I believe in God, but I do not understand religion. It is probably because I have not really studied a lot of religious literature. I do like the stories, the mythology behind all religions. The Ramayana, the Mahabharata, or the Christ, Buddha, Guru Nanak stories.. I love them all. It all fascinates me.
Leh comprises mostly of Buddhists (approx 77%), followed by Muslims (approx 15%), and a very small population of Hindus. I do not know how they lead such peaceful and content lives, when everywhere else we are taking lives, fighting over our religions. It is like god resides everywhere in Ladakh! In every being, in the streets, in the smiles of the locals, in the mountains, in the winding roads, in the air… you can find peace! It is heaven!
The monasteries of Ladakh are all situated in such harsh locations, built on top of steep cliffs. And yet the smiles on the faces of the Buddhist monks who reside there show how content they are, even though leading such hard lives. It is said that during invasions the monasteries could not be destroyed just because of their locations. The invading troops found it really difficult to climb the steep roads uphill.
Thankfully, for us, the day we went on our Monastery tour, the weather was favorable. As we left the town of Leh, and took to the roads for our Monastery tour, the unparalleled beauty of Leh started to unravel itself. It felt as if we were the only ones traveling o this part of the world. There were no cars behind us or ahead of us.
Our first stop was at the Shey palace and gompa. We did not visit the palace itself but the view around was stupendous.
From Shey we moved on to the Hemis Monastery. The route gave me so many photographic moments, and yet when I see the pics today I find them pale in comparison to the beauty I had witnessed.
En route we spotted the Indus river, not a very broad stream of clean grayish green water. And across the river bed was the Stakna monastery perched over a clifftop.
I would have been perfectly happy getting lost on these roads. The weather changed so rapidly that it gave us varying views of the mountains and river. It was a sensual treat for us.
Here we got down and visited the monastery premises. There was a temple and a museum inside. There were a very few steps to climb. Inside the museum, the monks maintain lockers for visitors. They do not charge you for locker usage. The prices for postcards or books at the souvenir shop at the museum are exactly the same as in the market.
The temple’s inner walls are decorated with murals of the Buddha. Could not get good pictures of the murals because flash photography was not allowed and low shutter speed was required, so my pictures got smudged.
The mountains have eroded in such a weird angle that it seems as if the mountain is not standing but lying down.
Army plays an important role in these areas. The road to Hemis goes through the Karu village, where the army has a camp. The bridge leading to Hemis is maintained by the army.
This is the monastery belonging to the “Yellow Hat” sect of monks. The main monks wear a yellow hat to depict their sect.
The small houses around the monastery are home to the monks who pray there. Also there is a school for the young monks inside the monastery.
We were lucky enough to catch the monks’ prayers right before they go for their lunch. The monks play various instruments and the chants reverberate inside the temple walls. It was one of the most heavenly experiences I had.
The steps here are pretty steep and you have to climb a few flights.
The temple gates were closed soon after the prayers as the monks had to go for lunch. So we had go through everything quickly.
Things to Remember:
- Carry jackets / wind cheaters as it can get windy and cold during the day.
- The steps leading to the monasteries are pretty steep. Be careful while climbing. Take rest whenever you feel out of breath. Do not over exert at any point of your travel in Leh.
- For a woman on the road, access to clean washrooms is a constant worry. The monasteries maintain washrooms outside their premises and their use is free of cost. Only issue is as the day progresses and more and more tourists visit each place, the washrooms keep getting dirtier.
- Flash photography is not allowed any of the monasteries or temples.
- Remain quiet inside temples and try not to disturb the monks’ prayers.