Lying in a village along the Indus valley on a plain, this former monastery is neither imposing nor full of life. For visitors, it seems like just another quiet hamlet with a few random thrown roofs. A shop selling only one product a couple of llamas sit under an apricot grove exchange conversations. Hidden among the silent houses is the oldest monastery in Ladakh which houses some of the most unique paintings.
Inspired by the tradition of Kashmir, the monastery complex was built by Guru Rinchen Zangpo around the 10th century. Although, according to the inscriptions, he was assigned to a named Kal-dan Tibetan noble Shes-rab is said to have built the following century. A fusion of artistic and spiritual aspect of Hinduism and Buddhism is visible on the murals of the monastery.
Most tourists would think if they see a form of Buddha, it would be the same in each monastery. It is in fact not. Each monastery has different forms of Buddha as Avalokiteshwara, Sakyamuni, Maitreya. As you go deeper understanding of Buddhist iconography, you are amazed as you watch the 50-foot high statue of Maitreya Buddha in Thiksey, which is one of the biggest gompas in Ladakh. The colorful murals behind the statue tell the stories of Buddha's life, which is the future, say the lamas.
"We believe it is the future Buddha," they say, adding that the prophecy is it will soon appear on earth, as the next avatar or reincarnation. Thiksey was founded by the monastic order yellow hats under the direction of Tsongkhapa by one of his disciples called Sherab Sangpo in the early 15th century. It is believed that this monastery was built on the ruins of an earlier Gompa built by another monastic order known as the Kadampa.
As you look down, you can see tourists rotating prayer wheels, while a monastery guide explains the history behind the murals. A row of prayer wheels and mani walls fill the landscape like prayer flags flutter in the sky.
Of all of the most popular monasteries Hemis is nestled in the hills along the Indus valley. Just 40 km from Leh, Hemis drew attention to tourism with colorful festival held in the summer when people from around the world come to Ladakh. Dedicated to Padmasambhava, a dance where hypnotize locals and tourists watching the dynamic spectacle. However, any other day, the monastery is just a quiet spiritual monument with colorful paintings of Buddhist iconography depicted on the walls like the others. Built in the 17th century under the royal patronage of Sengge Namgyal, the monastery has several chortens - some money, while some are designed carefully. But the paintings were lost in a world of their own. A lama is one guard outside the main Gompa holding in his prayer wheel. A Gompa stands lonely place and as you walk past it, you go really matters sense of loneliness
The austerity of the landscape becomes more pronounced as you travel down one of the old trade routes. As you dive down, the landscape changes dramatically. If you look around you can see the Karakoram around you, the Siachen glacier in the distance and the river flowing beside you Shyok creating a lush valley full of apricot and apple orchards.
The monastery celebrates the feast of the scapegoat or Desmochhey with a mask dance that represents the victory of good over evil. Legends Mogul wants a demon that haunts this Gompa, even after he was killed. Locals believe that the temple guards still houses his wrinkled head and arm.
Driving through these valleys is one of the greatest experiences. If you are in line to purchase a bike or you can rent a Volvo bus that could take you through the highways and the rest of the area should be covered.