The great Himalayas hold many narratives of spirituality found amidst nature. For centuries, monks and sages have been going to hilltops to find seclusion and practice meditation to reach their spiritual enlightenment. Among many such places in the Himalayas is Leh, Ladakh, which is often hailed as the “Land of High Passes”. The serene beauty of Leh Ladakh goes beyond scenic trails, snow-clad peaks, and its crystal-clear waters. Every nook and cranny of this land is imbued with the influence of Buddhism. The whispers of Buddhist chants disseminate a sound that resonates in the air. The haven of Buddhist traditions are the monasteries, which are located in these hills. These monasteries are not mere places of worship but a cradle of culture, spirituality, and Buddhist legacy.For those who want to begin their spiritual journey and delve deeper into Buddhist traditions, these monasteries can be a great start to their spiritual sojourn. Take a trip to the Ladakhi Buddhist monasteries through the Ladakh tour packages and seek enlightenment and adventure.
Tracing Back Roots of Buddhism in Ladakh
According to historical accounts, the very first introduction to Buddhism in the area of Ladakh took place during the reign of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, who sent out Buddhist missionaries to spread the word and teachings of Buddha around the 3rd century BCE. The arrival of Buddhism was met with mixed reactions. And it was only when the Kushanas took hold of the region in the 1st–2nd centuries AD that Buddhism could spread its influence. Many kingdoms rose and fell, but in the 11th century AD, King Yeshes Od of Guge re-established Buddhism in Tibet and surrounding areas. With the arrival of Buddhist scholar Rinchen Zangpo, Ladakh saw a transformative surge in Buddhist influence. Zangpo, who was known for translating Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan, played a crucial role in establishing Buddhist schools and many Buddhist monasteries across the region of Ladakh. In addition, the trade routes like the Silk Road also leveraged the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in Ladakh region. Ever since, Ladakh has become a hub of Buddhist culture, art, and spirituality.
The Majestic Monasteries of Ladakh
1. Hemis Monastery:
The largest and the most renowned monastery in Ladakh, Hemis monastery is known for its annual Hemis festival, and spiritual practices. It becomes a remarkable intersection of music, colours and dance. This monastery serves as the epicentre of Buddhist culture and thought. If you enter inside the monastery, you will notice the walls which are decorated with lively thangkas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings), each narrating tales of Budhhist lore and divinity. The central highlight of the Hemis monastery is the breathtaking golden Buddha statue which exudes an aura of peace and tranquillity. When you wander inside the halls of the monastery, the Buddhist chants along with beating drums creates a spiritual rhythm which resonates deep inside one’s soul.
2. Thiksey Monastery:
Famous for its unique architecture and art, Thiksey monastery is equated to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. It stands tall and bright against the vast natural backdrop evoking a sense of awe amongst visitors. Thiksey monastery is associated with the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism also known as the Yellow Hat Sect. Located at a height of 11,800 ft, the monastery is 12 storey complex which has multiple Buddhist arts like stupas, statues, thangkas which are Buddhist wall paintings and swords. The highlight of the Thiksey monastery is the 49 ft tall statue of Maitreya Buddha sitting in the lotus position, covering two floors of the monastery. The statue was built in 1970 to honour the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to Thiksey Monastery. On climbing the stairs, you can enjoy the scenic views of Indus valley. The morning chants and prayers create a surreal vibe in this monastery only meant to be experienced in person.
3. Diskit Monastery:
Located in the Nubra Valley, Diskit monastery is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh. Upon visiting, one can see the walls of the monastery are decorated with breathtaking murals. A statue of Maitreya Buddha (Crowned Buddha), a massive drum, and various paintings of powerful guardian deities are situated in the central prayer hall. The 14th Dlai Lama inaugurated the statue of Buddha. The “Festival of the Scapegoat,” also called Dosmoche, is an important event celebrated within the monastery grounds in February. It attracts numerous attendees from the Nubra Valley villages.
4. Shey Monastery:
The Shey monastery has a massive three-story copper statue covered in gold of the Shakyamuni Buddha in a sitting position. The Buddha statue is regarded as the second-biggest statue in Ladakh. The statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha is 12 metres (39 ft) tall. On the ground floor, one can see the massive feet of the statue which are showcased with soles facing upward, along with a Shambhunath mural. The second level has various murals depicting the Buddha in different poses. Meanwhile, due to continuous shining of lamps the third floor has a sombre atmosphere. The monastery’s two biggest attractions are Shey Doo Lhoo (sowing season) and Shey Rupla (harvesting season) which is visited by many tourists.
5. Alchi Monastery:
The architecture of Alchi monastery displays a harmonious blend of Indian, Tibetan, and Kashmiri styles. It is the central point where one can witness the eclectic mix of art, culture, and spirituality. This ancient gem, with its wall paintings and wooden architecture, narrates the stories of spiritual enlightenment, tales of Bodhisattva and complex philosophies of human value, morals, ethics and the cycle of birth and death. The main hall of the monastery houses a massive idol of the Buddha. The intricate wooden carving work and artwork which is quite reflective of the baroque style.
By covering these five monasteries on your Ladakh trip with a suitable Ladakh tour package, one can get in depth knowledge and insights on the significance of Buddhism on Ladakhi culture and its people.
Apart from monasteries, the influence of Buddhism can also be seen in its stupas and chortens, prayer flags and mani walls. Each holds a religious and spiritual significance for Buddhist people.
To conclude, we can surely say that Ladakh is a testament to Buddhist spiritual heritage and practices. Beyond the panoramic beauty of nature’s mountains, valleys, and lakes, it offers something that soothes the soul. There is divinity and peace in the atmosphere of Ladakh, which should definitely be experienced at least once in a lifetime. Experience the divinity of Ladakh with a Ladakh tour package and go on a journey which is full of adventure and spirituality.