The fluttering of prayer flags, the melodious chimes of spinning prayer wheels, isolated stupas and gigantic Buddha statues spreading its calm demeanor to the surrounding mountains and valleys – these are common sights when you visit the “Land of High Passes”. Ladakh is almost like mini Tibet with its Buddhist culture. Naturally, there is a plethora of monasteries that you will encounter during your visit. Here are 10 of them that you must visit.
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1- Lamayuru Monastery
Considered as the oldest monastery in Ladakh, established by none other than Mahasiddha Naropa himself, the Lamayuru Monastery will welcome you to Ladakh if you are approaching it from Kargil. The 11th century monastery has not just survived the ravages of time but plenty of plundering as well. One can witness these battle scars along with the rich wall paintings and Thangka art within the monastery. Be prepared to be enthralled by the valley around called Moonland. Legend has it that the area was a lake which drained by the tap of the walking stick of a Lama. Following this, five buildings for the monastery were constructed, of which only one still remains. Incidentally, the name “Lamayuru” means eternal.
Travel Tips: Lamayuru Monastery is 125 km from Leh. You can visit this enroute from Kargil. Alternately, you can hire a cab from Leh and add Alchi monastery to your trip.
2- Alchi Monastery
It is often a debate as to whether Lamayuru Monastery or Alchi is the oldest. Built in the same era as Lamayuru, Alchi has very unusual and antique Buddha images to discover. The ancient woodwork around its three key buildings belies its age while enthralling you with its intricate carvings. 1000 Buddhas usher you through a long corridor into the Assembly hall filled with centuries-old frescoes and wall paintings. Be sure to follow the line of prayer wheels that lead you to the banks of the gorgeous Indus River.
Travel Tips: Just 65 km from Leh, make sure you stop by the ancient ruins of Basgo when you visit Alchi. The ruins are enlisted in the World’s 100 Endangered sites by Unesco.
3- Thiksey Monastery
As you leave Leh for the gorgeous Pangong Lake, you must keep a watch out for this lovely set of buildings. The Thiksey Monastery is widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful in Ladakh. The structure is said to resemble the Potala Palace in Tibet. The monastery is home to the largest Maitreyi Buddha in Ladakh. 49 feet tall, the Buddha is set along two floors. Don’t miss climbing up its terraces. You will be treated to a very diverse view of Ladakh – with green fields that merge into sandy deserts bordered by the mountains.
Travel Tips: If you are here between October and November, try and attend the Thiksey Gustor Festival. You will be able to see the famous masked dances by the resident monks. Thiksey Monastery is just 19 km from Leh and can be visited when travelling to Pangong.
4- Hemis Monastery
Tucked away amidst the snow-peaked mountains, Hemis Monastery is one of the richest monasteries in Ladakh. The centuries-old monastery is abode for 6 unusual relics of Buddha that you can see at the Naropa Festival in September. The place also has one of the best Buddhist museums with a rich collection of ancient scrolls and weapons. Remember to explore the temples and assembly halls where you will find a two-storied statue of Guru Rinpoche.
Travel Tips: Besides Naropa Festival that takes place near the Hemis Monastery, you should also, witness the Hemis Festival (June-July) for the dragon dances. Hemis Monastery is 40 km from Leh, enroute to Pangong Lake. You can combine this along with your visit to Thiksey Monastery.
5- Diskit Monastery
Located in the scenic Nubra valley, the Diskit Monastery is easy to locate with its landmark Maitreya Buddha. The colourful statue, a symbol of World Peace, is a recent addition to the 350-year-old monastery. The ancient assembly hall in the monastery features a large statue of Guru Rinpoche along with various Guardian Gods. Watch out for the fresco of Tashilhunpo Monastery of Tibet. It is at the elevated cupola of the monastery.
Travel Tips: Diskit Monastery hosts the Dosmoche festival in February. It is 150 km from Leh and can be visited when heading to Nubra Valley.
6- Shey Monastery
Part of the Shey Palace, this monastery was built in the 1650s. Compared to the other monasteries, this is a smaller one but has an eternal flame going within it. The said flame is lit and maintained annually in front of a gold plated copper Buddha statue that is almost three floors tall. As you walk around the monastery, you will see the walls and remains of the palace.
Travel Tips: Shey Monastery is 16 km from Leh, on the same road as the Thiksey Monastery. Right next to the monastery is the famous Rancho school from the movie 3 Idiots.
7- Spituk Monastery
Yet another 11th century monastery, the Spituk Monastery is the closest to Leh town. Perched on a cliff by the banks of Indus River, this monastery has a throne for the Dalai Lama. It has some unusual Thangkas on display as well as a unique statue of Goddess Kali which is only unveiled during the Gustor festival in November.
Travel Tips: 9 km from Leh, when you are here, be sure to capture the flawless reflection of the monastery on the waters.
8- Likir Monastery
Likir means encircled by Nagas. Legend has it that two spirits of serpents – Nanda and Taksako protect this religious centre. The Dukhang or the assembly halls of the monastery have very dominating statues of Buddhist Guardian Gods and the Buddha himself. The monastery also has several ancient Buddhist scrolls, costumes and earthen wares. Don’t forget to enjoy their colourful Thangkas – some depicting life of Buddha while others putting forth his teachings.
Travel Tips: Likir Monastery is 54 km from Leh. If you are approaching Leh from Manali, then it falls on your route.
9- Stakna Monastery
When you see a beautiful set of buildings on a hill that looks like the Tiger’s nose, you have arrived at the Stakna Monastery. Built in the 1580s, the key feature of this monastery is its Dukhang for it is covered with jaw-dropping wall painting of Buddhist figures. There is no missing the rare Arya Avalokitesvara statue that is said to have come from the Kamrup region in Assam. Also, check out the silver chorten (stupa) with a statue of Buddha.
Travel Tips: The monastery is just 25 km from Leh and you can visit the same by using the local transport available in Leh. There are regular buses to it.
10- Phyang Monastery
The name of the monastery here refers to its location in the Blue mountains. Besides its scenic backdrop, the Phyang Monastery is a popular visit for all the history lovers. It has a museum with collections that date back to 900 years. From manuscripts to tools, weapons and statues, there is plenty to absorb. The monastery itself has gorgeous wall arts, frescoes and thangkas.
Travel Tips: Phyang is just 15 km from Leh. They have an annual festival called Gang Sngon Tsedup in February.