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DAY 8 (1/2): SAKYA MONASTERY (ས་སྐྱ་དགོན་པ། 薩迦寺), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.23

Founded by Konchok Gyelpo in 1073, Sakya Monastery is the seat of Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. During its heyday in the 13th and 14th centuries, Sakya abbots were the actual governors of Tibet under the Mongol’s rule.  There are actually two monasteries in Sakya at either side of Trum-Chu River.  While the older north monastery (1073) with its 108 structures has been reduced to ruins over the years, the fortress like south monastery (1268) survives and remains as one of the largest in Tibet.  The impressive fortress like monastery washed with ash grey and white and red vertical stripes symbolizes the trinity of Bodhisattva, and had became the symbol of Sakya.  Everything at Sakya is large in size, from its 16m high main assembly hall to the extensive defensive walls.

Many refers Sakya Monastery as Dunhuang (敦煌) of Tibet because of its remarkable murals, artefacts, and medieval scriptures.   Sealed behind a wall and rediscovered in 2003, the 60m long by 10m tall library wall (拉康欽莫大經堂) behind the altar in the main assembly hall is particularly impressive.  It contains a huge variety of text, 84000 in total, made of different materials and about different subjects from the Yuan Dynasty when Tibet was under Mongol rule.  The equally important murals made in the Mongolian style are also a rarity in China nowadays.  In the main assembly hall, the most valuable object is probably the white conch shell (海螺).  Legends has it that the conch shell originally belonged to the Buddha.  Then it went into the hands of an Indian king, and later became an offering to Kublai Khan (忽必列).  Kublai Khan gave the sacred object to Sakya and it remained in the monastery until present day.  Still capable to make a soft low sound, the conch is still blown by the monk to give blessing to pilgrims.  While we were visiting the main assembly hall, we did see a monk took out the conch to offer blessing to the pilgrims, who were so excited and eager to get as close as possible to the sacred object.  Also from Kublai Khan was one of the huge wood columns in the assembly hall.  With a diameter ranging from 1m to 1.5m, these wood columns are quite impressive disregard who its donor might be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as we arrived in Sakya, our driver Sangzhu took us to the large dining hall of Manasarovar Sakya Hotel Restaurant for lunch.

02Unlike most other Tibetan monasteries, Sakya’s grey walls with red and white stripes offer a unique visual symbol for Sakya in the past 900+ years.

03.JPGWe headed into the entrance courtyard of Sakya and soon found out that almost all buildings were locked.  Apparently the monks were having lunch somewhere else and we had no choice but to wait for their.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn front of the main assembly hall, we stood by the stone lion and wait for the monk’s return.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon more local visitors arrived and waited for the monk’s return.  We decided to take a walk in the enormous compound.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe followed the long and narrow kora route around the central complex.  There were prayer wheels on one side and the defensive high walls on the opposite.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe buildings in Sakya Monastery all seemed really large to us.

06The Western style lamppost and the ash grey wall with red and white stripes somehow didn’t seem too coherent visually.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt last the monk with the keys showed up and led us into the inner monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond the gate, a dark hallway with beautiful murals and old prayer wheels led us into the inner courtyard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoing through the dark hallway with religious murals on both sides felt like going back in time.

12Without extensive renovations, many murals in Sakya were gradually fading.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the inner courtyard, we walked into the main assembly hall.  In the main hall, we saw the famous white conch shell, wood columns, historical murals and most impressive of all, the 10m high library wall behind the altar.  Just like most other monasteries in Tibet, photography of the interior is prohibited.

14After seeing the interior of the main assembly hall, we climbed the adjacent stair up to the flat roof of the complex.

15The flat roof offers another unique angle to admire the robust architecture of Sakya.

16Via the flat roof, we could walk to a variety of side chapels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe small chapels are accessible via doorways in the otherwise fortress like walls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALayers of eaves form a series of interesting lines on the flat roof.

19As we departed from Sakya Monastery, more pilgrims arrived to pay respect to this once most powerful monastery in Tibet.

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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


DAY 5 (3/4): SAMYE MONASTERY (བསམ་ཡས 桑耶寺), Shannan (山南), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.20

After lunch, Sangzhu drove us to Samye village where we would visit the famous Samye Monastery and stay the night.   We took a short break at Samye Monastery Hotel before heading over to the monastery.  We followed its enclosure wall to reach the main entrance of the monastery complex.  Beyond the enclosure, we arrived at a large open space with buildings spread out here and there.  At first glance, we couldn’t comprehend the building arrangement within the enormous monastery ground.  Not until we reached the higher levels of the main building and looked down, then we came to realize the concentric layout of this famous monastery.   First constructed in the 8th century, Samye Monastery is known as the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.

01We walked over to the main building’s forecourt, which was dominated by three tall prayer flag poles and incense burners, and started our monastery tour at the main building.  The monastery is laid out in shape of a giant mandala with buildings positioned according to the Buddhist cosmology.

02Situated at the very centre of the site, the main building is the tallest building in the complex, representing the mythical Mount Meru, the sacred cosmological mountain at the centre of the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain universe.

05Before entering the main building, there was an interesting sign about the risk of fire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered the inner courtyard of the main building through a beautifully decorated gateway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the gateway, we bought our admission tickets from an old man.

06The inner courtyard was actually a cloister surrounded by colonnades and prayer wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABehind the row of prayer wheels, there were Buddhist murals on the walls.

10Unfortunately many murals were vandalized during the Cultural Revolution.

09At the far corner of the cloister, we found the famous white rooster.  According to legends, once upon a time there was a fire broke out during midnight.  Luckily all monks escaped unharmed because a white rooster woke them up just in time.

11We headed up to the upper level via a steep wooden stair.

12We reached the highest level of the main building after climbing several flights of steps.  On the highest levels, we could admire the scenery at all four directions.

13Many pilgrims left behind offerings at different parts of building, such as leaving money at the joint of wall panels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking out from the top level of the main building, we could see the distant mountains and the spectacular chortens at the four directions.  The scattered buildings in the monastery ground actually symbolize the four continents at the cardinal directions, and also the sun and moon.

15Walking down the main building, we reached the lower roof terrace, which offered us another look at the magnificent main building of Samye Monastery.

16At the monastery ground, there were minor restoration work going on here and there.

17We spent the second half of the visit wandering in the open spaces, and climbed up one of the four chortens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the red chorten, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the main building under the late afternoon sun.

19Before sunset, we walked to the enclosure wall of Samye Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked part of the kora route, following pilgrims who turned every single prayer wheel in the clockwise direction.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


Day 4 (2/3): GANDEN MONASTERY (དགའ་ལྡན་ 甘丹寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.19

After Drepung and Sera, Ganden was the last of Tibet’s three great Gelug university monasteries we visited.  Ganden lies some 40km northeast of Lhasa atop Wangbur Mountain at an altitude of 4300m above the sea.  Founded by famous Buddhist teacher Je Tsongkhapa in 1409, Ganden was once a powerful monastery with a few thousand monks until 1959 when much of the monastery was destroyed by the Chinese army.  A further blow to the monastery occurred during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.  As the ancestral monastery of Gelugpa (Gelug school), the abbots of Ganden Monastery are considered as the abbots of Gelugpa, and hence the most powerful figures in Tibetan Buddhism after Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.  Despite its destruction in the 20th century, the monastery has been subjected to series of reconstructions which lasted from the 1980s until the present day.  Today, Ganden is still very popular among the local pilgrims.  The monastery is consisted of more than 50 buildings with prayer halls, monk quarters, colleges, etc.  After the kora hike which passed around the back of the monastery, we had about 1.5 hour to wander around the religious compound.

DSC_0194Just like many Tibetan monasteries, Ganden is mainly finished with white and red paint.

DSC_0198Buildings are built on various levels on the mountain slope, connected by series of stairs and ramps.

DSC_0202We took our time to wander around the compound.  Not many buildings were opened, but we were delighted to walk around and take pictures of the colourful environment.

DSC_0207We saw different groups of local pilgrims interacted with the monks.  Some were visiting like tourists while others seek for blessing from senior monks in different buildings.

DSC_0211Despite most buildings were reconstructed, the atmospheric environment of the compound was spiritual and pleasant to walk around.

DSC_0219The traditional Tibetan motifs are present at entrance vestibules of many chapels and assembly halls.

DSC_0244Tsokchen Hall (措欽大殿), the main assembly hall, is an essential structure in the Ganden compound.

DSC_0221From the front terrace of the Tsokchen Hall (措欽大殿), we saw a large group of monks gathered outside the main parking lot engaged in some sort of rituals.

DSC_0225At the front terrace of the Tsokchen Hall (措欽大殿), two crows were attracted by the food offering on the balustrade.

DSC_0234With its golden roof, the Serdung (羊八犍) that houses the tomb of Tsongkhapa, is probably the most important building in Ganden Monastery.

DSC_0240The original tomb of Tsongkhapa was damaged by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.  The new red building was reconstructed to house the salvaged fragments of Tsongkhapa’s skull.

DSC_0245We started heading back to the main parking lot half an hour before our bus departure time.

DSC_0256We walked towards the parking lot under the strong midday sun.

DSC_0266The sky was clear and the air was warm.  The view of Ganden Monastery from the parking lot was spectacular.

DSC_0274By the time we reached the parking lot, the group of monks were returning to the monastery after some sort of rituals outside the compound.

DSC_0278The incoming monks were in a delightful mood, chatting with each other with frequent laughter.

DSC_0281On the way back to Lhasa, our bus stopped by another small temple for a 15 minute visit.  We didn’t go in with the local pilgrims.  Instead we stayed with the friendly driver at the parking lot, thinking of where to visit back in Lhasa.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


Day 4 (1/3): KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (དགའ་ལྡན་ 甘丹寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.19

The closest thing to Tibetan pilgrimage that we experienced in Lhasa was our visit to Ganden Monastery (དགའ་ལྡན་ 甘丹寺).  Slightly after 5am, we left the hotel and walked to the street intersection of Yutuo Road and Duosenge Road near the Jokhang Monastery.  Several locals had already gathered at the street corner waiting for the public buses designated for different monasteries around the city.  The bus for Ganden Monastery soon arrived and we were told to get on with the pilgrims.  Foreign tourists were not permitted to take these pilgrim buses.  As visitors from Hong Kong we were allowed to join the locals.  Before departure, a vendor get on the bus to sell prayer flags.  We picked a five-coloured one that costed 50 RMB.  Before leaving Lhasa, the bus stopped by a security checkpoint where all passengers were required to register with our identity cards, and a local bakery where the majority of the passengers including us went down to get some bread for breakfast.  Soon our bus left Lhasa into the countryside northeast of the city.  After a two-hour bus ride, our bus finally arrived at Ganden Monastery on Wangbur Mountain at about 8am.

Just like our Drepung visit, we decided to walk the kora pilgrim route around the monastery before visiting the actual buildings.  From the parking lot, we followed a sloped path heading up the hill behind the monastery.  After making a turn in front of a small security station, we soon arrived at the hilltop overlooking the monastery.  A pilgrim stood by an incense burner surrounded by myriad of prayer flags.  We took out our 5-colour prayer flags, tied it to the flag cluster, and made a wish for a smooth journey ahead of us.  We continued onto the winding kora path along the slope.  The path soon split into two: the upper and lower.  We followed the upper path and passed by a number of small shrines.  We took out the bread we bought and sat down beside the path for a brief rest.  Beyond the scenic valley of Lhasa River, layers of mountains extended as far as the eye could see.  Further down the slope there were more prayer flags, small shrines and probably a small platform for sky burials.  We followed several local pilgrims to finish the latter half of the kora and arrived at the monastery at its far end.

01We passed by the forecourt of Jokhang Monastery at around 5:30am.  Pilgrims were burning some sort of plants at the incense burners.

02After arriving at the parking lot Ganden Monastery, we walked uphill along a path heading to the trailhead of the kora pilgrim route.

03At the hilltop, the view of Ganden Monastery was spectacular.

04A local dog followed us from the parking lot all the way up to the hilltop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the hilltop, a local pilgrim was preparing offerings at the incense burner.

06We tied our 5-coloured prayer flags at the hilltop overlooking Ganden Monastery.

07The kora path continues beyond the prayer flags to the backside of the hill.

08We soon reached the first shrines along the kora path.

09Below the kora path, the Lhasa River passed through the valley behind the Ganden Monastery.

10Also known as Kyi River, Lhasa River is a tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo River.

11Farming terraces occupy a valley below the Ganden Monastery.

12The kora path split into a few footpaths along the slope, connecting a series of pilgrim shrines.

13The kora offered us a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.

14There were many violet wild flowers on the green slope along the path.

15 Some pilgrims took the lower kora route along the green slope.

17Towards the end of the kora path, we once again passed under a series of prayer flags.

19After the prayer flags, a few more Buddhist shrines came to sight, as we approached the Ganden Monastery at its far side.

18At the incense burner near the end of the kora path, we could see the winding vehicular road that our bus first arrived.

20The winding road where our bus zigzagged up earlier in the morning looked wonderful from a distance.

DSC_0190We entered the monastery compound from its far end.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet

 

 


DAY 3 (2/2): SERA MONASTERY ( སེ་ར་དགོན་པ 色拉寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.18

After a simple noodle lunch, we hopped on a taxi for Sera Monastery ( སེ་ར་དགོན་པ 色拉寺).   At the northern suburb of Lhasa, Sera is a popular destination among foreign tourists where its famous debate sessions usually take place in the afternoon.  Unlike Drepung where reaching the monastery required ascending the Mount Gephel, accessing Sera Monastery from the main road was just a few minutes’ walk.  There weren’t too many tourists around.  As one of the three main Gelug university monasteries in Tibet, Sera is consisted of a series of colleges, residences, and assembly halls on its 28 acres of land.  Once with a monastic population of about 5000, the current monastery is a shadow of its past.  Founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, Sera Monastery has gone through ups and downs in history.  Fortunately, the monastery was left relatively undamaged during the Cultural Revolution in 1960s.

Beyond the main entrance, we passed by the large stupa Tsangba Kangtsang and a row of prayer wheels circled by several devoted pilgrims.  We turned left into a small alleyway between several small buildings and continued to the courtyard of Sera Me College.  We entered the main hall and visited the upper deck of the building.  There were hardly any tourists around, except a few prostrating pilgrims at the front veranda.  We then headed over to Sera Je College, the largest college in Sera, and Tsogchen, the Main Assemble Hall, before finding our way to the famous debate courtyard.  Many visitors had already gathered at the perimeter of the courtyard.  In the middle of the courtyard sat a large group of monks all dressed in red robes.  Full of anticipation, we sat down on the pavement curb behind the monks, hoping to witness their unique exchange despite we knew we couldn’t understand the Tibetan language.  We soon realized that the particular day of our visit was an exam day for the young learners instead of a regular debate session.  Instead of forming small debate groups, each young monk were given a brief time to perform his speeches and gestures in front of a panel of two teachers.  It was interesting to watch how the young monks perform their hand clapping and speeches in attempt to win over the crowds and the teachers.  We stayed for about half an hour before heading back to the monastery entrance and quickly hopped on a taxi returning to the Barkhor Old City of Lhasa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were more lamas than tourists at the entrance when we arrived at Sera Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first thing in Sera Monastery we encountered was a large stupa and a row of prayer wheels.

03We walked into a lane left of the entrance attempting to find Sera Me College.

04The colourful monastery buildings were quite eye catching.  We wandered into different empty courtyards before reaching Sera Me College.

06The Sera Me College dates back to the earliest years of the monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike many other monasteries, the stair at Sera Me College was really steep.

08The front veranda of Sera Me College were occupied by prostrating pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had seen this checker pattern several times at different Tibetan monasteries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext we walked over to the largest college at Sera Monastery: the Sera Je College.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a peaceful moment at the upper level of Sera Je College.

12The flat roof of Sera Je College was also accessible, but we couldn’t stay for long because of the strong afternoon sun.

13It was fortunate that most buildings at Sera Monastery escaped damages from the Cultural Revolution.

14We then returned to the maze of alleyways and headed towards the Main Assembly Hall.

15Dated back to 1710, the Tsogchen (Main Assembly Hall) is the largest buildings in Sera Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe rested a bit under the shade on the upper level of the Main Assembly Hall.

17After Main Assembly Hall, we returned to the main path and walked to the Debate Courtyard at the far end.

18Through the doorway, we could see the courtyard was already filled up with spectators.

19The young monks walked out one by one to perform their debate speech and body gestures.

20We sat down behind a group of monks for a while and watched the performances by several monks.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet

 


DAY 2 (3/6): DREPUNG MONASTERY (འབྲས་སྤུངས་ /哲蚌寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet, (西藏), 2017.09.17

Tsongkhapa was a famous teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, whose activities led to the founding of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism.  Drepung Monastery was found in 1416 by Jamyang Choje Tashi Palden, one of Tsongkhapa’s disciple.  He was also known as the second Dalai Lama.  Soon after, Drepung had become a large institution consisted of lamaseries and colleges, forming a religious community of several thousand monks at the foot of Mount Gephel.  Drepung remained as the residence of Dalai Lama until the 5th Dalai Lama moved to Lhasa’s Potala Palace.  Today, a few hundred monks resided at Drepung.  Compared to many Tibetan monasteries, damages caused by the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s was relatively small for Drepung.

Along with Ganden Palace, the residence established by the second Dalai Lama, the four Dratsang (college and administrative organization) still exist today at Drepung Monastery.  After our kora hike, we started our brief visit of Drepung from Gomang College (果芒扎倉).  As one of the four Dratsang, Gomang has its own main Sutra Hall and a number chapels.  We were able to visit most of these spaces, including the flat roof above the Sutra Hall, despite we could not take photos inside the building.  We spent roughly two hours to wander around Drepung Monastery and its main buildings, including Loseling College (洛色林扎倉), Tsogchen Main Assembly Hall (措欽大殿), Ngagpa College (阿巴扎倉), Ganden Phodrang (甘丹頗章), etc.  The entire monastery was like a village with stairs, courtyards and winding alleyways connecting different buildings.  There weren’t many tourists around, except two groups of Western tourists in front of the Main Assembly Hall.

After a thorough wander in the monastery compound, we waited a bit at the parking lot and asked around for the minibus.  No one seemed to know when the minibus would leave.  We decided to follow several pilgrims to walk down to the main gateway.  The walk took about 20 minutes.  We walked past the main monastery gate and continued along the main retail street out to the main road.  Before we reached the main road, we flagged down a taxi who was willing to take us back to Central Lhasa.

DSC_9118A monk carrying a water container in front of the Gomang College (果芒扎倉).

DSC_9115A pilgrim with a bead necklace walking up the entrance stair of the Gomang College (果芒扎倉).

DSC_9141Gomang College (果芒扎倉), the second largest Dratsang (college) in Drepung, was the first building that we visited at the monastery.

DSC_9125The beautiful wall painting at the entrance of Gomang College (果芒扎倉) seemed recently repaired.

DSC_9132It was awfully hot with the sun above our head, but we couldn’t resist not to visit the flat roof above Gomang College (果芒扎倉).

DSC_9146Resembled a village, the Drepung Monastery is a huge compound with lots of buildings and alleyways.

DSC_9154Wandering around the alleyways in Drepung Monastery was quite pleasant especially when there weren’t too many tourists around.

DSC_9158After a while, we soon lost track on how many buildings we had visited as most halls looked quite similar with their white walls, golden roof decorations and entrance setting.  Despite of their similarities, every single building we visited looked gorgeous both outside and inside.

DSC_9162With the powerful highland sunlight, most monastery windows are protected by textile awning canopies.

DSC_9181With 183 columns and an area of about 1800 square metres, Tsogchen Main Assembly Hall (措欽大殿) is the grandest structure in Drepung Monastery.  The plaza in front of the hall is also the largest square in the compound.

DSC_9197The roof above the Tsogchen Main Assembly Hall (措欽大殿) is well worth a visit.

DSC_9198The row of windows on the left is actually celestial windows for the main assembly hall below.

DSC_9201A group of local tourists posted for photograph on the roof terrace of Tsogchen Main Assembly Hall.

DSC_9211We meandered through narrow alleyways and stairs between buildings.

DSC_9221Occasionally we would pass by small stupas where pilgrims would circle around in clockwise direction.

DSC_9219Loseling College (洛色林扎倉), the largest Dratsang (college) in Drepung Monastery, was another highlight in the monastery.

DSC_9240Before the establishment of the Potala, Ganden Phodrang was the residence of the Dalai Lama from the 2nd to the 5th Dalai Lama.

DSC_9241Our visit of the Drepung Monastery ended at Ganden Phodrang (甘丹頗章).

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


DAY 2 (2/6): KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (འབྲས་སྤུངས་/ 哲蚌寺), Lhasa (拉薩), Tibet (西藏), 2017.09.17

Ganden (དགའ་ལྡན་/甘丹寺), Sera (སེ་ར་དགོན་པ/色拉寺) and Drepung (འབྲས་སྤུངས་/哲蚌寺) Monastery are considered to be the three great Gelug (格魯派) or “Yellow Hat Sect” university monasteries of Tibet.  Established in 1416 and held 7700 monks in its heyday, Drepung Monastery was one of the largest monasteries in the world.  The taxi ride from the Potala to Drepung Monastery in the outskirt of Lhasa took about 15 minutes.  Upon exiting the main road, our taxi passed through a busy street with religious shops and stopped at the outer entrance of Drepung Monastery.  We were told that a minibus could take us up to the monastery at the lower slope of Mount Gephel (更丕烏孜山).  After a ten minute wait, a minibus arrived.  We were lucky to squeeze in the bus along with a full load of pilgrims.  After only a few minutes, our minibus arrived at the monastery’s main parking lot.

Before the sun get too hot, we decided to walk up the mount behind Drepung Monastery on the kora trail.  We followed the pilgrim path west of the compound towards a large platform several storey high.  The large platform was the Thangka Exhibition Platform used during the Shoton or Sho Dun Festival (雪頓節) to display the 40m wide x 80m long Buddha tapestry.  To witness the fantastic ceremonies of Shoton Festival, we came a month too late.  To do the hour-long kora trail around the monastery, we came just at the right time of the day with the perfect weather.  We were a little worry on whether we would be affected by altitude sickness during the hike.  The actual kora trail began in a woods beyond the Thangka Exhibition Platform.  We followed several Tibetan pilgrims to enter the ascending trail.  The trail winded up the slope of Mount Gephel behind the monastery, and led us to a number of colourful prayer rocks.  At the trail’s highest point, we were captivated by the singing of a group of women who were busy fixing the flat roof of a monastery building, and by the view of the distant mountains.  We walked on the trail for roughly an hour before descending to the other end of the monastery.

DSC_8970After a brief taxi ride, we were dropped off at the main gateway of Drepung Monastery at the foot of Mount Gephel.

DSC_8985A minibus took us from the main gateway up to the parking lot in front of the monastery complex.  Instead of visiting the monastery buildings right away, we ventured to the path left of Ganden Podrang towards a cluster of rock paintings and the huge Thangka Exhibition Platform.

DSC_8986Along the path there were many prayer wheels for pilgrims to circumambulate around the complex.

DSC_8993Lots of small offerings were left below the prayer wheels.

DSC_8999For pilgrims of all ages, interacting with the prayer wheels is a popular must-do to begin a monastery visit.

DSC_9013We could clearly see rock paintings above us, as well as the uncounted paintings of “ladder to the paradise”.

DSC_9026The Thangka Exhibition Platform looked gigantic as we walked past it.  Too bad we were not here for the Sho Dun Festival.

DSC_9032The kora trail began at a prayer wheel adjacent to a small creek.

DSC_9034There are many small shrines and rock paintings along the kora trail.

DSC_9039The vivid colours of the prayer rocks allow visitors to see from afar.

DSC_9041Half way up the trail we had a close encounter with a yak/cow.

DSC_9047A bird landed on a prayer rock at the high point of the trail.

DSC_9052With the occasional pilgrims on the kora, it was not easy for us to get lost.

DSC_9057Small shrines were constructed at certain locations along the kora path.

DSC_9061

DSC_9068A group of women staff were fixing the roof at Ganden Podrang.

DSC_9087Beyond the last prayer rock on the trail, we began to descend back to the monastery level.

DSC_9097We entered the monastery complex from the side.  It was good to enjoy Drepung Monastery when not many tourists were around.

* * *

More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet


DAY 5: PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh, India

Our driver Tashi dropped us off at a bridge at the highest point of Phyang Village.  He suggested us to walk further downhill to first visit the tiny Guru Gompa atop a rocky mount and met us at the Phyang Gompa downhill.  We walked leisurely along the main road into Phyang, the village famous for the Phyang Gompa under the majestic backdrop of Mount Stok Kangri.  The glacial Phyang Nullah carved a narrow river valley into the rocky landscape, extended from the highlands where we just visited down to the village.  Along the nullah were terrace fields of barley, corn, rapeseed flowers, wheat and local vegetables.  Occasionally the lush green fields in the middle of the valley were used as pasture plains for livestock.

We passed by several local homes and reached an open area where several stupas stood.  We climbed the pathway beside the stupas up to a rocky mount where a small Buddhist shrine stood.  We figured it should be the Guru Gompa.  In front of Guru Gompa, there were a few dried goat horns and a colourful prayer flag.  The door was locked locked and no one was around.  From Guru Gompa we had a clear view of Phyang Village, Phyang Gompa and the mountain range beyond.  After a quiet moment on the rocky mount, we headed back down to the main road and continued walking downhill towards Phyang Gompa.  Founded in the 16th century, Phyang Gompa is one of the two monasteries in Ladakh belonged to the School of Drikung Kagyu.  The lamas opened the doors of one of the prayer halls for us.  We spent a short while wandering around the monastery and checked out the colourful stupas in front of the monastery.  By the time we were done visiting Phyang Gompa, Tashi was already at the main parking lot waiting for us.

dsc_5755Water channel led the glacial water of Phyang Nullah downhill to irrigate the farm fields of Phyang.

dsc_5774Terrace fields of rapeseed flowers offered a peaceful utopian setting for Phyang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking down the main road of Phyang Village.

dsc_5779A village school at Phyang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHigh up on a rocky mount stood the Guru Gompa.

dsc_5800Dried goat horn by the entrance of Guru Gompa.

dsc_5791From Guru Gompa we had a clear view of the village down below and the river valley upstream.

dsc_5830Further downhill from Guru Gompa stood the famous Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5839Local shepherd and livestock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeveral green fields were used as pasture lands.

dsc_5845Stupas in front of the Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5892Lamas resting after lunch break at Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5900Young lama at a prayer wheel in Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5906The Phyang Gompa viewed from the stupa cluster.

dsc_5907A cluster of colourful stupas outside of Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5917View of the village from Phyang Gompa.

dsc_5921The Stok Mountain Range viewed from Phyang Gompa.

* * *

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 4: ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

We had high expectations for Alchi Gompa, which has long been famous for its wall paintings dated back to the 12th century.  It was already past noontime when we were done with Lamayuru.  By the time we reached our next destination Alchi, we couldn’t wait to sit down at the outdoor restaurant of Zimskhang Holiday Home for a quick bite.  Under the shades of trees and fabric canopies, Tachi and we had a relaxing lunch of local dishes.  After the meal, we entered a winding passageway and through a lane full of souvenir stalls until reaching the monastery compound.   A number of centuries-old stupas decorated with colourful prayer flags flanked the monastery forecourt.  There were three ancient shrines that visitors could enter and admire the wall paintings, along with the huge statues of Buddha.    It was not allowed to take photographs inside the shrines.  We could only admire the richly decorated halls while we were there.  The Buddhist statues and interior architectural details dated back to almost a thousand years were amazing.  However, many of the wall paintings were either darken over the years or were partially ruined by brutal restorations painted over the originals.  There wasn’t as much to see at Alchi as we imagined before our visit.  After visits of the three halls among the crowds of local tourists we decided to move on to Likir Gompa.

Situated at an relatively isolated about 10km away from the Leh-Srinigar Highway, Likir Gompa is a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Gelug sect founded in the 11th century.  As we approach the monastery, we could see the 23m golden statue of Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of Future) from a distance.  Tashi didn’t join us for our tour of the monastery as he wanted to wash the car.  On our own, we first walked to the platform where the 23m Maitreya Buddha sat.  Opposite from the golden plated statue stood a lama school complex.  Several young lamas were playing and chasing each other at the school courtyard.  Their laughter certainly lifted our spirit a little in the grey and cool afternoon.  Inside Likir Gompa,  we visited two assembly halls: an older hall with rolls of seating flanked by wall shelving full of ancient texts and a newer hall decorated with glossy wall thangka depicting Mahakala (a fierce looking protector deity) in various gestures.  We took our time to admire the wall paintings and walk around the monastery from its rooftop to exterior platforms.  By the time we returned to the entrance plaza, Tachi was done cleaning the car and ready for our return journey to Leh.

dsc_5175The winding passage that led into Alchi Monastery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe twin trees marked the location of the original spot where Lama Rinchen Zangpo put his walking stick down and founded the monastery in the 10th century, so as the legend said.

dsc_5144Old timber entrance structure of Alchi’s Sumtseg (three storey building) survived to the present day.

dsc_5140The ornate woodwork of the columns and the interior decorations at Alchi were created by Kashmir artists.

dsc_5148Details of the entrance woodwork.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEntrance into one of the two shrines at a garden near the Dukhang of Alchi.

dsc_5166The oldest stupas (chorten) at Alchi dated back as far as the 13th century.

dsc_5173A mother and daughter at a prayer wheel at the entrance of Alchi.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at Likir in late afternoon.

dsc_5233The Buddhist school complex across from the statue of Maitreya Buddha.

dsc_5239The 23m Maitreya Buddha could be seen from far away.

dsc_5262Entrance to one of the two main assembly hall at Likir.

dsc_5269Inside the assembly hall, yellow ropes of each lama were folded neatly on the rows of seating.

dsc_5274Hundreds of ancient Buddhist texts were stored in glass cabinets against the wall of the assembly hall.

dsc_5286Detail of an old wall painting.

dsc_5328Detail of a new and glossy Mahakala wall painting at the other assembly hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto of Likir Gompa from distance.

dsc_5335The lush green Indus River Valley below Likir.

dsc_5346The main courtyard of Likir as seen from rooftop.

dsc_5377Likir wasn’t a popular destination comparing to Alchi or Lamayuru.  We could hardly see any visitors in the monastery and the entrance plaza was also empty.

* * *

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 4: LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

Our first monastery of the day along the Srinagar-Leh highway was Lamayuru Gompa.  Lamayuru is one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh.  Apart from Thiksey Gompa, Lamayuru was the monastery in Ladakh that we enjoyed visiting the most.  Affiliated with Drikung Kagyu, Lamayuru Gompa is founded in the 11th century.  We spent half of our time indoor checking out various prayer and assembly halls, and the other half walking around the exterior of the compound along a prayer route lined with prayer wheels and stupas.

Our driver Tachi was kind enough to accompany us at Lamayuru.  In simple English, Tachi told us stories about the monastery and the statues in the prayer halls, and taught us about the six Tibetan Buddhist syllable mantra “om mani padme hum” (ཨོཾ་མ་ཎི་པདྨེ་ཧཱུྃ) while we examined the inscriptions on the prayer wheels.  Each time we turned a prayer wheel one cycle we were actually reading the six syllable mantra once.  The six syllable mantra is often associated with Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.  Under the crisp air of Ladakh highland and the shadows of ancient stupas, Tachi gave us a brief lesson of scattered information on Tibetan Buddhism.  As we chatted and laughed, a few elderly pilgrims passed by, nodded and smiled to us.

dsc_5086Lamayuru Gompa from a distance.

dsc_5085Ticket office at the entrance of Lamayuru.

dsc_4951The first prayer hall that we entered at Lamayuru.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA window lama seat near the front altar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAButter sculpture is a common handcraft for Tibetan lamas.

dsc_4952The prayer hall was vividly decorated with Tibetan textiles and furniture.

dsc_4986Ancient Buddhist statues at the back of the Prayer Hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Cave of Meditation where Naropa, the founder of Lamayuru meditated in the 11th century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAncient stupas of jewels, gold and silver at the altar of a prayer hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrayer oil lamps in a glass chamber is a common sight at a Tibetan lamasery.

dsc_4996One of the 150 monks residing at Lamayuru.

dsc_5001A cluster of vernacular dwellings below the Lamayuru Gompa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoute of prayer wheels, stupas and a pilgrim.

dsc_5024Route of prayer wheels, stupas and a pilgrim.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the main buildings of Lamayuru Gompa.

dsc_5031 Stupas of various sizes mushroomed around the lamasery compound.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPilgrim and the old prayer wheels.

dsc_5041The Snow Lion is the emblem of Tibet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany mani stones were placed around the ancient stupas.

dsc_5043River valley and arid mountains dominate the surrounding landscape at Lamayuru.

* * *

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 4: ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

Another day of fine weather, another day of lamasery visit in the Indus Valley.  This time, we headed northwest along Indus River towards Kargil and Kashmir.  With limited time, we could only reach as far as Lamayuru Gompa, and stopped by Alchi and Likir on our way back to Leh.  We would have to wait till next time to see the lush green Alpine scenery of Kashmir near the border with Pakistan.  Unlike the day before when we spent the day to hop from one monastery to another, this time around we would spend considerably more time on the road traveling greater distances between the three monasteries.  Therefore, the hotel manager suggested us to hire a decent SUV for the day.  We took his advice and hired an experienced driver and a comfortable SUV from our hotel.  Tashi, a designated driver employed by Ladakh Greens Hotel, turned out to be a good guide and excellent driver who mastered great driving skills necessary for the treacherous mountainous roads. Apart from the time spent at the three monasteries, we were pretty much on the road for most of the day, speeding through the arid landscapes west of Leh.

dsc_4769_01Our SUV left Leh at about 7:30 in the morning and headed west along Indus River.

dsc_4774Soon after leaving Leh behind, we were completely surrounded by desert like landscape.

dsc_4786The confluence of Indus and Zanskar River at Nimo is a famous spot for white water rafting.

dsc_4797Students waiting for transportation at a small mountain village.

dsc_4833The mountain roads in Ladakh are popular for motorcyclists.

dsc_4909Road maintenance staff taking a break by the curb.

dsc_4925Before reaching Lamayuru Gompa, we reached a famous area with unique earth formation called the Lamayuru Moonland.

dsc_4941Peaceful landscape of wild flowers and scattered vegetation near Lamayuru.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApproaching Lamayuru.

dsc_5183Series of white stupas along mountain foot.

dsc_5191Crossing a bridge of prayer flags.

dsc_5193A group of students leaving a school building in a small mountain town.

dsc_5207A group of road maintenance staff resting beside the road.

dsc_5423Locals getting off a public bus at a small village.

dsc_5384Dramatic moon-like landscape and prominent gateway on our way back to Leh from Likir.

dsc_5408Basgo Gompa is another famous monastery west of Leh.

dsc_5449Magnetic Hill of Ladakh: an optical illusion of what looks like a downhill road is actually an uphill road.

dsc_5445Lots of colourful trucks were on the road with us during the day.

dsc_5483After seeing Lamayuru, Alchi and Likir, we headed back to Leh under the yellow sunlight in the late afternoon.

* * *

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: HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

Famous for its annual festival celebrating the birth of Padmasambhava (8th-century Buddhist master who built the first monastery in Tibet), splendid architecture, and rich collections, Hemis Gompa is the biggest Tibetan monastery in Ladakh.  We arrived at the wrong time as the monastery was almost closed for lunchtime.  We had no choice but to skip the museum, and had a quick peek of the golden statues in the two main halls before wandering around the complex’s exterior and rooftop areas.  As the most well known monastery in the region, Hemis certainly was the most popular destination in Ladakh in terms of number of tourists.  Other than tourists, there were also local pilgrims who came for worship.  There was an old couple with their children walked around the gompa, lay prostrate on the ground and prayed in front of different prayer halls.  We found our way up to the rooftop of Hemis.  On the roof, we followed a black dog wandering around from one flat roof to another.  It was a pity that most rooms were locked while we wandered around the building.  Situated in a rocky valley, the rooftop of Hemis offered good views of the surrounding rocky mountains.  After a leisure stroll around the compound, we returned to the main courtyard where tourists were waiting for the museum and prayer halls to reopen their doors after lunch break.  We, however, decided to move on to our next destination of the day.

DSC_4286All visitors including us arrived at a short staircase in front of Hemis.

DSC_4290The worshiping couple and their children at the main courtyard of Hemis.

DSC_4295The old couple took their time to pay respect at various locations at Hemis despite most doors were locked for lunchtime.

DSC_4307The rooftop of Hemis contained a series of walkways and sunken courts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASimilar to other Tibetan Buddhist buildings, high windows above the main prayer hall provide a source of natural light shining into the hall interior below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlags were flying high by the time we reached the top.

DSC_4309Birdeye view of the main courtyard from the rooftop.

DSC_4314Stupa and rock mountains across the valley from Hemis.

DSC_4318The female worshiper appeared on the roof paying respect to some of the residing monks.

DSC_4333We followed this dog while touring the rooftop of Hemis Gompa.

DSC_4356Tourists were hanging out at the main courtyard of Hemis, waiting for the doors to reopen.

***

After Hemis, our next stop was Stakna Gompa, another monastery of the Drukpa Buddhist sect.  Atop a mount overlooking Indus River, Stakna is another Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Ladakh famous for its views.  Around 30 monks reside at the gompa, but we hardly saw anyone there except a lama who unlocked some of the doors for us.  Many murals and architectural decorations at Stakna were covered in a layer of fresh paint.  The paint colours were vivid and glossy and we could hardly see the original religious art work, except at some of the back halls behind altars where old manuscripts, murals and timber statues could be found.  After getting up at 6 and visiting four monasteries, we were already a little tired by the time we reached Stakna.  Still we enjoyed our brief time at this small monastery, especially the open mountain views from its terraces.

DSC_4367Approaching Stakna Gompa from the parking lot.

DSC_4390Walls and timber structures were coloured with a coat of fresh paint at Stakna.

DSC_4396The fresh paint touch ups found its way onto the walls of the main prayer hall.

DSC_4400Old golden statues at a back room of the main prayer hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the back rooms of the main prayer hall was swamped with natural light from a timber window.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOlder murals appear at some of the back rooms.

DSC_4412Looking from Indus River, Stakna Gompa looked handsome standing proudly atop a rocky mount.

DSC_4382Prayer flags flew high at a terrace of Stakna with Indus River as backdrop.

DSC_4387Stupa and layers of arid mountains as seen from a terrace at Stakna Gompa.

* * *

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: CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh, India

After Thikse Gompa, we continued our “monastic journey” in the Indus Valley.  Next we came to Chemrey, another monastery erected atop a rocky mount in a picturesque setting.  Built in 1664, Chemrey Gompa belongs to the Drukpa Lineage (Red Hat Sect) of Tibetan Buddhism.  We were the only visitors at the monastery.  We wandered around the complex for a bit, reached the top level and saw an entrance door with a sign that said “museum”.  Prayers could be heard from inside.  A little lama aged about ten sat by the door stared at us curiously.  We removed our shoes at the entrance and entered the small museum.  Inside, there was another lama, probably in his twenties, reading out loud from a book of Buddhist prayers.  The prayer that led us to the museum probably came from him.  He stopped and greeted us, and sold us admission tickets for the museum.  Although small, the museum contained a decent collection of Buddhist artifacts such as thangka, musical instruments, ceremonial items, ropes, etc.  After the museum visit, we looked down to the courtyard below the museum and saw a lama sweeping the floor.  Stood beside him was the little lama whom we met at the museum.  He waved and signaled us to follow him and we did.  He unlocked the door at one end of the courtyard and invited us to enter a dukhang (assembly hall).  The hall covered with fine timber flooring was richly decorated with murals and statues.  We took our time to check out the murals, while the little lama curiously kept an eye on us.  The little lama was a delightful child.  He grinned and giggled all the time and always turned his head to peek at us as we followed him from behind.  We tried to communicate with him in simple English and hand gestures.  Next he led us to a prayer hall.  At the window, he pointed down towards a school complex downhill that he attended.  We had a good time following the little lama around Chemrey.  His curious looks and innocent giggles left us fond memories of Chemrey.

Next we arrived at another lamasery about 46km east of Leh.  Founded in the 16 century, Takthok Monastery is the only Nyingma monastery (the oldest school of Red Hat Sect Tibetan Buddhism) in Ladakh.  Takthok contains two parts, the old and the new.  Our driver dropped us off at the new part, where we walked down a stepped pathway trying to find our way into the buildings.  Unfortunately all buildings we passed by were locked.  We then walked to the old part of Takthok.  Our driver was also there and he led us into a number of dark temple rooms against a rock cliff that resembled natural caves.  Much of the ceiling and wall murals were darken by centuries of candle smoke.  Other than murals, ancient scriptures were kept inside the prayer halls, on old wooden shelves by the altar.  They looked old and fragile.  Before we left Takthok, we went in to a new and richly decorated assembly hall with rows of seating.  No one was in the hall.  On the low prayer tables, there were musical and ceremonial instruments.  At the centre of the room we noticed an alcohol like odour coming from a bottle that seemed belonged to certain rituals.  It was already midday when we finished touring Takthok.  Then our next stop was Hemis Gompa, the largest monastery in Ladakh.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we arrived at Chemrey Gompa, we saw a little lama stood by a lookout who would later become our private guide at monastery.

DSC_4133After we went through the monastery gate, we arrived at a small courtyard with prayer wheels and typical whitewash walls and vividly decorated shading device.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the top level of the monastery we arrived at the small museum.

DSC_4160The courtyard below the museum, where the older lama was swiping the floor in front of the prayer candles.

DSC_4148Inside the assembly hall, we could find several well preserved statues.

DSC_4163The assembly hall was colourful and richly decorated.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur guide, the little lama, stood in front of a window.

DSC_4177Our delightful local guide of the monastery.

DSC_4191A unique structure at another courtyard was erected to serve as a source of natural light for the prayer hall below.

DSC_4206The fields were lush green down at the Indus River Valley.

DSC_4207We bid farewell to the little lama and exited Chemrey through the entry gateway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed through a covered walkway of prayer wheels near the monastery entrance.

DSC_4214The magnificent view of Chemrey Gompa was behind us as we left for our next destination.

DSC_4239At Takthok we followed our driver into the old prayer halls.

DSC_4243Many murals at Takthok were not in good conditions.

DSC_4244One of the cave-like prayer hall filled with statues and ancient scriptures.

DSC_4249Main courtyard of Takthok against the rock cliff.

DSC_4253The stair leading up to one of the cave-like prayer hall.

DSC_4265Brass trumpets on table in a new assembly hall.

DSC_4268The new assembly hall at Takthok.

* * *

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: 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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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 1: LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh, India

Towering over the main bazaar stands Leh Palace, the 9-storey restored complex was the former royal family of the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh.  Modeled after Lhasa’s Potala Palace, the Leh Palace served as the royal residence for three centuries until Ladakh’s royalty was forced out of Leh by the Dogra forces.  Nowadays, the ruined palace has been restored by the Archaeological Survey of India and became the most prominent tourist attraction of the city.

Despite a little tired, we wouldn’t want to end the day without seeing the iconic Leh Palace.  Near the bazaar, we found a taxi to take us for the short uphill journey.  As we approached the palace, stunning panorama of Leh was right below us.  After paying the admission, we walked into the palace from the side entrance.  Through dark hallways and narrow stairs, we explored the labyrinth like complex one level at a time.  All rooms were long been emptied.  Occasional wall paintings and colourful timber carvings revealed the former glory of the once splendid palace.  Today, most visitors came to Leh Palace for the spectacular views from the balconies, terraces and rooftops, including us.  Yellowish sunlight and long shadows were cast on the small temple below the palace entrance.

DSC_3451Stone path leading to the side entrance of Leh Palace.

DSC_3584Beautiful wood carvings at the palace entrance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADark hallways and narrow stairs connect to all spaces of the palace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABalconies and terraces existed on every level.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors were delighted to reach the terraces at various levels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of the flat roofs were accessible for tourists.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors having a good time in front of the dramatic backdrop of Leh and the Stok Mountain Range.

DSC_3505Interior of the former royal chamber.

DSC_3514The colourful timber carvings survived in the arid climate of Ladakh.

DSC_3530Finally we reached the topmost two levels of the roof and had a perfect view of the Namgyal Tsemo Monastery up the rocky hill.

DSC_3546With Stok Kangri (6153m) being the highest peak, the prominent Stok Range provided a dramatic backdrop for Leh.

DSC_3554Outside of Leh town centre, earthy houses scatter on the rocky slopes of the surrounding mountains.

DSC_3576View of the main bazaar of Leh.

DSC_3574Main building of Leh Palace with the former royal chamber at the top level.

DSC_3578Terraces at different levels of Leh Palace.

DSC_3581Fortress-like external walls of Leh Palace.

DSC_3586We exited the complex from the same entrance we entered the palace.

DSC_3592It was late afternoon by the time we left Leh Palace.  There was a small monastery, Chandazik Gompa, below the palace entrance.

DSC_3593The small gathering courtyard of Chandazik Gompa overlooking the city of Leh.

* * *

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

 

 

 


LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India

Another journey begins…

Bounded by Himalayas to the south and Karakorum/ Kunlun Mountains to the north, for 900 years Ladakh had been an independent kingdom deeply rooted with influences from neighboring Tibet.  On one hand, the jagged, mountainous Ladakh was a profound Tibetan Buddhist society where lamaseries flourished in almost every corner.  On the other hand, centuries of being a trading outpost along the Silk Road between Tibet, Xinjiang and Central Asia opened Ladakh to other Asian influences especially the Islamic culture.  It is the charm of such a unique melting pot of traditions and cultures of Central Asian highlands that led us to make a short trip to this high-altitude desert in Jammu and Kashmir State of Northern India.  Ladakh’s breathtaking scenery of arid moonscapes, snow-capped mountains and picture perfect blue sky was just another reason why we were so keen to reach this magical “Land of High Passes”, a remote snow county in India where thick snow and -40 temperature virtually close off the region for many months of a year.  After years of dreaming to visit India, we finally made up our mind to take Ladakh as our first taste of the Indian Subcontinent.  It was late June when much of India was baked in Pre-Monsoon heat of 40+ degrees, except high up in the Himalayas where even forces of the mighty South Asian Monsoon cannot reach.  For six full days, we stationed at Leh, the ancient capital of the Ladakh Kingdom, and explored the landscapes and nearby lamaseries in the Indus Valley.

mapLocation of Ladakh in Northern India.

6_DSC_3575Like many travelers, we took the ancient city of Leh as the base to explore the nearby villages and monasteries of Ladakh.

5_DSC_4771_01Throughout Ladakh, we saw how the traditional local culture cope with the modern age.

3_DSC_4484Outside Leh, Tibetan lamaseries rise above the Indus River Valley against the dramatic backdrop of Ladakh’s arid mountains.

4_DSC_3936_01Inside each lamasery, Tibetan Buddhist monks continue their century-old traditions to pursue for a simple way of life and spiritual enlightenment.

* * *

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