Buddha perched opposite Hemis

Leh monasteries – a valley of peace and serenity

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.

Shey Palace
Shey Palace
Opposite Shey Palace
Opposite Shey Palace
Canal across Shey Palace
Canal across Shey Palace

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.

Stupas
Stupas

Scenic beauty

Mountains with colored layers

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.

Stakna Monastery
Stakna Monastery
Stakna up close
Stakna up close
The misty mountains
The misty mountains

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.

Hemis monastery

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.

Hemis
Hemis
Hemis monastery compund
Hemis monastery compound
Hemis museum
Hemis museum
Hemis temple entrance
Hemis temple entrance
Hemis temple bell
Hemis temple bell
Hemis Buddha
Hemis Buddha
Buddha perched opposite Hemis
Buddha perched opposite Hemis
Prayer wheel outside Hemis
Prayer wheel outside Hemis

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.

More stupas
More stupas
Village on foothills
Village on foothills

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.

Karu bridge
Karu bridge

Thiksey monastery

This is the monastery belonging to the “Yellow Hat” sect of monks. The main monks wear a yellow hat to depict their sect.

Thiksey Monastery
Thiksey Monastery
Thiksey from the side
Thiksey – Another angle

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.

Thiksey prayers
Thiksey prayers
Thiksey drums
Monk playing drums during the prayers
Yellow hat monk
Yellow hat monk
Thiksey Buddha
Thiksey Buddha
Thiksey yellow hat
Thiksey yellow hat

The steps here are pretty steep and you have to climb a few flights.

Child monk
Child monk

Two monks

The temple gates were closed soon after the prayers as the monks had to go for lunch. So we had go through everything quickly.

Stupas outside Thiksey
Stupas outside Thiksey
On our way back
On our way back

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.




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