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.
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 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.
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.
Reach Hemis easily by hiring a taxi or a motorbike from Leh, covering a distance of approximately 45 kilometres.
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.
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.
Plan your visit during the Gustor Festival in October/November to witness the enchanting Cham Dance and immerse yourself in Ladakh's vibrant culture.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.