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DAY 3: THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

We left Hotel Ladakh Greens at around 5:45am to embark on our day-long exploration of Tibetan monasteries in the Indus River Valley southeast of Leh.  Our first stop was Thiksey Gompa, the only lamasery in the area allowing visitors to attend their morning prayers.  We arrived at Thiksey slightly after 7am, and hastily walked up the exterior terraces to look for the main prayer hall.  The session had already started as we could hear Buddhist chanting and the sounds of drum.  We followed the sound of prayers up various stairs until finally reaching the entry of the main prayer hall at a covered terrace overlooking Thiksey village.

Inside the hall, about two dozens of lamas sat in several rows of carpeted platforms.  An European couple with their guide arrived before us were sitting in the back row against the wall of Buddhist murals.  We entered the hall and followed suit.  The rhythmical chanting of the lamas sounded like a soothing song reverberating under the old timber structure and suspended thangka banners.  The stress of our hasty arrival was soon calmed down.  A few more tourists soon arrived and joined us at the back row.  We sat quietly and witnessed the lamas chanted, drank butter tea, and had their breakfast porridge.  Lamas of different age groups seemed playing different roles.  Some younger lamas were drummers while others helped serving butter tea.  We were also offered butter tea during the session.

The prayer session lasted till about 8am.  By the time the last chant stopped, we were the only tourists left in the hall.  One by one the lama exited the prayer hall except one lama.  He was kind enough to show us around the hall, and led us to the back chamber where a number of Buddhist statues stood behind offering tables.  Outside the prayer hall, the land was warming up as the sun was already quite high up in the sky.  We walked back down to the main assembly courtyard where workers were repainting the colourful external walls.  At one end of the courtyard there was a building with its doors opened.  Peeking through the door we could see the side profile of Maitreya Buddha statue.  The 2-storey tall golden Maitreya Buddha was a well known feature of Thiksey.  The Maitreya Temple and its statue were erected in 1970 to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama.

The visit of this famous Gelug sect (Yellow Hat sect) lamasery was a delightful start for our long day of monasteries hopping in the Indus River Valley.  The morning prayers was definitely one of the most memorable moments of our Ladakh trip.  Before leaving Thiksey, we stopped by a decent eatery at the monastery entrance for breakfast.

DSC_3914Approaching Thiksey Gompa from the main road.  Thiksey Gompa was sometimes referred to as the Little Potala Palace.

DSC_3918Thiksey Gompa against a beautiful backdrop in early morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe didn’t know how we could find our way to the main prayer hall. We followed the chanting and climbed up numerous stairs and terraces. Half way through, we met three senior monks who were also making their way up.  They took their time and walked leisurely.  At one point, they stopped at a terrace to admire the amazing view.

DSC_3946They chanted, stopped, then chanted, then stopped again for a break of butter tea, or a bowl of simple breakfast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe younger monks served butter tea at regular intervals to everyone, including us, between chanting sessions.

DSC_3961Lamas of various age groups were present at the morning prayers.

DSC_3975After morning prayers, almost everyone left the hall except a caretaker lama and us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were the only tourists who stayed till the end.  We stayed behind and the kind caretaker lama let us wander around the prayer hall before locking up the doors.

DSC_3978Buddhist murals at the prayer hall.

DSC_3982Some of the murals were in need of restoration.

DSC_3986The statues in the inner chamber of the prayer hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was quite high up after the morning prayers.  We walked up to the roof terraces for great views of surrounding landscape.

DSC_4005Looking down towards the main road and the group of stupas downhill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALama at the main assembly courtyard.

DSC_4044Causal chat between two lamas.

DSC_4045The assembly courtyard and assembly hall of Thiksey.

DSC_4065We entered the temple which housed a giant statue of Maitreya (future Buddha).

DSC_4072Every room we visited at Thiksey was very well maintained.

DSC_4081Worker painting the exterior wall of the monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe prayer wheel along the entry stair.

DSC_4103The dramatic view of Thiksey Gompa has become an iconic image of Ladakh, appearing on various marketing mediums for tourism in the region.

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi


DAY 3: MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh, India

After the first two days of leisure in Leh, on Day 3 and 4 we embarked upon our brief spiritual journey to visit a number of Tibetan monasteries along Indus River Valley.  For both days Hotel Ladakh Greens helped us to organize the itinerary and hire a driver.  With six monasteries and one palace in a single day, Day One turned out to be a busy but rewarding day of exploration at the Indus River Valley southeast of Leh.  We started early in the morning at around 5:30am in order to arrive on time to watch the morning prayer session at Thiksey Gompa.  After Thiksey, we continued to visit Chemrey and Takthok Gompa, the furthest lamaseries of the day.  Then we stopped for lunch at Hemis, the largest monasteries in Ladakh.  At around 2pm, we left Hemis and headed toward Stakna and Matho, two monasteries atop the rocky hills that perched above the Indus River Valley.  Before returning to Leh,  we had about an hour to wander around the ruins of Shey Palace, the former summer palace of Ladakh’s royal family.  It was already 7pm by the time we arrived back in Leh.  In the next four posts we would share our Day One monastery experience with you.

map indus valley_EDITEDFor two full days we ventured out of Leh to explore the monasteries in the Indus River Valley.  On the first day, we headed southeast to check out the monastery cluster closer to Leh (places highlighted in orange on the map above).  The next day we went further away from Leh at the opposite direction to complete our brief monasterial encounter (places in green on the map above).

DSC_3909Early morning view of Stok Mountain Range on our way to the Thiksey Gompa.

DSC_4122On the road, we encountered many colorfully decorated Tata trucks.

DSC_4280.JPGConstruction site near Hemis Gompa.  Apart from military establishments and Buddhist stupas, construction of buildings with a traditional touch could be found occasionally upon the desert landscape in the middle of nowhere.

DSC_4455Newly built mosques revealed the growth of Islamic population in the region.

DSC_4459We passed by the dramatic Thiksey Gompa in distant a few times throughout the day.

DSC_4566Our driver and vehicle of the day.

DSC_4576Crossing a river bridge full of prayer flags on our way to the Shey Palace.

DSC_4733Returning to Leh with the Stok Mountains glowing in the late afternoon sun.

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi


DAY 2: SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh, India

After lunch at Tibetan Kitchen, we decided to do a short excursion to a nearby monastery.  At the taxi stand near the bazaar, we hired a taxi driver to do the 15-minute drive to Spituk Gompa just right by the airport.  Founded in the late 14th century, Spituk Gompa (literally translates as Exemplary Monastery) is a small lamasery belonged to the Yellow Hat sect under the order of Tsongkhapa.  Erected atop a hill by the end of airport runway, Spituk Gompa offered us another lookout of the magnificent scenery of the Indus River Valley and the city of Leh. Upon arrival, we were greeted by posters with quotes by the 14th Dalai Lama and a few dogs lying on the entry path in the shade of the gateway.

After the entry route of prayer wheels, we walked up a series of winding steps to the central courtyard where festivals and events were usually held.  The focal point of the courtyard was the gilt-roofed pavilion tower, and a main prayer hall in which a yellow-hatted statue of Tsongkhapa could be found.  Active in late 14th century and early 15th century, Tsongkhapa was a well known Tibetan Buddhist teacher who founded the Gelug School of Buddhism (also known as the Yellow Hat Sect).

Accessed via a flight of steps, at the top of the monastery mount stood a few stone carvings and Palden Lamo Temple, a small shrine dedicated to a group of Hindu deities.  The hill wasn’t really high, but it was still an effort for us to climb the stairs as our body was still acclimatizing to the high altitude.  The shrine was quite popular among domestic visitors who came from all over India.   Photography was not allowed inside the shrine.  We stayed for a few minutes looking at the wall paintings, religious statues, and praying worshipers.

DSC_3749Rising above the airport runway was the hill of Spituk Gompa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutdoor cafe with magnificent views at the monastery entrance.

DSC_3805Main gateway of Spituk Gompa.

DSC_3807Dogs lying in the shade of the entry gateway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALarge prayer wheel near the main entrance.

DSC_3816Closeup of large prayer wheel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhite wash walls, wooden windows, and colourful awning are common at a Tibetan lamasery.

DSC_3829Above the main courtyard stood the gilded roof pavilion tower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnfortunately some of the halls were locked.

DSC_3831Wall painting of one of the four Buddhist guardians.

DSC_3835Closeup of the gilded-roof.

DSC_3853Candle holders by a window sill.

DSC_3857Closeup of a window shade.

DSC_3871Stairs going up to a series of lama rooms and small prayer halls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWash basin with a decent view.

DSC_3890Stair going up to Palden Lamo Temple.

DSC_3892Entrance of the Palden Lamo Temple, a small shrine of Hindu deities.

DSC_3901Last look of Spituk Gompa from the parking lot before heading back to Leh.

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi


DAY 2: NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh, India

After a good sleep through the night, the next morning we started the day at somewhere high again.  Perched above the Leh Palace, the small Namgyal Tsemo Gompa (lamasery) offered us a slightly higher perspective of the city than the lookout at Leh Palace, and our first encounter of Tibetan Buddhism.  Too lazy to walk up, we hired a taxi to take us there.  It was a fine morning and hardly anyone was around at the lamasery except us.  Although the staff was not around, we were lucky to find that the door of the main hall was kept unlocked.

Founded in the 15th century, Namgyal Tsemo Gompa was two hundred years older than the Leh Palace.  Featuring beautiful paintings in the interior, inside the main hall stood a 3-storey tall Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the Future) painted in gold.  In another worship hall decorated with ancient wall paintings, we saw a number of statues and offering tables.  Many statues had their faces concealed under colourful cloths.  Their faces would be covered until the next major ceremonies took place.

Above Namgyal Tsemo Gompa stood Tsemo (Victory) Fort, a monumental whitewashed building overlooking Leh.  We climbed the stair up only to find that the fort was locked.  Three young tourists were sitting on the stair, chatting about traveling and their onward journey to the Nubra Valley.  After exchanging some causal greetings with them, we slowing headed back down to the entrance parking lot.

DSC_3665High up on the rocky hills, the red bricked Namgyal Tsemo Gompa (lower left) and the white washed Tsemo Fort are visible from almost anywhere in Leh.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe thought we were the only visitors at the lamasery when we arrived.

DSC_3668The entrance terrace offered a wonderful panoramic view of Leh.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond the city stood another well-known lookout at Shanti Stupa (white monument at the centre of the photo).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADistant view of Leh and the Stok Mountains.

DSC_3697Inside one of the main halls were vivid wall paintings depicting Buddhist stories.

DSC_3702The face of the 8m Maitreya Buddha was covered in gold.

DSC_3713Entrance to the second worship hall.

DSC_3708Without recent restoration or repaint, the wall murals at the second main hall looked more ancient.

DSC_3710Offering tables and statues at the second worship hall.

DSC_3719The white Tsemo Fort above the lamasery.

DSC_3720The green Indus River valley was always visible.

DSC_3746Leh and the background Stok Mountains.

DSC_3759Prayer flags at Tsemo Fort.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur friendly driver and his taxi.  This kind of hired vehicle is suitable to go around Leh and nearby monasteries.  For further destinations that involve extended traveling on mountain roads, 4×4 vehicles will be a more sensible choice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaxi heading back down to the city of Leh.

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi