Leh one of the most sought after and popular destination among tourist is steeped in beauty and wonder in an ancient abode of Buddhism. Ladakh is a rustic and breathtakingly gorgeous tourist destination, located in the great Himalayas. It is a riot of intricate murals and red robed monks. The region’s exuberance and charm are maintained by the rough valleys and mountains, meandering roads, and a thriving cultural life. A few of the outstanding features of Leh and Ladakh in general are the famed Magnetic Hill, the turquoise-colored Pangong Lake, the meeting of two mysterious rivers, ancient monasteries that inspire awe, and the highest passes. Your soul will be satisfied, and your senses will be enhanced, by the variety of trekking routes. The moon-like desert highlands continue to be a top vacation spot for people looking for adventure, Buddhist culture, and breathtaking mountain views.  The region is filled with monasteries dating from 2nd millennium AD to the very recent times. Two such monasteries depicting the architectural prowess are – Thiksey and Hemis Monasteries.


Similar to a scaled-down replica of Tibet’s famed Potala Palace, Thiksey monastery clings to a hillside. The founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, Galwa Tsongkhapa, was contacted by Takpa Bumde, the monarch of Ladakh, in the 15th century to request a pontiff for his realm. Tsongkhapa granted the king’s request, and one of his six illustrious disciples, Changsem Shesrab Zangpo, was given the assignment to establish the Dharma in the border regions of Tibet. Because of this, Thiksey monastery was built in the middle of the 15th century under the direction of Pon Palden Shesrab, a student of Changsem Shesrab Zangpo.

It currently has 80 or more resident monks and is the largest Gelugpa monastery. They follow their over 600-year-old custom of performing their daily and yearly rituals of prayers, meditations, festivals, and ceremonial dances. The monastery is home to a 14-meter-tall Maitreya Buddha, a temple with twenty-one statues of Goddess Tara, a guardian shrine with veiled deities and dharma protectors in the wrathful form (they are only on display to visitors during Thiksey Gustor, an annual monastic festival), a multipurpose courtyard that is used for monlam (prayer) ceremonies, mask dance performances, and other events, an assembly hall for daily. 

Buddha Maitreya

One of the primary draws at the monastery is the Maitreya Buddha. It was put in place to remember the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to the monastery in 1970. It has a large Buddha figure within that is made of clay and copper and coated in gold. The Buddha statue occupies two storeys of the structure and is portrayed sitting cross-legged on a lotus flower.

The largest statue in Ladakh is the 15 m-tall Maitreya Buddha statue, which took four years to create. Under the guidance of their master Guru Nawang Tsering of the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, local artisans constructed it.

Buddha Maitreya

One of the primary draws at the monastery is the Maitreya Buddha. It was put in place to remember the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to the monastery in 1970. It has a large Buddha figure within that is made of clay and copper and coated in gold. The Buddha statue occupies two storeys of the structure and is portrayed sitting cross-legged on a lotus flower.

The largest statue in Ladakh is the 15 m-tall Maitreya Buddha statue, which took four years to create. Local artists worked with their teacher Guru Nawang Tsering of the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies to construct it.

Temple of Tara

The goddess Tara is honoured in the Tara Temple, where 21 pictures of her are displayed on hardwood shelves with glass coverings. The Buddha, Tsong Khapa, Palden Lhamo, Padmasambhava, and Mahakala are all depicted in the courtyard’s murals, along with Padmasambhava. Additionally, the Chi Khang features a painting of Buddha alongside his two followers and the Yamantaka (deity). Between the courtyard and the stairway, there are a number of tiny shrines dedicated to protector deities, such as the Thiksey Protector Deity (Cham-Spring).

Assembly Hall 

The Dalai Lama is seated in the Assembly Hall’s centre, the Head Lama is to the right, and a god is depicted to the left. Tibetan calendar murals depicting the Bhavacakra, or Wheel of Life, are painted on the wall at the entrance to the main prayer hall. The wheel is etched with pictures of a bird, a snake, and a pig that stand for attachment, repulsion, and ignorance. The goal of this representation is to serve as a reminder that earthly ties should be broken in order to break the cycle of death and rebirth and achieve enlightenment in life.

The primary prayer area, which has numerous handwritten and painted books, is located next to this wall. On the wooden shelves of the hall, there are 225 volumes of Tengyur that are bound with silk. Additionally, the room has murals of gods including Sitatapatra, Mahakala, Thousand-armed Avalokite’vara, and Padmasambhava. A small shrine to Buddha can be found behind the prayer hall. To the left and right of it are the Bodhisattvas Maitreya and Manjusri.

Lamokhang Temple.

The Lamokhng Temple, located atop the monastery, houses multiple volumes of Buddhist scriptures, including the Stangyur and Kangyur. There are enormous stupas, mani walls, and a great pillar with the Buddha’s teachings inscribed on it at the entryway. Only men are allowed to enter the upper floor, which serves as the incarnate Lama’s formal abode.

A small study room is located above the temple and is used solely for training the village boys, some of whom are subsequently selected to become lamas.


Within the monastery’s walls is a nunnery for the sisters’ community. Also under the control of the Monastery Administration. In the past, the nuns in Ladakh lived in abhorrent conditions and the nunneries were situated in the most pitiful of ways. When some awareness-raising initiatives on the status of nuns in Ladakh were started in the 1990s, Thiksey attracted some level of support and attention from the international community.

The Sakyadhita Conference of Buddhist Women was also conducted in Leh in 1995. The Ladakh Nuns Association was eventually founded as a result. The alliance contributed to the Buddhist nuns’ increased prestige. Further made sure that improvements were made for their benefit.

The head lama of the Thiksey monastery, Thiksey Rinpoche, was a significant individual who made a significant contribution to the advancement of the nuns in Ladakh. The nunnery close to Thiksey received donated land from the Thiksey monastery. It is the same location where Rinchen Zangpo built the first monastery in the tenth century.

The nunnery now houses 26 nuns who have changed their traditional names of “Ani” (aunt) to “Chomos” in an effort to affirm their position in society (female religious practitioners). At Nyerma, the Dutch Foundation for Ladakhi Nuns also runs operations. It offers financial and personal support to the Ladakh-based Buddhist nuns.

The festival of Thiksey 

Thiksey Gustor is the name of the yearly celebration held in the Thiksey monastery. It is one of the most well-known celebrations in Ladakh and lasts for two days. It either takes place in October or November. The exact dates of the Gustor celebration change every year because it is dependent on the Tibetan Lunar Calendar.

The phrase “sacrifice of the ninth day,” or “Gustor” in Tibetan, refers to the day when good triumphs over evil. The Gustor Festival is celebrated at a number of other monasteries in Ladakh, but it is known as Thiksey Gustor at the Thiksey monastery. The customary black hat dancers perform religious dances like the Cham Dance (Mask Dance) during the event.

The creation of the Torma, a sacrifice cake that represents an evil power or creature, marks the beginning of the Thiksey Gustor. King Lang Darma, who governed Tibet from 838 to 841 CE, was assassinated at one of the festival’s most significant rites. He was allegedly a wicked monarch who was controlled by demons.

The assassination’s recreation is known as the Argham Ceremony. An effigy of King Lang Darma is created throughout the celebration, and after the ceremonies are over, it is burned to symbolise the triumph of good over evil.


The largest, wealthiest, and most well-known monastery in Ladakh is Hemis monastery, which is located around 45 kilometres from Leh. Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso of Tibet founded it in the 17th century at the King Sengge Namgyal’s invitation. The Drukpa Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism controls the monastery. Once every twelve years, Hemis unfolds one of the largest thangkas in the world for viewing by the general public. The yearly celebration, Hemis Tsechu, is well-liked by both locals and visitors. It honours the birthdate of Guru Padmasambhava, a revered yogi and renowned Indian guru who lived in Tibet and the Himalayan areas

The monastery includes a number of different Dukhangs (assembly halls), a Guardian shrine, a temple room, and a grand museum. You may still see pieces of 17th-century murals, an image of the founder (Lama Stagtsang Raspa), the main statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, Goddess White Tara, and many other things inside different Dukhang. The great teachers of the Kargyupa school, Vajradhara, Tilopa, and Naropa, as well as Palden Lhamo (Goddess Shri Devi) riding a mule and images of the Mahakala, Tsedak, and Kalachakra deities, are all visible when you enter the Guardian temple. The temple room contains a stunning 8-meter-tall statue of Guru Padmasambhava. The famous Gyalwang Gotsangpa is thought to have resided in a sacred hermitage or cave some 3 kilometres away from the monastery, toward the mountains.

The history of Hemis.

Hemis Monastery existed before the 11th century. According to the history of the Hemis monastery, Naropa, the mentor of the translator Marpa and a pupil of Yogi Tilopa, was responsible for laying the monastery’s foundation. He is the major seat of the Kagyu school of Buddhism because he is also regarded as the founder of the Himalayan Buddhist Kagyu lineage.

The history of the Hemis monastery is detailed in Naropa’s biography, which has now been translated into several other languages. It provides a thorough account of how Naropa came into contact with tantric master Tilopa and the responsibilities Tilopa gave Naropa in order for him to reach enlightenment.

As the renowned university in Bihar known as Nalanda, Naropa is known as its “Abbott of Nalanda” Until the Afghan invaders attacked it, this university thrived in all its glory. As a result, Naropa travelled to the North and eventually met Tilopa in Hemis. At that time, Tilopa and Naropa both migrated to the now-extinct kingdom of Magadha in Bihar. 

The seige of Hemis.

General Zorawar Singh besieged the Hemis Monastery in the nineteenth century. However, the head lama handled the predicament deftly and averted an invasion of the monastery. The Hemis monastery is thought to be the only Gompa in Ladakh that has never been captured. The monastery’s head lama inexplicably vanished in 1956 and was never seen or heard from again. Following this, a 12-year-old Dalhousie boy was chosen to serve as the monastery’s chief lama.

The Drukpa order’s administrative centre is located at the Hemis monastery, from which all other monasteries are run. Since its restoration in the 17th century, it has been under the protection of the Royal Family of Ladakh. 

The Festival of Hemis.

The annual Hemis Festival, held here in early June to honour Guru Padmasambhava, brings back life to Hemis Monastery. His birthday is observed on the tenth day of the fifth Tibetan lunar month, or the Monkey year. The fact that the day only occurs once every 12 years is an intriguing statistic. As a result, Hemis observes the day with considerable zeal and fervour.

Celebrating this occasion is said to provide spiritual power and excellent health. Traditional music is played by many musicians. The gala starts with a morning ceremony in which a tapestry with a picture of Guru Padmasambhava on it is displayed. 

The Cham, also known as the Masked Dance, is one of the festival’s main attractions. Monks might be seen engaging in Tantric worship during these performances, which are a component of Tantric tradition.

The best time to visit these Monasteries is from May to October. During these months, the weather is pleasant and the roads to Ladakh are also open for travellers. The stunning landscape and the enriching history leaves one enchanted. Leh Ladakh, the centres of culture and spirituality no doubt do justice to the phrase bestowed upon them as, “Heaven on Earth”. The captivating beauty of the place will beckon you year after year and leave you wanting for more. So plan a trip to breathe in the beauty of the place and be a part of the festivities of the monasteries which are an experience of their own.

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