Perched on an outcrop, at an altitude of 3,600m and approximately 18km from Leh, on the highway to Manali, is a place so unique, it is like a kingdom onto itself. This is Thiksey Monastery or Thikse Gomba.
A bit of history
In the early part of the 15th century, Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug School or Yellow Hats, sent six of his disciples to remote regions of Tibet to spread the teachings of the new school. Tsongkhapa gave one of his disciples, Jangsem Sherab Zangpo, a small statue of Amitayus and directed him to meet the King of Ladakh seeking his help. The King was so pleased with the gift that he immediately directed his minister to assist in the establishment of a monastery in Ladakh.
Then something in the middle of the 15th century, Palden Zangpo, his disciple, continued the monastic work and decided to build a larger monastery., which came about in rather strange circumstances. Sherab Zangpo and Palden Sherab were offering prayers at a spot approximately 3km from the site of the current monastery. As they were about to throw the offering, two crows appeared out of nowhere and took off with the ceremonial plate and offering. The crows then placed the offering on the other side of the hill. When Palden Sherab and some of his disciples began to look, they reached Thiksey, where, to their surprise, they found that the crows had placed the offering in perfect order, undisturbed. And that is how Thiksey Monastery came to be. Thiksey means ‘perfect order’. You can do further reading on Thiksey Monastery and its history here.
Around the monastery
As you approach it along the highway, it keeps teasing you from behind trees that whizz by as the driver confidently cruises on the dusty road. And then suddenly, it appears right in front of you.
Stepping into the gates is like walking into a new place all together. Painted in white and red, it seems to blend in very well with the surrounding rugged landscape. With its own temples, accommodation for monks and nuns young and old, clinic, restaurant, museum, shops and even a guesthouse, Thiksey Monastery has a feel of a self-contained kingdom. It’s not by chance that it also happens to be the largest, and most famous of all the monasteries in Ladakh.
Depending on how much time you have, there is quite a bit to see. However, being with a group has its limitation, besides a driver who is on the clock. So, in the space of a couple of hours that we had, I managed to catch some of the highlights.
Even though you might feel rushed, make sure you don’t miss out on the spectacular views of the Indus Valley plains down below.
Among the main highlights is the Maitreya (future) Buddha temple. It was erected to commemorate the visit of His Highness, the Dalai Lama in 1970. At 15m, it is the tallest statue in Ladakh, covering almost two stories of the building it is housed in.
The Assembly Hall is another highlight when you visit the monastery. In the centre of the hall is a seat for the Dalai Lama, with a seat for the head lama to his left. Inside, you will find many books and manuscripts, murals and statues. Further in is the inner sanctum where a statue of the Buddha sits with two of his disciples on either side of him. Just before you walk into, or after you have finished with the Assembly Hall, don’t miss the beautifully done mural outside. It’s a feast of colours and makes for interesting viewing.
There is a temple dedicated to the goddess Tara. A total of 21 smaller statues are placed in wooden shelves all around her. To know more about the goddess Tara, you can read more here.
While we had a car to ourselves as part of the package, you can choose to hire your own taxi from Leh, unless you have a car or motorcycle of your own. For the more adventurous who wish to be local, why not hop into a bus instead?