There are about 35 Buddhist Monasteries or Gompas spread across the entire region. The central area of Ladakh has the greatest concentration of major Gompas. Of the 13 major monasteries situated on or near the Indus, the oldest is that of Lamayuru, which is believed to have been a sacred site for the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. The monasteries of Phyang, Hemis and Chemrey were all founded under the direct patronage of members of the ruling Namgyal dynasty. Hemis monastery, together with that of Hanle was established at the instance of King Singge Namgyal, while his widow founded Chemrey as a posthumous act of merit for him. Stakna, dating from a slightly earlier period, was endowed by the Namgyal Kings at various times. All these belong to the Red Hat (Kargyu-pa) sect of Tibetan Monastic Order.
The reformist Gelugs-pa, or Yellow-Hat sect, is well represented in central Ladakh in the monsteries of Thiksey, Likir and Ri-dzong besides that of Spituk, and its branch monsteries at Stok, Sabu and Sankar. Ri-dzong, situated up a side-valley from Uley-Tokpo, was founded just about a century and half ago by a devout layman-turned-lama, with the purpose of following the strict monastic rules of the Gelugs-pa sect.
Tak-thok and Matho Gompas represent the smaller but much older Nying-ma-pa and Saskya-pa monastic sects respectively. Tak-thok, situated at the foot of the Chang-la pass, incorporates one of the many caves in the Himalayas where the Indian Buddhist apostle Padmasambhava is said to have rested and meditated on his journey to Tibet. Matho Gompa is famous for its festival of the oracles, which is held usually in March.
Among Ladakh’s monastic foundations Alchi holds pride of the place as a repository of a millennium old art heritage. Known as Chos-kor, or religious enclave, it comprises five temples, the richest in paintings and images being the Du-khang (assembly hall) and the three-storey Sum-tsek. The murals dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, pre-date the Tibetan style of painting seen in all the other Gompas of the region. Some of them are presumed to be among the sole survivors of the Buddhist style prevailing in Kashmir during the first millennium AD.
The Ladakh monasteries are repositories of exquisite murals, gilded statues, religious icons, carvings, scrolls etc. built up through the ages. They remain alive with the devotions of monks, young and old. Here it is possible to receive a lama’s blessing, consult an astrologer about your future, hear the wail of a horn echoing from the mountain walls, and witness a lifestyle passed down intact through the ages.
Ladakh has many historic monasteries called Gompas, where Buddhist monks and nuns live, study and practice their religion. The monasteries of Ladakh are situated in scenic locations, on hills and mountains and have rich collections of Buddhist Thangka paintings, art and artifacts. Many of the monasteries are open to tourists who can admire the architecture and art collections in these Gompas.
Some precautions to be observed while visiting a monastery:
- Visitors are required to take off their shoes before entering a prayer area.
- Observe local dress codes, such as wearing clothing that covers your limbs.
- Do not disturb Monks at prayer, and always ask permission before taking photographs.
- Do not touch religious artifacts.
- Do not drink, smoke, take drugs or spit in the monastery premises
- Avoid talking loudly or disturbing the peaceful atmosphere
- Most Monasteries charge an admission fee of about Rs. 25 to 50. If a fee is not charged, it is considered appropriate to leave a donation for the maintenance of the monastery.
- In many Monasteries, you are expected to walk around the premises only in a clockwise direction.
- Women may not be allowed to enter the inner prayer rooms of some monasteries.
Monasteries of Ladakh
A. Monasteries between Leh-Kargil Road
- Spituk Monastery
- Phyang Monastery (West)
- Basgo Palace (West)
- Liker Gompa (West)
- Rezong Monastery
- Alchi Choskor (West)
- Sumda Chun Monastery South-East
- Temisgam Palace (North)
- Lamayuru Monastery (West)
B. Monasteries between Leh-Manali Road
- Shey Monastery and Palace
- Thiksey Monastery south
- Stakna Monastery East
- Hemis Monastery South
- Chemde Gompa
- Takthok Monastery
- Mangyu Monastery South
- Korzok Gompa
C. Monasteries around Leh Town
- Tsemo in Leh
- Shanti Stupa
- Sankar Gompa
- Gompa Soma (Jokhang), Leh
- Stok Monastery and Palace South-East
- Matho Gompa South-East
D. Monastery’s in Nurba Valley
- Deskit Monastery Nurba Valley
- Samstanling in Sumur
E. Monastery’s in Zanskar Valley
- Karsha village of the Zanskar region.
- Gelugpa monastery at Karsha
- Stakrimo monastery at Padum