Ladakh the Moonland, Last Shangrila, Little Tibet

Ladakh is located in the North-Eastern part of Jammu & Kashmir state in India , it is a remote Tibetan plateau, primarily Buddhist and Tibetan in its culture and in a very clear contrast to rest of Kashmir, indeed to the rest of India as well.

Small Ladakhi girl

Ladakh is located in the North-Eastern part of Jammu & Kashmir state in India , it is a remote Tibetan plateau, primarily Buddhist and Tibetan in its culture and in a very clear contrast to rest of Kashmir, indeed to the rest of India as well.Little Tibet , The Moonland and The Last Shangrila are the alternate names for Ladakh, Himalayas are the most effective barrier to rain. A very few clouds creep across their massive height and as a result this land is barren beyond belief, The Plants and green belt are near the river’s bed that carry water from glaciers in the peaks of the Himalayas. A land of freezing winds and burning hot sunlight, this land is completely different from the green landscape of many parts of the Himalayas. Bounded by two of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karokaram, it is a land which has no match. In this region there is a long narrow valley known as Zanskar even more isolated than Ladakh Valley.

The Moon Land Ladakh

This land is connected to rest of India by a 434 km road from Srinagar, passing through Zozi-la Pass with an overnight stop at  Kargil , the first village after the Zozila is Drass the second highest, coldest habited place in the world , Kargil was once an important trading post. It was from here that one could turn south to Zanskar or go to Ladakh, en route to Leh one passes through village Shergol which is the dividing line between Muslim and Buddhist areas. Around Leh are the Age old Budhist Monastries and two highest motorable roads in the world the Chang – la Pass ( 17586 ft) the Khardung – la pass    ( 18400 ft) the crystal clear water lakes , Pangong, Tsmori, Tsokar etc. with breath-taking views.

 

Dry barren land and Popular tree of Ladakh

Another famous route to reach Leh is from Manali connected by road 479 km, road opens from mid June till September end every year , one is to stop at Keylong after crossing the Rotang-la ( Pass) 13051 ft  or at Sarchu or the last village of Himachal Pradesh before entring the Ladakh and Jispa in Ladakh  region, one is to cross the Baralacha- la ( Pass) 16050 ft, Lachulung -la (Pass) 16598 ft and Tanglang – La ( Pass) 17470 ft  . Due to low oxygen and high altitude many travelers face mountain sickness , this road was the main trading route  to Yarkand till 1962,

Leh is located in the Indus valley at an altitude of 11562 ft from sea, once very important trading route as it is on the junction of trading roads to Tibet, Kashmir and Kashgar. There is no recorded history before 7th centenary but the history of surrounding Arabs, Mangols and Chinese  indicate that  of a Greater Ladakh was once a kingdom spreaded from Kailash Mansarover till Dardistan and Baltistan . The original inhabitants were Dards the Indo-Aryan Race but migration from Tibet since 10th centenary is now of Tibetan features , it was a strong hold of Buddhism and it reached Tibet from here . There were small scattered group of villages and their rulers  it was brought under one control by  King Bhagan of Namgyal dynasty and expelled most of the Central Asian raiders and united  it to form Ladakh , the Moguls in India who were ruling Kashmir in 17th centenary helped the Ladakhi ruler on a condition to build a Mosque in Leh and converted the ruler to Islam. In 1834 General of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab , Zoravar Singh annexed it to the Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir and the Namgyal family was given the Jagir of Stok, which it nominally retains to this day, in 1947 the Dogra Ruler Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with Govt of India and since then it is part of India. Before partition, Baltistan, was a district in Ladakh now under Pakistani control. Skardu was the winter capital of Ladakh while Leh was the summer capital.  China closed the border of Nubra and Xinjian in 1949 and closed the trade route, India constructed 434 km the Srinagar-Leh highway 16 days journey is now reduced to Two days .

Snow covered high mountains and passes all over Ladakh

Indus River is the back bone of Ladakh major historical towns are Leh , Shey , Basgo and Tingmosgang where as Kargil is on the banks of river Suru , the other two rivers are Zanskar and Shayok , Ladakh is a high altitude desert , the monsoon clouds are unable to cross the high Himalayan ridges, the main source of water is the winter snow fall in the region, Drass, Suru and Zanskar region in the north flank of Himalayas remains cut of most of the time  from the other part of India by road due to heavy snow fall temperature ranges from -20 to -30 degree centigrade , summers are short with temperature rages between 3-35 degrees Centigrade

Indus River , Green patches and Cold Desert

One can reach Leh by air from Delhi and Srinagar operating daily flights.

There are regular Jeep taxi service from Srinagar and Manali when high passes are open during the summer months , from Srinagar the pass opens in early May till October, while Manali side road opens little late end May  and closes early.

Places of interest in and around Leh

Shanti Stupa – It is the most impressive structure visible from  almost every where in Leh. it is on a hill top north of Leh.

Spituk Gompa – It is the temple about 1000 years old on a hilltop above the Indus river near the airport

Leh Palace – It is a mini version of the Potala Palace in Lhasa , Tibet , built in 16th century.

Leh Gompa – Little above the ruins of palce is Red Gompa built in 1430 AD

Sankar Gompa – This is a little gompa is an impressive representation of Avalokkiteavara with 1000 arms and heads.

Choglamsar – It is an important Tibetan refugee center for the study of Tibetan literature and history.

Shey – This was the old summer palace of the kings of Ladakh built  around 1450 AD

Tikse Gompa – It is about 17 kms from Leh , visible from Shey. It is very picturesque and superbly sited on a hiltop overloking village and Indus river . This gompa has an important collection of Tibetian style books and some excellent artwork , one can watch religious ceremonies.

Hemis Gompa – It is one of the largest and most important in Ladakh, about 45 kms from Leh on the other side of Indus , It is famous for Hemis festival which usually falls in second half of June or early July. It has excellent library and well-preserved paintings.

Stok Palace – Close to the Choglamnsar bridge , on the left bank is the 200 years old Stok Palace where the royal family still lives.

Beacon Highway – If one gets the chance to visit the Nubra valley , it is the highest road in the world , the Khardung – la highest point 18500 ft. from sea level road only opens in July end, August to October , rest of the time it is under snow and thick fog .

Mulbek – Just beyond Mulbek village is the huge 9 meters Chamba statue,  an image of future Buddha , cut into rock face beside the road , there are two gompas on the hillside above the village Mulbek. these gompas are made into the rock .

Lamayuru – After crossing the Namik- La pass and Futu-La pass 13600 ft higest pass on Srinagar – Leh highway is the first of the typical Ladakhi gompa .

Alchi – Just before Saspul this Gompa is built on a low land , it has massive Budha statue and lavish wood carvings and art work.

Likir Gompa – It is shortly after Saspul it has a monastry school and a fort which is damaged , Basgo gompa has intresting figures of Buddha ,wall paintings are damaged due to water .

Gurudwara Pather Sahib –  Guru Nanak Dev Ji traveled to Tebet passing through Ladakh and stayed here for some time , the image in the rock is said to be of the Guru when he was hit by a rock which turned soft as wax upon touching his meditating body .

Sindhu Ghat – The river Indus ( Sindhu) flows through the Ladakh before entering Pakistan , every year a Sindhu festival is celebrated upon the banks of the Sindhu river.

Ma Kali Temple – It is an old temple dedicated to Ma Kali .

Chang-la – It is the second highest road in the world passing through the pass while traveling to Pangong Lake.

Pangong Tso lake –  This salt water lake  154 km from Leh , after crossing the Chang la , 4 km wide  about 136 km long , only 25% of it is in India rest is in Tibet / China at a height of 4250 meters .

Tsomoriri lake – This lake is 215 km from Leh, 19 km long and 3 km wide one of the largest high altitude lake situated at a height of 4595 meters in India .

 Khardong-la – It is the highest road crossing the pass ( 5359 mtrs.) in the world about 1 hr. drive from Leh city towards Nubra valley .

Nubra Valley – It 150 km from Leh , after climbing the Khardong-la pass the beautiful valley, Cold desert and home for Double hump camel, it extends as far as Seachin Glacier, it is also the fruit and food bowl of Ladakh

Fotu-la –  It is the highest point 4108 meters on Srinagar Leh highway .

Kargil – It is the second big town in Ladakh which got more popularity after the 1999 war , it is on the highway from Leh to Srinagar, from here one can travel to Zanskar Valley.

Drass Valley– It is the second coldest inhabited place on earth after Siberia in Russia one can have the beautiful views of Tololing and Tiger Hill famous after the Kargil war and pay a visit at War Hero’s Memorial.

Zanskar Valley – The most isolated , accessible in summers for four months only , kept the original Tibetian Budhisim alive.

Zoji-la – It is the dividing pass, on the one side is the Ladakh and the other side is the Kashmir valley.

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Matho Gompa , Monastery, Leh Ladakh

Matho Monasteryis  located in village Matho about 26 Km from Leh City on Leh – Manali road just opposite the Thiksey Monastery on the banks of Indus river , founded by Lama Dugpa Dorjee in 16th centenary belongs to Sakya Order only one in Ladakh, it is famous for its 400 years old Thankas which were brought from Tibet. Inside the Lhakhang all the wall murals were painted in 1977 and are very colorfully done.

Matho Gompa Monastery

The right entrance wall shows a White Mahakal , to the left of this is a painting of the Four Headed Sarvavid the guardian aspect of Vairocana (the Teaching Buddha). The wall murals on the left side of the Lhakhang depict various lamas of the Sakya sect while the right wall shows the various manifestations of Sakyamuni. The central panel of the right wall depicts Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Mila Ras-pa, The central statue  is Sakyamuni, surrounding the statue are numerous small Buddha statues .

Matho Gompa Monastery Leh

Inside the Dukhang are two rows of seats for the lamas and a throne seat reserved for the Rimpoche,  behind the throne seat are, from the left, the thousand-armed form of Avalokitesvara (a Buddhist deity similar to the Hindu god Shiva and believed to be reincarnated in the Dalai Lama), Maitreya (the Future Buddha of Compassion), Sakyamuni and a blessing Buddha.  behind the throne seat are, from the left, the thousand-armed form of Avalokitesvara (a Buddhist deity analogous to the Hindu god Shiva and believed to be reincarnated in the Dalai Lama), Maitreya (the Future Buddha of Compassion), Sakyamuni and a blessing Buddha. left side of the Dukhang shows various Sakya lamas and the Four Headed Sarvavid. The right wall depicts the four-armed manifestation of Avalokitesvara, a blue Sakyamuni and two Sakya lamasThe Gokhang, in which meditation takes place, is ascribed great spiritual power as it is the room in which Matho’s order prays and enters into a trance. The oracle’s special clothing is hung in this room and the Gokhang also contains old weapons and Thankas, masks and statues. There is an old tradition,  a representative of every family from Matho village brings a small bowl of maize grain from the first harvest to this room.

Ladies are not permitted in this area.

The Matho Monastery hosts the Matho Nagrang Festival, an annual event. The festival takes place on the 14th and 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.

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Stakna Gompa , Monastery Leh, Ladakh

Stakna Gompa , monastery is situated at 25 km from Leh city in the Indus valley surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains. Stakna   means “Tiger’s Nose”   is built about 500 years ago on the summit of an isolated high rock looks like a tiger nose ,  in the middle of the Indus river on the left bank . It is a small monastery belongs to  the red-hat sect of Buddhism , it has several sister monasteries, including three in the Zanskar valley namely Mud and Kharu and those of Stakrimo, Bardan and Sani in Zanskar.

Stakna Gompa Monastery Leh

Stakna Monastery of Leh Ladakh is establised by Chosje Jamyang Palkar, the great scholar saint of Bhutan . The central image inside the monastery is that of the sacred Arya Avalokitesvara from Kamrup (Assam). This monastery is a visual display of the religious and cultural heritage of India and Buddhism.

 

The Gompa consists of the head Lama’s private apartment, a Dukhang (main temple and assembly hall) and the rooms of the Lamas and their attendants. the Dukhang or main assembly hall, which contains a silver gilted chorten, seven feet high, erected by the present head Lama in the 1950s. The chorten contains a statue of the Buddha and various Buddhist texts. smaller subshrines retain 400-year-old sandalwood statues.

Images in Stakna Gompa

 

One of the beautiful Idol at Stakna

 

Wall painting in Stakna Gompa

From the roof of monastery one can have beautiful views of upstream and downstream of Indus river and valley , bare slopes of Ladakh range in the North , snow-capped peaks and ridges of Zanskar range in the south .

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Tak Thok Gompa, Monastery, Shakti, Ladakh

Tak Thok Gompa Monastery is located at about 46 km from Leh in Shakti village ,  The name Tak Thok in Ladakhi means “Rock Roof” . The monastery was founded around the mid-16th century during the reign of Tshewang Namgyal on a mountainside around a cave in which Padmasambhava is said to have meditated in the 8th century.  Inside the Dukhang, are the statues of Maitreya (the Future Buddha or Buddha of Compassion), Padmasambhava and Dorje Takposal (a manifestation of Padmasambhava). Takthok Monastery also houses the Kandshur, the 108 volumes of Buddha’s teachings.  Behind this image is a small locked door leading to the small cave where Padme Sambhava is supposed to have lived and meditated for three years. This cave is not open to the public. The low roof of the Gompa is the stone of the cliff.

Tak Thok gompa, Monastery, Shakti village, Leh Ladakh

Most of the gompa consists of rooms hollowed out of the stone cliff by nature or man,  the wooden front of the gompa is only a front for the cave , called Duphug ( Tu-Phuk) Lhakhang, is a popular pilgrimage. Buddhists visit to be blessed by dubchu, the sacred water that drips from its ceiling even in winter, when the valley freezes over. The main treasure is an incomplete set of 29 volumes – the title pages lettered in solid silver of excellent craftsmanship and text in pure gold.  Tak-Thok’s Lamas  have developed texts to ward off evil spirits, epidemics and curses. They perform birth and death rites, recite prayers for longevity and wealth, even make astrological predictions.

One of the images in Tak Thok gompa Shakti, Leh Ladakh

The Rimpoche or head lama of Tak Thok is from Tibet and is extremely highly regarded by Ladakhis.

Mystic dances are performed by the lamas in the guise of various divinities and legendary characters. They perform the mystic dances as prescribes the protocol, consecrating and destroying the votive offerings ‘Stor-ma‘ in closing of the propitious performance , on the 9th and 10th day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar.

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Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, Monastery, Leh, Ladakh

The Namgyal Tsemo Gompa of Ladakh was founded by King Tashi Namgyal in the early 15th century, around the year 1430. This fort was once the royal residence of the Namgyal dynasty and is flanked by some temples built in veneration of the guardian deities , these temples are still standing today, unlike the fort which is almost in ruins , temples are visited everyday by a monk who opens the doors to light the butter-filled lamps every morning and evening in adoration of the deities. This is the time one can visit the Gompa.

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, Monastery, Leh Ladakh

The palace also called Lechen Palkhar‘  is situated on a hill. Above the palace on the highest point of Namgyal hill stands the victory tower it was built to commemorate Ladakh’s victory over the Balti Kashmir armies in the early 16th century, Dards bodies are placed under the image of Mahakala, the guardian deity to stop further invasion of Dards. At the back of the fort there are remains of much older fort , according to locals it is a Dard Castle which was built much before the Tibetan rulers came to Ladakh.

It boasts of a rich collection of some ancient manuscripts and wall paintings. One of the most treasured possessions of the monastery is a three-story high solid gold idol of Maitrieya Buddha (future Buddha, also known as the laughing Buddha). Namgyal Tsemo Monastery of Leh, Ladakh also houses a statue of Avaloketesvara and Manjushri, approximately one story high.

Gold statue of Lord Buddha at Namgyal Tsemo Gompa

In the gloomy interior, one can just make out murals of “Shakyamuni” (the historical Buddha) and Tsongkha-pa, founder of the Gelug-pa sect. The veiled central deity itself sports a shiny phallus, believed to cure infertility in women. It also enshrines nearly 10 feet high of statues of Manjushri and Avaloketesvara. The  view of Leh city and valley from the top is worth spending time .

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