GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS Buddhist Trail in Ladakh Travel Guide
Eicher Goodearth Private Limited New Delhi
Copyright © 2013 Eicher Goodearth Private Limited, India ISBN 978-93-80262-65-9 CONTENTS
Editor and Publisher: Swati Mitra Design: Ritu Topa Editorial Team: The Last Shangri-La 4 Geetika Sachdev, Parvati Sharma Photographs: Leh 16 Bilal Bhadur 19 Below, 77 Above, 82-83, 86-87, 96; Hamon JP 111 Left Janhwij Sharma 89, 92-93; Joydip Kundu 100; Kalpana Chatterjee 53B, 55-57, 59-61, 70-71, 84-85, 90-91; From Leh to Hemis 22 Mukhtar Ahmad 25, 37, 46B, 54, 58, 64, 66-67; Ramesh Shankar 21A; Vinod Verma 4-6, 7A, 10, 16-17, 18A, 20B, 26A, 28, 32-35, 39, 40B, 42B, 43, 50-51, 52A, 68-69, 72A From Leh to Lamayuru 48
The photographs on the following pages Nubra 74 have been used with kind permission of: J&K Tourism 7 Below, 11 Above, 12, 20A, 26B, 40A, 42A, 44-45, 76, 77 Centre, 78-81, 97A, 101, 105-10, 111 Right Zanskar Valley 84 Ministry of Tourism, Government of India 8-9, 22-24, 30-31, 46A, 48, 74-75, 99, 102-03 Festivals of Ladakh 94 The sketch maps of Alchi monastery on p 15 and of Hemis monastery on p 44 are sourced from Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent by Takeo Kamiya GOODEARTH(Tokyo, 1996) PUBLICATIONSWildlife in Ladakh 99
Special thanks to: Atal Dulloo, Commissioner & Secretary, Tourism & Culture Department Practical Information 104 Talat Parvez, Director Tourism, Srinagar Sonam Dorjay, Assistant Director Tourism, Leh Government of Jammu & Kashmir Further Reading & Glossary 112 Janhwij Sharma, Director, Archaeological Survey of India
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Printed by Lustra Print Process, New Delhi on behalf of Eicher Goodearth Pvt Ltd Leh
higher even than Mount THE LAND Everest’s base camp. This ethereal, humbling moonscape The Last Shangri-La Ladakh is a kaleidoscope is bounded by the Kunlun of nature’s extremes – high mountain range on the north mountain peaks to cold and the Great Himalayas to desert sand dunes, sub-zero the south. It is often said that temperatures to scorching sun here, ‘the earth meets the sky’. ‘Ladakh, this valley seemed like a stuff of dreams. – all interspersed with barren Spread across 86,904 sq kms, It smites deep into the soul, mountains in myriad shades Ladakh is flanked by Xinjiang of brown. The beauty of this to the north, Tibet to the east, an unforgettable diamond in the heart of the lotus’. remote land is so overwhelming the Kashmir valley to the west that many a traveller is at a and Lahaul-Spiti district of (Bill Aitken, Touching Upon the Himalaya) loss for words when asked to Himachal Pradesh to the south. describe what is often-called the ‘Last Shangri-La’. Ladakh’s icy lifeline is the Indus river, described as ‘the central Also affectionately dubbed thread in the Ladakhi mosaic’ ‘Little Tibet’ because of its (Michael Gebicki). The Indus, cultural and geographical 3,180 kms long, originates in proximity to Tibet, Buddhist- the Tibetan plateau, flows north tinged Ladakh is India’s most west through Ladakh (where remote and sparsely populated it separates the Ladakh and region. Indeed, wedged Zanskar ranges before turning between Tibet and Kashmir, south to flow through Pakistan. GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSthis austerely beautiful land, The other major river here is with Leh and Kargil as its a tributary of the Indus called district headquarters, is unique Zanskar, which nourishes the - in India, and in the world. arid, inhospitable Zanskar valley. In winters, a 105-km Ladakh is also daunting, no stretch of the frozen Zanskar doubt. Its minimum elevation river becomes a challenging is 2,900 m and its highest and beautiful adventure called regions ascend up to 7,500 m, the Chadar Trek (see p 91).
4 5 Leh
THE HISTORY AND PEOPLE
Ruined walls, silhouetted against the sky, look down from cliffs and crags onto the cultivated valleys below… [and] hint at a forgotten history of local wars… [though] there is little documentary evidence or folk memory to explain the function of these buildings.
(John Harrison, ‘Traditional Building in Buddhist Ladakh’, Marg)
The history of Ladakh is GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSIn the 9th century, the local whose descendants live even shrouded in myth. Indeed, Buddhist kings, predecessors today in Stok Palace (see pp there is no ‘written’ history of the well-known Namgyals, 29-31). In the 16th century, of the region until after the established a kingdom Namgyal rule was interrupted 8th century; and yet, Ladakh extending all the way from by Ali Mir of Baltistan, who was known across continents Kashmir to Tibet, guarded by invaded Ladakh but never from the most ancient times. fortresses and vast gompas. ruled the region, until Singge The Greek historian Herodotus During this period, Ladakhi Namgyal (1570–1642) regained (c. 484-425 BC), for example, culture and traditions were the throne and built his capital called this land of sun-kissed heavily influenced by their in Leh. In 1846, Ladakh was mountains and sparkling rivers Tibetan neighbours. In 1470, invaded once again by the a ‘country of gold-digging King Lhachen Bhagan of Basgo, Dogra Rajas of Jammu. ants’ – perhaps a reference to a distant cousin of the then the Tibetan marmots that were ruling king of Ladakh, founded Today, Ladakh remains within known for digging gold out the powerful Namgyal dynasty, the state of Jammu & Kashmir. of the earth. In 1993, Ladakh was granted of early settlers from Himachal the status of Ladakh Autonomous Historical sources suggest Pradesh. Interestingly, the Hill Development Council. that, besides the Dards of Brokpas continue to follow Drass (Kargil district) the Bon, the original, animist earliest inhabitants of Ladakh religion of the land while most were Changpas, nomadic other tribes are Buddhist. yak herders. Other important and ancient tribes include the Several historians suggest that Brokpas (of Kargil) and the Ladakh was part of the Kushan Mons, said to be descendants Empire in the 2nd century AD.
6 7 Leh
Lakes of Ladakh
The best known lake in Ladakh is Pangong Tso (‘tso’ means lake in the local language). Between 2-10 kms wide and 150 kms long, Pangong is about 150 kms east of Leh, at an elevation of 4,300 m. Its salty waters caress the shores of both India and China – in fact, two-thirds of the lake’s waters are in Chinese territory. The blue skies reflect off the lake with a brilliance that will take your breath away. Though this is more than enough reason to visit the lake, its popularity across India owes a great deal to the 2009 Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots. Three chhatri-like structures on the lake’s border mark where the film’s last scene was shot. Many visitors drive to Pangong on a day trip, but it is also possible to camp here, or spend the night nearby in Tanksey (32 kms before Pangong). The road to Pangong goes through the spectacular Chang-la pass. GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS The other great lake in Ladakh is Tso Moriri. Even higher than Pangong, Tso Moriri is perched at over 4,500 m, about 240 kms southeast of Leh. The lake is just under 20 kms long and 3 kms wide, and its water is brackish. In fact, until quite recently, local villages extracted salt from it. Now, the lake is part of a Wetland Conservation Reserve (see pp102-103), and visitors may spot rare birds and animals, included the famed Tibetan kiang, bar-headed geese, black-necked cranes and perhaps even a snow leopard or Tibetan wolf. On the way to Tso Moriri, visitors can stop at Tso Kar, a small, freshwater lake that may once have been connected to Tso Moriri.
Pangong lake, sky-blue in summer, ice-white in winter
8 9 w
THE SPREAD OF BUDDHISM Monasteries cleave to the sheer rock face and ragged prayer flags flutter from roof- tops, scattering their blessings through the wind on its people
(Wendy Driver, Daily Mail)
GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS lives, a deep and abiding faith that imbues the everyday Guru Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche, with sanctity. came to Tibet at the invitation of King Thi Sung Dewtson (740-786), whose mother, Before Buddhism arrived here, a Chinese princess, greatly influenced him the people of Ladakh followed in favour of Buddhism. Seeking to spread the Bon religion, an animistic, the word of Buddha, the king sent to India faith primarily centred on spirit for teachers and books and initiated the worship. Buddhism came to translation of Sanskrit and Chinese texts Tibet in the 7nd century AD into Tibetan. Remote and isolated Ladakh though it truly spread through is one of the last enclaves the land in the 8th, thanks to the of Tantric Buddhism. From efforts of Guru Padmasambhava monastery at Samye. However, Guru Padmasambhava pacified ancient gompas clinging to (see Box). Also known as Guru his efforts were constantly the deities at Samye and also cliff faces, red-robed monks Rinpoche, and venerated in the thwarted by earthquakes, created a sacred Buddhist and synchronous chanting of western Himalayas as second believed to be the work of space by drawing a mandala. hymns, Buddhism permeates only to Sakyamuni Buddha pre-Buddhist deities angered On this mandala were laid the land. Walls of stone are himself, Padmasambhava by this attempt to bring the foundations of the Samye etched with the sacred syllables travelled widely through the Buddhism here. So, on the monastery. Om Mani Padme Hum, reflecting region, laying the foundations advice of the Indian monk, the submission of the devout of Tantric Buddhism here. Shantarikshita, the king sent Today, Nyingmapa is the only in a land so bare and barren to Nalanda for the great monk, school of Tibetan Buddhism that almost the only offering The story goes that soon after Padmasambhava, who arrived that traces its origin directly is stone. Indeed, religion is the his accession, King Thi Sung in Tibet in 747 AD with two to Guru Padmasambhava. inspiring force behind people’s began building Tibet’s first Dakinis and a host of disciples.
in the region. It was Zangpo who travelled through the Himalayas, accompanied, it is said, by 32 Kashmiri craftsmen, to built 108 stupas and monasteries, of which many stand even today, including Alchi (Ladakh) and Tabo (Himachal Pradesh). In the centuries that followed, many Buddhist sects struggled for prominence – including Druk-pa, Nyingma and Geluk-pa. Today, the Geluk-pa (Yellow Hat) order, introduced by the Tibetan pilgrim Tsong- kha-pa in the 14th century, is the most popular in Ladakh.
GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS Left: Prayer wheels and chortens are part of Ladakh’s Buddhist landscape
It was in the 8th century Buddhism received a severe that Guru Padmasambhava jolt with the advent of Tibetan 566 BC Siddhartha Gautama is born in Lumbini popularised Buddhism in apostate king Langdarma 531 BC Siddhartha Gautama achieves Enlightenment these high mountains, but (r 838-841 AD), who mercilessly and becomes Buddha the religion had come to Tibet persecuted Buddhists and a century earlier, when King closed all monasteries. He was 486 BC Buddha’s final departure, or parinirvana Strongsten Gampo married assassinated by a monk, and c. 200 -100 BC Buddhism reaches Samarkand in Central Asia Chinese and Nepali princesses, the region fell to turmoil and both of whom came from split into smaller kingdoms. c. 20 AD Buddhist monks reach China by the Silk Route, Buddhist families. Strongsten and sea-trade carries Buddhism to Southeast Asia Gampo’s wives converted The ‘Second Advancement 747 AD Guru Padmasambhava reaches Tibet the king to Buddhism, of Buddhism’, from the 10th 975 AD Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo travels to India and which then received ample century onwards, is attributed begins translating Buddhist texts and building patronage and began to to King Khorre (988-996 AD). monasteries across the western Himalayas spread across the kingdom. A spiritually-inclined man, This is known as the ‘First Khorre gave up his throne to c. 9th-12th Early period monasteries like Alchi and Advancement of Buddhism’, follow the life of a monk under centuries Lamayuru built which culminated in the name Yeshes-Od. As such, c. 16th century Late period monasteries like Hemis are built Padmasambhava’s teachings, he met Rinchen Zangpo, also onwards and witnessed the construction known as the Great Translator, of many monasteries, forts and both monks ensured the 16th century Buddhism reaches Mongolia via Tibet and temples in the region. firm establishment of Buddhism
12 13 Leh
The subsequent rise of the Mahakala Vajrabhairava, is GOMPA ART AND Geluk-pa sect led to a fusion enshrined. Masks, weapons and of religious and secular skulls, all used for protective ARCHITECTURE authority, and culminated in rituals, are kept here. Only the institution of the Dalai the head-priest is allowed Lama as the religious and within, that too after a special Breaking the monotony of the temporal ruler of Tibet. meditation to shield himself barren landscape, gompas stand from wrathful deities. Given the troubled times in out and from a distance and seem to which the gompas of the second Monks usually live in small cells recede into the lofty clouds. period were built, their main and, given the icy winds that feature is a strategic shift from blow here, windows are rarely (David Snellgrove, Cultural Heritage of Ladakh) flat ground to hill tops, since built, and light is let in through height gave these monasteries skylights high up in the wall. a military advantage. Some The gompa, literally ‘solitary land, away from human important gompas of this place’ in Tibetan, is the fulcrum settlements, and follow a period are at Phyang, Thiksey of the Lamaist Buddhism simple construction plan. In and Hemis (see pp 43-47). that is followed in Ladakh. fact, scarcity of material means Gompas had their origin in that most buildings in Ladakh In gompas of both periods, the spartan, rock-cut viharas long continued to follow a the central feature is the (‘dwellings’) that monks similar model. Thus, ‘every courtyard – the flat space used inhabited during the early building… from the humblest for communal gatherings and stages of Buddhism. Buddhist stable to the monasteries, is ritual dance performances. texts specified that, ideally, a made from materials which Next to the courtyard is the monastery should be set on a areGOODEARTH immediately to hand – PUBLICATIONScircumambulation corridor that hill with a waterbody nearby earth, stone and trees – and is lined with prayer wheels. and not too far from a human follows the same construction From there, one proceeds to settlement. As Buddhism spread principles: massive external the lha-khang (chapel), and and patronage increased, masonry walls enclosing a the du-khang (prayer room or so monastic establishments timber framework of posts and assembly hall) through the expanded. Indeed, in Ladakh, beams carrying earth floors portico, which symbolises the monasteries have long been and roofs’ (John Harrison link between the material and the main source of employment ’Traditional Building in the divine. The main image of for locals. Buddhist Ladakh’). the gompa’s presiding deity is always placed at the centre of The monasteries of the western A second phase of gompas the du-khang, flanked by images Himalayas can be roughly were built from the 14th century of attendant deities. Usually, divided into two periods, onwards. These years saw the head lama’s room (called though there is little clarity the decline and destruction the zimchhung) is located above regarding the exact dates. of monasteries across India the du-khang, indicating his Scholars claim that the first because of Islamic invasions high status. phase spans the 9th-12th and the rise of local Hindu centuries AD, and includes kingdoms. At the same time, These rooms are decorated with the 108 gompas built by cultural links between Tibet richly painted thangkas, wooden Rinchen Zangpo. In Ladakh, and India also weakened. sculptures and intricate murals. the best known of these is It was only in the 17th century Alchi (see pp 62-66). that invasions by the newly- Geluk-pa monasteries also have converted Buddhist Mongols a gon-khang (chamber of deities), Site plan of Alchi, an early-period These early monasteries revitalised the religion in a ‘secret’ chamber, where monastery (Takeo Kamiya, Architecture were usually built on flat the high Himalayas. the chief protector deity, of the Indian Subcontinent)
14 15 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh Leh
View of Leh town from Leh Palace
Leh, the largest settlement in growing popularity on national it was a hub for traders from known for its 9-storeyed Leh Ladakh, is a town of modest and international tourist circuits. Kashmir, the lower Himalayas Palace. This attractive edifice bazaars and winding streets, Small, makeshift hotels crowd and Central Asia. Raw pashmina was built in the first half of hemmed by rugged hills. its lanes, particularly during the (or cashmere), for which the 16th century by Singge Whitewashed buildings four brief months of summer Kashmir is renowned across Namgyal, and may have surrounded by poplar-lined (June-September), when almost the world, would traverse been modelled on Lhasa’s gardens fringe its outskirts. every spare room in town is Leh on its way to Srinagar, 13-storeyed Potala Palace. Threaded by slender lanes and available for rent. All a tourist where it was woven. stepped paths, its mud-brick, might need – travel agents, Such ‘royal’ architecture shares cheek-by-jowl houses huddle internet cafés, souvenir shops The town was built in the similar features across the picturesquely beneath Leh – is available in the main town 14th century by Khri-gstug-Lde, region, though Leh Palace is the palace, which remains largely square. Restaurants feature though it attained renown and grandest of all the neighbouring empty since Ladakh’s royal eclectic menus, with everything prosperity under the Namgyal palaces such as Shey and Stok. family moved to Stok from soupy thukpas to chilled dynasty, when Tashi Namgyal Like most buildings in Ladakh, (see pp 29-31) in the 1830s. frappuccinos. (1555-75) declared Leh his capital. Leh Palace is built of stone, mud and poplar wood (a rare In recent years, the town But Leh is no stranger to the Just 6 kms north of the Indus commodity and used minimally has been transformed by its bustle of crowds. For centuries, and 3,500 m high, Leh is best in construction).
16 17 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh Leh
Its pure white façade is flecked Buddhist deities in Leh Palace with shades of green and blue; while carved wooden and stone decorations, arched windows and its elegant dome create a pleasing air. Jama Masjid was built by King Deldan Namgyal after the 1680s, as part of an agreement with the rulers of Kashmir, who asked for a mosque in return for helping Ladakh fight off a Tibetan attack. The present structure is relatively new.
Left: Buddhist deities in Leh Palace Below: Leh town has a long, bustling history of trade
The palace is built along the GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS sides of a low hill and has a flat terrace – also typical of the rain shadow region of Ladakh, where the weather is so dry that sloping roofs are unnecessary. Visitors can climb up to the terrace for beautiful views of the town and surrounding landscape. A small prayer room inside enshrines an image of Du-kar, a protector deity usually identified by a white parasol. Leh Palace is being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Just above and behind the palace, the small Namgyal Tsemo monastery was also built by Tashi Namgyal and contains a Buddha idol made of pure gold!
Another of Leh’s historical Leh town has a long, treasures is the Jama Masjid bustling history of trade in the town’s main bazaar.
18 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh
More modern attractions in Leh The War Museum looks a THE MANY ROADS TO LEH include the Shanti Stupa and bit like a stupa itself, and is You can fly all year round from the War Museum. The Shanti maintained by the Indian Army. New Delhi to Leh, in about Stupa on Changspa hill, facing With fighter jets, tanks and an hour. Landing in Leh is a Leh Palace, is a little outside artillery on display, the museum memorable experience,vividly town. Visitors can drive up, celebrates the strength and described by Wendy Driver in or climb the 500 steps to the heroism of the Indian armed forgiveness, reformed his ways the Daily Mail, ‘This is like landing peak, where they will find a forces with a particular focus and began to serve the villagers. on the Moon... I gaze up at walls white and gold stupa, built on the battlefield of Siachen. The Patthar (or ‘rock’) Sahib of rust red scree encircling a by Japanese monks in the Gurudwara is said to have been massive, scorched dustbowl. But 1980s and inaugurated by His Patthar Sahib Gurudwara, built on the very spot where then the clouds gradually disperse to reveal the glittering, icy peaks Holiness the Dalai Lama. The 25 kms before Leh on the Leh- Guru Nanak Dev meditated. of the Himalayas all around us.’ Shanti Stupa is best seen at Kargil road, is popular with sunset, though its panoramic tourists and army convoys. Two other attractions near In the summers, you can views of Leh town below are Legend has it that Guru Nanak the Gurudwara are Magnetic always be more adventurous and plan a road trip. Leh is connected beautiful at any time of day. Dev, who came here in 1516, Hill and the Indus-Zanskar to northern India by two high- greatly agitated a local demon. confluence. At the Hill, vehicles altitude roads: the Leh-Manali Just before the ascent to Shanti One day, the demon threw apparently propel themselves NH-21 and the Leh-Srinagar Stupa are the mud-brick ruins a huge boulder at the Guru, forward without the engine NH-1A via Kargil. Since 1989 of Tisuru gompa, dated to the but was unable to harm him. being turned on, though some when it was opened, the 473-km 11th century. Furious, the demon kicked the believe this is merely an optical Manali-Leh road has served as a boulder, only to realise that illusion. Barely a kilometre popular entry to Ladakh. Open the rock had turned to soft or so ahead of the hill is the from mid-June to late October, wax, which sucked his feet in. confluence of the Indus and this road traverses the upland desert plateaus of Rupsho Trapped, and realising that the Zanskar rivers. (southeast of Ladakh), where personGOODEARTH he had attacked was PUBLICATIONS altitudes range from 3,660 m very powerful, he asked for to 4,570 m. There are several Top: Inside Patthar Sahib Gurdwara high passes en route, including Tanglang La, at 5,325 m.
The Shanti Stupa is illuminated at night The 434-km Srinagar-Leh road is open from May to November. The most dramatic part of this journey is the ascent up the tortuous, 3,505-m high Zoji-La Pass. The highway also has a historical connection: it traverses the old Central Asian trade route between Srinagar, Leh and Yarkand, also dubbed the Treaty Road, after a commercial treaty signed in 1870 between the Dogra king Ranbir Singh and British administrator Thomas Douglas Forsyth.
20 From Leh to Hemis
Of the several possible So we have Stok – almost excursions from Leh, the one across the river from Shey – to Hemis is, arguably, most which not only has a palace from leh to hemis popular. Under 50 kms from and monastery, but is also Leh on the Leh-Manali highway, the starting point for the which runs southeast along the Stok Kangri trek. Even more crystal waters of the Indus river, off the beaten track are the Hemis is one of the region’s monasteries of Matho, ‘In summer it is a sullen grey, silt-laden, sometimes most famous monasteries, and Chemrey and Takthok. has the added advantage of turning to violet. In autumn, the Indus is at its most including many interesting Matho, about 5 kms off the graceful: turquoise and aquamarine waters weaving sights en route. The usual circuit Stakna road, southwest of includes Shey and Thiksey, both the Indus, is home to some through golden banks of tall poplars and tumbling within 5 kms of each other and unique Buddhist art (and a willows. Crumbling old monasteries perched on rocky under 20 kms from Leh. In fact, fascinating festival of oracles!). many visitors – particularly For those who want to continue promontories command the barren, empty vistas.’ during the peak summer season exploring beyond Hemis, – find that Thiksey provides a Chemrey and Takthok are (Sonia Jabbar, Outlook Traveller) more ‘monastic’ ambience than beautiful, isolated villages the relatively crowded Hemis. with charming hilltop gompas. Within 10 kms of each other, The trail below details these both monasteries are on well-known stops, but also a road that winds northeast includes diversions along from Karu, a village on the the way, to intrigue both the Leh-Manali highway. It is GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSadventurous traveller and from Karu, too, that a small the avid student of Buddhism. road goes west to Hemis.
Like a mirror, the water body before Shey palace reflects this magical world
22 23 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
Shey 3,415 m 15 kms from Leh
The beautifully located Shey village is enlivened with patches of green fields that contrast beautifully with the barren, snow- capped mountains that form its backdrop and are reflected in the mirror-like waters of the Indus flowing alongside. Like many villages in Ladakh, Shey is dotted with chortens, rock-engravings of the Buddha, and fluttering prayer flags. However, this charming little hamlet is distinguished by the Shey Palace, a remnant of its glory as the erstwhile summer capital of Ladakh.
The palace was built by Deldan Namgyal in the early 17th century, and it includes a monastery and a chorten. The chorten, one Poplar trees along the of the largest in Ladakh, stands in the banks of the Indus, palace courtyard and boasts a spire made flowing by Shey village of pure gold.
GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSThe palace temple meanwhile, contains an Shey monastery incredible three-storey – over 12 m – high statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, made of gilded copper. This magnificent image, with its elongated ears, beautifully-shaped eyes and benevolent expression is flanked by smaller images of Sariputra and Maudgalayana, two of the Buddha’s chief disciples.
The giant Buddha can be seen from three levels; the lowest level shows his huge feet and soles pointing upwards and a mural of Shambunath, an important leader of the Druk-pa sect. The middle floor, containing the Buddha’s torso, has murals of the Buddha in different postures, while the upper floor is illuminated by butter lamps that burn day and night before the head of the gently-smiling Buddha.
The palace was recently restored and boasts stunning views from its rooftop. Those Shey Palace Admission ` 20 willing to brave a small trek further uphill Timings 8 am - 7 pm will find the ruined bastion of an old fortress, (May - Oct) accessible by a winding and stony path.
24 25 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
On the road at the foot of the Also in Shey is the revered hill are images of five Dhyani Shah Hamdan mosque, said to (or ‘celestial’) Buddhas carved have been built by Mir Syed Ali on the surface of tall, flat rocks. Hamdani (or Shah Hamdan), the great Sufi saint-scholar Just outside the Shey palace who visited Ladakh in 1381. is another monastery called Dresthang. This gompa has Legend has it that Hamdani a gigantic, two-storey, rock- was invited to Shey by the carved statue of a seated queen of Ladakh, who wanted Buddha, which was installed to be blessed with a child. during the reign of King When, indeed, her first child Singge Namgyal. Its walls was born after the saint’s visit, have some fine mural paintings the queen gifted Hamdani a of Guru Padmasambhava, piece of land in Shey. Another Atisa, Tsong-kha-pa and story goes that Shey was once other Buddhist saints. flooded; Hamdani touched the water with his stick and it receded, which pleased the queen and she gave him land. Dresthang Timings 8 am - 6 pm Though the Shah Hamdan mosque is the first mosque in Ladakh, the current building is quite recent: a single-storeyed, GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS flat-roofed, mud-and-stone structure with a little garden outside. It is busiest during the month of Ramadan.
The Druk Padma Karpo Institute in Shey became a tourist attraction recently, after it featured in the blockbuster 3 Idiots. Unfortunately, flash floods in 2010 greatly damaged the school, though it is now being rebuilt.
Above: Sakyamuni Buddha in Shey palace Left: The ruins of Shey fort and castle
26 27 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
Stok Fields of barley and wheat surround Choglamsar 3,560 m 17 kms from Leh
Across the Indus, almost opposite Shey and in the shadow of the mighty Stok range, stands the sparsely populated village of Stok, with a palace and monastery. In 1834, when Leh was annexed by the armies of Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, the royal Namgyal family abandoned their palace at Leh and moved to Stok, where their descendents continue to live.
The four-storey Stok palace, has 80-odd rooms, most of which are open to the public and display a treasure of thangkas, costumes and jewels, including the Namgyal queen’s turquoise- and-gold yub-jhur (crown). A small café outside the palace GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS offers hot drinks and lovely views (though you may find it’s closed early if there aren’t enough visitors!)
Stok Palace Admission ` 50 Timings 9 am - 1 pm & 2 - 7 pm
Near the palace is the 14th- century Stok monastery, founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus of the Geluk-pa sect. Only 10 kms from Leh on the Choglamsar, fields of barley from Sanksrit to Mathematics. Though some of the original way to Shey is the pretty little and wheat appear before you, Travellers may like to visit the construction remains, the village of Choglamsar, boasting dotted with low, whitewashed small museum at CIBS, with its monastery’s main assembly a rare greenery in this otherwise houses and poplar trees. collection of Buddhist sculpture, hall is relatively recent – it was thangkhas, archival photographs stark landscape. Look out for Choglamsar is home to the renovated about 50 years ago, the two long stretches of and more. Central Institute of Buddhist and freshly painted with murals mani stones, carved with the Studies (CIBS), established in 1962 Golfers may like to try out the Buddhist incantation to peace, of Vajrapani, Avalokitesvara, to enable advanced research in nine-hole, 3,350-m golf course Sakyamuni and Amchi (the Om Mani Padme Hum. These Buddhist art and philosophy, and here, reputedly the second- Medicine Buddha), and more. mani ‘walls’, are dated to the give students the opportunity highest in the world, and called 17th century. As you near to study a range of subjects, the ‘dragon’ course. A throne in this hall is reserved for the Dalai Lama.
28 29 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
Stok Kangri (6,153 m), the highest peak but only skilled mountaineers should in the Ladakh range, is a popular trek. attempt the trek in winters. Foreigners will The Ladakh range need permits (` 2,000 / person) from the watches over Stok Both amateurs and skilled mountaineers Indian Mountaineering Foundation village can easily scale its heights in summer; (see Practical Information).
30 31 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
The gompa was built in ascending levels on Thiksey a low hill in 1430; and, like the Leh Palace, 3,600 m 20 kms from Leh its distinctive, ‘terraced’ style of architecture has earned it comparisons with the Only a few kilometres from Shey on the Leh- 13-storeyed Potala Palace in Tibet. In fact, Manali highway is Thiksey, a relatively large Thiksey gompa is often called ‘mini-Potala’. village, with small shops, a school, hotels and eating places, besides its picturesque gompa An enormous, 15-m tall statue of Maitreya – all of which make this the most popular Buddha, coloured with gold paint, is the fixture for tourists on the Leh-Hemis circuit. gompa’s main attraction. Crafted as recently as 1970 under the supervision of the Central A motorable road leads uphill to the Institute of Buddhist Studies (see p 28), magnificent Thiksey monastery, one of the it took many years to complete. The gem- most-visited monasteries in Ladakh, not studded jewels on its earlobes and around only for its proximity to Leh, but also because its neck, the elaborately carved crown and of its stunning location and architecture. the enigmatic half-smile reflecting the
The ‘terraced’ Thiksey monastery
Thiksey gompa Admission ` 30 ; Video ` 100 Timings 6 am - 1 pm, 2 pm - 6 pm Museum admission ` 30 Museum timings 8 am - 1 pm, 2 - 7 pm
33 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
deity’s divinity – these are ‘This is the strangest music I Equally otherworldly are the restaurant, located at the both a worshipper’s and a know. It’s hardly music at all. panoramic views of the Indus foot of the hill, that serves photographer’s delight. ... The way the drum rattles in valley below, with its small plots sumptuous Tibetan food. the middle of a prayer ... the of earth and green stretching Besides, the gompa’s assembly long roll of cymbals that brings into the horizon, where the Thiksey’s annual Gustor hall has murals of protector everything to a climax. It is as cloud-flecked sky of deep festival in October/November deities and some musical if the rock were singing; it is as blue meets grey mountains, is a crowd puller. Gustor, instruments. if the wind and the rain were the highest of which is meaning ‘sacrifice’, is a two-day singing. It is not music; it is Stok Kangri (see pp 30-31). celebration that concludes with Those who want to enrich sound, essential sound.’ the head lama ritually cutting their visit to Thiksey – and (Andrew Harvey, A Journey Thiksey’s Museum displays a torma (dough cake) and don’t mind an early start – in Ladakh) Buddhist artefacts, including scattering it in the four cardinal should try and arrive in time Tantric ritual objects, some directions. The assassination for the early morning prayers, carved from human bones. of the Tibetan apostate King which begin at 6.00 am, The monastery also runs a Lang Darma by a Buddhist and feature ethereal music Below Left: This gilded Maitreya school, which provides free monk in the mid-9th century and chants. In the words of Buddha is Thiksey’s main attraction education to any child who is also enacted during this one traveller: Below Right: Thiksey’s prayer hall needs it; as well as an excellent festival (see Box).
34 35 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
King Lang Darma was a devout This quiet, peaceful monastery follower of the Bon religion, so Stakna has Bhutanese roots – it was much so that it was believed built on land granted to a he was possessed by a demon. 25 kms from Leh Bhutanese scholar by the then Prompted by its evil influence, Namgyal king, circa 1580. Its he closed monasteries and Only a few kilometres beyond most valuable possession is a forced their monks and nuns Thiksey, on the western bank statue of Avalokitesvara said out. Eventually, unable to bear any more of Lang Darma’s of the Indus, Stakna village is to have been brought from persecution, a Buddhist monk accessible by a narrow bridge Kamrup in Assam, which is called Belgyi Dorje assassinated lined with colourful prayer kept in the prayer hall. There him – rather dramatically, flags. Perched right on top of is also a new 2-m high silver during a theatrical performance! an isolated hill, a little removed chorten. Another chapel houses Traditional sources characterise from the village, is Stakna a revered Bhutanese deity this euphemistically as a gompa. Its name, meaning called Shabdrung Nawang ‘liberation’ rather than ‘killing’, ‘Tiger’s Nose’, derives from Namgyal, while smaller since the monk is said to have the shape of the hill which shrines house many works of been driven by compassion (for the king’s demon-possessed resembles – for those with the art, including newly-painted soul) and not anger. imagination to see it, of course – murals and 400-year old a tiger leaping skywards. sandalwood statues.
The hill-top Stakna monastery GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS
Those in the mood for a little adventure might like to visit Nyarma monastery, southeast of Thiksey and about 1 km north of the highway, along an unpaved road, from Rambipur village. Though entirely in ruins now, Nyarma is one of the monasteries built by the Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo, and those willing to climb through Stakna gompa Admission ` 20 the rubble will be rewarded with fragments of paintings from that time.
36 37 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
Matho The gompa’s gon-khang (chamber was thus named because its of protector deities, and here roof and walls are made of 4,850 m 26 kms from Leh prohibited to women) is a rock – an unusual feature in windowless room with images Ladakh, where construction is Perched on a hill west of the Indus, Matho of two oracle gods, the White commonly done with mud. gompa is off the main highway from Leh and and Red Rong-bstan, looming in thus not part of the Thiksey-Hemis circuit. the dark opposite the entrance. In fact, the anomaly is easily Beautifully located, the monastery is fringed Ancient weapons, including explained, since the monastery by poplar trees. In the summer months, ceremonial daggers, hang from is actually built around a rock these shine green like emeralds set in the pegs on the pillars here. cave. Guru Padmasambhava otherwise rocky coronet of mountains. himself is said to have meditated Matho gompa Admission ` 20 here. The cave, called duphug The monastery is precious in other ways too: lha-khang, is a popular this is the only gompa of the Sakya-pa sect pilgrimage with Buddhists of Buddhism in Ladakh. Founded in 1410 who come to be blessed by the by Dorje Palzang, a Tibetan pilgrim, Matho sacred water that drips from is also known for its rather unique ‘oracle Takthok its ceiling. Called dubchu, the festival’ called Matho Nagrang. During the water performs the miraculous festival, two lamas are made receptacles for gompa feat of flowing in winter, when receiving oracular wisdom. These blindfolded 46 kms from Leh temperatures in the region monk-oracles then perform death-defying plummet far below zero and feats, engage in ritually cutting themselves About 20 kms off the Leh-Manali the world is ice. with swords – and also make predictions highway to the northeast, a for the future of Matho and Ladakh. little beyond the village of Sakti The cave also contains is Takthok gompa, the only eight gilded statues of Though muchGOODEARTH of the building is rather PUBLICATIONSsurviving monastery of the Padmasambhava; while more dilapidated, it contains some beautiful and Nyingma sect founded by Guru recent murals of the Guru valuable examples of Buddhist art. The Padmasambhava in Ladakh. decorate a new temple nearby, monastery’s du-khang, for example, was Literally ‘rock-roof’, Takthok consecrated in 1980. recently renovated and enshrines a clay Young monks head towards sculpture of Sakyamuni Buddha, gold-and- their lunch rust-coloured, sitting cross-legged on a lotus base. Besides its beauty, this image is also notable for its size: it is tiny, weighing only a few grams. In fact, Matho is known for its rather unusual collection of miniature sculptures, which stand in stark contrast to the enormous, larger-than-life figures housed in other monasteries in Ladakh.
An international collaboration between two art institutions in Britain and France has founded the Matho Museum Project to preserve the most precious of the monastery’s sculptures, thankgas (dating from the 14th to 21st centuries) and ritual objects such as brass horns, ornaments made of bone, and the masks worn during Matho Nagrang. The museum is currently being built.
39 Rapeseed blossoms spark colour around the stark surroundings of Chemrey gompa (below)
bullet through the king’s cup, ChemreyChemrey gompagompa Admission ` 20 Chemrey which exploded in his hand – Admission ` 20 3,817 m 40 kms from Leh as if by magic! The king was stunned, and convinced that Sprawling along a low hill Goddess Kali ruled over this against a backdrop of vast, gompa. Not wanting to test dream-like mountains, Chemrey the goddess’s patience, he made gompa is best known for the peace with the monks. So, even GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSfields of mustard blossoms today, a Kali temple stands that stretch below. When these below the gompa’s hill. flower, it is to create a veritable carpet of gold, reminiscent From here, a maze of pathways of the mustard fields of leads up to the gompa’s main Punjab and a truly remarkable buildings. Its assembly hall oddity in the otherwise boasts a silver chorten and a set barren Ladakh landscape. of ancient Tibetan texts with their title pages inscribed in About 10 kms off the Leh- silver and gold. The highlight Manali highway to the north- of the monastery, however, is a east, on the Pangong road, giant, one-storey brass statue of Chemrey is a monastery of Guru Padmasambhava, housed the Druk-pa Kargyutpa order, in the revamped lha-khang. founded by Lama Tagsang Raschen and dedicated to King Housing medieval Mongol Singge Namgyal. Like many costumes, weapons and Tibetan others in the region, the gompa manuscripts, the gompa’s was besieged and conquered by museum is a must-see. The Mongol warriors in the late monastery’s annual festival, 17th century. Legend has it, Chemrey Angchok, with its however, that as the victorious colourful masked dances and Mongol king sat sipping a cup parades, is also well worth a of tea, Chemrey’s head lama, visit, even though it usually hiding in a dark corner, shot a falls in bitterly-cold November.
41 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
Hemis 3,657 m 43 km from Leh Hemis gompa Admission ` 50 Hidden behind the pretty village of Hemis, Museum ` 30 on the banks of the clear blue Indus just off Timings 8 am - 1 pm, the Leh-Manali highway, and arguably the 2 - 6 pm most popular day-trip from Leh, is Hemis. Unlike most other monasteries in this region – havens of seclusion in an already distant land – Hemis brims with tourists throughout the peak season, and is especially crowded during its annual festival (see below). The richest, largest and most well-known monastery in Ladakh, Hemis was built in the 1630s by Ngawang Gyatso, a monk of the Druk-pa (Red Hat) sect; and today, it has over 200 branches and 1,000 monks spread across Ladakh.
Set in a gorge below azure skies, Hemis gompa covers almost every inch of the hilltop on which it is built, an imposing, fortress-like construction, its entrance flanked by fluttering prayer flags and mani GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSwalls. From here, you walk into a spacious courtyard with magnificent views of the mountains that tower all around. This is also Hemis monastery and the venue for the Hemis Tsechu festival – scenes from its famous greatly popular with both locals and tourists. Tsechu festival
42 43 From Leh to Hemis
The courtyard in Hemis gompa, and a site plan of the monastery (Takeo Kamiya, Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent)
44 45 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Hemis
Since the dates of the festival In 1890s, Hemis gompa are set according to the lunar sprang to public view when calendar, they change every the Russian nobleman, year, and visitors should make journalist (and possibly, spy) enquiries before confirming Nicholas Notovitch published their plans. Even if you cannot a book called The Unknown coordinate your visit with the Life of Christ, in which he argued that the Christian festival, it’s still possible to get messiah had travelled a sense of Ladakh’s unique to Ladakh. Specifically, spirituality by attending the he claimed to have seen morning prayers at Hemis. To manuscripts preserved in the do so, though, it is best to spend Hemis library that proved his the night in the village, which theory. Predictably, the book has many small guesthouses. sparked controversy and Terrace restaurants are popular furore, and eventually, under here, since they allow patrons the glare of examination, to soak up spectacular views of Notovitch confessed that the whole affair was an the surrounding valley, while elaborate hoax! sipping on salty gur gur tea and biting into fluffy momos.
The gompa is known for its Hemis monastery also has a beautifully preserved thangkas, museum, housing stone and of which the massive, pearl- copper-gilt Buddha miniatures, studded thangka of Guru gold and silver chortens GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSPadmasambhava is the most embellished with precious gems sacred. In fact, this thangka is and an exquisite collection of only brought out on every 12th sacred thangka paintings. A occurrence of Hemis Tsechu, an small souvenir shop outside annual festival that celebrates the museum is a good place the birth of the Guru. to pick up gifts, or books on Buddhism, Ladakh and more. Hemis Tsechu is best-known for its wonderful masked or A gentle and picturesque walk chham dance performances, a of about 3 kms along the Hemis sacred element of Buddhist- hill leads to a cave where a Tantric ritual (see pp 94-96). The Tibetan saint is said to have Hemis comprises seven temples, The du-khang is supported by celebrations take place in the meditated, well before Hemis including the tshogs-khang, three vast tree trunks, which gompa’s large courtyard, which was founded. You may still du-khang, gon-khang and too are believed to have been has two raised square platforms see his foot- and hand-prints lha-khang. The tshogs-khang brought here – no doubt for the purpose, 1 m high outside the cave. has an image of a blue-haired with great labour – all the with sacred poles at their Sakyamuni Buddha at the way from Kashmir. It has an centre. A third platform has Hemis also gives its name to centre with a large silver chorten image of the founder of Hemis a cushioned seat and a small, the sprawling Hemis National next to it. There is also a life-size gompa, Stangs-stang-ras-pa, finely-painted table arranged Park, the highest in India and image of the Red Tara here. with a large chorten next to it with ceremonial items such home to the elusive snow A lacquered throne in this hall containing his relics. as cups full of holy water, leopard (see pp 102). is said to have been a gift from uncooked rice, and tormas an erstwhile ruler of Kashmir. Top: A mural shows blue-haired – colourful ritual figurines Sakyamani Buddha flanked by deities made of dough and butter Above: Guru Padmasambhava – and incense sticks.
46 47 The National Highway 1A that charts a fairly straight route north-westwards along FROM LEH TO LAMAYURU the Indus from Leh to Kargil contains some of the oldest and most beautifully located monasteries of Ladakh Alchi, of course, with its miraculously preserved murals, is a favourite with historians and photographers as well as tourists. Being under 70 kms from Leh, it is easily visited in a day-trip, and you may even want to take in one or two more sights en route, such as the uniquely built Spituk (only 9 kms from Leh), or the mud castle at Basgo (about 30 kms before Alchi).
Those with the time and inclination to venture beyond should certainly not miss the extensive – and extensively GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS renovated – Lamayuru gompa, built in ‘terraced’ levels along a mountainside. A short diversion leads to the more isolated Wanla gompa, built about the same time as Lamayuru, and one that those with an explorer’s streak will enjoy discovering. Since Lamayuru is almost 130 kms from Leh – indeed, half-way to Kargil! – it is a good idea to spend the night here at one of the many small guesthouses before either returning to Leh or proceeding to Kargil, from where it is another day’s drive to the lonely treasures of the Zanskar valley.
The Indus in winter
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Although Spituk is not one Built by the monk Od-de, the Spituk of the monasteries built by monastery contains a large, 3,307 m 9 kms from Leh Rinchen Zangpo, it is said that gilded statue of Sakyamuni Changsem Shesrab Zangpo, Buddha along with a relatively Spituk, on the western outskirts of Leh, is a chief disciple of Tsong-kha- tiny image of Amitabha. Unlike Spituk Gompa Admission ` 30 village of crystal clear waters shimmering pa, had prophesised that an the usually massive statues that like a thousand suns under the blue sky, exemplary community of grace Ladakh’s monasteries, and Buddhas painted in vivid colours on monks would be established this image of Amitabha is just rocks infusing a spark of divinity to the old here, which is how the gompa a finger high. A large bowl settlement. Most eye-catching, though, is its acquired its name: spituk, or of wax with a central flame, 14th-century Geluk-pa monastery, perched ‘exemplary’. Certainly, it is a symbolising divinity and purity, on the peak of a low hill, as if it had grown friendly place; its monks in is placed before the Sakyamuni, out of the very rocks on which it was built, traditional yellow hats welcome and, according to the traditions its walls a seeming extension of the craggy visitors with the cheerful of this gompa, must burn a slopes beneath. Ladakhi greeting ‘Juley!’. whole year before it is replaced.
50 51 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Lamayuru
Like many monasteries of the When visiting, do climb up to region, Spituk’s main assembly the gompa’s rooftop, where hall has a high throne at one you will be treated to a bird’s end, which is reserved for the eye view of the landscape that Dalai Lama. The door next stretches as far as Leh airport. to the throne leads to a dark chapel, which houses an awe- Spituk’s annual Gustor festival inspiring image of Mahakala usually falls in January, the with 35 pairs of arms and eight depths of winter, and features pairs of legs. The gon-khang is elaborate dance-dramas. adorned with brightly-coloured murals of protector deities. Above: Inside Spituk gompa Spituk also boasts an impressive Right: Traditionally, the head monk collection of thangkas, masks of any gompa is a reincarnation and antique arms, many of the same holy spirit. Here is Kushok displayed in the assembly hall. Bakula, the head lama of Spituk
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It is said that once King Tashi The larger of the two structures level are two other chambers Phyang Namgyal was afflicted with houses various sacred chambers, called kangyur-khang and 16 kms from Leh leprosy, and the monk Kunga along with the zimchhung padmagyapo-khang. cured him of the disease. (living quarters reserved for The picturesque settlement Pleased with Kunga, the the head lama and senior Phyang has one of the finest of Phyang is set in an arid grateful king granted him this visiting monks). A door leads collections of wall paintings mountainscape, broken by site and generously contributed to a small courtyard here, and thangkas in Ladakh, many splashes of emerald-green to the construction of the gompa. which is believed to have of which are on display. In fact, barley fields. Often, you see been the original congregation there is a newly-built ‘tower’ dzos (a cross-breed of the yak The entrance to Phyang is space. There is a basement just outside the gompa which and cow) grazing lazily along flanked by poplar trees and below the courtyard, which was is used to unfurl the largest the banks of gurgling streams. white-domed chortens. There once the meditation chamber thangkas in the monastery’s are several access points to the of the gompa’s founder, but is possession, which can be Perched atop a commanding main monastic complex, the now permanently closed. several storeys tall. Phyang hill, the white-and-ochre most conspicuous being the one also has some beautiful Phyang gompa dominates the from the north. Here, concrete The courtyard also leads to a frescoes, and a museum with scene. Established by Chosje steps along the slope of the hill windowless du-khang on the an extensive collection of Damma Kunga in 1515, this lead to the upper portion of first floor. This chamber has medieval idols thangkas, monastery has been extensively the monastery, which has two a verandah recently painted Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian renovated in recent years, and buildings. The smaller of these with murals of the Four Lords. firearms and other weapons. belongs to a sub-division of contains two main halls, as Next to the du-khang is a small the Kargyu-pa sect called well as a small gon-khang and abchi-khang, dedicated to Below: A young monk outside Dyong Kangyut. tso-khang. protector deities. At the same Phyang gompa GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS Phyang Gompa Admission ` 25
54 55 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Lamayuru
The castle and monastery are made of Basgo mud-brick that matches the colour of the 3,292 m 40 kms from Leh clay hill on which they stand almost exactly. From a distance, this creates an optical Cradled amidst jagged mountains, Basgo illusion of sorts – it is hard to tell where village was once the capital of Ladakh. the hill stops and the buildings begin. Remnants of citadel walls, a derelict mud- brick palace and an age-old monastery Basgo’s three temples – chamba lha-khang whisper secrets of its antiquity. serzang, and chamchung (admission ` 20) – house many monks, some of whom are Basgo castle is one of the few examples of from Hemis monastery, the ‘mother gompa’ ‘secular’ architecture in Ladakh. Known as (see pp 43-47). the ‘Divine Peak of Great Stability’, it was built by Jamyang and Singge Namgyal, father The most significant feature of Basgo is its and son, in the 16th century. A century later, three-storey high clay statue of the Maitreya Basgo castle withstood a three-year-long Buddha along with many detailed murals, Basgo in summertime siege by Mongol and Tibetan armies. some of which have faded with time. Besides this impressive Maitreya Buddha, Basgo preserves the Tibetan canon of kangyur texts, some of which are beautifully inscribed in gold, silver and copper letters. GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS Likir 3,500 m 52 kms from Leh
The village of Likir is a green oasis fed by sparkling springs, against a backdrop of stony mountains. Fluttering prayer flags and piles of mani stones are lined along the pathway that leads to Likir gompa. Picturesquely perched on a little hill along the mighty Indus river, this Geluk-pa monastery was built by Lama Duwang Chosje in the 14th century, but nothing of the original now remains.
Prayer flags rise from the courtyard of Likir gompa GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS
Above: Basgo’s A little further up is the ruined bastion of mud-brick architecture an old fortress, accessible by a winding blends with the and stony path. landscape Basgo’s fragile mud structures with flat terraces are greatly susceptible to ecological changes in this normally desert region. In 2000, the World Monuments Fund included Basgo among the world’s 100 most endangered sites, and a great deal of conservation work has happened in recent years, led by INTACH and local communities.
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The name Likir means on the right of the central gave Avalokiteshvara a figure, wearing a pointed white ‘Naga Encircled’, and the courtyard and has statues of thousand arms to aid him hat and carrying two leopard gompa has over 120 resident Amitabha Buddha, Sakyamuni, in easing the world’s pain; skins under his arms. Scholars monks as well as a school, Maitreya and Tsong-kha-pa. The and Avalokiteshvara vowed have noted that the figure run by the Central Institute of verandah has a wall painting of that should he ever stop bears a slight resemblance to Buddhist Studies (see p 28). the Four Lords and a Wheel of helping sentient beings, his representations of Songtsan Life mandala held by Yama. whole body would shatter Gampo, a Buddhist sage. The prime attraction of the into a thousand pieces. gompa is a 23-m high golden The newer du-khang is about The monastery is a repository statue of Maitreya Buddha, two centuries old, and contains One of the newest additions of old manuscripts, and has outside the main building and a statue of Avalokiteshvara to Likir is its chamber dedicated thangkas and traditional Ladakhi visible from a great distance. with 1,000 arms and 11 heads. to protector deities, which costumes displayed in a one- The idol with eyes half-closed, According to legend, when was built in 1983-84 when the room museum. an enigmatic smile and hands Avalokiteshvara first realised gompa underwent renovation. showing mudras, is seated on the suffering of the world, a colourful base. his head burst from pain. Outside the monastery is a large Amitabha, his teacher, took chorten and painted above the The monastery has two these shattered pieces and chorten’s door is a distinctive du-khangs, or assembly halls. remoulded eleven heads in the The older of the two is located place of one. Then, Amitabha
Likir Gompa Admission ` 20 Likir Museum Timings 8 am -1 pm, 2 pm - 6 pm (summers); 10 am -1 pm, 2 pm - 4 pm (winters)
60 61 From Leh to Lamayuru
scholar Monisha Ahmed notes, ‘the wooden elements of the open porch… the lions serving as brackets and the three figures of Maitreya, Akshobhaya and a Bodhisattva placed inside a tri-lobed frame – are clearly derived from Kashmiri prototypes, that probably have their roots in Gandhara art’ (Mural paintings of Alchi).
What is certain, however, is that the monastery contains some of the most beautiful and ancient Buddhist art in the world. In the words of one traveller:
‘Mesmerising coloured patterns scroll across the wood beams overhead; the temple’s walls are covered with hundreds of small seated Buddhas, Alchi finely painted in ochre, black, green, azurite and 3,100 m 65 kms from Leh gold. At the far end of the room, towering more than 5 m high stands an unblinking figure, Set along the banks of the turquoise blue naked to the waist, with four arms and a gilded Alchi Gompa Indus and teeming with apricot and ripe head topped with a spiked crown. It’s a Admission ` 30 Photography restricted barley fields in summer, Alchi is a popular painted statue of the Bodhisattva Maitreya…. draw for tourists, with its combination of Two hulking statues, one embodying idyllic landscape and reputation as one of compassion and the other wisdom, stand in the largest andGOODEARTH most beautiful monasteries PUBLICATIONSniches on side walls…. Each massive figure of the region. wears a dhoti… embellished with minutely rendered scenes from the life of Buddha’ Also known as choskhor, this monastic (Jeremy Kahn, Smithsonian). complex is among those built by the Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo and his team of The gompa has two chortens and five 32 craftsmen in the 11th century. It is widely temples; the most important of which is agreed that these craftsmen accompanied the lotsa lha-khang, dedicated to Rinchen Rinchen Zangpo from Kashmir, which would Zangpo. When you enter this temple and explain why the gorgeous murals at Alchi adjust your eyes to the dark interiors, your include not just Buddhist themes such as a focus would gradually shift to the beauty beautiful six-armed Tara painted in luminous and vibrancy of the paintings on its walls. green and dressed in rich, detailed garments, The most significant of these is a depiction but also distinctively Islamic arabesque of Vairochana. There is also a depiction of patterns. In fact, a surprising series of palm Mahakala, the protector deity of Buddhists, trees painted on some walls extend the positioned over the door of this temple, possibilities of the artists’ provenance with Palden Lhamo (said to be a Tibetan even farther. form of an ancient Hindu goddess called Shridevi) riding a mule on his left, and Indeed, the architectural details of Alchi goddess Remati on his right, draped in gompa represent an array of artistic a dazzling robe of peacock feathers. traditions—Indian, Tibetan and Central Asian. The overall structure of the buildings, To the left of this du-khang is the Sumstek built with stone and mud with flat roofs temple, its walls dominated by rich reds and Above: Carved and whitewashed walls, corresponds to blues. There are three huge sculptures of wooden panel at Alchi the Tibetan style. On the other hand, as the Bodhisattvas, particularly impressive for
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the exquisite detail with which their dhotis have been decorated. These clay figures are supported by wooden frames and soar up to the second storey of the temple. Of these, the Avalokiteshvara figure, to the left, is painted entirely in white except for his palms, which are coloured a deep red.
The heart of this shrine is the gilded, bright yellow statue of Maitreya Buddha, flanked by four attendant deities. His dhoti depicts figures of the Mahasiddhas, devotees of Buddha. The Mahasiddhas are shown conversing, some are accompanied by consorts and a few stand alone. On the right wall is Manjushri: his face is red and he wears a five-pointed crown, while his ‘dhoti is covered with roundels, each chronologically depicting the stages of Buddha Sakyamuni’s life.’ (Monisha Ahmed) Left: The Bodhisattva The remaining walls are resplendent Maitreya, over 5 m tall with figures of Bodhisattvas, Buddha Below: Alchi’s world- and even common folk. One wall depicts renowned Green Tara GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS Buddhist Trail in Ladakh From Leh to Lamayuru
Avalokiteshvara covered with The Jamyang lha-khang (Manjusri 814 small figures of Amitabha Temple) has wood carvings on Buddha, seated on a throne its doors and pillars, and with peacocks on the side. a central image of Manjusri There is also a larger figure seated on a lion throne, his of Amitabha on the centre dhoti embellished with a of the two walls. string of pearls and his crown made of flowers.
A chorten in Alchi gompa The greatest highlight of Alchi gompa, however, is its painting of a Green Tara seated cross- legged on a lotus base, ‘clad in a dhoti ornamented with mounted bowmen and overlapping animals, wearing an extremely rich crown and jewellery’ (Monisha Ahmed). She has six arms, of which four hold a staff, a rosary a Rizong book and a decorated vase, 3,500 m 73 kms from Leh Rizong Gompa while the remaining two Admission ` 20 form graceful mudras. At first glance, Rizong gompa appears to be a large whitewashed mass protruding The ever-increasing tourist out of rock, punctuated by windows and populationGOODEARTH in Alchi has led to PUBLICATIONStheir red wooden awnings. Sometimes the establishment of many guest called a ‘paradise for meditation’, this houses in Alchi village, besides Geluk-pa monastery was founded in 1831 small eateries serving Tibetan by Lama Tsultim Nima, on the site of an food, and souvenir shops – one older Buddhist hermitage, and is the only of which is in the gompa itself. monastery in Ladakh still practising the austere Vinaya principles. Its resident lamas Alchi is protected by the lead a disciplined life and are only allowed Archaeological Survey of India. access to monastic robes and religious literature. Stringent rules require that the monks repent even inadvertently treading on an insect or cutting a blade of grass. Sumda Chun, Alchi and Mangyu pilgrimage Besides its stringent guidelines, the Sumda Chun and Mangyu are both monasteries contemporary with Alchi, and believed to have been built by Rinchen Zangpo. In fact, monastery is also known for its architecture. it is said he built all three in one night. Today, Sumda Chun and Various building blocks have been erected Mangyu are far less accessible than Alchi, requiring strenuous treks after flattening portions of the hill at different of several hours to reach. Those who attempt the journey are either levels. There is a small pathway etched out adventurers or pilgrims, since Sumda Chun, Alchi and Mangyu form of the rock, in a zigzag fashion, which a holy pilgrimage. It is considered auspicious, in fact, to visit all three reaches the lower part of the monastery. monasteries on the same day. The uppermost level includes two du-khangs, of which the older du-khang is larger and has a raised platform to accommodate stucco images of Sakyamuni and Maitreya. The central deity, Sakyamuni, is flanked
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narrow pathways and a passage Tingmosgang for circumambulation. 90 kms from Leh The chamba lha-khang is Situated in a secluded valley built over a high plinth and of apricot groves, the beautiful accessible only by a small by other idols, including Tourists are often interested and prosperous village of flight of steps. Its ceiling, Avalokiteshvara and Mahakala. to visit the Julichen nunnery Tingmosgang is renowned for colourfully painted with floral nearby, which is subordinate its 16th-century castle, housing and geometric patterns, enlivens The newer du-khang has to the monastery. While more a particularly sacred image of the small, dark chamber. The beautiful thangkas and wall educated nuns dedicate Avalokiteshvara, believed to most attractive feature of the paintings of protector deities. themselves to meditation confer great blessings on the lha-khang is a two-storey There are three thrones in this and Tibetan philosophy, worshipper. stucco image of Chamba. hall, reserved for the gompa’s many also toil in the fields three senior-most lamas. for the monastery. In fact, Built atop a hill, this two-storey The chandazig and the guru Printing blocks telling the story Kim Gutschow, in Being a structure houses a chamba lha-khang (‘temple of the Guru’, of Lama Tsultim Nima, ancient Buddhist Nun: The Struggle for lha-khang, a guru lha-khang, that is Padmasambhava) are bells and drums, and Tibetan Enlightenment in the Himalayas, a newly-built du-khang, and a also built on a raised platform, scriptures are housed here. has called Buddhist nuns of this structure which is said to be the which is preceded by a small, region the ‘the worker bees in abode of chandazig (all forms of open courtyard. Both contain Next to this chamber is a three- the monastic hive’, since monks the Buddha). These structures sacred images of deities of storey structure, with a small are usually considered superior are connected to each other by the Buddhist pantheon. enclosed courtyard. On its third in the spiritual hierarchy. floor is a large silver chorten and a mandala. A shrine, locally known as sku–dung, enshrines GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS the relics of Lama Tsultim Nima.
Ladakh offers a magnificent landscape at every turn
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Ladakh, precariously positioned In its architecture, the gompa established in the 11-century Lamayuru on a high, craggy spur. ‘adheres to the traditional by the sage Naropa. The Great 3,420 m 127 kms from Leh mandala plan, of a central temple Translator Rinchen Zangpo, The monastery is sometimes surrounded by four temples too, is said to have contributed Tucked in a bowl-shaped valley, called ‘Yun-dung’ (or ‘swastika’) in the cardinal directions’ to its construction. surrounded by dusty mountains following a story that tells of (M N Rajesh, The Buddhist on all sides, Lamayuru leaves how there was once a big lake Monastery). Little of the original, Though much of the gompa most travellers awestruck by its here, whose water was drained however, remains today. is newly-built, some of its beauty. About half-way between by a greatly spiritual monk, ancient heritage survives in the Leh and Kargil, the village also who formed grains of corn While Lamayuru town was murals along the walls of the has one of the oldest and most into this shape in a libation long an important stop on the Senge-Sgang, which may date spectacular monasteries in performed here. Silk Route, the monastery was to Rinchen Zangpo’s arrival.
Lamayuru Gompa Admission ` 20
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The Senge-Sgang’s antiquity Lamayuru hosts two annual is further proved by a central masked dance festivals, when stucco image of Vairochana all the resident monks and Wanla seated on a lion throne, with monks from the surrounding Less than 10 kms before you reach Lamayuru, a 7-km diversion Garuda and a pair of sea gompas gather together to off the Leh-Srinagar highway goes south to Wanla village, monsters on either side. pray and participate in the which has a gompa dedicated to Avalokiteshwara perched esoteric chham dance. Those on a ridge above it. The most ancient parts of the Wanla monastery (Admission ` 20) may be up to 600 years old, Lamayuru’s newer buildings who plan their trip to coincide and a few ruins of the medieval fort that include a du-khang, gon-khang with the festivals will also see once enclosed it stand nearby. and two zimchhungs. The a unique chorten made of du-khang has wall paintings coloured butter! of Avalokiteshvara and other deities, and a mandala of Vairochana. The gon-khang’s walls are brightly painted with Above: Newly-made murals in murals and dancing skeletons. Lamayuru gompa
72 73 Hemmed in by the sky-high Himalayan and Karakoram ranges, the Nubra region in northern Ladakh has three valleys: one along Nubra the Nubra river, the second along the Shyok river and the third after the Siachin river joins the Shyok in Lakjung, thereafter flowing northwest to join the Indus at Keris ‘Hearken, my sons! If you want in Pakistan. The Nubra originates in the Siachen glacier, the highest battlefield in To climb the mountain peak the world and the site of intermittent You should hold the self-mind’s light, hostilities between India and Pakistan.
Tie it with a great Knot, The relatively warm expanse of the Nubra And catch it with a firm Hook. region is much more fertile than most of Ladakh. In fact, its gentle slopes covered If you practice thus in thick grass during the summer months, You can climb the mountain peak give the valley its name, ‘ldumra’ or To enjoy the view.’ ‘Nubra’, which means ‘orchard’. The road to Nubra
(From ‘Song on Reaching the Mountain Peak’ by Milarepa, Buddhist mystic (1052-1135 AD), translated by Garma C. C. Chang) GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS
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even in the summer months, a small village in a sandy THE ROAD TO one can see sharp icicles flatland. Soon after, at Tirit, the hanging along the sides from road bifurcates: one takes you NUBRA the rock faces, or mounds of to the valley of the Shyok river snow being cleared by the BRO. which has the towns of Diskit The 150-km journey from Leh and Hunder, with a magnificent to the Nubra region includes Khardung La was opened to high-altitude desert between some of the most diverse and vehicular traffic only in 1974, them; and the other to the green exhilarating topography in the and has since become a great valley of the Nubra river, where world, and its high point (both favourite with mountain biking Sumur and Panamik are most literally and metaphorically) enthusiasts. But the history of popular with tourists. is the Khardung La pass. this road is much more ancient. About an hour and a half from Traders of the Silk Route, which Leh (39 kms), and at a height developed in the pre-Christian Note that all travelers to Nubra (Indians and foreigners) need an Inner of 5,359 m (18,380 feet), era (see p 81) used the pass to Line Permit, and may only travel as Khardung La is known for travel between Leh and Kashgar far as Turtuk in the Shyok valley having the world’s highest in Xinjiang province of China. and Panamik in the Nubra valley. motorable road. Maintained by Permits are issued for a maximum of seven days by the Deputy the Border Roads Organisation An hour’s drive downhill from Commissioner’s office in Leh (BRO), the road is open to Khardung La leads to the first (see Practical Information). tourists all year round, but stop in Nubra called Khardung,
Above and Below: Khardung La is a biker’s delight, lined with icicles even GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS in the summer and even boasting the world’s highest cafeteria (Top)
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a massive 32-m-tall statue of Hunder THE VALLEY ALONG Maitreya Buddha, decorated with several kilograms of pure The charming little village of THE SHYOK gold. The deity was consecrated Hunder is a 7-km trek from by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Diskit. Historically, traders Diskit Lama in 2010. The massive travelling along the Silk Route statue is placed such that it from the Nubra valley to Diskit, the biggest town on the sharply faces Pakistan, over the Shyok Skardu (now in POK) would Diskit Gompa Admission ` 20 sloping left bank of the Shyok river, is river, in the hope that it will pass via the Shyok valley, Timings 7 am - 4 pm spectacular. The town’s main monastery bring peace between the two and halt at Hunder. belongs to the Geluk-pa sect, and was countries. founded in 14th century by Changzem Hunder was the capital of the Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong-kha-pa. There are many old paintings erstwhile Nubra kingdom in Today, it is under the aegis of Thiksey and statues inside the the 17th century and is home to monastery (see pp 32-36). monastery, some a little worse the Hunder gompa. Perched on for wear. The monastery has a hill, the monastery overlooks You can drive up to Diskit gompa, though a museum, which includes the ruins of a citadel on another more energetic visitors could also attempt the relic of the hand of Galden hill to its left, and presents a the steep trek. At the foot of the hill, there is Tsewang, a Mongolian warlord spectacular view of the valley. who invaded the valley centuries ago but was slain Hunder Gompa, Admission ` 20 by local inhabitants. The monaster is largely in ruins Just behind the hill on which the and only the main building is monastery is located is a small accessible. The weathered stairs GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSwetland, which is frequented leading up to the gompa have by migratory birds. It is a little been restored and so have some difficult to make your way past of the murals that adorn its seabuckthorn bushes to the walls. In a small ante-chamber wetland, but nonetheless, within is a two-storey statue of it is a bird watcher’s delight! Maitreya Buddha. The solemn expression on its face radiates The monastery’s main festival a spirit of detachment. is called Domosche, the Festival of the Scapegoat. The ruins of Hunder fort comprise little more than a broken bastion today. King Singge Namgyal had a grave constructed here for his Muslim mother. It once had a grand roza (low surrounding wall) which was washed away by floods in 1929.
Facing page: Diskit gompa; and its 32-m-tall Maitreya Buddha (left)
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Nubra lies along the ancient equally popular were Indian Sand Dunes on Silk Route, a traders’ trail ivory, spices and textiles, horses, that flourished for almost a precious stones and more. the Silk Route millennium, from c. 200 BC to c. 760 AD and, at its peak, In Nubra, between Hunder and stretched across half the world, Diskit, these ancient traders from China to Europe. Caravans would have encountered a vast ‘A huge flat plain extended toward trundled across mountains and fascinating anomaly that snowcaps on every side, and dry and deserts, through verdant continues to fascinate visitors valleys and crowded cities, today. This is the massive riverbeds bisected the emptiness like setting up profitable camps expanse of sandy riverbed that along the ways. Of course, no creates a desertscape in this tears. In a few places, fortress-like, caravan could ever traverse cold, high-altitude land of rocky the entire Silk Route, so each peaks. High winds create rows two-storey white buildings were would halt at fixed points and upon rows of sand dunes and, clustered together in patches of green, sell their goods to the next to complete this strange picture, group of traders, thus creating a double-humped Bactrian camels silent amid apricot trees and willow…’ chain of valuable merchandise. (see Box) tramp along the silver Indeed, silk was just one of the grey dunes. (Sudha Ramalingam, Hindu Frontline) items traded along the route –
Travellers on the Silk Route would refer to Shyok as the ‘river of death’, since its upper reaches are treacherous and many a merchant perished GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS trying to cross its waters
Those caravans of the Silk Route that travelled through the Himalayas depended greatly on the hardy, cold-desert camels named after the region of their origin, Bactria. These double- humped Bactrian camels have bushy eyebrows, two rows of long eyelashes and hair inside their ears to protect them from the harsh cold. They are believed to be able to ‘seal’ their nostrils and mouths to keep the sand out. The camels’ double hump stores fat, which is converted to water and helps them go without food and water for long periods. The Bactrian camel is slow, traveling only two-and-a-half miles per hour, but its life-saving skills as storm-detector and water-diviner are famous. As a 5th-century chronicler noted: ‘Occasionally, the old camels would roar, huddle together in a group and bury in the sand. This gave warning of fierce, sudden winds which were dreaded along the northern route. They would whip up the sands and although over in a matter of minutes, those without protection over their faces might be left for dead.’ In 2007, the Bactrian camel was identified by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project as a threatened species needing protection. Today, visitors can enjoy camel safaris (about `150 for 15 mins) when they visit Nubra.
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THE VALLEY ALONG THE NUBRA
Travellers who drive northwards from Tirit into the valley of the Nubra river will pass through a series of small, charming villages like Sumur, Teggar and Tirsa, many of which have well-preserved examples of primitive rock art – including engravings of human figures and animals – on boulders nearby.
About 6 kms from Sumur village is the gompa at Samstanling, on the road to Panamik. This monastery was built in the 19th century by a monk called Tsultim Nima, and is thus quite modern. However, the gompa is also one of the most puritanical in Ladakh; it allows women visitors only during the day. A rock-carved, two-storey high statue of Maitreya Buddha is the prime attraction of this gompa.
The last halt for civilians along this route is Panamik (20GOODEARTH kms from Samstanling). PUBLICATIONS Panamik has long been known for its reserves of edible soda, which were traditionally exported by the villagers to other parts of Ladakh.
Panamik is famed for its hot sulphur springs, which are known to possess curative powers. It is said that the temperature of Right: Samstanling water at the source is close to boiling! gompa Below: Mani stones, A three to four-hour trek from Panamik carved with the chant leads to the tiny, mid-18th-century Om Mani Padme Ensa gompa, which ‘somehow clings to Hum, are ubiquitous a foliage-covered ledge on the raw red in Ladakh rock of the cliff face’ (Snellgrove).
82 Famed for its splendid isolation, Travellers come to Zanskar the Zanskar Valley, perched at via either Leh or Kargil. over 3,500 m is southwest of The ‘gateway’ to Zanskar zanskar valley Leh, and among the highest is Penzi La. Two small, and most remote regions in the high-altitude lakes with world. Nestled between the camping sites and views peaks of the Zanskar range, of permafrost mountains This lonely spot where stands my hut the valley is drained by the are the highlights of this pass, Stod and Lungnak rivers which is the highest point on Is a place pleasing to the Buddhas, (also called Doda Chu and the Kargil-Zanskar road. A few A place where accomplished beings dwell, Tsarap Chu locally), both of hundred metres from Penzi La which are tributaries of the is the enormous Drang Drung A refuge where I dwell alone Zanskar, which itself flows glacier, source of the Stod river. (Milarepa, Buddhist mystic (1052-1135 AD), northwards to join the Indus. translated by Garma C. C. Chang) Just 20 kms before Penzi La, Despite these rivers, this you will pass Rangdum. ‘hidden kingdom’, is a land of Set in a wild, big-sky valley, barren mountains surrounded the village is home to the by precipitous gorges, so rare 250-year old Rangdum gompa patches of irrigated fields (Admission ` 50), built on a appear like jewels in a desolate low plateau. Its museum crown of thorns. has a collection of thangkas, masks and manuscripts.
The spectacular Drang From Penzi La, a spectacular GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSDrung glacier drive along unpaved roads leads through villages like Abran, Aksho, Hamiling, Shagam and Phey, all within 12 kms of one another and about 50 kms from Padum. Those who care to stop may admire the view, as well as the many boulders engraved with ancient rock art in and around these settlements.
A little further, Sani village (8 km before Padum) has one of Zanskar’s few gompas built on flat land. The Sani gompa has the famous Kanika chorten, which may date to the rule of the Kushan emperor Kanishka.
84 85 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh Zanskar Valley
Getting there Kargil: Gateway to the Zanskar Valley
To get to Padum, Zanskar’s largest town, you can fly to either The western district of Ladakh is unfortunately associated in the Srinagar or Leh, and take a taxi or bus thereafter. popular imagination with the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. Kargil has a much longer history, however, of bustling, From Srinagar it is a 7-hour drive to Kargil, where travellers peaceful trade along the Silk Route, which fostered the mingling usually halt overnight before proceeding into the Zanskar valley of cultures from China, Tibet and India. Located almost exactly via Penzi La pass (160 kms from Kargil, 4,200 m). Note that you halfway between Srinagar (204 kms) and Leh (230 kms), Kargil will have to change taxis at Kargil since the Kargil Taxi Union does town remains a hub for traders – its bazaar pulsates with life – and not allow ‘non-local’ taxis to ply on the Kargil-Padum route. also travellers, who can base themselves here and undertake trips The 450-km journey from Leh to Padum also passes via Kargil, to surrounding regions. where it is advisable to halt for the night. You will encounter the The Mulbek and Suru valleys are popular trekking destinations dramatic Suru Valley as you drive south from Kargil, crossing the nearby, offering breathtaking views. These are fertile regions, with Penzi-la pass. fruit orchards and poplar and willow trees creating a greener, softer When it snows – as it does for seven months a year – Penzi La landscape than Ladakh is known for. Mulbek (45 kms from Kargil) is blocked, locking the land and its people in an unchanging has two gompas, one belonging to the Druk-pa and the other to the world that only the most adventurous travellers have glimpsed. Geluk-pa sect. Also here is a 9-m tall Maitreya Buddha carved in relief on a single rock. Popularly known as the Chamba statue, this carving has been dated to between the 2nd and 8th centuries AD. Nearby, there are ancient edicts inscribed on the mountain in Kharoshti script. Those interested in more recent history could drive west to Drass and visit sites of the 1999 conflict, such as Tiger Hill, which the Indian army recaptured from Pakistani forces.
86 87 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh Zanskar Valley
3505 m 80 kms from Penzi La
Set on the banks of Lungnak river, Padum is Zanskar’s only ‘town’, with a marketplace, small guesthouses and camping facilities. Its oldest part is also its most crowded, with houses sitting cheek-by-jowl with chortens.
Now in ruins, Padum fort was the seat of the kings of ancient and medieval Zanskar. Some historians believe that the Central Asian army of Mirza Haidar captured the fort briefly.
There are two gompas near Padum, in Pipiting and Stagrimo. Perched on a hilltop, Stagrimo is among the oldest structures in Zanskar and governed by the well-known GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS Stakna monastery (see p 37). In the 17th century, King Dechok Namgyal requested the villagers of Zanskar to donate land for this gompa, which today contains many thangkas and statues, including a beautiful Vajravarahi and Avalokitesvara. Stonde
18 kms from Padum
Colourful chortens and fluttering eleven-headed Avalokitesvara; itself leads to a small temple, is a temple called Dzom-skyid. prayer flags welcome you as at the opposite end is a complex with a 2.5-m high statue of Its newly-painted murals you make your way up to the of temples. One of these, the Maitreya Buddha within, include protector deities of newly-restored 11th-century tshogs-khang, has a badly- surrounded by scriptures the Geluk-pa sect. Stonde gompa, north of Padum. damaged, indecipherable and thangkas. Strangely, A footpath leads uphill to the inscription at its entrance, a helmet with the insignia Not too far is a cave where, it monastery’s two assembly halls, and a statue of Sakyamuni of the British Horse Artillery is said, the Tibetan Yogi Marpa one of which is relatively new. Buddha in the bhumisparsha hangs from the ceiling! once lived and meditated. mudra (earth-witness posture). At one end of the courtyard It also has murals of Atisa and Outside the monastery, on the Above: An intricate, thousand-armed is a temple dedicated to Amitabha. The tshogs-khang northwestern side of the hill, Avalokiteswara in Stagrimo monastery
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A monk at Karsha gompa
Karsha murals of Vijaya, Four-Armed The Chadar Trek Mahakala and Vajrapani. The The Zanskar river, which leads from Padum to Zangla (35 kms from 17 kms from Padum; lower assembly hall, which Padum) and then to Leh, freezes so hard in winter that for a few 4-6 kms by foot was not affected by the fire, weeks one can walk on it as if it were solid ground. This is known as is larger, and its walls are the chadar (‘sheet’ in Hindi). Constantly shaped by the wind, sun and Arguably the best-known adorned with older murals clouds, the chadar is a dynamic living thing. The ice crunches and monastery in Zanskar, the of a crowned Sakyamuni cracks under your feet, the wind feels like a knife, while the mild roar white-washed and well- and Amitabha. of the river deep below keeps you company. maintained Karsha gompa Local merchants have been walking the chadar for centuries, and stands out in the barren Two smaller temples in the now adventure enthusiasts are discovering the rewards of undertaking landscape. Karsha’s main hall gompa are: the Kangyur temple, this daunting 14-day, 105-km trek. The adventure begins in Chiling and library were both destroyed housing scriptures, and another and follows a canyon landscape till Hanumil. Camping stops are in rock caves on the riverbank. by fire and, though the library dedicated to Tsong-kha-pa could not be salvaged, the and his two disciples. Upsides? Glimpsing ibexes, dipper birds and, if you are really lucky, the elusive snow leopard. Getting an insight into a fascinating ancient renovated assembly hall is culture divorced from modern life; visiting Buddhist monasteries built newly-decorated with paintings. West of the monastery are the into cliffs; basking in the beauty of the landscape. And, of course, The gon-khang (temple of ruins of a hilltop fort, believed after it’s all over, having the satisfaction of completing one of the guardian divinities) is also to have been destroyed by world’s most challenging treks. Downsides? Minus-30 degree nights, newly-painted, with beautiful invasions in the 18th century. and thin ice and the risk of frostbite.
90 91 Jangsem Sherap Zangpo, a disciple of Geluk-pa founder Tsong-kha-pa. Legend says that the spiritually gifted Zangpo caused a spring to spout in the cave, a tree to grow above it, and the cave itself to expand. Today, the monastery has a main prayer hall, temples, library, and residential quarters
smaller images of Sakyamuni Zongkhul Buddha, Tsong-kha-pa and 35 KMS FROM PADUM Avalokitesvara.
Zongkhul is tucked so deeply A little away from the main in the folds of the Great complex is a temple dedicated Himalayan range that even taxi to Maitreya Buddha, with drivers balk at the suggestion images of Tsong-kha-pa, of a trip here – the route Padmasambhava, Sakyamuni falls along a trekking trail and Avalokitesvara. and is considered rocky and dangerous even by Zanskar standards. It takes considerable lung power to climb the jagged, Bardan rock-hewn steps in the Ating 12GOODEARTH KMS SOUTH FROM PADUM PUBLICATIONS gorge that lead to the cave monastery. Bardan is a 17th-century monastery of the Dugpa- Still, those who brave the trip, Kargyud order. Among the for monks – and the sacred will be rewarded with a truly oldest monasteries in Zanskar, Phugtal spring continues to flow. ethereal sight, as butter lamps it is known for its delicately- 34 KMS FROM PADUM fill the darkness with light made miniature stupas of Images of the 16 Arhats, the and fragrance, illuminating wood, clay, copper and bronze. The only way to get to Phugtal first disciples of Buddha, 300-year-old frescoes and is on foot or horseback, and are painted on the cave’s beautiful thangkas. In an alcove Unfortunately, the monastery to get there and back can take walls, which also preserves at the back is a statue of is in need of immediate repair, the better part of a week. The a collection of old weapons. eleven-headed Avalokitesvara. though it remains active, with Phugtal cave monastery is The assembly hall has several about 40 resident monks. The reputedly the most picturesque old thangkas and murals. In fact, Zongkhul comprises two high façade of the Assembly in all Zanskar. A small cluster From here, one can access caves, and is associated with the Hall dominates the courtyard. of white-washed buildings a smaller temple, which has sage Naropa, whose footprint Within are paintings of the seem impossibly balanced on a a 2-m high image of Maitreya is preserved on the rock at the fierce divinity Kagya, the sage sheer cliff face. At their heart, a Buddha. lower cave’s entrance. Marpa, and four Bodhisattvas – deep, hole in the dark mountain Vajradhara, Samvara, Amitabha leads into the monastery. and Akshobhaya – drawn on Muni mandalas. Overlooking the Lungnak river, This little monastery of the this Geluk-pa gompa has been Geluk-pa sect has a 2.5-m visited by sages and scholars statue of Maitreya Buddha in Above: The Naropa cave monastery ever since it was established Above: An unusual mural in its assembly hall, flanked by at Zongkhul in the early 14th century by Bardan gompa
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The chham begins with the – a human-like figure made of heraldic call of kangling dough – which is then ritually trumpets from within the cut into pieces and scattered FESTIVALS OF LADAKH gompa. As the atmosphere in the four cardinal directions. echoes the shrill note of the This ritual, called Dao Tulva, clarinets, with the drums re-enacts the assassination of forming a muffled undertone, the Tibetan apostate king Lang richly attired lamas swirl to Darma by a Buddhist monk the beat while incense-bearers in 842 AD (see p 36). Monastic Festivals circulate in the audience, purifying the atmosphere. The Rinpoche, or head lama, Almost every gompa in Ladakh is a treasure of the monastery presides over trove of age-old traditions and practices, Festivals last two or three all the rituals during a festival, many of which are on vibrant display during days and usually end with sitting on a high throne, placed annual monastic festivals held across the a climax in which the evil at the centre of the gompa’s year and feature an array of well-known forces are trapped in an effigy courtyard and facing the dance-dramas. These 1,300-year old Tantric dances called chham have their roots in the ancient Bon religion. Names of the Festival Monastery / Venue Usually held in* Around 760-770 AD, the then King of Tibet, Spituk Gustor Spituk January Trisong Detsen formally adopted Buddhism and invited Guru Padmasambhava to preach Dosmoche Leh, Likir & Diskit February the doctrine to his people. Padmasambhava, Monasteries an accomplished tantric, was skilled in Stok Guru Tsechu Stok Monastery February–March warding off evilGOODEARTH spirits through dance mudras. PUBLICATIONS Matho Nagrang Matho Monastery February–March He used this power in the battle between the old, animistic Bon and Buddhism. Today, Buddha Purnima Leh May–June traces of that ancient acrimony are discernible Hemis Tsechu Hemis Monastery June in the chham dances, which depicts the battle between Buddhist gods and wrathful Yuru Kabgyat Lamayuru Monastery June deities. Some religious scholars have Zanskar Karsha Gustor Karsha Monastery July also seen in chham a metaphor for the Phyang Tsedup Phyang Monastery July conquering of the ego, the ultimate aim of Buddhism. Korzok Gustor Korzok Monastery July (Tsomoriri Lake) An integral part of all important Tibetan Takthok Tsechu Takthok Monastery July–August monasteries, chham dances are usually performed by monks in a gompa’s Sani Naro Nasjal (Zanskar) Sani Monastery, Zanskar July–August courtyard, and have incorporated many Shachukul Gustor Shachukul Monastery June–July scenes from local fables into their portrayal of the triumph of good Thiksey Gustor Thiksey Monastery November over evil. Monks wear colourful Chemrey Angchok Chemrey Monastery November– brocade costumes, with huge December and bizarre masks, and sway Galdan Namchot All Over Ladakh December to the sound of blaring horns and trumpets in a dance that is Losar All over Ladakh January– intense, energetic – and, for the December viewer, often mesmerising. * Since the dates of these festivals are governed by the lunar Tibetan calendar, they vary from year to year. Visit leh.nic.in for exact dates before making your plans.
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du-khang, or main assembly hall. Lamas embellished with topaz and in ceremonial attire sit on either side of turquoise, showcase the various the throne. facets of the region’s distinct identity. Makeshift markets selling chunky jewellery, thangkas and other artefacts spring up At the inauguration, hundreds overnight near monasteries during festivals. of local artistes, belting out Valuable and rare musical instruments, popular Ladakhi numbers, weapons and religious objects are brought are accompanied by dancers out during these performances, often for in a long-winding procession. the only time in the year. Each dance begins with a prayer and gradually gains pace. Perhaps the best known monastic festival, at least among tourists, is the Hemis Such street processions are Tsechu, usually held in June (see p 47). followed by days of local dances, and unlimited flow of the local brew called chang. Evenings are marked for polo Ladakh Festival Don’t miss out on craft stalls matches, a popular sport selling exquisite Ladakhi in Ladakh. Locals say that A week-long extravaganza organised by the handicrafts. polo came to Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department neighbouring Baltistan, and in Leh and Kargil from 20-26 September, the A spectacular display of historians confirm that polo Ladakh Festival is a bouquet of local customs, daredevilry, the motorcycle was brought here by King Participants in suffusing the region in frenzied bursts of expedition from Leh to Jamyang Namgyal in the different local costumes activity. Ladakhi men in long silk robes Khardung La, said to be the 15th century, after he married during the Ladakh and leather hats,GOODEARTH women wearing Goncha PUBLICATIONSworld’s highest motorable road, Gyal Khatun, a princess festival robes that touch their toes, their headgear is the high point of this festival. from Baltistan.
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In the words of one traveller who witnessed a game of polo Polo in Ladakh is not just a rich man’s sport. Almost every in 1906, ‘everybody holds their village in Ladakh has its own breath while the ball is tossed polo ground, which hosts Wildlife in Ladakh up and is dropping to meet the tournaments and exhibition unerring aim of the club that matches regularly. Polo certainly sends it flying. Helter-skelter adds a dash of colour and follow the players… ‘Tis both excitement to this stark, rugged Formidable mountain ranges, sub-zero hot and fast, is polo at Leh’. land. The Ladakh Festival Cup, temperatures and sparse vegetation – any a major polo tournament part wildlife that inhabits this region must brave Archery too is a popular of the Ladakh Festival, witnesses harsh conditions to survive. And yet, Ladakh participation by teams from all community event, for which has an enviable and exotic variety of fauna across the region. long-haired young men attired and avifauna: snow leopard, ibex, Tibetan in traditional gonchhas travel wild ass or kiang, black-necked crane and from their villages to Leh. brown-headed gull. Blessed with warm, shaggy coats, and other protective evolutions, these animals and birds have adjusted to the biting cold, insignificant greenery and lack of shelter; but even so, almost all the region’s Even the animals of mammals descend to lower altitudes for Ladakh, such as yaks winter. Only a few exceptions, hibernating (below), experience species like marmots and brown bears, are ‘mountain sickness’, able to cope with the temperatures in because of the paucity the upper reaches then. of oxygen! GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONS
The Ladakh Singhey Khababs Sindhu Festival (12-14 June) a government-sponsored festival, is held on the banks of the Indus or Sindhu river. The festival, which began in 1997, aims to project the Indus as a symbol of communal harmony and unity in India. Participants from across India bring water from the rivers of their own state and immerse it into the Indus. On the first day of the festival, 50 senior lamas conduct prayers on the banks of the river. The second day features a special riverside puja.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India, laid the foundation stone of the Sindhu Cultural Center in 2000. The complex boasts an open air theatre, an exhibition room, a library and a music room.
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the English explorer William ANIMALS OF Moorcroft (Travels in the BIRDS OF LADAKH Himalayan Provinces), who also LADAKH noted that the kiang’s ‘activity Ladakh is located on the ‘flyway route’ of and strength render its capture birds migrating from Siberia to the Indian When a snow leopard stalks prey difficult’. Most often sighted plains, so much so that 421 species including among the mountain walls, near Pangong and Tso Moriri Turkoman rock pigeons, desert wheaters, lakes, and in the More plains buntings, larks, kites, kestrels, finches, ducks, it moves... softly, slowly, south of Tanglang-la, the kiang geese and hundreds of other rare Himalayan ‘like snow slipping off lives in herds, which can have birds have been sighted in the region. a ledge as it melts’. over 40 members. To see a group of wild asses galloping Besides being the sole breeding ground (Douglas H. Chadwick, across an alpine meadow is a in India for black-necked cranes (see Box), National Geographic) mesmerising sight. Ladakh’s many wetlands of glacial origin Facing page: Kiangs are used by exotic birds like bar-headed are the largest wild Snow leopard Blue sheep (or Bharal) geese, brown-headed gulls, great-crested asses in the world grebes, ruddy shelducks, and lesser sand Below: Brown-headed The snow leopard (Uncia Bharal, locally called Napo, plover for breeding. gulls on Pangong lake Uncia), also called the white resemble both goats and sheep. leopard, is an elusive animal. Their blue coats camouflage This endangered species with them against the Himalayan fur like mist, big tail and pale rocks that they clamber across golden-green eyes seems to melt with remarkable grace. This into the landscape, making it ability to climb and hide in almost impossible for explorers rugged cliffs helps them escape – or, indeed, its prey – to see snowGOODEARTH leopards, who prey PUBLICATIONS it coming. Only about 200 of upon the bharal. these animals survive in Ladakh today, eating goats, ibex and Yak blue sheep – and hunted, in turn, by human poachers who Though the majority of seek profit in its skin. the world’s yaks are now domesticated, the shaggy, Kiang black-haired wild yak still survives in the highest altitudes The Equus kiang, largest of the of Ladakh and Tibet. Weighing wild asses, was mistaken for up to a tonne, this species of ox a ‘wild variety of horse’ by is today an endangered animal.
100 101 Buddhist Trail in Ladakh Wildlife in Ladakh
species that live here include over 4,000 sq km, from NATIONAL PARKS You need permits to visit the the ibex, Tibetan sheep, red fox, eastern Ladakh into Tibet, Hemis National Park, for which Himalayan marmot, bharal and encompasses the lakes you should contact the Chief The Hemis High and mountain weasel. of Pangong, Tso Moriri, and Wildlife Warden in Leh (01982- Altitude National Park Tso Kar. At elevations ranging 252171; +91 9419049275). The park is also home to exotic from 4,000 m to 5,791 m, the To visit Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, you need an Inner Line Established in 1981 in eastern birds like the golden eagle, cold desert region has short Permit, available at the Deputy Ladakh, the Hemis High and the lammergeier and summers and Arctic winters. Commissioner’s office in Leh Altitude National Park Himalayan griffon vultures, (01982-252010) covers an area of 600 sq km, making it a birdwatcher’s Its spectacular wetlands – When to visit making it the second-largest delight. The streaked rose finch, which were only opened to Hemis NP: Mid-June to mid- protected area in India after Tibetan snow finch, Himalayan tourists in 1994 – host the rare October (the very adventurous Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve snowcock and fork-tailed swift black-necked crane, besides could try their luck in winter, when (Uttarakhand). The park, are a few bird species that are bar-headed geese, great the snow leopard is most likely ranging from 3,140 m to not found anywhere in India, crested grebes, sand plovers to be spotted) Changthang WS: June to 5,854 m in altitude, is only except in this high-altitude park. and redshanks. You may also September 10 kms from Leh. It has vast see wild animals like Tibetan tracts of barren land with Changthang Cold Desert gazelles, Tibetan sheep, herds Accommodation sparse vegetation, and is also of bharal and kiang, and Hemis NP: There are no hotels Wildlife Sanctuary inside the Park. Homestay options known as the ‘snow leopard marmots – as well as over are available in the villages that capital of India’, as this elusive Part of the Tibetan plateau, 700 species of plants, mostly come under the park: Rumbak, animal is the park’s most prized the Changthang Cold Desert low thorny scrub, Tibetan Kaya, Sku, Shingo, Chiling, Urutse. inhabitant. The other dozen-odd Wildlife Sanctuary stretches furze and grasses. Changthang WS: Several tour operators offer packages for adventures into this area, complete with tented accommodation and The black-necked crane, the state birdGOODEARTH of Jammu & Kashmir, is an PUBLICATIONS other facilities (See Practical endangered species and Ladakh is one of the few places in the Information) world where you have some chance of sighting them. Count Nikolay Przhevalsky, a great Russian explorer and ornithologist, was the first to study this bird in 1876, but even today it remains woefully under-researched. Among the few things known about the bird is that it likes to build its nest at very great heights. Besides, it is an enormous eater and consumes all kinds of berries, fruits, worms, insects and sometimes even small reptiles!
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When to come BEFORE COMING TO INDIA To travel to the many ‘inner line’ areas in Ladakh, FRRO India is a vast country, stretching There are a few things you need including popular tourist destinations like Nubra, New Delhi across varied climatic zones. While to take care of before travelling Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Changthang Wildlife East Block 8, Level-II the plains of north and central India to India. Sanctuary, both Indian and foreign travellers need Sector-1, R K Puram experience extremes of climate, the permits from the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Ph: (011) 26711443/ south is more equatorial. Ladakh Passport Development Council. The permits are issued at: 3843 remains chilly throughout the year. Foreign travellers to India must Deputy Commissioner’s Office, Polo Ground, Leh Chennai Moreover, since this high altitude always carry their valid passport Ph: (01982) 252010 Shastri Bhawan land lies in the rain shadow of the with them. If your passport is lost 26 Haddows Road Great Himalayas, it receives hardly or stolen, you should immediately Ph: (044) 23454977 Travel Insurance any rainfall. Highways to Ladakh, contact the embassy or consulate Kolkata both from Srinagar and Manali, are of your country. It is advisable to purchase a travel insurance 237 Acharya open from mid-May to the end of policy covering theft and loss before coming to Jagadish Chandra October. However, the high passes Visa India. Also buy medical insurance. There are Bose Road along these roads may be closed A tourist visa is normally given for several kinds of insurance policies and a suitable Ph: (033) 22837034 subject to weather conditions, even six months. The 15-day single/ choice can be made after consulting a reliable Mumbai in summer. double entry visa is issued only travel agent in your country. Annexe-II, to bona fide transit passengers. Crawford Market What to wear Tourist groups of not less than Travel within India (near Police Even in the summer months four people travelling under the Commissioner's between June and August, auspices of a recognised travel Travelling by Air Office) Ph: (022) 22621169/ temperatures in Ladakh rarely agency may be considered for Leh is well-connected by air to Delhi, Jammu and 0046 exceed 25º C, while the minimum a collective tourist visa. Tourist Srinagar. Airlines that fly to the region include the can touch 10º C. In winters, the visas are valid for 180 days from state-owned Air India, and private carriers such Jammu minimum plummets below -10ºC the date of issue and not from the as Jet Airways and GoAir. SP (CID), Canal Road Ph: (0191) 2542676 and does not rise much above 0ºC. date of entry into India, unless Whatever season you visit Ladakh, specified otherwise. The reporting time for flights departing Jammu, Leh therefore, make sure you carry Srinagar and Leh is two hours prior to departure, SP plenty of warm clothing, closed GOODEARTHVisa Extension PUBLICATIONSdue to stringent security checks. Moreover, Ph: (01982) 252200 shoes, woolen hats and gloves. The 180-day tourist visa is on flights departing from Srinagar and Leh, Kargil technically non-extendable passengers are not allowed any cabin luggage, SP Weather Chart: Leh but can be extended for a except for a camera or laptop bag, and a small Ph: (01985) 232545 maximum of 15 days in case of handbag for women. Srinagar emergencies. A valid departure SP, CID Special weather chart ticket must, however, be produced In all other domestic flights, passengers are Branch as proof of the intention to depart allowed one piece of hand baggage each. All Residency (Shervani) LADAKH India. The 15-day extension on baggage is subject to security checks whether Road Ph: (0194) 2483588 30 30 the 6-month stay is issued by carried by hand or booked in the hold. Excess
20 20 the Ministry of Home Affairs, baggage is charged as per the fee available at
) New Delhi, the local State each airline's counter. RAINFALL (CM (C 10 10 Government and the Foreigner’s re u Regional Registration Office Travelling by Rail 0 0 (FRRO). The FRRO is open on There is no rail network in Ladakh, but to travel ) emperat
T -10 -10 weekdays, 9.30 am to 1.30 pm elsewhere across India, log on to www.irctc.in for Air India and 2 pm to 4 pm. booking tickets and www.indianrail.gov.in for latest 1800 227722 -20 -20 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec information on train schedules and booking status. www.airindia.in Registration for foreigners in International travellers should note that online SpiceJet towns where there are no FRRO bookings can only be made by registering Indian 1800 180 3333 Max Temp Min Temp Rainfall offices can be done in the local mobile numbers. www.spicejet.com police commissioners’ offices. Jet Airways 1800 225522 Time Zone Indigo Indian Standard Time (IST) is 5½ hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and 9910383838 10½ hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time. IST is 4½ hours behind Australian http://book.goindigo.in Eastern Standard Time, 3½ hours behind Japanese Standard Time and 1½ hours GoAir behind Thai Standard Time. Despite its vast geographical territory, India has just one 1800 222111 time zone and no daylight saving time in winters. www.goair.in
104 105 PRACTICAL INFORMATION PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Travelling by Road Bikes on Hire Communications STD Codes NH 1A connects Srinagar to Ladakh is extremely popular with Leh 01982 Ladakh, via Kargil. The other road biking enthusiasts – its rugged Post Offices Kargil 01985 that connects Ladakh to the rest terrain, hairpin bends and high The main post offices in large towns provide Nubra 01980 of the country is the Leh-Manali mountain passes provide a a range of facilities like fax and a courier Zanskar 01983 highway (a part of NH 21), which truly exhilarating experience. service which operates under the name EMS Jammu 0191 passes through Baralacha-La and Speed Post. If you need to dispatch a letter or Srinagar 0194 Tanglang-La. Both highways are To hire Royal Enfield and other document urgently, it is advisable to send it by New Delhi 011 maintained by the Border Roads bikes visit: the government-run Speed Post. Parcels by Mumbai 022 Organisation (BRO). www.enfieldpoint.com mail should not exceed 35 kgs. Books and Kolkata 033 (Ph: +91 9906971009) printed material can be sent by Book Post which Bangalore 080 Buses run frequently from Jammu, www.bikerentalsmanali.com costs less. Post Offices are open from 10 am Chennai 044 Srinagar and Manali to Leh and are www.visitmanali.com/bikes.html to 5.30 pm from Monday to Saturday. a popular mode of transport with www.lallisingh.com Leh Post Office Ph: (01982) 252015 www.ladakhbikerental.com tourists. J&K State Road Transport Kargil Post Office Ph: (01982) 252056 Police Emergencies Corporation runs regular buses Email Police assistance between Srinagar and Leh, with Tourists are required to give a booths are customarily an overnight halt at Kargil. refundable deposit when hiring Leh has many cyber cafés that charge a located at airports, a bike. nominal fee for internet access. The bigger railway stations and For other details, log on to hotels here offer wi-fi connections to their guests. near major bus stops. www.jksrtc.co.in Bike rental rates (` / day) Telephone Leh Police Station Royal Enfield Electra 1500 Zangsti Road Due to heavy snowfall from Royal Enfield Classic 1600 ISD (international), STD (domestic long Ph: (01982) 252018 October to May, many roads in Royal Enfield Desert Storm 1800 distance), and local telephone booths are Nubra Police Station Kashmir and Ladakh are closed. Bajaj Avenger 1200 available all over India. The pre-paid SIM (01980) 220026 So make sure to check before Bajaj Pulsar 1000 card, offered by various local telecom service finalising your travel plans. Honda Activa Automatic 1400 providers, is the most popular, and arguably Kargil Police Station the cheapest option for making and receiving Kargil Ph: (01985) 232645 Local Travel IndiansGOODEARTH looking to hire bikes in PUBLICATIONScalls in India. Note that registration is required Within Ladakh, roads are the only Ladakh must have their driving to activate the SIM card. way to explore. They are largely licence handy. International tourists well-maintained, though inclement need a copy of their passport and Health Hospitals weather can often make travel an International Driving Permit to No particular vaccination is required for coming Leh difficult. If you are travelling in your ride through the rugged terrain. to India. However, visitors from designated Sonam Norbu own vehicle, carry extra petrol or countries in Africa, South America and Papua Memorial Hospital diesel, as petrol pumps in the area Driving licenCe New Guinea, even if they are in transit, are Ph: (01982) 266186, are few and far between. A valid International Driving Licence required to bring valid Yellow Fever vaccination 252014, +91 is necessary if you wish to drive a certificates. Precautionary medication is the 9622963381 Buses ply across Ladakh, but car or a motorcycle in India and it is best bet against common ailments like Leh General Military hired vehicles or taxis – though advisable to get one before coming. diarrhoea, dysentery and malaria. Hospital more expensive – allow greater The Automobile Association of Ph: (01982) 257749, 253037, flexibility. Please approach your Upper India (AAUI), C-8, Qutub Travellers to Ladakh must allow their bodies to +91 9622951953 hotel desk for information for Institutional Area, New Delhi acclimatise to the low oxygen levels here, especially reliable car or bike rentals and (Ph: 011 26965397), extends help those flying into Leh (3,505 m). Altitude sickness Kargil or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can be fatal if taxi charges. Local J & K Tourism to AA members from all countries. District Hospital ignored. Spend at least 24 hours resting after your Ph: (01985) 232300, offices will be happy to book a car If you do not have an International arrival. If you feel any of the symptoms of AMS +91 9419176205 for you. You can also hire taxis Driving Licence and wish to drive (headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, nosebleeds), from the Leh Taxi Stand. in India, you can get a Temporary consult a doctor immediately. Driving Licence, provided you are Oxygen from canisters and cylinders is used to Those who hire taxis at Srinagar or carrying a valid driving licence treat mild to moderate AMS. If the symptoms do Useful Websites Leh will have to change into a local of your country. You may still be not abate, then contact your hotel administration www. leh.nic.in one at Kargil, as the Kargil Taxi required to give a test to check your immediately. The only reliable treatment for AMS www. jktourism.org Union does not permit ‘non-local’ knowledge of road signs. The AAUI is to descend to a lower altitude. www.ladakh.com You may carry portable oxygen cylinders, taxis to ply in and around Kargil. can arrange this. www.bcmtouring.com available over the counter at pharmacies across the country. Acetazolamide salt is effective in the www.indiamike.com For a comprehensive chart of taxi- treatment of AMS. www.kunzum.com hire rates in Ladakh, visit leh.nic.in
106 107 PRACTICAL INFORMATION PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Money Tour Operators WHERE TO STAY The Indian currency is called the Rupee (`). Contact these tour It is available in denominations of 1000, 500, Hotel Holiday Ladakh operators for trekking LEH NUBRA Fort Road, Lower Tukcha 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. One rupee equals trips and adventure Ladakh Sarai Ph: +91 9320501211 100 paise. Coins in common use are ` 10, ` 5, holidays: Hotel Karma Inn Village Ayu Hunder ` 2, and ` 1. While the 50 and 25 paise coins Hotel Omasila Aquaterra Adventures www.ladakhsarai.com [email protected] have become redundant in bigger cities, they Changspa www.aquaterra.in Ph: (01982) 244063 Ph: (01980) 221042, +91 might still be in circulation in smaller towns. www.hotelomasila.com Ph: (011) 29212641 9419612342 Credit cards are popular in most cities but it is The Grand Dragon Ph: +91 9858060770 Reach Ladakh Ladakh Nubra Organic Retreat advisable to carry enough cash when visiting Hotel Lharimo www.reachladakh.com Old Road, Sheynam Hunder small towns, where ATMs and card-swiping Fort Road Ph: +91 8803711111 www.thegranddragon nubraorganicretreat.com machines are hard to come by. www.lharimo.com ladakh.com Ph: (01980) 221070, Ladakh Tsomoriri Ph: +91 9818140530 Ph: (01982) 257786, 200118, +91 941213000 Banks www.ladakhtsomori. 255866, 255266 West Ladakh Camp com Hotel Stendel Most international banks have branches in Ulletokpo Ph: (01982) 253622, Hotel Lasermo Near Diskit Hospital, major cities, so encashing travellers’ cheques or Ph: +91 9419178555 changing foreign currency is fairly simple. Indian 252271 Chulung Old Road Diskit www.hotellasermo.com www.hotelstendel.com state-run banks are open from 10 am to 2 pm, Ladakh Tours KARGIL Ph: (01982) 252313 Ph: +91 9419348223 Monday to Friday and from 10 am to 12 pm on www.theladakhtours. D’Zojila Saturdays. They are closed on Sundays and com Hotel Chube Olthang Guest House Ph: (01985) 232360 national holidays. Privately-run Indian banks Ph: +91 9622975440, chube_leh@rediffmail. Diskit and international banks have longer and more +91 9469569890 com Kargil Continental Ph: (01980) 220025 Ph: +91 9622972145 Ph: (01985) 232320 flexible hours. Yasmin Trek and Tours ZANSKAR VALLEY www.yasminladakh.com Hotel Caravan Centre Siachen Hotel While all major cities have many banks, small Ph: (01982) 251071, Skara Main Bazaar Marq Hotel towns are less equipped in banking services. 255098 www.hotelcaravan www.hotelsiachen.com Padum centre.com www.marqinnzanskar. It is thus advised to complete financial Himalayan Eco Ph: (01985) 232221 Ph: +91 9419181260 com transactions from larger cities. Adventures GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSHotel Greenland Kargil Ph: (01983) 245223, www.wildhimalaya.com Ladakh Residency LAHDC Street, 245071 FOREIGN banks Ph: (01982) 255832 Changspa Town Centre EXCHANGE AGENTS (with foreign exchange www.ladakhresidency. Hotel Ibex The Great Global www.hotelgreenland counters) com Padum Leh Expedition kargil.com LEH Ph: +91 9810421505 Ph: +91 9469357777 (01985) 245012 Vista Money Exchange www.thegreatglobal Changspra State Bank of India expedition.com Lotus Hotel Hotel Caravan Sarai Old Leh Road Upper Karzoo Ph: +91 9419815897 Snow Leopard Near BSNL Office www.lotushotel.in www.caravansaraikargil. Ladakh Travel Trade HDFC Bank Adventures Ph: (01982) 257265 com Zangsti Road Ground Floor and Ph: (01982) 252355 Ph: (01985) 232278 Ph: (01982) 252188 Basement Sky Abu Complex Exotic Ladakh Bodhi Travel Ph: 1800 1804333 www.exoticladakh.com Ph: +91 9858809201 Ph: (01982) 255916 For a list of other registered hotels in Ladakh, log on to www. leh.nic.in/pages/hotellist.pdf Ecological Footprint Shakti Himalayas Travel www.shaktihimalaya. Samkar com Homestays in Ladakh Ph: +91 9906977846 Ph: (0124) 4563899 Get a taste of the raw, rugged beauty of Ladakh by mingling with Ladakhi Alps Adventure For other registered tour people, absorbing their culture and exploring their beautiful land. Homestays Near Hotel Yak operators in Ladakh, log are offered along several trekking routes including the Hemis National Park Junction, Fort Road on to leh.nic.in/pages/ and Zanskar valley. Ph: (01982) 203077 agentlist.pdf. For homestay options, log on to these websites: www.himalayan-homestays.com/ladakpages/book.htm Electricity www.wildhimalaya.com/home-stay-tours-ladakh-46 Electrical supply is not always reliable, especially in the small villages in www.yamatreks.com/ the more remote areas of Ladakh. Travellers are advised to carry torches www.reachladakh.com/ladakhi_home_stays.htm (with extra batteries). www.ladakhiwomenstravel.com/homestays.htm The electric current in India is 220-240 volts AC. The sockets here are of the three-round-pin variety, similar to those in Europe or America, so three- pin electronic gadgets bought abroad can be used here
108 109 PRACTICAL INFORMATION PRACTICAL INFORMATION
J&K Tourism Offices CUISINE SHOPPING Leh Shopping in Ladakh is largely limited to Leh. Try HH The Dalai Lama’s Tourist Reception Ladakh’s cuisine is distinctly different from Centre that of the plains. The principal crop is barley, Charitable Trust Handicraft Emporium; the Ladakh Art Palace Ph: (01982) 252094, the mainstay of traditional Ladakhi food. in Akbar Shopping Complex; and the Kashmir Government Arts 252297, 253462 The relatively green Nubra valley has fruit Emporium in the main bazaar. Popular purchases include thangkas Kargil orchards, but up on the high pastures, (paintings on silk depicting a Buddhist deity or a mandala), jewellery Tourist Office where not even barley grows, people of silver and precious and semi-precious stones, pashmina shawls Ph: (01985) 2372721, husband cattle, yak or sheep, which also and carpets. 232266 make up their meat-rich diet. Pashmina or cashmere evokes images of luxurious shawls, soft and Srinagar Tourist Reception Barley is fermented to make chhang delicately embroidered by Kashmiri weavers. pashmina shawls have Centre (a potent brew!) and various kinds of breads become a fashion sensation across the world, with a fast-growing Ph: (0194) 2452690-91 such as tain tain – a thick but soft bread. international market for this traditional fibre. The wool comes from a [email protected] species of goat found at altitudes of 4,000 to 5,000 m in Ladakh, Jammu With the influx of tourists, Leh has acquired Nepal and Pakistan. In fact, the more harsh and windy the climate they Tourist Reception many restaurants and cafés serving an inhabit, the softer grows their undercoat, the source of pashmina wool. Centre assortment of Indian, Tibetan and Continental One goat produces only 80 to 100 grams of fibre. Such is the demand for Vir Marg cuisine. A favourite dish is thukpa, a big, this textile, considered a diamond among fibres, that scientists even Ph: (0191) 2548172 steaming bowl of soup full of noodles, attempted cloning the animal in 2012! [email protected] vegetables and meat, garnished with New Delhi chhurpe (dried cottage cheese). It is Room No 14&15 accompanied by fluffy, steamed momos, or Pashmina, Ladakhi carpets and other handicrafts are available at the Hotel Janpath dumplings, stuffed with meat or vegetables, SOS Children's Village in Choglamsar, and the Handicraft Centre Janpath and served with a fiery chilli sauce. in Leh. Ph: (011) 23744948 The sells some wonderful souvenirs, delhioffice@jktourism. Buddhist Thangka House Skyu, a traditional dish made of wheat flour org from thangkas to turquoise jewellery and wooden choktse (small and vegetable roots or mutton, is worth a Tibetan-style tables intricately carved, painted and polished). Ahmedabad shot. TravellersGOODEARTH to Ladakh must also try the PUBLICATIONS Tibetan silver jewellery, turquoise trinkets and beaded bracelets are Airlines House salty gur gur tea, prepared with butter, and Lal Darwaza particularly popular in this region. Women wear gorgeous necklaces, an excellent antidote to the cold. In fact, a Ph: (079) 25503551 popular item on the Ladakhi palate is tsampa, bracelets and earrings, complementing their costumes with headgear Chennai roasted barley flour mixed with gur gur and called perak. North Usman Road kneaded into a dough. It is usually served Ph: (044) 28340958 with vegetables, yoghurt or chatni. A wild fruit, Turquoise became popular here in the 7th century, Hyderabad chesta lulu (seabuckthorn) is used for juices when these precious stones were used as cash, 5th Floor, Chandra Vihar and jams. Complex or presented as gifts to appease wrathful deities. MJ Road It is quite unique, in fact, as it changes colour with Ph: (040) 24734806 age. The older the stone, the more green or black RESTAURANTS IN LEH BAKERIES IN LEH it becomes, but in its ‘youth’, it is a bright blue. Kolkata 12, Chowringhee Chopsticks Noodle Bar Pumpernickel German Ph: (033) 22285791 Raku Complex, Bakery BOOKSHOPS IN LEH Mumbai Fort Road Main Bazaar Ladakh Bookshop 25, North Wing, Himalaya Café For cakes and Main Bazaar World Trade Centre Main Bazaar croissants. For a wide range of Cuffe Parade, Colaba titles on the Himalayas La Pizzeria Ph: (022) 22189040 Ladakhi Bakeries and Tibetan culture. Changspa Lane mumbaioffice@ Old Town jktourism.org Wonderland Specialises in all kinds Leh Ling Bookshop Changspa of Tibetan bread. Main Bazaar Summer Harvest For a variety of books Ladag Apricot Store Fort Road on Ladakh and Tibet. Fort Road Lamayuru Restaurant Great place for apricot Book Worm Fort Road and seabuckthorn jams Old Fort Road Gesmo and juices, and other Sells second-hand Fort Road local produce. novels.
110 111 FURTHER READING & GLOSSARY
Further Reading GLOSSARY Ahmed, Monisha ‘Mural paintings of Avalokitesvara: the Bodhisattva of Alchi’ (www.claudearpi.net) compassion Ahmed, Monisha and Claire Harris (eds) Bodhisattva: an individual who delays Ladakh-Culture at the Crossroads his own Enlightenment in order (Mumbai, 2005) to lead other sentient beings to Aitken, Bill Touching Upon the Himalaya: deliverance Excursions and Enquiries (2004) Chham: a masked dance performed by Chadwick, Douglas H. ‘Out of the Buddhist monks, which ends with the Shadows National Geographic symbolic destruction of evil Magazine (June 2008) Chorten: Tibetan for stupa. Reliquary Dasgupta, Prabuddha Ladakh (2000) structures meant to house Dewan, Parvez Jammu, Kashmir and ashes or relics of saints and serve as Ladakh, 3 Vols (New Delhi, 2004) memorials of special religious events Driver, Wendy ‘A magical holiday to or ceremonies Ladakh in India’ Daily Mail London Du-khang: assembly hall at the centre (23 September 2012) of a gompa Gebicki, Michael ‘Ladakh, a Lama and Dubchu: holy water that drips from the a likely lad’ Sydney Morning Herald ceiling of a monastery Traveller (16 February 2013) Druk-pa: a branch of the Kagyu school Gutschow, Kim Being a Buddhist Nun: of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as The Struggle for Enlightenment in the red-hat sect the Himalayas (2009) Gon-khang: secret chamber where the Harvey, Andrew A Journey in Ladakh chief protective deity of the Geluk- (1983) pa sect, Mahakala Vajrabhairava, is Imperial Gazetteer ‘Ladakh’ enshrined and one finds elements (Vol 16, 1908) used in protective rituals : collected editions of Jina, Prem Singh Ladakh: The Land Kangyur texts and the People (New Delhi, 1996) Buddha’s teachings GOODEARTH PUBLICATIONSLha-khang: the main prayer hall in a Kahn, Jeremy ‘Glimpses of the Lost monastery World of Alchi’ Smithsonian (2010) Lotsava: translator monks, whose Kamiya, Takeo Guide to the Architecture translations of Buddhist texts of the Indian Subcontinent (1996) into Tibetan helped propagate Kantak, Supriya ‘A weekend with Buddhism in Tibet wild animals in Ladakh’ Hindustan Mahayana: a school of Buddhism that Times Brunch (22 March 2013) lays emphasis on the deliverance of Khosla, Romi Buddhist Monasteries all sentient beings in the Western Himalaya Maitreya: The Future Buddha, (Kathmandu, 1979) successor of Sakyamuni Buddha Mingle, Jonathan ‘A Himalayan Highway Mandala: ritual drawings which but Only in Winter’ The New York represent the cosmos Times (23 November 2011) Mani stones: stones carved with the Mitra, Swati ed., Jammu and Kashmir sacred chant Om Mani Padme Hum Travel Guide (New Delhi, 2013) Mudra: movements of the palm that Mitra Swati ed., Buddhist Trail in mirror movements of the mind Himachal Pradesh (New Delhi, 2006) Thangka: Tibetan religious paintings Pallis, Marco Ladakh: Peaks and Lamas on fabric (2002) Tangyur texts: commentaries Purkayastha, Prabir Ladakh on Buddha’s teachings (New Delhi, 2005) Vairochana: one of the five Dhyani Rajesh, M.N. The Buddhist monastery ('celestial') Buddhas (1998) Vajrayana: literally, the vehicle of the Ramalingam, Sudha ‘The dizzy heights’ vajra, the great movement Frontline (Vol 26, Issue 24, 2009) in Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet. Rizvi, Janet Ladakh: Crossroads of It is divided into four sects, High Asia (1998) Nyingmapa, Kagyupa, Sakyapa, Sharma, Janhwij Architectural Heritage: Gelukpa Ladakh (New Delhi, 2003) Zimchhung: living quarters reserved Snellgrove, David L. Cultural Heritage for the head lama and senior of Ladakh (1987) visiting monks