Ladakh's Spiritual Circuit: Monasteries To See In A Day

Visit these three remarkable monasteries in Ladakh's spiritual heartland all in one day and explore the magnificence of the region in limited time
Stupas and prayer flags at Thiksey monastery in Leh
Stupas and prayer flags at Thiksey monastery in LehShutterstock

A visit to Ladakh is usually on the bucket list of every avid traveller. When you venture into the mystical land of Ladakh, a journey to its monasteries is an absolute must. But if it's a short trip, it often gets difficult to see everything and make time for all the attractions. For such a situation, here is a list of three of the most well-known monasteries to see in Ladakh to satiate your spiritual curiosity within a short span of time.

Hemis Monastery: Ladakh's Richest Monastery

About 45 kilometres from Leh, you'll find Hemis Monastery, one of Ladakh's most famous and affluent monastic complexes. Hemis Gompa is renowned for its annual two-day Hemis Festival, where the highlight is the unveiling of an enormous thangka, a religious painting. Every twelve years, during the Hemis Festival, one of Ladakh's largest thangkas graces a vast audience.

Hemis Monastery
Hemis MonasteryShutterstock

History And Architecture

Hemis Monastery dates back to the 17th century, established in 1672. It follows the Drukpa Lineage of Buddhism, and its history intertwines with the great masters of the Kagyu lineage, including Naropa and Tilopa. The architectural style of Hemis Monastery is distinctly Tibetan. The main structure features white walls and opens into a spacious courtyard through a grand gate. The complex includes two assembly halls, a library, and captivating murals.

A traditional dance during the Hemis Festival
A traditional dance during the Hemis FestivalShutterstock

Best Time To Visit

For an unforgettable visit, plan your trip during the two-day Hemis Festival, typically celebrated in June or July. Witness the mesmerising Cham Dance and the display of ancient Thangkas.

Getting There

Reach Hemis easily by hiring a taxi or a motorbike from Leh, covering a distance of approximately 45 kilometres.

Thiksey Monastery: Tibet's Potala Palace

Nestled near Leh, Thiksey Monastery, strikingly resembling Tibet's Potala Palace, is a grand spectacle. This gompa is the largest in central Ladakh, offering a captivating experience for travellers. A star attraction within Thiksey Monastery is the Maitreya Temple, constructed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1970. Inside, you'll discover a colossal 15-metre statue of Maitreya Buddha, Ladakh's largest. This immense two-story marvel embodies serenity and grace. Thiksey Monastery is renowned for hosting the annual Gustor Festival in October/November. This vibrant event includes a lively trade fair at the base of the monastery, attracting villagers from across Ladakh for barter, trade, and socialising.

Thiksey Monastery
Thiksey MonasteryShutterstock

History And Architecture

The history of Thiksey Monastery traces back to the 15th century when Jangsem Sherab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsongkhapa (founder of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism), founded a small village monastery named Lhakhang Serpo or "Yellow Temple." Later, in the mid-15th century, Palden Zangpo erected a larger monastery on a sacred hill near a village of the same name. This monumental structure is today's Thiksey Gompa, boasting remarkable architecture reminiscent of Tibet's Potala Palace. Thiksey Monastery's architecture follows a distinct pattern of arranging buildings in ascending order of importance as you ascend the hill. It culminates with the monastery at the hill's apex and the chief lama's potang (official residence). The highest tier features a stupa (chorten), completing the serene setting.

Two boy monks outside the Thiksey Monastery
Two boy monks outside the Thiksey MonasteryShutterstock

Best Time To Visit

Plan your visit during the Gustor Festival in October/November to witness the enchanting Cham Dance and immerse yourself in Ladakh's vibrant culture.

Getting There

The most convenient way to reach Thiksey Gompa is by hiring a car or renting a bike from Leh, which is approximately 19 kilometres away.

Stakna Monastery: Ladakh's Hidden Treasure

Stakna Monastery, a hidden gem in Ladakh, stands out for its distinctive name, "Tiger's Nose." The monastery is perched on the left bank of the Indus River, housing around 30 monks. A visit to Stakna unveils its sacred Arya Avalokitesvara statue, brought from Kamrup, Assam.

The way to Stakna gompa
The way to Stakna gompa Shutterstock

History And Architecture

Founded in the 16th century by the Bhutanese scholar and saint Chosje Jamyang Palkar, Stakna Monastery belongs to the Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyu tradition. The monastery is a spiritual haven where serenity meets spirituality. Stakna Monastery boasts Tibetan-style architecture, with its main attraction being the Dukhang, an assembly hall adorned with murals of Sakyamuni and Amchi. The courtyard features a striking 7-foot-tall silver-gilded chorten. The monastery is adorned with captivating paintings of revered Buddhist figures like Padma Sambhava and Bodhisattva.

Stakna Gompa is a Buddhist monastery
Stakna Gompa is a Buddhist monasteryShutterstock

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit the monastery is between July and September, when the region is free of snowfall, and the weather is cool and pleasant.

Getting There

Ideally, to get to Stakna Monastery, hire a taxi or rent a bike from Leh, whichever suits you better. The journey to Leh, located only 25 kilometres away, offers a stunning view of sweeping landscapes and lush greens.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller