The most attractive
feature of the landscape of Ladakh are the Buddhist monasteries
situated on the isolated hillock in the vicinity of villages,
these aesthetically pleasing, architecturally interesting
monasteries provide the focus for the faith of the highly
religious Buddhist people. Monasteries are the places of worship,
isolated meditation and religious instruction for the young. Many
monasteries celebrate their annual festivals in winter, which are
marked by gay mask dances. Monasteries have a wealth of artifacts,
Lamayuru, the oldest religious centre of Ladakh, beats all other
in sheer grandeur. In its uniqueness of wood carving, statues and
frescoes, Alchi offers the highest rewards. The wealth of its
possession and its annual summer festival make Hemis the most
popular, while Thiksay rates high in terms of architectural impact
and the beauty of the festival performances at Likir and Phyang
with their proximity to Leh are great attractions in their favour
while the accessibility of the Shey, Spituk and the Sankar
monasteries make them suitable for visitors with time at a
The approach to the monasteries is lined with mane walls and
Chortens. Mane walls are made of votive stones on which prayers
and holy figures are inscribed, while Chortens are semi religious
shrines or reliquaries, containing relics of holy people or
scripts. Besides monasteries, the 9 storey Leh Palace, Stok Palace
Museum and the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies Choglamsar,
Mosque and Moravian Church at Leh are added attraction for the
tourists. Most of these can be conveniently visited from Leh as
buses ply daily between Leh and those monasteries. Most of the
monasteries remain open throughout the day.
NATIONAL MONUMENTS IN LADAKH.
The government of India has declared following historical
monuments in Ladakh as national importance under Archaeological
Survey of India.
1. Sculpture at Drass
2. 2. Rock Cut Sculpture at Mulbekh.
3. 3. Lamayuru Monastery.
4. 4. Likir Monastery.
5. 5. Alchi Monastery
6. 6. Phyang Monastery.
7. 7. Hemis Monastery.
8. 8. Leh Palace.
9. 9. Old Castle Tsemo Hill.
10. 10. Stupa at T- Suru.
11. 11. Shey Palace
THE CASTLE OF LEH AND THE TEMPLE OF NAMGIAL TSEMO.
Leh is the capital of Ladakh and there are many temples, castles
and stupas here, which were built by the ancestral Dharmaraja. Leh
was the Ist of all the capital of King Takspa Bum-lde who rules
over the area of Stod, which included Leh from 2400 to 1430. It
was he who built the ‘Red Chapel’ containing the statue of the
Buddha Maitreya, three storeys in height with the statue of
Avalokitesvara & Manjusri on either side, each one storey in
height. As speech-supports he had the Sungbum Chenmo and many
other sacred texts written out in gold & silver. As a mind-
support he built, the stupa of Ti’u-Tashis Od-phro containing 108
temples inside. This he built on top of the so-called’ Yellow-
Te’u Demon’ which had been harming the valley of Leh. The ruin of
the stupa can be seen to this day and is known to everyone as
Tisuru. Thereafter, the temple of Namgail Tsemo was built during
the lifetime of King Tashi Namgial who rules from 1500 to 1532. He
founded the village of Chubi.
The Leh Palace, known as “ Lhachen Palkhar ‘ was built by
Dharmaraja Singey Namgial in 1600. It has 9 storey. The historians
say that its completion took three years. In the Leh valley, there
is Sankar monastery to be seen which the first Skyabsje Bakula
Rinpoche founded. It is a branch monastery of Spituk Monastery.In
the town of Leh there is a yellow stupa called the “ Mani Sermo’
which was built by Rinchen Zangpo, the Translator.In the centre of
Leh there is the “ New monastery’ calledThe Buddhist Association
of Ladakh in 1957 built it. Inside, there is a sacred image of the
Buddha Shakya Muni that was brought from Tibet. Close by the Radio
Station in Leh there is two large Mani walls. The one built in the
Centre of the open plain known as her son Deldan Namgial in about
the year 1635 built Rongo Thang as a memorial to Queen Skalzang
Dolma. At its head and end there are the stupas of Enlightenment
and of victory which contain relics. Tsetan Namgail in 1785 and
intended as a memorial built the long Mani wall further down from
this one to his father king Tsewang Namgial.
The festival of Dosmochey in Leh takes place every year in the
28th & 29th of the Tibetan 12th month. The monks of different
monasteries are invited by turn to perform the ceremonies, which
ensure health & prosperity. The monks of Takthok monastery come
and erect a large thread-cross model (Dosmochey) after which the
festival is named. Continuing on the Changspa Lane across the
stream, you reach the start of the stiff climb up to the new white
Japanese Shanti Stupa ( 1983). There are good views from the top.
There is also a jeepable road.
The architecturally striking Leh Mosque, in the main Bazaar is
worth visiting. The Sunni Muslim Mosque is believed to stand on
land granted by King Deldan Namgial in the 1660s, his grand mother
was the Muslim Queen of Ladakh.
STOK PLACE & MONASTERY.
15 Kms South of Leh at the West Bank of river Indus is the Royal
Palace dating from the 1840s when the invading Dogra forces
deposed the king of Ladakh. The Palace is a rambling building
where only a dozen of the 80 rooms are used. The Palace Museum (3
rooms) is worth visiting. It is a show piece for the royal thankas
(many 400 years old), crown jewels, dresses, coins, peraks
encrusted with turquoise and lapis lazuli as well as religious
objects. The monastery founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus in 14th
century, a short distance away, has some ritual dance- mask (Guru
Tseschu) held on the 9th and 10 th day of the Ist month of Tibetan
SHEY PLACE & MONASTERY.
King Deldan Namgial (1620 - 1640) built Shey palace in the
beginning of the 17th century AD. The main image in the monastery
is the 3- storey statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, made of copper
guilt, which was made by King Deldan Namgail in the memory of his
father Singay Namgail. The statue is the only of its kind in the
It was build during the reign of King Singay Namgial, containing
the two-storey statue of Buddha. (Shey Srubla) festival is also
held here at Tresthang Gonpa. The rock- curved statue of five
Buddhas can be seen below the Palace on the roadside.
Thiksay Gonpa, 18 Kms from Leh is the most beautiful of all
monasteries in Ladakh, belongs to the Gelukpa order. The Gonpa was
first build at Stakmo by Sherab Zangpo of Stod. Later the nephew
of Sherab Zangpo, Spon Paldan Sherab, founded the Thiksay Gonpa on
a hill top to north of Indus river in 1430 AD.There are sacred
shrines and many precious objects to be seen there. Eighty monks
are in residence. The successive reincarnations of the Skyabsje
Khanpo Rinpoche act as incumbents of the monastery. Sacred dances
are held at the time of the Gustor ritual, which is performed
every year from the 17th to 19th day of the 9th month of Tibetan
Calendar. Although there was a very large temple built in ancient
times at Thiksay by Rinchen Zangpo, the Translator, now it is in
ruins. What remains of the building and walls can be seen at the
site of the temple which was called Lakhang Nyerma and which was
dedicated to the goddess Dorje Chenmo.
The Stakna monastery lies at a distance of 25 Kms from Leh on the
Right Bank of the River Indus. The monastery formed part of the
one of the many religious estates offered to the great scholar
saint of Bhutan called Chosje Jamyang Palkar in about 1580 AD by
the Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial who had invited his to Ladakh.The
monastery was built on a hill shaped like a tiger’s nose and so
its name was given as Stakna (Tiger’s nose). The most important
image in the monastery is that of the sacred Arya Avalokitesvara
from Kamrup (Assam). There are about 30 monks in residence. The
successive reincarnation of the Stakna Tulku act as the incumbents
the monastery and they continue to fulfil the fine responsibility
of upholding the teachings of the Dugpa order. The branch
monasteries attached to Stakna are those of Mud and Kharu and
those of Stakrimo, Bardan and Sani in Zanskar.
47 Kms from Leh on the west bank of the Indus, the monastery
belongs to Dugpa Order, built on a green hillside surrounded by
spectacular mountain scenery, is hidden in a gorge. It is the
biggest and wealthiest monastery in Ladakh and is a must for
visitors. Sacred musk dance is performed on 9th and 10th day of
the Tibetan 5th month. During the Hemis Tsechu held in the year of
the Monkey it is possible to se the sacred appliqué- work tapestry
wrought with pearls the depicts the precious teacher.
Padmasambhava.Next display of great Thanka will be in 2004.Within
the monastery there are to be seen a copper-gilt statue of the
Lord Buddha, various stupas made of gold and silver, sacred
thankas and many objects. The monastery was founded by the 1st
incarnation of Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso in 1630, which was
invited to Ladakh by the king Singay Namgial and offered him a
religious estate through out the region.
There is a pleasant 3 Kms walk, on the side of the mountain above
the monastery there is a sacred hermitage founded by the great
Gyalwa Kotsang where there can be seen his meditation cave, his
foot-print and hand - print on the rock and sacred shrines. This
Kotsang is an old hermitage, which was founded many years before
the Hemis Monastery. A stay in Hemis over night enables you to
attend early morning prayers, a moving experience and strongly
Chemday monastery is situated 40 Kms east of Leh. The monastery is
situated there on the mountain side and was founded 365 years ago
by Lama Tagsang Raschen with the Dharmaraja Singey Namgial acting
as patron. There is a sacred image of Padmasambhava to be seen
there, one storey in height. There are, furthermore, many shrines.
A custom exists whereby every year on the 28th & 29th days of the
9th Tibetan month sacred dances are performed in association with
the festival of an initiatory ritual. The successive
reincarnations of Lama Tagsang Raschen act as the incumbents.
The monastery of Takthok is situated in the village of Sakti at a
distance of 46 Kms from Leh. Before the monastery was founded
there was a meditation cave of a Mahaadiddha called Kunga Phuntsog.
After him, during the lifetime of the Dharmaraja Tsewang Namgial,
31st, in the line of the royal dynasty. Since the roof and walls
of the monastery are all made of rock, it was given that name
Takthok (rock-roof), There is a custom of holding sacred dances &
the ceremony of hurling a votive offering during the festival of
an initiatory ritual on the 9th & 10th days of the 6th Tibetan
month. At present the Taklung Tulku administers it.
Matho is situated at a distance of 26 kms Southeast of Leh on the
opposite bank of the River Indus. There is a monastery, which
belongs to the Saskya Order. A Lama Dugpa Dorje founded it about
five hundred years ago. Shrines and also a sacred temple dedicated
to the guardian deities are to be seen there. A festival called
the “ Matho Nagrang ‘ takes place there every year on the 14th and
15th day of the 1st Tibetan month. All the monks perform sacred
dances and two gods known as the Rongtsan make their appearance.
There is no incarnate being who acts as incumbent. However, Loding
Khan Rinpoche is acting present performing the functions of an
8 Kms from Leh, the monastery standing on a conical hill with 3
chapels was founded in the 11th century by Od-de the elder brother
of Lha Lama Changchub Od, when he come to Maryul.He introduced a
monastic community. When Rinchen Zangpo, the translator came to
that place he said that an exemplary religious community would
arise there and so the monastery was called Spituk (Exemplary).
That time it belonged to the Kadampa School. Then during the
lifetime of Dharmaraja Takspa Bum- Lde Lama Lhawang Lotus restored
the monastery and the stainless order of Tsongkhapa was introduced
and it has remained intact as such up till the present. The
Principal statue is that of the lord Buddha.Within this status
there is a sacred image of Amitayus, about the finger length in
height, presented to Kind Takspa Bum-Lde by the great Tsongkhapa.
Every year from the 27th to 29th days of the Tibetan 11th month
the sacred dance associated with the festival of the Gustor are
held. Stok Monastery, Sankar monastery and Saboo monastery are
branches of Spituk Monastery. The incumbents of all these
monasteries are the successive reincarnations of Skyabsje Bakula
Rinpoche. The monastery is belonging to Gelugpa Order. There are
about 100 monks in the monastery of Spituk.
Phyang is situated 17 kms west of Leh. The site for the monastery
there formed part of one of the many monastic estates Offered to
Chosje Damma Kunga from Digung during the time of Dharmaraja
Jamyang Namgial, who had invited the former to Ladakh.A monastery
called Tashi Chozong was founded in 1515 there on the hill of
Phyang and a monastic community introduced. It marked the
1stestablishment of the Digung teachings in Ladakh, teachings
whose traditions began with Skyoba Jigsten Gonbo, Within the
monastery there are sacred shrines and various wall paintings are
to be seen which date from the royal period. The protective of the
monastery is Apchi Choski Dolma.Every year from the 2nd to 3rd of
the 6th month the sacred dances and the hurling of votive offering
associated with the festival of (Gang-sngon Tsedup) are held. The
successive reincarnation of Skyabje Toldan Rinpoche acts as the
incumbents of the monastery.
THE CASTLE OF BASGO
Basgo lies at a distance of 42 Kms west of Leh.The castle known as
Basgo Rabtan Lhartsekhar is situated there on a hill of clay. The
Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial and Singay Namgial, father and son
built it. The Principal image there is that of the so-called’Golden
Maitreya,’ a sacred copper-gilt image of the Buddha Maitreya, two
storey in height. The Dharmaraja Singey Namgail as funerary build
it to his father, king Jamyang Namgial.There is also an image of
the Buddha Maitreya made of clay three storeys in height, which
can be seen at the top of the castle. The ruins of a temple and a
stupa build by Rinchen Zangpo, the translator can also be seen.
73 Kms from Leh, the monastery of Rizong was built in 1831 by the
great Lama Tsultim Nima.The monastery upholds the teachings of the
great Tsongkhapa.Dress and food provisions are provided for all
members of the community by the governing body of the monastery.
Nothing other than religious robes and books is permitted for the
inmates of each cell. There are 40 monks in residence. The
incumbents of the monastery are the successive reincarnations of
Lama Tsultim Nima and of his son, Sras Rinpoche. Within the
monastery there are shrines, the painting blocks of the biography
of Lama Tsultim Nima, many objects made and books composed by the
1st Sras Rinpoche. The monastery is sited in a most solitary
position. 2 Kms below it there is a nunnery called Chulichan (Chomoling)
where about 20 nuns reside. The governing body of Rizong Monastery
provides their food provisions and clothes. The walk of spinning
wool, milking, extracting oil for the temple lamps and so forth
has to be performed by all the nuns.
Likir lies at a distance of 62 Kms west of Leh. During the time of
Lhachen Gyalpo, the fifth king of Ladakh, a religious estate and
the land on which to build the monastery was offered to Lama
Duwang Chosje, a great champion of meditation. The Lama blessed
the site and in 1065 the monastery was built. The monastery was
encircled by the bodies of the two great serpent spirits, the naga-
rajas (Nanda & Taksako) and so its name became widely renowned as
Likir (The Naga - Encircled). In the 15th Century the disciple of
Khasdubje known as Lhawang Lodos Sangphu caused the monastery to
flourish. The monastery was brought into the order of the great
Lama Tsongkhapa and up till present times the ritual and
observances of the three basic Pratimoksa disciplines, which from
the basic of Buddhist teachings, are preserved. There are many
blessed shrines in this monastery and there resides a protective
deity wearing golden armour and of stern command.Every year from
the 27th to 29th of 12 th Tibetan month the votive offerings known
as Dosmochey are assembled and sacred dances are performed. The
successive reincarnations of Naris Rinpoche act as the incumbents
of the monastery.
Although there are a great many temples, caves and stupas built in
Ladakh by Rinchen Zangpo, Translator, Alchi Choskor is the large
and most famous of all of them. Alchi is situated at a distance of
67 Kms west of Leh, founded by Rinchen Zangpo, Translator, in 1000
AD. The sacred temples, to be seen there include the Principal one
of the Rinchen Lhakhang, at Lotsa Lhakhang, the Jamyang Lhakhang (Manjusri
temple) and the sumtsag Lhakhang. The main image is that of
Vairocana but there can also been seen the five Buddha Families
together with their attendant deities, The paintings are not like
the Tibetan style but rather they are executive according to the
Indian tradition. In order to build these temples Rinchen Zangpo,
the Translator is said in the various biographies to have brought
with him from Kashmir (thirty-two sculptors and wood carvers).
Other temples built by Rinchen Zangpo, Translator are to be found
at Mangu and Sumda each containing a sacred image of Vaironica,
various most beautiful images of the Buddhas and Bodhisatvas and
many kinds of lovely paintings. They are also included among the
108 temples built by Rinchen Zangpo, the Translator, within the
province of Naris Skorsum.
Lamayuru Monastery issituated 127 Kms west of Leh. In the 11th
century the mahasiddha Naropa came to this place and the cave
where he resided and meditated is still to be seen today. Then
Rinchen Zangpo, the Translator came to build many temples and
stupas and so the teaching of the Kadampa School came to flourish
greatly there. There after, for many years the monastery was
administered by the Zhwa-mar-pa (Red Hats), after which the
Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial offered it to Chosje Danma, whom he had
invited to Ladakh. The rituals and observances of the Digung
Kargyud School were introduced and the monastery received the name
of Yungdrung Tharpaling.The successive reincarnation of Skyabsje
Toldan Rinpoche acts as the incumbents of the monastery. There is
a custum whereby each year on the 17th & 18th of the 5th Tibetan
month the festival of the so-called (Yuru Kabgyad) is held during
which dances are performed. In this monastery there are various
shrines to be seen, including thangkas and wall paintings.
Wanla is situated close by Yungdrung to the Southeast. This old
monastery was built in 1000 AD.during the time of Lama Rinchen
Zangpo, the translator. The famous image of the 11 headed
Mahakaruna (Avalkitesvara), built to a height of more than two
storeys, is to be seen there. On the wall paintings there are
depicted the Buddhas, Boddhisattvas, the Mandala and so forth.
There is also a sacred image of Chovo-je-Paldan Atisha.
THE CASTLE OF TINGMOSGANG
Tingmosgang lies at a distance of about 92 Kms west of the
Leh.This castle was built at the time when Gragpa Bum, Younger
brother of Takspa Bum-Lde, the 17rth king of the Ladakhi dynasty,
was ruling over Sham in accordance with religious tenets. About 50
years have elapsed since its construction. Contemporary to this
was the Red Chapel “ Tsuglagkhang Marpo “ containing an image of
the Buddha Maitreya to the height of 3 storeys. In particular it
was at those times that the self-originated image of
Avalokitesvara from Kamrup was brought & installed inside the
castle of Tingmosgang. The image is considered to be a most
excellent object of pilgrimage which leads to the accumulation of
great merit and to which prostration and oblations have been
offered by the successive Dharmaraja of Ladakh and by the whole
populations of Ladakh.
KARCHA MONASTERY ZANSKAR
Karcha is the largest of all monasteries in Zanskar. Karcha
Chamspaling to give its full name was first established by Phagspa
Shesrab, the translator of Zanskar.The Teacher Dorje Shesrab who
caused it to flourish built the present monastery. Shesrab Zangpo
of Stod introduced the order of Tsongkhapa there. More than 100
monks are in residence. There are shrines and in particular, the
wall paintings executed by the Lama Dzadpa Dorje. The Bone relics
of Dorje Rinchen are also to be seen. Every year on the 28th &
29th days of the 6th Tibetan month the tradition of sacred dance
is observed in association with the Gustor festival. In that place
there are also two temples built by Rinchen Zangpo, the translator
known as the Thugsjechhenpoi Lhakhang and the Lhakhang Karpo.Close
by the village of Karcha there are the monasteries of Khagsar, of
Purang in the village of Langmi, of Phagspa in the village of
Nangbaphal and a nunnery called Dorjezong at the top of the
Zongkul is a sacred place of meditation, founded by the great
mahasiddha Naropa, who when he was residing in his meditation cave
(where his staff is still preserved) which is situated on the high
and splendid rock face above the present monastery, he struck his
ritual dagger in to the rock as a sign that he would found the
monastery. The mahasiddha went there and founded the monastery.
There after it became the sacred place of meditation for all the
mahasiddha of Zanskar, including Dubchen Kunga Gyatso, Dubchen
Nawang Tsering, Dzadpa Dorje, Karmapa, Kunga Choslag and lama
Norboo. Inside the monastery there are to be seen many kinds of
sacred shrines including the holy objects made by all those
mahasiddha mentioned above, such as: an ivory image of Samvara, a
crystal stupa and the texts containing the spiritual songs and
biographies composed by the successive mahasiddha. Inside the
meditation cave there is Panchen Naropa’s footprint embedded in
the rock and his sacred spring
The side of the Lungnak River situates Barden monastery at 8 miles
distance from the capital of Zanskar Padum on top of a high cliff.
The Lama Barapa founded it in 1270. The Principal image is a
Gandhara statue of the Buddha Maitreya, 2 feet in high, which is
said to have spoken. The Bodhisattva Deba Gyatso founded the
present monastery. Since it was the seat (gdan-sa) of Lama Barapa
its name became Bardan.The ruins of a monastery and a stupa can
still be seen on top of the mountain called Thar-Lha.
Stongde monastery is renowned as having been founded by Lama
Lhodak Marpa Choski Lodos in 1052 and its name is also Marpaling.
Later, Shakya Zangpo of Stongde caused it to flourish. Lama
Gyaltsanpa Tundup Palzangpo introduced there the order of
Tsongkhapa.There is many kinds of most beautiful shrines and wall
paintings to be seen there. About 60 monks are in residence and
every year sacred dance are performed in conjunction with the
festival of Gustor which takes place on the 28th & 29th days of
the 11th Tibetan month. The successive reincarnations of Nari
Tulku act as the incumbent. It seems about 960 years have gone by
since the monastery was founded.
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