedup Festival, each year, starting from the 17th day up to the 19th day of month of the Tibetan calendar, which attracts a large number of tourists every year. Dance, music and mask dance are the high point of this event. The Cham dance by the lamas is also quite spectacular to watch.
11 Rangdum Monastery
Perched atop a mountain, the Rangdum Monastery looks like a citadel, overlooking and guarding the serene valley, with rolling hills, mountains and pristine glaciers which only enhances the beauty of this place. Located in Kargil Suru Valley, this monastery was built by Gelek Yashi Takpa about 200 years ago and some even believe it to be from the 8th century. Home to about 40 monks, the monastery has a rich assortment of Tibetan antiques and other precious artefacts and you’ll find the monks in deep meditation in the tranquil ambience of the premises.
You will also find a prayer hall located in the central part of the monastery, which will give visitors a clear view of the ancient and rustic beauty of this place. And while you’re here, you will get the feeling of remoteness, since this monastery is located far off the mainland.
Although the roads to the monastery are bumpy and require a good amount of time to reach, it still receives a lot of visitors every year, due to its surrounding gorgeous vistas and peaceful aura for meditation.
12 Rizong Monastery
According to popular belief, Guru Padmasambhava along with other lamas used to meditate in the caves around Rizong in isolation, surviving on two times meal a day and avoiding any contact with the outside world. Before building the monastery in 1831, Lama Tsultim Nima started a hermitage at the site to teach monks about Buddhism, who even today abide by very strict rules and regulations like apart from sacrificing all comforts and material possessions
Known as a ‘Paradise for meditation’, this monastery in Ladakh belongs to the Gelugpa Order or Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism and overlooks the picturesque Indus Valley. Home to about 40 monks today, the Rizong Monastery educates and teaches these monks the great scriptures and the chosen path to God with a very strict and simple way of life.
Located 2 km away, a nunnery, known as Chulichan (Chomoling), is under the cover of the monastery, where 20 nuns or the Chomos reside and worship at the temples of the monastery, perform chores like milking, spinning wool and getting oil for the temple lamps.
13 Shey palace
Shey is the ancient capital of Ladakh .
Built in 17th century by king Deldan Namgyal. Currently, the palace now a monastery houses the largest Buddha statue made of gilded copper known as Shakyamuni Buddha, covering three floors of the building. In front of the statue is a large wax bowl with a flame that is continuously lit for a year after which it is replaced. The objective of burning the flame is to highlight the importance of integrity and spirituality to the tourists visiting the monastery
With beautiful murals and paintings adorning the walls, it’s lower chapel has a library which is believed to have the largest collection of thangkas in Ladakh. The Rock-carved statue of five Buddha can be seen below the palace on the roadside, which was probably carved during the reign of Singay Namgyal.
There are two festivals held at this palace in Ladakh every year; Shey Sthrubla on the 30th day of the 1st months and Shey Ru-lo on the 10th day of the 7th month.
14 Spituk Monastery
Overlooking the gorgeous Indus River, this monastery in Ladakh was built and founded in the 11th century by Od-lde, the older brother of Lama Changchub. Initially, the gompa used to run on the principals of the Kadampa school but it later came into the fold of Gelugpa order
Today, it is home to 100 monks as well as a statue of goddess Palden Lamo, which is shown to the public during the yearly Spituk festival. The most iconic feature of the monastery is the icons of Buddha and 5 thangkas sharing space with sculptures and mini chortens. You definitely cannot afford to miss, its unique collection of ancient masks, antique arms and fine thangkas here.
A little higher up the hill is the temple of Vajrabhairva. The statue of the deity is kept covered and is unveiled only once during the Spituk Festival. The monastery plays host to the annual Spituk Gustor held in the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar, where the monks perform masked dances representing well over evil and stories depicting the life of Buddha.
15 Stakna Monastery
Enshrined by Bhutanese saint and scholar Chose Jamyang Palkhar in the 1580th century, Stakna means Tiger’s nose which is also the shape of the hill on which the monastery is located. Belonging to the Drugpa sect of Buddhism, this monastery in Ladakh portrays an image of the religious and cultural heritage of India and Buddhism. There’s a big assembly hall known as Dukhang, which is adorned with beautiful paintings of Sakyamuni, Tsepha Kmad and Amchi.
Out of the several idols of the monastery, the most significant one is that of Arya Avalokiteshvara from Assam’s Kamrup region. To the extreme right of the courtyard, there’s seven feet tall silver chorten which features the statue of Lord Buddha with some prayer notes. The wall opposite to the entrance of
the Assembly Hall is painted with three images, of a Bodhisattva, Padmasambhava and Tshong-san-Gompo. Statues of Sakyamuni (Past Buddha), the Present Buddha and Maitreya (Future Buddha) are also found in the hall. Like other gompas, Stakna also has a throne for the head lama of the monastery.
Home to about 50 monks currently, it has a number of sister monasteries, 3 of which are in Zanskar-Bardan, Stakrimo and Sani. The best part of this monastery is the striking view of the Indus River Valley from its rooftop.
16 Stok Palace
Stok, 15 kms southeast of Leh, is a place, where the present day royal family resides . King Tsespal Tundup Namgyal built Stok palace in the year 1825, after Zorawar Singh’s annexation of Ladakh. The royal family resides here since Ladakh lost to Zorawar Singh. At present the palace has a collection of royal dresses, old Thankas, King’s crown etc. that is open for visitors. Gurphuk Gonpa, a branch of Spituk Monastery is a little away from the palace, which is famous for its festival “Guru Tsechu” held on the 9th and 10th of the 1st month of Tibetan Calendar
17 Takthok Monastery
Takthok Monastery widely referred to as Takthak and Thag Thog by the local Buddhist people is the only monastery belonging to the Nyingmapa school of order of Buddhism. The monastery came into existence when Guru Padma Sambhava visited this place and blessed it in the 8th century. The Gonpa was a meditation cave of Guru Padma Sambhava with footprints and many other signs, until the reign of King Tsewang Namgail, When Kunga Phunstog introduced monastic community. It was given the name of Takthok Padmalinggon. . This cave is termed as Duphug (Tu-Phuk) Lhakhang and is a famous pilgrimage site for all the Tibetan Buddhists around the world.
The monastery has a temple, a Dukhang or assembly hall which has statues of Maitreya, Padmasambhava and Dorje Takposal.
Buddhists set out here on a pilgrimage to be blessed by ‘dubchu’ or Holy Water and to pay homage to the sacred book of Buddha’s teachings, the ‘Kanghur’, which has 108 volumes, along with other sets of Buddhists teachings to protect the people against evil spirits, curses and epidemics. These texts were written in pure gold and silver letters.
The monastery’s new temple is also a major attraction and is known for its murals, paintings and statues of Buddha. Consecrated by 14th Dalai Lama in 1980, the monastery is a major tourist attraction, and especially for Buddhists all over the world.
The Takthok Monastery hosts an annual event every year on the 9th as well as 10th of every sixth month according to Tibetan calendar, along with a sacred dance by the 55 monks residing here, to commemorate this event.
The first Thiksay Rinpoche, Chamsem Sherab Zangpo, was born in Sharmo Village, near Leh, and as a young boy travelled to Tibet with traders from Ladakh. When he arrived in Lhasa, he asked an old woman in the Barkhor the name of the best scholar or teacher inside Tibet. Without a word, she pointed to Ganden Monastery. He began his studies at Ganden, receiving teachings and initiations and becoming a disciple of the founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, Jhe Tsong Khapa.
Having completed his studies, Jhe Tsong Khapa instructed Doe Chamsem Sherab Zangpo to return to Ladakh, asking him to spread the ‘yellow hat tradition’, prophesying that, “On the right bank of the river Sita (Indus) my teachings will flourish”. Jhe Tsong Khapa gave him a statue made from dried blood from his nose, saying that when he arrived in Ladakh, he should give it to a famous person whom he would meet. On his arrival in Ladakh, Changsem Sherab Sangpo was told of a famous King in Nubra, King Nyima Namgyal, and made a request to meet him. The king was told that a poor monk was requesting an audience, but refused to see him, whereupon Chamsem Sherab Zangpo returned with the statue to Leh.
That night, the King in Leh, King Takpa Bumde, dreamt that a special person was coming to see him. The next morning he told the gatekeeper to admit anyone who came requesting an audience that day. When Chamsem Sherab Zangpo came, he met the King and presented the statue, and the King began to take teachings from him.
After several years, Chamsem Sherab Zangpo explained to the King that his teacher had told him to spread the teachings of Buddhism in Ladakh, and requested land to build a temple. The King offered land in a village called Stakmo, where Changsem Sherab Sangpo built the Lhakang Serpo (Yellow Temple).
Chamsem Sherab Zangpo continued to teach throughout Ladakh, but it became clear that the Lhakang Serpo was not attracting the requisite number of monks, and with his disciple Poen Palden Sherab, they decided to find an alternative place. Walking through the neighbouring valley of Arzoo, they came across a unique yellow stone in the parched desert. Feeling that this was an important and holy site, they performed a special ritual, making offering cakes or torma. As they completed the ritual, a crow swooped down and snatched the torma from the rock, disappearing with it in its beak.
thik-doUpon searching for the torma, the monks found it placed still in one piece in the doorway of the King Palde Rigpa Gon’s palace on a hill in a nearby village near to the Indus River. The palace became the site of Thiksay Monastery, ‘thik’ meaning ‘exactly right’, while the stone itself was known as ‘Thik-do’. Poen Palden Sherab was the son of one of the King’s Ministers and with this strong connection, the monastery flourished, with monks joining from all over Ladakh, Spiti, Nubra and Zangskar.
Meanwhile Chamsem Sherab Zangpo continued to travel throughout Ladakh giving teachings and instituting the Gelugpa school’s practices. He taught at many monasteries including Spituk, Deskit Monastery in Nubra, Likir Monastery and Karsha Monastery in Zangskar. He passed away in Phugtal Monastery, south of Padum in Zangskar. It is said that a juniper tree grew from hairs from his head, and this can still be found in Phugtal.
Chamsem Sherab Zangpo had given authority to Poen Palden Sherab to develop Thiksay Monastery, and because of his connection with the King, he was able to make much progress. Part of the original royal palace still remains to this day. The connection with the King’s family is maintained through the original Palden Lhamo temple on the highest level of the monastery. The only female allowed to enter the temple is the Queen of Stok, showing the original link between the monastery and the family.
Over the next six hundred years, the monastery grew in size and influence and increased its agricultural holdings enabling it to support itself.
When the present 9th Thiksay Rinpoche returned from Tibet in 1959 however, he found the monastery in disrepair, and few resources available to him. He began to build up the income of the monastery and embraced new technology in order to help. The first tractor in Ladakh belonged to Thiksay Monastery, and Rinpoche also introduced the first thresher for harvesting grain, mills for grinding corn and many other innovations, all with the purpose of supporting the monastery. Finding the original Dukhang in a very poor state of repair, he first renovated it, and then began work on the Zimchung, Notsar Phuntsog (lamas’ accommodation).
Later, Rinpoche extended the area of the Choera (debate courtyard) over the old grain store, replacing the beams which had collapsed. He built a new Dhuchok Khang, (main temple), with a school building below. He also built the new common kitchen and dining hall and opened the museum.
NYERMA is about two kilometers from thiksey monastery
(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.)
19 TSEMO CASTLE
King Gragspa Bum-Lde built the “Red Gonpa” known as Tsemo Gonpa in 1430 AD. The monument has three-storied future Buddha’s statue and a one-storied statue of Avaloketesvara and Manjushri. The Tsemo Sungbum Chenmo (sacred text) was written in gold and silver, Tisuru Stupa consist of 108 temples, which were remarkable work completed in the reign of king Graspa-Bum-Lde.
The Namgyal Tsemo (victory Peak) was built by King Tashi Namgyal after the reunification of upper and lower Ladakh and victory over Hor. Their bodies are placed under the image of Mahakala, the guardian deity to stop further invasion of Hor.