When you are in the land of Lamas; how you can you miss visiting their abodes. Yes! The monasteries; which are monk’s schools, homes and the place where they take religious vows. Imagine, some of the Lama’s spend their whole lives here. Leh Ladakh; apart from being the land of high passes is also dotted with innumerable ancient Buddhist Monasteries. Each monastery here is an architectural marvel either jutting from the mountain face or on the top. They have deep-rooted Buddhist & Tibetan religious associations. So, the monastery hopping circuit in Leh Ladakh has become an important part of Ladakh Tourism. And here in this post, we will be taking a tour of the biggest & wealthiest Gompa i.e. Hemis Monastery of Ladakh.
The Hemis Monastery Ladakh
The Hemis Gompa, being the biggest and wealthiest is not simply perching on the mountaintop or on the roadside. It is hidden in the deep gorge, 49 km from Leh, completely encircled in between the mountains. The mountaintop around the gorge is believed to be the place, where the Lord Padmasambhava or Rimpoche had once meditated. Being hidden the Hemis monastery, remained unharmed, unscathed during the wars and became wealthiest of all. And today, it owns more than half of the land in Ladakh.
Also Read: 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear
How to reach Hemis Monastery
From Leh, cross Shey and Thiksey Monastery, further keep driving along the river Indus, towards Manali Leh highway for 39 km till Village Karu. Then cross river Indus via cantilever bridge and head in between the mountain trails till Village Chushod, which is almost 10 kilometers. Then cross the green oasis lined with poplar and willow trees and you will see the colorful Hemis Monastery, jutting straight from the mountains.
The colorful stepped Hemis Gompa is surrounded by mustard fields, which adds colors to the surrounding barren mountains. Just near to the monastery is the Hemis high altitude national park which is a home to the endangered snow leopard.
Timings: 8 am to 1 pm; 2 pm to 6 pm. Lunch timing is between 1-2 pm.
Entry Fee: Rs 50/-
Best Time to visit: June – September. Hemis festival takes place in between June – July month
The Hemis Monastery is quite an ancient institution and has its roots dating back to 11th century. However, it was re-established in 1630 by the illustrious King Sengge Namgyal who had also built the famous Leh Palace.
The renovation of the Hemis Gompa was carried by King under the assistance of famous Tibetan Priest Stag-Tsang-Ras-Pa, the disciple of Drukpa / Drugpa School. So, under the rule of Namgyal dynasty, monastery flourished and till the day it is flourishing and is managed by Drukpa Lineage or Red Hat sect of Buddhism.
Inside Hemis Gompa
After purchasing the ticket, climb few stairs and you will see the vibrant colored typical Tibetan Buddhist entrance welcoming you.
Remove your shoes and on your left stands the Hemis museum. In the center, there is a huge courtyard where the world famous Hemis festival or mask festival takes place. The long colorful corridors run along the courtyard and in the center are three sacred poles with the fluttering flags. Just don’t stop here as the interiors inside and views from to are really impressive too.
The Hemis Monastery is divided into two – the assembly hall known as Dukhang and the Temple known as Tshogkgang. The main temple where the daily prayers happen houses the huge golden statue of Lord Buddha, sacred Thangkas, and Stupas embedded with precious and semi-precious stones.
The temple on the first floor houses the large golden statue of Guru Rimpoche. Corridors around the whole complex are decorated with the frescoes or mural paintings depicting the wheel of life, lords of four quarters and the Buddhist prayer wheels.
The Hemis Museum houses a large collection of historical Buddhist Thangkas, weapons, carriers etc. Inside there is a huge library that has an inspiring collection of Tibetan books, manuscripts, and relics. Just at the ground floor of the museum is a souvenir shop selling various Ladakh magnets, T-shirts, books etc. Photography is completely prohibited inside the museum. Indeed, lockers are provided before entering the museum to keep your valuables safe.
Hemis Monastery Terrace
Before leaving the Monastery complex, climb up to the terrace to get some. mesmerizing views. You will see the stacked Himalayas, enclosing and protecting the monastery from all sides with the green oasis in between.
The temple complex is not only colorful & beautiful from the front end and inside but the top too is artistically crafted with colorful contrasting glass in the window panes.
And the most striking of all is, another Lord Buddha statue mounted on the front hilltop of Hemis Gompa. We really wonder how they might have carried it to that height and how difficult the mounting would had been.
The Hemis festival also known as Mask or Cham festival takes place in the Hemis Monastery courtyard; to celebrate the birth anniversary of Lord Padmasambhava. It happens on the 10th day of Lunar Tibetan Calendar, usually in between June – July. The celebration lasts for complete 3 days.
Hemis festival stirs the complete courtyard with its pageantry. Monks, Nuns, lamas are dressed to the perfection wearing heavy brocade gowns with masks. They dance with cymbals, drums, and trumpets portraying the win of good over evil. Everything is colorful during the festival and people rejoice with the local traditional food and drinks. The annual markets are set up around the monastery which sells local goods. The sacred 12-meter long Thangka, largest of all Thangkas in Ladakh is unfurled from the top floor after every 12 years.
Points to Remember
- The best season to visit Hemis Gompa is between June – September. If you are planning to be the part of the Hemis festival, then check the exact dates before planning your Leh Ladakh road trip
- Hemis Monastery provides accommodation to the guests. The alternate is guest houses and homestays in the nearby village
- Do try lip smacking fried rice, noodles, Thupkas and some local food at the shack outside monastery
- Buy some local handicrafts as souvenirs to take back home
- Make sure to respect the monastery culture and avoid photography wherever it is prohibited. Rotate the prayer wheels mounted near the courtyard.
- Talk to locals and be part of the celebrations to know more about the local; traditions and culture
- Don’t restrict yourself to the courtyard. There are many picturesque locations on the terrace too.
- Check the huge golden Buddha statue mounted on the front hilltop.
- Monastery houses more than 500 monks. It is one of the largest spiritual and meditative learning centers. So, enthusiasts from all over the world travel here, to learn the basics of Buddhism and practice a life of the monk.
If the Hemis Gompa is an epitome, then the trail leading to the Hemis Monastery is no less. It is a complete adventurous zone. The visit to a monastery is not just about the Cham festival, we say it is equally inviting during all the accessible months. It is a marvelous grandeur steeped in rich history, heritage and mythology. Moreover, the entire aura of the place is spellbinding.
Have you visited Hemis Monastery in Ladakh? Do you feel the same like us?