Karsha Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

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Karsha Gompa is the biggest monastery in Zanskar situated in scenic surroundings few kilometers from main Zanskar town, Padum , is an imposing complex of neatly white washed building blocks comprising several chapels, besides residential cells for its nearly 150 lamas, who belong to the Geluks-pa sect. Built picturesquely along the steeply rising mountainside above Karsha village,  It was established by Lama Phagspa Sherab in the 11th century above the Stod river.

 

Karsha Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

Karsha is the largest and most important monastery in Zanskar. It is didicated to Padmasambhava, and there are ancient rock-carvings at the site. The oldest remaining structure, an Avalokiteshvara temple, Chuk-shik-jal, contains wall paintings which belongs to the era of Rinchen Zangpo , The bone relics of Dorje Rinchenare is a part of this collection at Karsha Gompa.

 The Karsha area include an old nunnery called Dorje Dzong,  occupying a hilltop to the west of the main monastery. The ruins around this nunnery are believed to be the original monastic foundation of Karsha ,  the monasteries of Khagsar, Purang and Phagspa , two Temples – the ‘Thugsjechhenpoi Lhakhang’ and the ‘Lhakhang Karpo’ the present monastery was founded during the 14th century. An old stupa surviving among the ruins is still adorned with the original murals, which reflect Indian artistic influence. Nearby is the ancient temple of ‘Chukshik-jal’, which houses an exquisite figure of Avalokitesvara as the main image.

View from Karsha Gompa , Chortens in Zanskar Valley, Ladakh

Mons of the Khesa race became Buddhist in Kushan period under the King Kaniska are the dominant population in the Zanskar their features do not match with that of the local tribes or with the Mongolians, Mons are credited with building Kursha Monastery in the main Zanskar valley along with other 30 monasteries, chortens and temples .  Kursha monastery houses the mummified body of an incarnate lama called the Rinchen Zangpo and sealed in a wooden box with silver lining.

The most important festival, known as the Karsha Gustor, is held with masked cham dances on the 26th to the 29th day of the 11th Tibetan month, which is usually in January.

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Sani Gompa, Monastery , Zanskar,Ladakh

Sani Gompa Monastery of Ladakh also known as Turtot Gyat situated on the road to Kargil, at a distance of approximately 6 km to the west of Padum. belongs to the Drukpa Kagyupa School,  it is believed that the monastery was associated with Kanishka, Kushan ruler of 2nd century AD because of  the Kanika Stupa in the back yard and construction like a fort,  the gompa is not built on a hill or mountain but on flat land. It is in the form of a castle and the Kanishka chorten is in the backyard of the enclosing stone walls with chortens mounted at intervals. Next to the Kanishka chorten are ten standing stones with engravings of deities in a pre-Tibetan style.  The entire Sani Monastery of Ladakh has been constructed in parts, each dating back to a different century. The chorten inside the oldest part of Sani Monastery is believed to be erected in the 2nd century AD. On the other hand, the Dukhang (assembly hall) of the monastery is said to be constructed in the early 17th century.

Sani Gompa , Monastery

the famous Indian Yogi Naropa. It is believed that the Yogi meditated under the Kanishka Stupa, situated in the backyard of the monastery. The same spot, where the Yogi sat in meditation, now houses a small room with a veiled bronze statue of the Yogi. It is on displayed on the eve of the Naro-Nasjal Festival every year in late July  or  in the first week of August, between the 15th and the 20th of the sixth Tibetan month. It takes place during the blooming of the  Guru Neropa Flower, the Lamas from Bardan Monastery perform masked dances as ritual offering. a magnificent plantation of huge old poplars adjoining the gompa is unusual as this region is mostly treeless

Stupa at Sani Gompa back yard

The Dukhang (assembly hall) of the monastery is said to be constructed in the early 17th century. The central praying hall is situated in the main building of the monastery and stands ornamented with a rich collection of the statues of popular Buddhist divinities and Kargud-pa high lamas ,the walls of the praying hall are decorated with frescoes and Thangkas. The Assembly Hall or Dukhang has 16 columns and houses images of Chamba, Chenren and Padmasambhava as well as others. Behind the altar is the Gongkhang, a small room containing an ancient figure of Cho Rinpoche

This place is also among the  eight most important cremation grounds of Tibetan Buddhists is outside the monastery complex and the cemetery is ringed with ancient rock-carvings which show Indian influences there is also a  two metre high boulder with a painting of Maitrya on it  the pilgrims pour the sacrificial oil over it .

Drukpa  Kargyu school  is the only one of this order in Zanskar which has nuns, A group of Kargyu nuns established a small retreat centre at Starkhugnza in the 1990s ,  It is a site above Sani which was founded by Ngawang Tsering (1657-1732), a famous Zanskar meditator.

One can see the white opening to a cave in a cliff across the river from the monastery where Padmasambhava is also said to have meditated for several years and it is still used as a meditation cell

Every year in the winters a Great Prayer Festival is held in which the  firewood provided by villagers of the surrounding villages in which prayers from the Tibetan holy books are chanted.

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Phuktal Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

 Phugtal Gompa , Monastery also called Phuktal a Tibetan buddhist monastery of the Gelupa Buddhist sect is situated in Zanskar valley of Ladakh at a height of 3850 meters , established by by Lama Gangsem Sherap Sampo in the early 12th century, the monastery is a unique construction the foundation of the monastery, made up of twigs and muds built into the cliffside , on the mouth of a cave on the cliff face  onto an almost perpendicular drop. When entering the gorge (on foot, no road) one turns round a bend in the valley and are presented with the view over a  gorge of a major tributary of the Lungnak (Lingti-Tsarap) River on its right bank .

 

Phuktal Gompa , Zanskar

Phuktal meaning through caves, It is a 2-storied structure painted in traditional Ladakhi colors of red, black and yellow, the highlights of the monastery include frescoes and ceiling decorations in an old Gompa which belong to same era as that of Alchi Monastery. There are  three large and one small prayer room and a library. One of the main attraction here is a hollow in the rock in the cave over the monastery, the level of water in this hollow never drops down  despite any amount of water being drawn from it , this water is believed to have curative powers.

One can reach here from Kargil to Padum by road and then a two days trek route that leads to Manali diverges off from the Purney Bridge leads  to a 7 km trek to Phuktal monastery.

The monks of the monastery carry out the sacred Cham dance during the Gustor festival which is celebrated during the 18th and 19th day of the Tibetan 12th month.

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Stongdey Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

Stongdey Gompa , Monastery also called Stongdey Marpaling. One of the most fascinating attractions in Zanskar on a hill-top about 10 km from Padum on Zangla road, established in 1052AD by famous translator Lama Marpa Larsawa desciple of Lama Naropa , four centenary later it was taken over by Gelugpa sect of Buddhism . It belongs to the Tsongkhapa order, which was introduced by Lama Gyaltsanpa Tundup Palzangpo.

Stongdey Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

One can reach here trekking for three hour from the main road.

 

Stondey Gompa, monastery , Zanskar, Ladakh

The sprawling whitewashed complex has a number of temples, each a repository of the region’s rich monastic legacy . There are seven temples in all. The Tshogs-khang is decorated with exquisite painting including some with deities on a black background outlined in gold , major attraction of the monastery consists of the gorgeous wall paintings adorning its interiors.

Stupas at Stongdey Gompa Zanskar, Ladakh

The Lamas serving at Stongdey are the successive reincarnations of Nari Tulku  over 950 yearsaround 60 monks who live in the monastery have built a school for the Tibetan children of the area to keep the Tibetan culture and language alive .

Every year the  Gustor Festival is held on the 28th and 29th day in the eleventh month of the Tibetan Calender, the monks perform the sacred dance in the monastery.

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Bardan Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

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Bardan Gompa is situated in Zanskar valley about 12 km from Padum , It is one of the first monastery in Zanskar belongs to the Dugpa-Kargyud monastic order. it was one of the first centers of Dugpa-Kargyud monastic order to be set up in Zanskar.

Bardan Gompa , Monastery, Padum, Zanskar, Ladakh

It is a branch of Stakna Gompa. About 45 monks live here. Bardan monastery was founded in the 16th century. consists of a large Dukhang, assembly hall. All the other structures within the monastery are  around the hall. There are some of the most magnificent statues of Buddhist divinities, along with some small stupas in clay, bronze, wood and copper. A shrine devoted to Maitreya.  A number of smaller monasteries in the region come under the management of Bardan monastery one such monastery is Sani Gompa.

Bardan Gompa , main entrace, Padum,Zanskar, Ladakh

The monks of Bardan Monastery participate in the unveiling of the idol in Sani Monastery. During this festival they perform the masked dances, as a part of the ritual. The other monastery lies very close to Bardan Monastery is Muney that is famous for its splendid architectural treasures.

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Rangdum Gompa,Monastery, Suru valley, Ladakh

Rangdum Gompa , Tibetan Buddhist monastery belongs to the Gelugpa sect administered from Karsha Gompa, situated at a height of  3,657 m (11,998 ft) on top of a small but steep  hill  at the head of the Suru Valley, in Ladakh. The monastery is built over a hillock , entrenched around by the bifurcated route of a mountain stream. The Rangdum Gompa of Ladakh gives the appearance of an age-old fortification. It was built 200 years ago by Gelek Yashi Takpa in the period of King Tsewang Mangyul . 

Rangdum Gompa, Monastery, Zanskar, Ladakh

Rangdum is 130 km. from Kargil at far end of isolated part of  Suru valley it is on a mid way to Padum and Kargil. On one side are the colorful hills while on the other side are rocky mountains and Glaciers . The small mani walls here and towards Padum are more ornate than in Ladakh , some of the stones are carved not only with the usual “Om Mani Padme Hum “ mantra but also with pictures of chortens and mandalas .  It is next to the tiny village of Julidok, and about 25 km from the Pensi-La  which leads into Zanskar valley,  it is physically in the Suru Valley, but culturally part of Zanskar

Holy Scripts kept at Rangdum Gompa Zanskar, Ladakh

The Rangdum Monastery of Ladakh owns the entire valley around it , there are more than 50 Monks who depend upon the offerings of grains and butter from the villages  , the  villagers who tilled the fields are decedents of serf-tenants of the monastery. The small villages of Yuldo and Julidok, at the end of the valley are entirely Buddhist. The people are socially and culturally part of Zanskar and support the  Rangdum Monastery,The country surrounding  is very bleak crops sometimes cannot ripen in the brief summer. The locals depend on their flocks and supplies from lower down the Suru Valley from Kargil or over the pass from Zanskar.  it is also the destination of the nomadic herds people called Bakaarwals, who trek up every year from the Himalayan foothills from around Jammu area , bringing their flocks of sheep and goats to grow fat on the rich summer growth of grass.

The road conditions are very bad near Rangdum.  There is no access to electricity, phone or internet.

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Zanskar , Ladakh

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Zanskar is located in the Great Himalayan range on the banks of  the Zanskar River formed by the confluence of its two Himalayan tributaries, the Stod/Doda and the Lingti-Tsarap rivers,  the most isolated of all the trans-Himalayan valleys, it is a remote, ancient kingdom in the northwest Indian Himalaya in Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir State. It remains inaccessible for nearly 8 months in a year due to heavy winter snowfall resulting in closure of all access passes, This geographical isolation and the esoteric nature of Buddhism practiced here have enabled its inhabitants to preserve their identity in a chain of far- flung monasteries, most of which occupy spectacular fortified locations, high on rocky ridges in isolated valleys. These isolated valleys are linked across high passes by a number of long established pathways.

Reaching Zanskar the only  240 km road connection is from Kargil Suru Valley crossing the Pensi – la Pass at a height of 4400 meters from sea . Padum also called Padam the main village or town on the Doda river in the center of Zanskar valley and there are several small villages scattered around it.

Gateway to Zanskar Pensi-La (4400 meters) connects Suru and Zanskar valley

Access to Zanskar is difficult from all sides as it is located sandwiched between High mountain ridges on both sides of the Doda and Lingti–kargyag valleys, which run north-west to south-east. On the south-west is the Great Himalaya range it separates Zanskar from the Kisthwar and Chamba valley . On  the north-east is  the Zanskar Range, it  separates Zanskar from Ladakh. The only way out for the whole Zanskar valley is the Zanskar river, which cuts a deep and narrow gorge through the Zanskar range. In winters the commuting to this area is maintained across mountain passes or along the Zanskar river when frozen. Walking on Frozen river of Zanskar is an ultimate experience,  it had been trade route for centuries for Zanskari valley. Now the route is also famous as winter trekking among adventure lovers. Kargyag river which originates from Shingo – la and  Tsarap river which originates from Baralacha – la joins near village Purne  to form the Lungnak river (  Lingti or Tsarap) this river flows towards the Zanskar central and meets the Doda river at  Gzhung Khor  to form the Zanskar river . From Lahul Valley one can reach here by crossing the The Shingo- La  at a height of 17000 feet from sea level .

New road is being built from Darcha to Padum and then to Nimmo meeting at Kargil-Leh highway after its making Manali-Leh an all season road bypassing Barlacha la, Nakee la, Lachung-la and Tanglang-la along with building up of Rohtang Tunnel to bypass Rohtang,  until that would be operational only motor able approach to Zanskar is  from Kargil.

Village near Padum, Zanskar, Ladakh

The Great Himalyan range acts as a barrier for protecting Ladakh and Zanskar from most of the monsoon,  May to September it is warm  and dry hardly any rainfall or snow in this period , water comes from the melting glaciers,  winter snowfalls are of vital importance, since they feed the glaciers which melt in the summer and provide most of the irrigation water,  barley, lentils, and potatoes are grown by farmers at the lower heights.

People of Zanskar have origin from  an Indo-European the Mon and the Dard who came from Baltistan , the Buddhism came here from Kashmir about 2200 years ago,  in the 7th century  the Tibetans introduced Bon ,  8-10th centenaries  the monasteries of Karsha and Phugtal  were built. Zanskar existed as a more or less independent Buddhist Kingdom ruled by between  related royal families till 15 th centenary. Since the 15th century, Zanskar has been subordinate to Ladakh .

Two main branches of Tibetan Buddhism are practiced  here , the Drugpa , Sani Monastry ,Dzongkhul Monastry , Stagrimo and Bardan Monastery  affiliated with Stakna . The Gelugpa control monastries are  Rangdum , Karsha , Stongde  and Phugtal under the Ngari Rinpoche,  his main seat is Likir Monastery  in Ladakh,  the Ngari Rinpoche is the younger brother of the His Holiness Dalai Lama.

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