The Hemis Monastery located around 45 km south of Leh is one of the largest and most famous monasteries belonging to the Drukpa or Dragon order. The monastery houses an amazing collection of the age-old relics such as the idol of Lord Buddha made up of copper gilt, gold and silver stupas, and revered thangkas, making it one of the richest monasteries in Ladakh.
The monastery founded by the first incarnation Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso in 1630, and when it was named Changchub Samling, the small Buddhist community here was born. This monastery has amazing collections of the age-old relics such as the idol of Lord Buddha made of copper gilt, gold and silver stupas. Being such a majestic monastery, it attracts visitors from various corners of the world, especially during its annual festival known as the Hemis Festival. This festival is a much-revered celebration to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava.
This place is a must visit while you are on your Leh Ladakh bike expedition.
Held on the 9th and 10th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan calendar, you must watch the festival celebrations as monks put up dance performances wearing colorful dresses and distinctly the enchanting sacred mask dance. It is held on the 9th and 10th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan calendar
Location: The Hemis Monastery is located 45 km towards the south-east of the main city of Leh.
The Thiksey Gompa is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Ladakh and belongs to the Gelukpa order of Buddhism. The Gompa was first built at Stakmo by Sherab Zangpo. Later the nephew of Sherab Zangpo, Paldan Sherab, founded the Thiksey Gompa on a hilltop to the north of the Indus River in the year 1430 A.D.
There are many holy shrines inside the monastery of which the famous one is the Lakhang Nyerma, dedicated to the Goddess Dorje Chenmo. When the shrine was constructed, it was one of the biggest of its time, but now only its ruins can be seen on the premises of the monastery.
The monastery is now referred to as ‘Mini Potala’ of India as it resembles Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. There are 10 temples in this 12 storied monastery with the main prayer hall housing a 40-foot statue of Maitreya Buddha (future Buddha) seated on a lotus, it covers almost two floors of the monastery. Many precious and rare statues, mini stupas and swords are on display inside the monastery.
The Thiksey Gustor Festival is held here during the 10th month of the Tibetan calendar during the months of October - November when the sacred mask or Cham dances are performed by resident monks and nuns as a part of a ritual. Around 80 Monks resides here at present, spreading the aura of peace and deep Buddhism beliefs to the locals there.Location: The Thiksey Monastery is located 17 kilometres south of Leh and is one of the best places to visit during your Leh expedition.
Amidst the stark and barren Nubra valley stands the beautiful and milky white Diskit monastery. The oldest and largest monastery in Nubra, Diskit monastery is located at an altitude of 3142 meters. It was founded in the 14th century by Changzem Sherab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism, also known as the yellow hat sect.
Within the Tibetan style Gompa, there are beautiful frescos and gompas. An iconic feature of the monastery is the statue of Cho Rinpoche (Crowned Buddha), which is a part of the prayer hall. Visit the monastery in the month of February when it hosts the famous Dosmoche festivals which see a large number of tourists witnessing these celebrations while on their Manali Leh Srinagar biking trip.
Here you can marvel at the rich collections of Lord Buddha idols, the superb interiors and architecture designs coupled with the religious atmosphere which is just a spellbinding experience. Trek to the monastery for a breathtaking view of Ladakh and make the effort to be present there in the morning when you can witness the prestigious Morning Prayer ceremony which is definitely an enriching experience.Location: The Diskit Monastery lies 15 km north-west off the Khalsar-Panamik route, at the edge of the desert in Shyok valley.
Renowned as the oldest Buddhist learning centre, the Alchi Gompa is one of the magnificently built monasteries in Ladakh. Located 70 kilometres west of Leh on the banks of the Indus River, it is also the largest and most famous of the gompas built by Tibetan translator Rinchen Zangpo in the middle of the 12th century. With the lack of a monarchy, he appointed four families to look after the monastery till the 15th century when it was taken over by the Lekir Monastery.
Different from other monasteries, this one is built on flat ground instead of on a hilltop. It has three main structures. The Du-Khang is the assembly hall and the largest part; the Sum-tsek is a three-storied structure with a four-armed statue of the Bodhisattva occupying two storeys with figures of Maitreya Buddha, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri on the ground floor; the third structure is Jampe Lhakhang, a temple of Manjushri. This temple also has sculpture and painting of Rinchen Tsangpo.
Adorned with bright colours and intricately made statues of Lord Buddha, it takes approximately two hours to completely admire the beauty of these monasteries in Ladakh. An interesting and fun fact is that parts of Bollywood hit like Dil Se and Tashan were shot here at Alchi.
Don't forget to check out the list of hotels in Leh before you start your next trip.
Location: Located 70 kilometres west of Leh on the banks of the Indus River.
Renowned as Tharpa Ling which means the ‘place of freedom’; Lamayuru monastery is one of the oldest and largest monasteries in Ladakh and said to have been built around the same time as Alchi Monastery. It is located approximately 127 km from Leh on a steep mountain between Bodh Kharbu and Kha-La-Che. The monastery belongs to Red-Hat Sect of Buddhism. At its peak, the monastery housed 400 monks but nowadays there are only 50 inmates. About 150 monks reside in Lamayuru village.
This monastery was founded by Mahasiddha Acharya Naropa the 11th century who came to the place for meditation.There are many legends associated with the construction of the monastery, one such predicted that the lake would be dried and a monastery would be constructed at its place. When the lake dried, Naropa found a dead lion there and chose to construct the first temple of Singhe Ghang (Lion Mound). The founder then constructed five buildings but only one exists today.
The monastery is famous for its rich wall paintings, a collection of thangkas, murals, scriptures and statues of different forms of Buddha and other deities. Every year on the 17th and the 18th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, a holy masked dance is performed by the monks of the monastery.
Location: Lamayuru is about 125 km from Leh town and can be visited on the way to Leh from Srinagar.
A trip to the Phugtal Monastery is a surreal experience, portraying an image as if stuck in the mountains in the form of a honeycomb. Situated at the mouth of a cave, atop a cliff, it is close to a major tributary of the river Lungnak and was founded by Gangsem Sherap Sampo during the early 12th century. From here, the view is magnificent as it makes a picture perfect setting of the mountains, lush greens and the pristine Lungnak River.
This is the remotest monasteries in Ladakh and is a popular destination for tourists visiting Ladakh in winters. This Buddhist monastery is not only built on a cliff but it also has a natural cave. It is believed that around 2,550 years ago important sages, scholars, and translators visited this place. The Phugtal monastery was and it still is a preferred place by the scholars and teachers to meditate. This monastery which has a library as well as prayer rooms houses around 70 monks.
This one of the most isolated monasteries of the region is made up of wood and mud. Trekking being the only means of reaching this monastery, it creates a calming and tranquil experience to reach to the top and absorb in the aura of this divine place.
Location: Phugtal monastery is located in Lungnak Valley, south of Zanskar and is accessible only by foot. You can choose to get dropped from Padum to the charming little village of Ichar, from where you have to trek up to the monastery.
Overlooking the gorgeous Indus River, this monastery in Ladakh was built and founded in the 11th century by Od-de, the older brother of Lha Lama Changchub. Initially, the gompa used to run on the principals of the Kadampa school (Red Hat sect) but it later came into the fold of Gelugpa order (Yellow Hat sect).
Today, it is home to 100 monks as well as a giant statue of goddess Kali, which is shown to the public during the yearly Spituk festival. The most iconic feature of the monastery is the icons of Buddha and 5 thangkas sharing space with sculptures and mini chortens. You definitely cannot afford to miss, its unique collection of ancient masks, antique arms and fine thangkas here.
A little higher up the hill is the temple of Goddess Vajrabhairva. The statue of the goddess is kept covered and is unveiled only once during the Spituk Festival. The monastery plays host to the annual Spituk or Gustor Festival held in the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar, where the monks perform masked dances representing well over evil and stories depicting the life of Buddha.
Many travellers who are on their Manali to Leh jeep safari expedition, often come here to witness this historical beauty.
Also known as Klu-Kkhyil gompa, the Likir Monastery was ordered to built by the 5th king of Ladakh Lhachen Gyalpo and was thus founded by Lama Duwang Chosje in 1065. The monastery is of the Gelugpa sect or Yellow Hat Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Even today, Buddhist teachings and the three basic Pratimoksha disciplines are preached on the site. Likir means the Naga encircled.
The monastery got its name as it is believed two serpent spirits, Nanda and Taksako guard it. The monastery also plays host to the annual festival held in the 12th month of the Tibetan Calendar from the 27th to the 29th of the month and this festival is celebrated with great pomp. The locals put up religious dance performances along with the monks who perform sacred rituals on these auspicious days. This place welcomes many travellers during their Manali to Leh trip and never ceases to amaze them with its beauty.
Location: Likir Gompa is located around 62 km to the West of the main city of Leh.
Shey being originally the capital of Ladakh was built in 1655 by Deldon Namgyal, the king of Ladakh. Located in the premises of the Shey Palace, it is believed to be the summer retreat of the royal family of Ladakh. Situated 16 km from the city of Leh, it is en route Thiksey and Hemis Monastery in Ladakh.
Currently, the palace now a monastery houses the largest Buddha statue made of gilded copper known as Shakyamuni Buddha, covering three floors of the building. In front of the statue is a large wax bowl with a flame that is continuously lit for a year after which it is replaced. The objective of burning the flame is to highlight the importance of integrity and spirituality to the tourists visiting the monastery
With beautiful murals and paintings adorning the walls, it’s lower chapel has a library which is believed to have the largest collection of thangkas in Ladakh. As you walk up to the monastery, you’ll also come across five Buddhas carved out of rock along the roadside. Close to the monastery is also the Druk Padma Karpo Institute, now renamed Rancho School after its feature in the Hindi movie 3 Idiots.
There are two festivals held at this monastery in Ladakh every year; Shey Stubla on the 30th day of the 1st months and Shey Ru-lo on the 10th day of the 7th month.
Click here to check out the trekking trails in Ladakh.
Location: The Shey Palace has situated 16 km from the City of Leh and is en route the Thiksey and Hemis monastery.
Denma Kunga Drakpa, the Dorzin or meditation master laid the foundation stone of this monastery. Legend has it that Drakpa stayed in a tented camp to contemplate the beauty of this place and while meditating he saw Achi the protectress on a blue horse. He took this as an auspicious sign and constructed this monastery to commemorate this event. The tranquil and serene environment of the place provides its visitors with the much-needed peace of mind, body and soul.
The name Phyang was derived from Gang Ngonpo that means the blue mountain, which can be seen right behind the monastery and belongs to the Dri-Gung-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Home to around 100 monks, the monastery also houses a school to impart training in Buddhism along with modern education.
With ancient wall paintings, collections of old thangkas and murals of Mahakala, the monastery also has a museum that has 900-year-old collections of idols, scriptures, Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian firearms and weapons. The Phyang Gompa becomes the venue of Gang-Sngon Tsedup Festival, each year, starting from the 17th day up to the 19th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, which attracts a large number of tourists every year. Dance, music and mask dance are the high point of this event. The Cham dance by the lamas is also quite spectacular to watch. This is a must have experience while you are on your Leh Ladakh road trip.
Location: Nestled on the top of a hill, the Phyang Monastery is situated around 15 kilometres west of Leh.
Enshrined by Bhutanese saint and scholar Chose Jamyang in the late 16th century, Stakna means Tiger’s nose which is also the shape of the hill on which the monastery is located. Belonging to the Drugpa sect of Buddhism, this monastery in Ladakh portrays an image of the religious and cultural heritage of India and Buddhism. There’s a big assembly hall known as Dukhang, which is adorned with beautiful paintings of Sakyamuni, Tsepha Kmad and Amchi.
Out of the several idols of the monastery, the most significant one is that of Arya Avalokiteshvara from Assam's Kamrup region. To the extreme right of the courtyard, there’s seven feet tall silver chorten which features the statue of Lord Buddha with some prayer notes. The wall opposite to the entrance of the Assembly Hall is painted with three images, of a Bodhisattva, Padmasambhava and Tshong-san-Gompo. Statues of Sakyamuni (Past Buddha), the Present Buddha and Maitreya (Future Buddha) are also found in the hall. Like other gompas, Stakna also has a throne for the head lama of the monastery.
Home to about 30 monks currently, it has a number of sister monasteries, 3 of which are in Zanskar-Bardan, Stakrimo and Sani. The best part of this monastery is the striking view of the Indus River Valley from its rooftop.
Location: The Stakna Monastery is located 45 km from the city of Leh.
Takthok Monastery widely referred to as Thak Thak and Thag Thog by the local Buddhist people is the only monastery belonging to the Nyingmapa school of order or Red Hat sect of Buddhism. The monastery came into existence under the rule of ‘Tshewang Namgyal’. It is built around a cave on a mountainside and hence derives its name Takthok which in English means ‘rock roof’. According to the legend, the great Padmasambhava did his meditation in this cave in the early 8th century. This cave is termed as Duphug (Tu-Phuk) Lhakhang and is a famous pilgrimage site for all the Tibetan Buddhists around the world.
The monastery has a temple, a Dukhang or assembly hall which has statues of Maitreya, Padmasambhava and Dorje Takposal.
Buddhists set out here on a pilgrimage to be blessed by ‘dubchu’ or Holy Water and to pay homage to the sacred book of Buddha’s teachings, the ‘Kandshur’, which has 108 volumes, along with other sets of Buddhists teachings to protect the people against evil spirits, curses and epidemics. These texts were written in pure gold and silver letters. Lamas use the text at the time of birth of baby, death of a person or for other rituals, and they also claim to predict the future of a person by reading the scriptures.
The monastery’s new temple is also a major attraction and is known for its murals, paintings and statues of Buddha. Consecrated by 14th Dalai Lama in 1980, the monastery is a major tourist attraction mostly travellers who are on their Manali to Leh Bike trip.
The Takthok Monastery hosts an annual event every year on the 9th as well as 10th of every sixth month according to Tibetan calendar, along with a sacred dance by the 55 monks residing here, to commemorate this event.Location: The Takthok monastery is located at a distance of 46 km from the city of Leh.
According to popular belief, Guru Padmasambhava along with other lamas used to meditate in the caves around Rizong in isolation, surviving on one meal a day and avoiding any contact with the outside world. Before building the monastery in 1831, Lama Tsultim Nima started a hermitage at the site to teach monks about Buddhism, who even today abide by very strict rules and regulations like apart from sacrificing all comforts and material possessions, they are even forbidden to light fires in their cells or even handle anything touched by women.
Known as a ‘Paradise for meditation’, this monastery in Ladakh belongs to the Gelugpa Order or Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism and overlooks the picturesque Indus Valley. Home to about 40 monks today, the Rizong Monastery educates and teaches these monks the great scriptures and the chosen path to God with a very strict and simple way of life.
Located 2 km away, a nunnery, known as Chulichan (Chomoling), is under the cover of the monastery, where 20 nuns or the Chomos reside and worship at the temples of the monastery, perform chores like milking, spinning wool and getting oil for the temple lamps.
Location: The Rizong Monastery is located 73 km from the city of Leh.
Founded by Lama Dugpa Dorje in the year 1410, Matho is the only monastery that follows the Sakya sect of Buddhism. In order to introduce the Monastic community, the king offered religious estate in neighbouring villages and the Nagrang festival was started, which is held on the 14th and 15th day of the Tibetan calendar. The monastery is home to more than 60 lamas, they are chosen as oracles every three years where they have to undergo rigorous fasting and meditation over the duration of few months to purify themselves.
Apart from the Nagrang festival, the other festivals also organised have performances of the Cham dance and acts of oracles which are done under the influence of supernatural powers. The oracles run barefoot on the parapets of the monastery roof leaving everyone in awe and fear of them.
Constructed around 500 years ago, the monastery has a marvellous collection of ancient Thangas, walls adorned with sacred paintings, statues of Maitreya, Sakyamuni, the blessing Buddha and a thousand-armed statue of Avalokitesvara.
Location: The Matho Monastery is situated on the banks of the Indus River about 20 km south of Leh.
Perched atop a mountain, the Rangdum Monastery looks like a citadel, overlooking and guarding the serene valley, with rolling hills, mountains and pristine glaciers which only enhances the beauty of this place. Located in Kargil Suru Valley, this monastery was built by Gelek Yashi Takpa about 200 years ago and some even believe it to be from the 8th century. Home to about 40 monks, the monastery has a rich assortment of Tibetan antiques and other precious artefacts and you’ll find the monks in deep meditation in the tranquil ambience of the premises.
You will also find a prayer hall located in the central part of the monastery, which will give visitors a clear view of the ancient and rustic beauty of this place. And while you’re here, you will get the feeling of remoteness, since this monastery is located far off the mainland.
Although the roads to the monastery are bumpy and require a good amount of time to reach, it still receives a lot of visitors every here, due to its surrounding gorgeous vistas and peaceful aura for meditation.
You must check out the Delhi to Leh guide before starting your next expedition.
Location: The Rangdum Monastery is located in the Kargil Suru Valley about 130 km from Kargil and 343 km from the city of Leh.