7 Must-visit Monasteries in Ladakh
Buddhism being one of the main religions of Ladakh has deep roots in its rich cultural heritage. The marvelous Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh date back to centuries before modern times and are a chief source of attraction to tourists. The monasteries in Ladakh are popularly known for their annual festivals, vibrant paintings, and pieces of Buddhist art that mesmerize the viewer. these Buddhist gompas are architectural marvels providing a soothing ambiance and alluring visuals. These are a few Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh which are an essential addition to your itinerary.
1. Hemis Monastery
The Hemis monastery is situated about 45 kilometers from Ladakh. the beautifully endowed monastery is dubbed the richest monastery in Ladakh. According to tales, the Hemis Gompa dates back to the 11th century. It was later re-established in 1672. The monastery has prayer flags on all four sides and a beautiful display of idols stupas and thankas along with a library of Tibetan books. The Hemis monastery is famous for its two-day annual Hemis festival. Since Hemis is in close periphery of Leh, it can easily be visited in one day.
Annual festival: The Hemis Festival is celebrated on the 10th day of the fifth month of the Tibetan calendar. It is famous for the unfurling of a giant thangka (a religious painting)
Travelers tip: The souvenir shop is inexpensive and neat don't forget to buy something as a memory. Travel this route by hiring a bike to enjoy the beautiful scenery and soothing air.
2. Diskit Monastery
The origins of the Diskit monetary trace back to the 14th century making it the oldest monastery in Ladakh. It is situated on a hill 3144 meters above the flood plains of the Shyok river The monastery is home to the famous Maitreya Buddha statue, a significance of world peace and love embedded just below it. The statue is decorated with traditional patterns and vivid colors making it appealing to the eye.
The monastery is a hub of ancient literature. It also holds statues of fierce deities and has a massive drum placed inside a hall. You can find many shrines and transcripts as well as generation-old paintings in this monastery. The monastery is situated on top of a hill in Nubra valley and is easily approachable by road.
Annual festival: Deskit Gustor Festival is celebrated in early October and is famous for the burning of an effigy of a demon.
Travelers tip: head to the parking to get mesmerizing pictures of the valley, the statue, and the Diskit monastery.
3. Lamayuru Monastery
Located on the Srinagar- Leh highway about 127km from Leh, the Lamayuru monastery is a must-visit place for sightseeing. It is one of the largest monasteries in the region and is known for its ‘lunar’ landscape more popularly known as the Lamayuru moonscape. The Lamayuru moonscape provides fascinating visuals of mesmerizing geological formations.
The monastery is affiliated with the Drikung Kagyu school of Buddhism. Lamayuru means ‘sauwastika’; a symbol of eternity. History states that the Indian scholar Naropa founded the monastery in the 11th century by drying up a lake. The Lamayuru monastery can easily be covered within a day while visiting Leh.
Annual festival: The Yuru Kabgyat festival is celebrated in the months of June/ July and is popular for its traditional cham dance.
Travelers tip: Enjoy the humor of the hand-painted road signs on your way to the monastery while simultaneously enjoying the moon-like landscape
4. Thiksey Monastery
Popularly known for its gigantic structure, the Thiksey monastery is located on top of a hill, 19 kilometers away from Ladakh, and provides a stunning view of the Thiksey village. The monastery is home to many elements of traditional Buddhist art pieces including the Bhavacakra (Wheel of Life) with images signifying ignorance attachment and aversion. . It is decorated with wall paintings and has a 49ft tall Maitreya Buddha statue in the temple which was made to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Rama. the resemblance of the architecture with the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, has caused it to be named ‘Mini Potala’. The building is painted in ochre, red, and white contrasting with the brown landscape and making it visible from far.
Annual festival: The annual ‘Gustur festival’ is held here on the 17th to 19th day of the Tibetan calendar. The main highlight of this festival is the sacrificial ceremony.
Travelers tip: The monastery offers food and lodging for a very affordable price you can stay and attend the morning prayers before leaving
5. Korzok Monastery
The 156-year-old monastery is located in Korzok village in Leh at a height of 4560 meters. The monastery has statues of Shakyamuni Buddha. The monastery is a house for 70 monks. The chief attraction of the monastery is the picturesque view of Tso Moriri Lake. the lake is also of great sacred importance and is termed a ‘Sacred Gift for a Living Planet’ by the local people. The name of the monastery means ‘taken by unfair means’ signifying the exploitation of nomads by the monastery. The monastery is a must-visit location in Leh and can also be visited while traveling to Manali.
Annual festival: The annual Korzok Gu-stor festival held in January is a source of attraction to many nomads making different cultures visible.
Travelers tip: Traveling this route with a local driver makes it more fun as you will come across many small yet beautiful villages on this route.
6. Alchi Monastery
Located about 65 kilometers away from Leh, sitting peacefully on the banks of Indus river lies the hub of alluring Buddhist art; the Alchi Monastery. Built in the 11th - 13th century, the Alchi monastery is one of the most important Buddhist centers. The monastery is beautifully decorated with vibrant colors, wall paintings, and grand images made of clay. The monastery is a feast of Buddhist art and has about a thousand miniature paintings of buddha articulately drawn on a wall. The unique feature of this monastery is that it is made on a flat ground, unlike other monasteries which are usually made on slopes. It is surrounded by bustling markets and souvenir shops.
Annual festivals: Chotrul Duchen, Dajyur, Galdan Namchot, Losar, Monlam, and Sho Dun are some annual festivals celebrated in Alchi. The best time to visit the Alchi Gompa is during these festivals
Travelers tip: The monastery has a rich history of Buddhist heritage, hire a guide to help you understand the deeper meaning behind the displayed art.
7. Likir Monastery
Established in 1065 and acting as a preservative of Buddhist history, the Likir monastery is located atop a hill 52 kilometers west of Leh. The name “Likir” translates to encircled and signifies the serpent spirits. Once destroyed due to fire, this monastery now holds a 23-meter-long Maitreya buddha statue on its roof. The statue has bookcases of ancient Buddhist literature which serves as the chief attraction for the gompa. The monastery also hosts a collection of ancient artifacts manuscripts and tangkas in its assembly halls, more commonly known as dukhangas.
Annual festival: The Likir festival is held between the 27th to 29th months of the Tibetan calendar. It is characterized by votive offerings and the cham dance performance.
Travelers tip: A trek to the Likir village is advised so you can take in the beautiful landscape leisurely and have your own adventure.
Ladakh is popular for its picturesque scenery and amazing landscapes. However, while talking about Ladakh it is impossible to separate it from its rich cultural heritage which houses itself in the monasteries of Ladakh. These monasteries bring one closer to culture and give a brush of fresh wind to a tired soul. So grab your bags and start packing for your next getaway from your monotonous life with the help of this compilation of the must-visit monasteries in Ladakh now !!