Buddhist Monasteries in Ladakh

The drive from Pangong Lake to Hemis is not the one i expected. The weather has turned sour and it started to snow. Also the visibility of the path is restricted to few meters. The usually benign driver is now aggressive. As his health got better, he is now in full strength and mood to drive. The roads are bad owing to previous night’s snow. I myself can’t see any vehicles before me to make a decision to divert. To add to my worries, the driver switch on the hazard lights when I  asked him to switch on the fog light. It’s clear he doesn’t have a clue about fog lights. I am wrong as i came to realise that the cars in that region use hazard lights to warn other users than the fog lights to improve visibility. None of the cars coming opposite have any lights on and let alone few with hazard lights. The car is now going through a treacherous stretch of road where rocks are frequently fall from the mountain. So any time rock of any size can fall on us. There is no boulders by the side and the car can be easily crushed by one stone as it gets momentum from the mountain top.

While i am worried and clinging on to my seat belt, the driver is driving casually with one hand at a speed of 40 km/hr when the maximum legal speed on that road is 20 km/hr. Its not that he doesnt care about his life but he is doing it day in and day out every year. He also overtake few cars during this extreme tough situation. I am counting time to pass this situation and can feel the high adrenalin rush sitting comfortably inside Toyoto Nova. He also follow the Indian tradition of not wearing the seat belt as its uncomfortable for them.

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We went pass the difficult terrain and i can realise that i am back to normal. I am not sure i can do it again. The first stop is Hemis Monastery. As we are heading towards it, we almost had an head to head collision with the L-plated car being driven by a Ladakhi monk. Its a first time i am seeing a monk driving a car and both the drivers are smiling even though its a conflict situation. It can only happen in this part of the world. Hemis Monastery existed before the 11th century and is the largest monastic institution in Ladakh. It belongs to the Drukpa Lineage or the Dragon Order of Mahayana Buddhism, with His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa as its supreme spiritual head.

Its lunch time and can see a lot of young buddhist disciples are having free time and they are willing to pose for photos. There is a young charming boy who is interested in the camera. I gave him a chance to take photos and he is in all smile. Its not the case with an old monk. He doesn’t want to be photographed as i guess he has prior experience with tourist and just not into it anymore. The view of the valley from the monastery is beautiful. The courtyard is very old but interesting.

The next monastery is shown to me on the way. Its Shey monsatery . As we are hard pressed for time, we drive to Thiksey bypassing Shey. Every monastery in Little Tibet is constructed on top of a hill. Underneath the hill or mountain will be a valley and a green patch of cultivation. They have to sustain the extreme weather of the terrain. Its extremely hot in summer and extremely cold in winter. Still the people live with a smile without complaining. Also they are able to maintain the monastery which are several hundred years old. Its a different world in itself and you can see and feel the calmness being in the place. Not only for the terrain but also for people and religion of the place. It looks everything came into one place either by sheer luck or by destiny.

The view of Thiksey from a distance is magnificent. Even before entering it, it creates an expectation of magnanimity. Thikse Monastery is a monastery of the Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) sect, located on top of a hill, approximately 19 kilometres east of Leh. It is noted for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet and is the largest gompa in central Ladakh. It is a 12-storey complex and houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings and swords. The monastery precinct at the foot of the hill has a courtyard from where a flight of steps leads to the main monastery (one of the 10 temples here), which is 12-stories in height. It has two main chambers. The monastery is painted in red, ochre and white and houses 60 lamas. There are excellent views across the Indus Valley flood plain both east and westbound from it, from which the gompa at Matho (to the east), the royal palace at Stok (across the valley to the south) and the former royal palace at Shey (to the west) are clearly visible.

One of the main points of interest is the Maitreya (future Buddha) Temple which is installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970. A 15 metres (49 ft) high statue of Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh, covering two storeys of the building is deified in the monastery.

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