Road trip to Ladakh is one the most adventurous journey in the Himalayas, Ladakh lies in the northern part of India at the height of 3500Mtrs above sea level. Ladakh region offers one of the world’s toughest terrains for Adventure Motorcycle Travellers, it has the world’s highest motorable road “Khardungla Pass”, a top mountain pass in the Himalayas. Apart from difficult terrains and harsh weather conditions, it has some unique cultural diversity like most of the population in Ladakh follow Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. One will get to explore ancient monasteries and stupas. Here are some of the Top 10 monasteries to visit during the Leh Ladakh Road Trip
1. Thiksey Monastery:
Thiksey Monastery or Thikse Gompa is located on top of the hill in Thiksey village which is 20kms from Leh town. The architectural marvel of Thiksey gompa resembles the world-famous “Potala Palace” in Lhasa, Tibet. The monastery is located at an altitude of 3,600 meters (11,800 ft) in the Indus Valley. It is a twelve-story complex and houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings, and swords. One of the main points of interest is the Maitreya Temple installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970; it contains 15 meters (49 ft) high statue of Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh, covering two stories of the building. Thiksey Monastery built in 1430 AD belongs to the Gelukpa Order of Buddhism. Lhakhang Nyerma a Temple dedicated to Goddess Dorje Chenmo is within the Thiksey monastery. Apart from Lakhang Nyerma, there are a few more shrines inside the monastery complex. Thiksey Gompa hosts the Gustor ritual, organized from the 17th to the 19th day of September. Celebrated on an annual basis the sacred mask dance is also performed during the Gustor ritual.
2. Hemis Gompa:
Hemis Monastery is a Buddhist gompa situated in Hemis village, which is 45 km from Leh Town. Hemis is a 17th-century Buddhist shrine that was re-established in 1672. This famous monastery in Ladakh is of the Drukpa Lineage of Buddhism. The gompa near Leh has a museum that houses a wide collection of Tibetan books, Thangkas, gold statues, and Stupas embedded with precious stones, weapons, carriers, and even a stuffed vulture pup. One of the largest Thangkas is displayed every 12 years during the Hemis Festival, held for two days in June-July. The annual festival, commemorating the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava brings alive the courtyard of the monastery. The festival, where good triumphs over evil in a colourful pageant, also holds the annual 'bazaar' where Ladakhi’s from remote areas buy and sell wares. During the festival, various rituals and mask dances are performed in this courtyard.
3. Alchi Monastery
Alchi Gompa is famous for its Monastic Complex of temples, it is situated in Alchi village in Leh District. Alchi is the oldest monastery in the entire Ladakh region, that is the reason it is a must-visit gompa to visit during your Ladakh road trip. The history of Alchi Monastery states that it was created by the famous scholar-translator. Rinchen Zangpo in the 10th century. However, the inscriptions preserved in the monuments ascribe their creation to a Tibetan noble, Kal-dan Shes-rab later in the 11th century. The artistic and spiritual details of both Buddhist and Hindu kings of the time in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh are reflected in the wall paintings in the monastery. These are some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also has huge statues of the Buddha and elaborate wood carvings and artwork comparable to the baroque style. Shakti Maira has vividly explained the beauty of this small monastery.
4. Likir Monastery
Likir monastery is located at the height of 3700MTRS, approx 50kms from Leh city. The monastery was enclosed by the bodies of the two great serpent spirits or the naga- rajas, Nanda and Taksako. Because of this, the name of the monastery became Likir or the Naga encircled. Initially, the monastery was associated with the Kadampa sect, however, the year 1470 saw a conversion by a central Tibetan monk Lawang Lotos. This conversion resulted in the monastery being brought under the Gelukspa Order of the great Lama Tsongkhapa.The monastery, as it stands today, is not the original structure that was constructed in the 11th century. A fire destroyed the original temple, and in its place, a new structure was erected in the 18th century. Because of this, the monastery does not give the appearance of being very old. Clay Images of three Buddhas - "Marme Zat" (past), "Sakyamuni" (present), and "Maitreya" (Future) - dominate the Du-Khang whereas the Gon-Khang houses a statue of "Tse-Ta-Pa", the wrathful protector. Additionally, the impressive murals of "Yamantaka" and "Mahakala" adorn the Gon-Khang.
5. Lamayuru monastery
Lamayuru Gompa is situated in Lamayuru village at the height of 3510 Mtrs ASL. The gompa consisted originally of five buildings, and some remains of the four corner buildings can still be seen. Lamayuru is one of the largest and oldest gompas in Ladakh, with a population of around 150 permanent monks’ resident. It has, in the past, housed up to 400 monks, many of whom are now based in gompas in surrounding villages.Lamayuru is host to two annual masked dance festivals in the second and fifth months of the Tibetan lunar calendar when all the monks from these surrounding gompas gather together to pray. The history of the Lamayuru monastery dates back to the 11th Century when Mahasiddha Naropa (1016'“1100) visited the place coming from Zanskar. He spent a long time in strict retreat in a cave there and turned the place into a sacred land. The ancient temple in Lamayuru called Seng-ge-sgang is situated at the southern end of the monastery.
6. Diskit Monastery
Diskit Gompa is the oldest monastery in the Nubra region of Ladakh. Diskit Monastery in Nubra Valley is situated at an altitude of 10,308 feet, 15 kilometers northwest off the Khalsar-Panakil route, right at the edge of the desert in the Nubra Valley. The monastery was founded by Changzen Tserab Zangpo in the 14th century and is situated on a hill above the plains of the Shayok River. One should also visit the monastery for its vast collection of murals and display of frescoes. A popular festival known as Dosmoche or the "Festival of the Scapegoat" is held in the precincts of the monastery in February during the winter season, which is largely attended by people from villages of the Nubra Valley since the other regions in Leh are inaccessible during this period due to heavy snowfall.
7. Spituk Monastery
Spituk Gompa is situated in Leh Ladakh, which is 10 km from the main town. it was established in the 11th Century by Od-De. The word 'Spitok' means exemplary. Spituk Gompa belonged to the Kadampa School and with time, it came under Dharmaraja Takspa Bum - Lde Lama Lhawang Lotus, who introduced the stainless order of Tsongkhapa there. Today it is the home of 100 monks and an awe-inspiring image of Mahakaal, the face of this image is kept covered and is unveiled at the annual festival of Spituk in January. This Monastery’s Museum has a rich collection of ancient masks, antique arms, other icons, and numerous Thangkas. During the time of Dharma raja Gragspa Bum-Ide the monastery was restored by Lama Lhawang Lodos and the stainless order of Tsongkhapa was introduced and it has remained intact as such till present. Founded as a Red Hat institution, the monastery was taken over by the Yellow Hat sect in the 15th century. The monastery contains 100 monks and a giant statue of Kali (unveiled during the annual festival)
8. Stok Gompa
Stok Gompa is situated in Leh Ladakh, 15 km from Leh city. This monastery was built in the 14th century by the Lama Lhawang Lotus and it has all of the 108 volumes that are part of the Kangyur. The new Gautama Buddha statue that was started in 2012 and finished in 2015 was dedicated on August 8, 2016, by Tenzin Gyatso, who is the 14th Dalai Lama. The palace that is nearby was constructed nearly 200 years ago by the current king of the time, Tsepal Tondup Namgyal after Leh was invaded by Zorawar Singh. Stok Gompa: is a subsidiary of Spitok and both were founded by the same lama, Nawang Lotus, during the reign of King Takpa Bumlde. Stok belongs to the yellow-hat sect of Buddhism and currently has about 20 lamas living there. The oldest parts of the gompa are some 550 years old through the main Dukhang is only about 50 years old.
9. Phyang Monastery
Phyang monastery is located in Fiang village, which is 15 km from Leh city. The monastery is one of the earliest monasteries in Ladakh belonging to the Drikung Kagyu, Dri-gung-pa, or Drigungpa school, one of eight schools derived from the teachings of Phakmadrupa Dorje Gyelpo (1110-1170 CE). There are many Drikung monasteries in Ladakh: three main and more than thirty branch monasteries. It is also said that there were numerous monastic properties at the site which were offered to Denma Kunga Drakpa by the Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgyal. It was also the venue of the Tashi Chozong monastery established in 1515. But to trace the sequence of the Phyang monastery’s establishment is difficult as some events are not mentioned clearly. The monastery is known for its ancient wall paintings, collections of old thangkas, and murals of Mahakaal. The monastery is home to 100 monks. The monastery also houses a school to impart training in Buddhism along with modern education.
10. Shey monastery
Shey monastery of Shey Gompa or Shey Palace is situated in Shey village which is 15 km from Leh city. Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh in the past. It contains a huge shahyamuni buddha statue. It is the second-largest Buddha statue in Jammu and Kashmir. The Shey palace was built by King Deledan Namgyal and Shey Palace boasts of the largest victory stupa in Leh, the top of which is made of pure gold. The Shey Palace was the abode of the royal family till 1834 AD when they moved to the Stok Palace. A complex that comprises a monastery and a palace, Shey was once the summer capital of Ladakh. The monastery is known for its giant copper with a gilded gold statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, which is said to be the second-largest statue in Ladakh and a must-see. The current Shey Palace and Gompa were built on the instructions of Deldan Namgyal, in the memory of his late father, Sengge Namgyal. Shey is also known for its two annual festivals known as Shey Doo Lhoo (sowing season) and Shey Rupla (harvesting season). Both the festivals are the major attractions in Shey Monastery.