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HOME      »    DESTINATION OF LEH LADAKH         »    HOTELS IN LEH LADAKH
LAMAYURU , HEMIS & ALCHI TOUR
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Location: 130-km West Of Leh, Ladakh Region, J&K
Main Attraction: Lamayuru Gompa & Trekking
First Monastery Dates Back To: 10th Century

The First Monastery Of Lamayuru
The first Lamayuru monastery was built under Rinchen Zangbo at the end of the 10th century, under orders from the king of Ladakh , who altogether had 108 Gompas built in west Tibet. It was built on the broken mountain in the valley and consisted of five buildings, of which only the central building stands today. One can still see some remains of the four corner buildings to the west.Lamayuru Picture

The Gompa has an impressive 11-headed, 1,000-eyed image of Chenrezig. In its heyday up to 400 monks lived in the monastery but today there are only 20 to 30 who belong to the yellow hat sect. Many Lamas from Lamayuru now go out to other parts of Ladakh as teachers.

A Place For All
In the 16th century the monastery was declared a holy site in which even criminals could seek sanctuary. For that reason even today it is known to Ladakhis as 'Tharpa Ling', 'Place of freedom'.

Considered A Prime Attraction Since Primitive Times
A major landmark on the old silk route, the Gompa numbers among the 108 (a spiritually significant number, probably legendary) founded by the Rinchen Zangpo in the 10th and 11th centuries. However, its craggy seat, believed to have sheltered Milarepa during his religious odyssey across the Himalayas, was probably sacred long before the advent of Buddhism, when local people followed the Shamanical 'Bon' cult.

Passage To Zanskar
The main reason visitors make the short detour from the nearby Srinagar -Leh road is to photograph the Gompa from the valley floor, or to pick up the trail to the Prikiti-la pass - gateway to Zanskar, which begins here.

The footpath from the highway brings one near the main entrance to the monastery, where one should be able to find the Lama responsible for issuing entrance tickets and unlocking the door to the Du-khang. Lamayuru's newly renovated prayer hall houses little of note other than a cave where Naropa, Milarepa's teacher, is said to have meditated, and a rancid collection of Yak-butter sculptures. If one is lucky, one will be shown through the tangle of narrow lanes below the Gompa to a tiny chapel, whose badly damaged murals of Mandalas and the Tathagata Buddhas are contemporary with those at Alchi.

HOW TO GET THERE

Road: Lamayuru lies too far from either Leh or Kargil, 107-km west, to be visited in a day trip, so one either has to call in en route between the two, or else spend the night at the monastery itself. The regular bus service to Leh departs at 10.00 am and the one to Kargil at noon.

HEMIS

The Hemis Festival
Thanks to the Hemis Setchu festival - one of the few held in summer, when the passes are open - Hemis, 45-km southeast of Leh , is the most famous Gompa in Ladakh . Every year in mid-July hundreds of foreign visitors join the huge crowds of locals, dressed up in their finest traditional garb, that flock to watch the colourful two-day pageant.

An Enormous Thangka
Once every twelve years, the Hemis festival also hosts the ritual unrolling of a giant Thangka. The Gompa's prize possession, which covers the entire façade of the building, was embroidered by women whose hands are now revered as holy relics. Decorated with pearls and precious stones, it will not now be on show again until 2004. Among the treasures on permanent display is an exquisite Buddha Shakyamuni, also inlaid with jewels. The serene faced colossus sits in the Cho-khang chamber at the far end of the courtyard, along with a couple of richly inlaid silver Chortens.

The festival draws pilgrims, dressed in their finest costumes, from all over Ladakh and since 1975, tourists from all over the world. Apart from being one of the largest in Ladakh it is one of the few major religious festival in Ladakh, which is held in the summer, when the passes are open.

Hemis Gompa
Hemis Gompa is the largest and one of the most important in Ladakh quite apart from its annual festival. It was founded about 350 years ago by Stagtshang Rinchen, who was invited to Ladakh by king Singe (also spelt as Sengge) Namgyal.

One can gain an impression of the extent of the monastery area on the climb to the so called "Eyrie", a hermitage reached by a one hour, 3-km climb to 3,900 metres, 1,000 metres higher than Hemis. The 13th century monastery predates the Hemis Gompa and was built by Syalwa Gotsang-pa, who meditated in a cave nearby. A small shrine has been built around the cave, where one can see his foot and hand print in the rock.

In Splendid Isolation
Driving past on the nearby Srinagar -Leh highway, you'd never guess that the cluster of low pagoda roofed cubes 3-km across the Indus from Saspol, dwarfed by a spectacular sweep of pale brown and wine coloured scree, is one of the most significant historical sites in Asia. Yet the Chos-khor, or "religious enclave", at Alchi, 70-km west of Leh, harbours an extraordinary wealth of ancient wall paintings and wood sculpture, miraculously preserved for over nine centuries inside five tiny mud walled temples.

ALICHI

A Priceless Himalayan Heritage
Art historians rave about the site because its earliest murals are the finest surviving examples of a style that flourished in Kashmir during the "Second Spreading". Barely a handful of the monasteries founded during this era escaped the Muslim depredations of the fourteenth century. Of them all, Alchi is the most impressive, the least remote and the only place where one doesn't need a special permit to visit. Nestled beside a bend in the milky blue river Indus, amid some dramatic scenery, it's also a serene spot and the perfect place to break a long journey to or from the Ladakhi capital.

The Chos-khor consists of five separate temples, various residential buildings and a scattering of large Chortens, surrounded by a mud and stonewall and a curtain of tall poplar trees. If one is pushed for time, concentrate on the two oldest buildings, the Du-khang and the Sumtsek, both in the middle of the enclosure. Entrance tickets are issued by a caretaker lama from nearby Likkir Gompa, who will unlock the doors for the visitors. To make the most of the paintings vibrant colours, one will need a strong flashlight; but don't use a camera flash as it will damage the murals, last restored in the 16th century.

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