Monasteries in Ladakh

Ladakh apart from its unrivaled beauty is famous for the Buddhist monasteries that dominate the culture of the valley to a great extent. The cold desert, snuggled high up between the two mighty mountain ranges, draws visitors in huge numbers. Sheltered from the outside world, Ladakh is a place where one can connect to their spiritual self. There are many monasteries in Ladakh that belong to various orders or schools of Buddhism. Most of the monasteries are sited at picturesque locales, enhancing their brilliance further.

Ladakh has deep roots in Tibetan culture. This region of India was ruled by several dynasties who brought their culture, religion, and traditions to the valley. Being connected to Tibet a lot of things were adopted from the mystical province and religion is one of them. Buddhism is the majorly followed religion here. Beautiful architecture and history make these monasteries all the more unique. These Ladakh monasteries are truly a living heritage of the Buddha and definitely worth visiting.

Most of these ancient Buddhist monasteries are world-renowned and crowd pullers. They allure both local and international followers of Buddhism in large numbers, every year. Visiting these divine spiritual centers helps you experience the quiet strength of devotion.

Their architecture and layout are a perfect mixture of Buddhist and Tibetan styles. A rich collection of Buddhist relics like thangkas, murals, sculptures, scriptures, etc are treasured here. Typically, the monasteries in Ladakh have been located in isolated areas, away from the hustle-bustle of city life, which lends a tune of peace and tranquility to them.

There are almost 17 monasteries in Ladakh and the most famous out of them are listed below -

Hemis Monastery

Hemis Monastery in Ladakh is one of the largest monasteries in India and must be included in your monastery tour in Ladakh. It is famous for celebrating the annual mask festival observed in the memory of Guru Padmasambhava. People visit this spiritual center belonging to the Drukpa lineage or the ‘Red Hat sect’, which was founded in the 1630s by Stag Tsang Raspa. It can be easily reached as it is only located 40 km from Leh.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists visit here to see the annual Hemis Festival (June/July) and partake in their local ceremonies. Moreover, the Naro Gyantuk (six bone ornaments of Naropa) is showcased to the public, which is a huge attraction for Buddhists all around the world. Hemis Monastery also houses a museum containing centuries-old statues and thangkas of Buddhist gods and goddesses. You can buy paintings, curios, wooden statues, postcards, and other things from the museum shop.

Timings: 8 AM to 6 PM

Entry Charges: INR 50

Diskit Monastery

The breathtaking location makes Diskit Monastery one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ladakh to visit from July to September. The 14th-century monastery is located in the beautiful surroundings of Nubra Valley and is maintained by the Yellow hat thinkers. Diskit Monastery is the largest and oldest gompa in the Nubra Valley. Founded by Changzen Tserab Zangpo back in the 14th century, it is renowned for its 32 m high Maitreya Buddha statue. His Holiness Dalai Lama inaugurated this in 2010 after which it became a huge attraction.

The views from the monastery are spectacular, which you can capture in photos as mementos. The best time to visit Diskit Monastery is during Dosmoche Festival. People visit here from various villages in the Nubra Valley to see monks perform mask dance or cham.

Timings: 7 AM to 1 PM, 2 PM to 7 PM

Entry Charges: INR 30

Thiksey Monastery

The 12-story hilltop monastery Thiksey Gompa is among the must-visit monasteries in Ladakh from October to November. It is one of the most elegant Buddhist monasteries in India designed after the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The monastery is home to 500 monks in Ladakh houses a valuable collection of things related to Lord Buddha. You can explore ancient books, scripts, Thangka paintings, stupas, statues, and swords which are looked after by the Yellow Hat thinkers in the Thiksey Gompa.

Established at the time of Gelugpa expansion in the 15th century, Thiksey Monastery in Ladakh is among the largest ones, which is built on a cliff dominating the village. It has a 15 m high Buddha statue, also called Chamba in Ladakhi in a two-storeyed shrine room. You can attend the morning prayers and feel a connection with the divine.

Timings: 7 AM to 7 PM

Entry Charges: INR 20

Read Also: Places to visit in Ladakh

Phugtal Monastery

Another famous monastery in Ladakh is the Phugtal or Phuktal Monastery located inside a hollow cave in the southeastern part of Zanskar Valley. This monastery fascinates travelers with its mystic beauty of the water flowing inside the cave maintained in the same flow throughout the year. The divine serenity of the place must be enjoyed during your holiday in Ladakh. You can reach here by trekking and exploring its impressive facade. Start from the Cha village or Khangsaar in Zanskar. Enjoy the panoramic views of the meandering Lungnak River as well as the valley.

The highlight of Phugtal Monastery in Ladakh is the natural caves that are said to have been visited by scholars, translators, and sages some 2550 years ago. It belongs to Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and thus, hosts many festivals like Smonlam Chenmo, Chudsum Chodpa, Chonga Chodpa, and Gyalwe Jabstan.

Timings: 4.30 AM to 7 PM

Entry Charges: None

Read Also: Reasons to visit Ladakh

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa

Visiting the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa is not just a religious journey but it offers an exciting adventure in Ladakh. You can enjoy the divine beauty and learn Buddhist principles and teachings during your trip to Namgyal Tsemo Gompa in Ladakh. This monastery overlooks the Leh Town and is the first royal residence of Leh. Many folklores are associated with this monastery. It is said that Tashi Namgyal, a king from the Namgyal dynasty defeated the Mongol army and buried the corpses under the feet of the Srungaram images.

This is a deserted complex that houses the room of the guardian deities and the Tashi Namgyal Fort. The gon-khang or the room of the guardian deities contains the 6 armed Mahakala, who is worshiped by women for the favor of a child. You can also see an 8 m high statue of Maitreya Buddha at the site. The monastery is in complete ruins now and you have to climb broken steps to get here. But the views are spectacular, which makes the trek worth it.

Timings: 7 AM to 9 AM, 5 PM to 8 PM

Entry Charges: INR 20

Likir Monastery

The oldest monastery in Ladakh, Likir Monastery belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which makes it a huge attraction for Buddhists all around the world. It is located just 52 km from the Leh town in Likir Village. There is a huge 75 feet large Maitreya Buddha statue gilded in gold here that attracts tourists. You can also see paintings of guardian angels, thangkas, and murals in the monastery’s halls.

Likir means The Naga Encircled. It signifies the bodies of two great serpent spirits - Nanda and Taksako who are believed to have guarded Likir Monastery. Plus it was once the seat of Dalai Lama’s younger brother, Ngari Rinpoche. Currently, there is a school here and a library where you can read old manuscripts, books, and volumes on Buddhism studies. Visit here during the Likir Monastery Festival to partake in Cham Dance performed by Lamas and see the monastery collection.

Timings: 6 AM to 1 PM, 1.30 PM to 6 PM

Entry Charges: INR 30

Phyang Monastery

As per the legends, the foundation of Phyang Monastery was laid by Denma Kunga Drakpa, who stayed here in a tent to admire the beauty of Ladakh. He saw Achi on her blue horse while meditating and decided to build a monastery atop a hill. Phyang Monastery is one of the top monasteries to visit in Ladakh and is the only one that belongs to the Dri-gung-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Many people visit here during the festival to enjoy local music, dance and mask dance.

There are many old paintings, collections of old thangkas, and murals of Mahakala. Also, this monastery houses 100 monks. You can visit the old temple of Mahakala here, which was constructed at the time of its fountain. There is also a school built t o spread Buddhism knowledge and a museum housing 900-year-old collections of idols, scriptures, and weapons belonging to the Chinese, Tibetans, and Mongolians.

Timings: 6 AM to 6 PM

Entry Charges: INR 20

Spituk Monastery

Dating back to the 11th century, Spituk Monastery is also famous for its Kali statue. It is released during the annual Gustor festival, attended by lakhs of tourists. Located a short distance from Leh, it is one of the top Ladakh monasteries to visit. Locals call it Pethup Gompa. Home to 100 monks, Spituk Monastery belongs to the Tsongkhapa order of Tibetan Buddhism. Od-de, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub Od founded this monastery in the 11th century on his visit to Maryul. Later in the 15th century. Yellow Hat sect took it over.

People say that Lotsewa Rinchen Zangpo, on his visit, predicted that an ‘exemplary’ religious community would arise here and thus, the monastery was known as Spituk. You can see the ancient masks, antique arms, and other things at the museum present at the monastery.

Timings: 8 AM to 1 PM

Entry Charges: INR 20

Shey Monastery

About 15 km from Leh lies the Shey Monastery. It is among the lesser-known Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh that you can visit on your trip. Once served as the summer capital of Ladakh, it is in ruins now. In 1655, Deldan Namgyal, the king of Ladakh built this monastery in his father’s memory. Perched atop a hill, it offers breathtaking views of the valley that you cannot miss. There is a 39 feet tall statue of Shakyamuni Buddha here. It is the second-largest Buddha statue in Jammu and Kashmir and you need special permission to enter Shey Monastery.

If you are around Thiksey Monastery, do visit Shey Monastery as well. Hemis Monastery, Matho Monastery, and Stakna Monastery are also located nearby. There are murals and beautiful rock carvings of Buddha in the complex with a shrine 400 m away. It is where the statue is located in a sitting posture. For the best experience, visit here during Shey Rhupla and Shey Doo Lhoo festival in July or August.

Timings: 6 AM to 1 PM, 1.30 PM to 6 PM

Entry Charges: INR 30

Stakna Monastery

It is the only Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyu monastery in Ladakh. Stakna, meaning tiger’s nose looks like the nose of the tiger. Located on the left bank of the Indus River, it houses 30 monks and is a major tourist place for travelers visiting Ladakh. The highlight of this monastery is the sacred statue of Arya Avalokitesvara which was brought from Kamrup, Assam. The monastery was founded in the 16th century by Chosje Jamyang Palkar, a Bhutanese scholar and saint.

Stakna Monastery is built in Tibetan-style architecture and is quite impressive. There is an assembly hall here adorned with murals and paintings of Amchi and Sakyamuni. Plus, a 7 feet tall silver gilded chorten is displayed in the courtyard. Paintings of Buddhist gurus like Bodhisattva and Padmasambhava can also be found on-site.

Timings: 7 AM to 6 PM

Entry Charges: INR 30

Alchi Monastery

Among the oldest monasteries in Ladakh, Alchi Monastery, unlike other ones built on a hill, is situated on flat ground. Rinchen Zangpo founded it in the 11thc century, who was a translator from Tibet. People say that he used to carry willow sticks with him and planted them at various places in Zanskar and Ladakh. These sticks turned green and monasteries were then built at these specific places.

Another legend says that Rinchen Zangpo finished the construction of monasteries at Alchi, Sumda, and Mangya in one night. He asked Kashmiri artists for help who painted and carved at the Alchi Monastery among others. The paintings here are considered to be some of the masterpieces of art and religion around the world.

Timings: 10 AM to 1 PM, 2 PM to 6 PM

Entry Charges: INR 25 for Indians, INR 50 Foreigners

Takthok Monastery

The only monastery in Ladakh belonging to the Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Takthok Monastery is also called ‘old order monastery. Located in Shakti Village some 46 km from Leh, it was founded back in the 1500s when Tshewang Namgyal ruled Ladakh. All the rooms you see are either carved out of mountains or are caves converted into rooms. Because of this, this monastery is also called the ‘rock roof’.

Dukhang, a temple at Takthok Monastery, is believed to be used for meditation by Padmasambhava in the 8th century. It also contains statues of Maitreya, Padmasambhava, and Dorje Takposal. Many Buddhist followers visit here to be blessed by holy water called dubchu. There is a sacred Buddha book in which his teachings are written in 108 volumes along with other sects of Buddhist volumes written by Lamas.

Timings: 6 AM to 1 PM, 1.30 PM to 6 PM

Entry Charges: INR 30

Matho Monastery

Matho Monastery in Ladakh is famous for its annual Oracle Matho Nagrang Festival. It houses a huge collection of Buddhist Thangkas (around 400 to 600) of the 14th century. Moreover, it is one of the two monasteries of the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Matho Monastery is an offbeat place and if you are looking to go off-the-beaten-path, do visit this monastery. It sits opposite Thiksey Monastery near Indus Rivers’ banks.

Until 1970 when a new assembly hall was built, many structures here were in bad condition. It was founded in 1410 by Lama Dugpa Dorje and belongs to the Sakya Order. The monastery is built in a Tibetan style of architecture and like every other monastery, it has a Dukhang (an assembly hall), a small temple with pictures of Sakya Pandita and other Sakya lamas. There is a museum too that you can check out.

Timings: NA

Entry Charges: NA

Lamayuru Monastery

The lunar landscape of Lamayuru gives it a feeling of moon land. Lamayuru Monastery looks spectacular with its odd geological formations and attracts tourists from around the world. Perched at a height of 3,510 meters, this monastery can be covered in a day trip from Leh. Its foundation was laid in the 11th century of Mahasiddacarya Naropa. You can see the glass in the meditative cave of the Lama Naropa here.

Lamayuru Monastery has 5 buildings, which are in ruins today. The best time to visit this monastery is during the annual festival called Yuru Kabgyat. It is a major attraction where lamas perform mask dance. Rituals are performed by burning effigies. This stands for the destruction of arrogance in every individual.

Timings: 6 AM to 6 PM

Entry Charges: INR 30

Rizong Monastery

Rizong Monastery is one of the top monasteries in Ladakh which is also called Yuma Changchubling. Located on the way to Lamayuru, this monastery is beautifully lined by mountain terrains and is situated on the rocky hilltop north of the Indus River. Before the monastery was built, Lama Tsultim Nima used to teach Buddhist religion to the monks. After the number of monks increased, he built Rizong Monastery here. Today, the monastery belongs to the powerful sect of Buddhism, the Yellow Hat sect (Gelugpa).

You can visit the relic shrine at the center of the monastery named Sku-Gdung. It has preserved relics of the founder. Plus, the frescoes of Dharmaraja and others can be found all around the shrine. The highlight of this monastery is the Shakyamuni Buddha statue placed in the assembly hall with other deities.

Timings: Open on all days from June to September

Entry Charges: None

Sumda Chun Monastery

Perched at 3500 m above sea level, Sumda Chun Monastery is located in a remote part of the Himalayas. Legend says that this monastery was built overnight, over a thousand years ago. Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo, who visited India to study spirituality, constructed 108 Buddhist temples across India, Nepal, and Tibet. Three monasteries out of which Sumda Chun was one were constructed overnight. Until a few years ago, it was in bad condition. No electricity and it's dark even during the daytime.

In the year 2006, this monastery was also listed among the 100 most endangered sites in the World Monument Funds Watch List. The World Monument Fund sponsored five-year conservation and restored many artworks in the temple, paintings, and sculptures at the shrine.

Timings: Open all days

Entry Charges: None

Basgo Monastery

Lying in the snow-clad peaks of Ladakh, Basgo Monastery is one of the best monasteries in Ladakh. It was built as a spiritual center in Ladakh and houses Maitreya temples, mural paintings, and ancient architectural styles. Located 40 km from Leh, the beauty of the surroundings is surreal. It has a dark red base and sky-high temples on steep trails. There are three temples at Basgo Monastery namely Chamba Lhakhang, Cham Chung, and Chamba Serzang, which are painted with Central Tibetan elements and style.

Its history dates back to the year 1680. It was constructed under the rule of Namgyal rulers who wanted to protect Basgo from invaders. The monastery was a significant cultural as well as political part of early Ladakh. The ancient culture of this monastery is placed in the libraries, mural paintings, and other things, and also the sandstone rocks of the monastery date back to the time of Namgyal rulers.

Timings: Open all days

Entry Charges: None

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