Day 17–19. Ladakhi Monasteries
Ladakh is one of the 3 districts with compose Jammu & Kashmir state. Statistically, half population is Muslim and another half is Buddhist. However, the more east Ladakh you go the more Buddhist culture is evident. Leh (Ladakh capital) makes you feel the Buddhist culture, many Gompas or Stupas around, rotating drums, colourful flags and Tibetan looking people. The nickname of Ladakh is Small Tibet. As in Chinese Tibet or Bhutan you can’t go on your own, we chose to go to Ladakh to see Himalaya and find out the Tibetan culture.
There are many Buddhist monasteries around Leh, some are well-known, and others are less. To visit them we decided to rent a scooter, as with public transport we won’t make it in a flexible way. We addressed to the same agency which prepared us the travel permits. It’s called Swiss Tour and it’s headed by a charismatic Tibetan lady, who always offer you tea and cookies.
The guy brought us a scratched vehicle, showed how it works and we moved to the closest oil station to fill in the tank. The concept of queue in this region is not exactly what it should be meant. The worst was in Kashmir. The new people just come closer to the counter, they can even push you to be closer to it. Hence, counter is surrounded by people from all parts and everyone whose hands are longer are throwing their documents or money to the official. I was watching the reaction of the people in the queue and no one was arguing or complaining. It’s kind of normal behavior here.
The first monastery we visited was the furthest (32 km) and the most known — Hemis. It’s located next to Karu on the way to Manali. We had to cross the bridge over the Indus River, then climb up on the hill. The first you meet the beautiful Tibetan Gates, then big Stupa will be on your way. After taking few photos we moved ahead towards monastery. Hemis monastery has a nice position, just in between of 2 mountains, small village is adjacent to it. Its court is big with rotating drums next to the monastery. We couldn’t get inside as it was a break. I felt like in Cyprus with lunch breaks, it surprised me. We decided to have a lunch in the village with tasty steam vegetarian momos and vegetarian noodles.
The next monastery was a Chemrey. Normally, you want find it on the list of tourist attractions. However, when we were going to Pangong lake I saw it on the hill and it impressed me a lot. So, we stopped at check point, showed our permits (it’s a Protected Area) and directed to the village with monastery. The road was so bumpy that we could fly out from our bike. Finally, we reached the village and approached the monastery. It’s just so natural and authentic.
Next one was Kantra, also not popular one. We had to be careful not to miss the turn. The bridge over the Indus River was a pedestrian old one. However, next to it some engineers and crew were installing a brand new. Kantra monastery is situated on the top of the hill. When we approached it, the workers were repaving road and didn’t let us go with bike. Like in a movie, 2 Buddhist monks were standing and protecting the road, making sure that no one steal ancient secrets from the monastery. We were short of time and decided to go around the hill and take pictures.
After we headed to Tiksey monastery. It’s together with Hemis are one of the most popular. We were skeptic about it, thinking that it’s just a made commercial attraction, nothing different from what we saw before. But before we reached it, we had a bad situation on the road, when a courageous Indian driver cut our way and we were close to fell down. However, our prays in the visited monasteries helped us to stay firm and continue our road. I expressed my disagreement to the driver, some other cars showed their sympathy towards us.
The Thiksey monastery impressed us so much. Starting with the entry price. Usually, foreigners pay >10 time more than locals. In Thiksey you pay only 30 Rupees (only twice than locals). Wikipedia says that Thiksey monastery resembles to Potala Palace in Lhasa. The complex is very well maintained, clean and organized. Before we reached the monastery, we spoke to an old monk who was selling some Tibetan medication. We bought something “good for all” and moved ahead. The monastery is so impressive. We entered the main room, it was full of Buddhist statue and images. They were almost fully covered by money. I asked our hotel caretaker, what the reason of it is. He said that it’s kind of donation. Then he added that it all became just more commercial, like in our countries. Next was Tara temple devoted to Tara goddess, next to it were some scaring statue. After we moved to another room with a huge statue holding 2 stores. It is statue of Maitreya, the largest such in Ladakh. He is unusually portrayed as seated in the lotus position rather than his usual representations as standing or in a sitting posture on a high throne. Finally, the views from the monastery are just unforgettable.
The final point was Shey monastery. However, it was not as impressive as others, we just walked around and headed back to Leh. Check out our photos.