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Day 5: Monastary Tour (Thiksey, Hemis & Shey)

Leh Travel Blog

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Thiksey monastery.

"This is the strangest music I know. It's hardly music at all. Those long wind things ... the way the drum rattles in the middle of a prayer ... the long roll of cymbals that brings everything to a climax. It is as if the rock were singing; it is as if the wind and the rain were singing. It is not music; it is sound, essential sound."

 

A Journey in Ladakh - Andrew Harvey

 

Another early morning. We woke up at 5:15 AM for today's tour to three important monasteries in the area around Leh.

Puja at Thiksey.
Judith wasn't feeling to well after yesterday's strains and lack of acclimatizing. Since we would leave for the trekking tomorrow she decided it would be better if she stayed at the hotel today. The rest of us got in five jeeps for a trip to the mentioned monasteries.

 

The sun was coming up and made a wonderful shadow play on the mountains south of Leh. Past fields of white stupa's and the occasional prayer wheel we arrived at Thiksey. The town's monastery could be seen on a high hill. A stunning site that brought back memories of the Ganden monastery in Tibet. In this monastery of whitewashed buildings hundreds of monks work and live. It was founded in the 15th century by Gelukpa monks.

 

Wheezing and panting we climbed the stairs to the prayer hall where this morning's puja was taking place.

Puja at Thiksey.
We were allowed to sit down between the chanting monks in the walkways. This was a magical experience I had missed during my trip to Tibet: being right in the middle of the mantras and mudras (hand gestures). The elder monks were chanting from their sacred scriptures while young monks ran off and on bringing them tea and barley flour for tsampa. Then they all stopped while one single standing monk continued chanting and all the others began slurping away at their butter tea. It was almost hard to keep myself from laughing. The mumbled readings were alternated by singing chants and bursts of cacophony from the drums, cymbals and horns.

Unlike all the monasteries I'd seen in Tibet, this one had multiple pictures of the Dalai Lama (forbidden in Tibet) and one of the monks held up a bowl with peacock feathers in front of a shrine with one of his pictures.

Puja at Thiksey.
This same monk unfolded pieces of cloth and placed them on a clothes line. Without a doubt some very important ritual that however looked a lot like doing the laundry.

 

After about an hour in the prayer hall I wandered around the rest of the gompa. There was a huge 14 meter high Maitreya (the future Buddha) statue in another prayer hall, covering two floors. Like in this hall another monk was chanting and drumming away in the hall of the protectors. The faces of these wrathful protectors were covered with cloths. The roof of the gompa offered stunning sights of the surrounding mountains and after this breathtaking (literally and figuratively) climb it was time for a nice cup of black tea in the restaurant.

 

Our next stop was the Hemis monastery, some 45 minutes southwards. We drove alongside the Indus River for a while and several women that were sweeping the highway to keep it clean from rocks and rubble.

Mountains beyond Thiksey.
An army base and a big military exercise on the road to Hemis showed the extensive presence of Indian soldiers in Ladakh. Seemingly there are 10.000 soldiers stationed here because of the Kashmir conflict with Pakistan and border tensions with China.

 

A long, winding road took us to Hemis monastery, which is located in the gorge between two mountains. Hemis is the richest gompa in Ladakh, but most of their wealth is fixed in land and therefore the place actually looks less well preserved than Thiksey. Some interesting things we saw at Hemis were small statues made of butter and dough, an 8 meter high statue of Padmasambhava and another statue of one of the founders of the monastery who had disguised himself as a Moslem and smuggled Buddhist holy scriptures under his turban.

Thiksey Gompa.
Before we left Hemis we walked the kora around the gompa, spinning some prayer wheels that must have been hundreds of years old.

 

The jeeps drove back northwards to Thiksey where we had a buffet lunch at a restaurant across the road from the monastery.

 

Some ten miles along the highway to Manali, the walls of the old palace of the kings of Leh rear up along a prominent ridge to the north of the road. A king hasn't lived there for 400 years, but the evidence of power and wealth still clings to the place, both in the scale of the ruins and, on a nearby hillside, row upon row of crumbling white monuments. From a distance they resemble lines of half-melted snowmen, with the outlines of once square bases, conical middles and pointed tops now soft and imprecise.

Statue of the Maitreya Buddha at Thiksey.
These stupas, or chortens, as they're called in Tibetan, contain the remains of lamas and monks from the monastery attached to the palace as well as members of the royal family and their possessions.

 

They vary in size, the highest being almost 20 feet tall. Usually situated in favourable geomantic locations, their design represents steps to enlightenment. They are constructed on five levels, with the square base symbolizing the earth and the tapering tops the sky and stars. As I wander among them I can see that few are intact. Most are leaning or cracked down the sides and all look as if they may have been opened up at some time. Intriguingly, many seem to have been freshly whitewashed, suggesting someone is still looking after them.

 

Michael Palin - Himalaya

 

After a photo stop at a big field of white chörtens (stupas) we visited the old palace at Shey.

Maitreya Buddha at Thiskey Gompa.
This was once the summer capital of Ladakh and doesn't only offer stunning views of the valley but still hosts a huge two-story painted copper statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, installed in 1645. In front of the ruins of the palace lies a holy pond where fishes from all kinds of places were brought to have a peaceful life, since fishing is forbidden there.

 

Before being dropped off at the hotel we had one last photo stop at the residence of the Dalai Lama during his visits to Ladakh. A dais was placed in the middle of a large field, where thousands of people would attend his speeches. During his last speech he had called for peace among the Buddhists and Moslems in the region.

 

Back at the hotel Judith had taken it easy the whole day, sleeping and reading. We divided our luggage over our backpack (that would be taken on the trekking), daypack and flightbag (which would remain in the hotel), a sometimes chaotic bit of reorganizing. We had ourselves dropped off in Leh, where we bought some cookies and nuts for the trekking, checked our e-mail and filled the empty water bottles with purified water at Dzomsa, an organization that refills bottles to reduce the quantity of trash left by trekking tourists.

Thiksey monastery.
Not only a good cause, but cheap as well at 7 rupees per litre (€0.10). Back at the hotel at nine we asked Rabi to prepare a simple meal of soup, toast and eggs. Neither one of us felt like a time-consuming dinner in Leh. We just wanted to finish packing and get some sleep.

bartgijtenbeek says:
Ed,

Super gaaf! zit er weer bijna op maar je kunt hier nog wel tijdje op teren...

cioa
Bart
Posted on: Aug 13, 2008
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Thiksey monastery.
Thiksey monastery.
Puja at Thiksey.
Puja at Thiksey.
Puja at Thiksey.
Puja at Thiksey.
Puja at Thiksey.
Puja at Thiksey.
Mountains beyond Thiksey.
Mountains beyond Thiksey.
Thiksey Gompa.
Thiksey Gompa.
Statue of the Maitreya Buddha at T…
Statue of the Maitreya Buddha at …
Maitreya Buddha at Thiskey Gompa.
Maitreya Buddha at Thiskey Gompa.
Thiksey monastery.
Thiksey monastery.
Hemis Monastary.
Hemis Monastary.
View fropm Hemis Monastery.
View fropm Hemis Monastery.
Statue of Guru Rinpoche (Phadmasam…
Statue of Guru Rinpoche (Phadmasa…
Field of chörten at Skey.
Field of chörten at Skey.
Shey Palace.
Shey Palace.
View from Shey Palace.
View from Shey Palace.
View from Shey Palace.
View from Shey Palace.
Statue of Sakyamuni Buddha at Shey…
Statue of Sakyamuni Buddha at She…
Mani stones at Shey Palace.
Mani stones at Shey Palace.
Residence of the Dalai Lama betwee…
Residence of the Dalai Lama betwe…
Leh
photo by: anupa_rk