Saturday, July 27, 2013

Visiting Shey & Stok Palace/Monastery

Ladakh – the moonland of Monasteries
(Visiting Shey  & Stok Palace/Monastery)

After having spent about two hours exploring Thiksey, as narrated in my earlier blog, we headed for Shey Palace and it hardly took 10 minutes to reach the spot from Thiksey.  Shey Place  is also on Leh Manali road , located near the Thikse monastery on a hillock about 15 kms from Leh.  Although one reaches Shey Palace before reaching Thiksey Monastery, yet tourists prefer to visit the Monastery, before visiting Shey Palace.  It had started drizzling and since one has to trek up from the base and we were not carrying any Umbrellas, my wife & daughter preferred to stay back.  Rushing up the road and the stairs made me huff and puff, due to the low oxygen content in the air.  While traversing from Thiksey to Shey, we came across a large number of rock carvings, stupas and monasteries are on this road, it has also the biggest Chorten field with hundreds of various size of shrines scattered across the desert landscape. As per recorded history, Shey Palace and Gompa complex was built in around 1650 AD by the King Deldon Namgyal, who used it as a summer retreat and was used as same by the succeeding kings of Ladakh, however, after being abandoned, most parts of it is in ruins now.  The present day Shey Palace is more visited for the Monastery housed inside its precincts, which was built in the memory of his father Singay Namgyal by King Deldon Namgayal.  It is famous for the giant statue of Shakyamuni Budha, the second largest such statute in Ladakh, which is made of Copper with Gold plated.  Dogras of Jammu, who had invaded Leh in 1834, forced the Namgyal King to abandon the Shey Palace and shift to the Stok Palace, built across the Indus River, as their permanent residence.

Panoramic view of Shey Palace

The Bill Board on way to Shey Palace

The Chortens seen from Shey Palace
The famed Buddha statute inside Shey Monastery

The wall paintings inside Shey Monastery

The close-up of the eyes of Buddha in Shey Palace Monastery

The lamp in Shey Monastery
 On our way back  from Shey, we visited the Drukpa White Lotus School run by the Drukpa Trust, which is locally as known as the ‘Druk Padma Karpo School’ (‘Padma Karpo’ means ‘White Lotus’ in Bothi) and is named after Mipham Pema Karpo (1527-1592), who is revered as a great scholar.  This school has acquired fame all over India, because of the blockbuster ‘Three Idiots’ movie starring Amir Khan et al, the last part of the movie had been filmed in its precincts and has now become tourist spot of sorts.  Despite my resistance, my kids and wife were adamant to visit the School premises and I had to trudge along, although I did not go inside the School premises, as I feel that it is an unnecessary intrusion and disturbance for the students in the classrooms.
The reception & introduction at Dukpa White Lotus School 

The school building of Drukpa White Lotus School

Visiting Stok Palace
Situated at a distance of 15 Kms. south of Leh, across the Indus/Sindhu River, on the West bank of the River, is the Stok Palace i.e. the Royal residence of the erstwhile Rules of Ladakh and their successors now.  This Royal Palace was built in 1825 AD by King Tsespal Tondup Namgyal, after the invading Dogra forces from Jammu had deposed the King of Ladakh and he was forced to shift his base here from Shey Palace.  The building is an awe inspiring monument housing about 80 odd rooms spread across several storey. The palace is reachable by jeeps or through shared taxis and has an entry fee of Rs.50/- per person.  The Royal Palace Museum is worth visiting and showcases the royal thangkas, King’s crown, battle dresses, coins of bygone era, peraks encrusted with turquoise and lapis lazuri alongwith religious objects & statutes all housed separately.  One of the room’s even houses the utensils etc. that were used by the Royalty during the past.  However, nothing can be shared with readers as photography is strictly prohibited.
Panoramic view of Stok Palace
Panoramic view of Leh Valley from Stok Palace
 Spituk Monastery is a nearby attraction which can be visited too, but as I had return back to Hotel, with context to the evening visit scheduled for watching the closing events of the ‘Sindhu Festival’ or as it is now known as ‘The Shinghey Khababs Festival’, I did not visit this Monastery.
Panoramic view of Spituk Monastery

Here is the video for the destination -

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Visiting Thiksey Monastery

Ladakh – the moonland of Monasteries
(Visiting Thiksey Monastery)
Almost reached Leh - view from plane
            As I have already narrated the incident regarding delay of one day in reaching Leh due to bad weather & wrong choice of Airlines.  After we reached Leh, we had rejig our itinerary and accordingly, as advised by most of the sites, we rested for the day at the Hotel itself, enjoying the beautiful snow clad mountain tops sprinkled all around and soaked in the ever changing colours & hues of the clear blue sky, with the ascent & descent of the Sun, coupled with the play of the clouds, a mesmerizing scene that eludes most of the city dwellers.    The driver suggested that on the next day i.e. 14th June, 2013 we go and have a look at the Thiksey Monastery, Shey Palace and Sindhu Ghat during the day and enjoy the concluding day of Sindhu festival during the evening.
On way to Thiksey - Manali Leh Highway
 Accordingly, after partaking our B’fast we proceeded for the first destination of the day i.e. Thiksey Monastery.  The journey itself was mesmerizing as the hamlets near Leh passed by and the clear blue sky speckled with clouds enhanced the contrast between the green, barren and the blue sky.  We passed by the headquarters of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council, an impressive and unusual building.  Thiksey Monastery, is a picturesque Buddhist monastery located 18 km east of Leh (about 30-40 mins drive from the Leh city) on the Leh-Manali Road. Astride on top of a hillock, the monastery is a imposing 12 storied building complex, which exudes an all encompassing aura over the valley below.  It is said that the monastery resembles to the Patola Palace in Lhasa, Tibet and is the biggest Gompa/Monastery in central Ladakh.  Thiksey (thiksok Nambar tak pe ling) is a monastery of the Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) sect.
Panoramic view of Thiksey Monastery
 As per historians, during the early 15th century, Tsongkhapa, the founder of the reformed Gelugpa School (the Yellow hat sect), sent six of his disciples to remote regions of Tibet to spread the teachings of the new school. Tsongkhapa gave one of his disciples, Sherab Sangpo, a small statue of Amitayus (Chepakmet), the Buddha of longevity who is invoked for long life, health and happiness. It contained bone powder and a drop of Tsongkhapa's own blood. Tsongkhapa directed him to meet the King of Ladakh with a message seeking his help in the propagation of Buddhist religion. The King, greatly liked the gift of the statue. After this meeting, the King directed his minister to help Sherab Sangpo to establish a monastery of the Gelugpa order in Ladakh. As a result, in 1433, Sangpo founded a small village monastery called Lhakhang Serpo (meaning Yellow temple) in the village of Stagmo, to the north of the Indus/Sindhu River.  In spite of his best efforts, initially there were very few lamas who embraced the Gelugpa order.
Panoramic view of the valley below Thiksey Monastery - the Chortens below
 The legends say two stories about the construction of this Monastery, as per the first Palden Sangpo, one of the prominent disciples of Sherab Sangpo decided to build a larger monastery here that was dictated by an unusual event that occurred while choosing the site for the monastery. Legends narrate that Tsongkhapa had predicted that his doctrine would prosper on the right bank of the Indus/Sindhu River. This prediction came true when the Thiksey monastery was established first. This was followed by others such as the Spituk & Likir monasteries (about which I will narrate in separate blogs), which are also situated on the right bank of the Indus/Sindhu. According, to another legend, Sherab Sangpo and Palden Sangpo were performing some sacred rituals near the Sangmo Lakhang. The ritual offerings (known in local language as torma (ritual cakes) made from sattu or chickpea flour) were then taken to a rock outcrop to be thrown down to the valley. As they were about to throw the torma into the valley, two crows appeared suddenly from somewhere and carried away the ceremonial plate with the offering of torma. They then placed the torma at a location on the other side of the hill. When Palden Sangpo and his disciples began looking for the torma, they reached Thiksey, where they found that the crow had placed the torma on a stone in perfect order and in an undisturbed condition. Palden took this finding as a divine directive to build the monastery here.
Tsong khapa behind a prayer wheel, located on the steps leading to the Monastery
 The new Thiksey monastery is located a few miles (kilometres) away from Stagmo, located on a sacred hill above a village of the same name. The present day monastery houses the picture of Tsong khapa behind a prayer wheel, located on the steps leading to the main part of Tikshey monastery.  The monastery precinct at the foot of the hill has a courtyard from where a flight of steps leads to the main monastery (one of the 10 temples here), which is 12-stories in height. It has two main chambers. The monastery is painted in red, ochre and it was built as a fort monastery as per the Central Tibetan pattern. There are excellent views across the Indus/Sindhu Valley flood plain both east and westbound from it, from which the gompa at Maltho (to the east), the royal palace at Stok (across the valley to the south) and the former royal palace at Shey (to the west) are clearly visible.  The yellow building has the assembly hall. The red building has the guardian deity shrine.
The Central courtyard mural depicts Tsong Khapa, the Buddha,  Padmasamhava, Palden Lahmo and Mahakala
A wall at the entrance to the assembly hall or main prayer hall depicts murals of the Tibetan calendar with the Bhavachakra  –the Wheel of Life. This wheel has insignia images of a snake, a bird and a pig that signify ignorance, attachment, and aversion. The purpose of this depiction is meant to remind that these earthly ties need to be overcome in order to get enlightenment in life and to prevent the cycle of death and rebirth.  The main prayer room next to this wall has many handwritten and painted books. Behind this prayer hall is the small inner sanctum of Lord Buddha flanked by Bodhisattvas,  Manjushri to the right and Maitreya to the left.  The assembly hall also has an image of the 11 headed Avalokitesvara with Padmasambhava. The centre of the assembly hall has a seat for the Dalai Lama and to its right, for the head lama and to its left, another deity is pictured. The hall also has murals of the deities Mahakala & Dukar.  Volumes of the text Tibetan prayers & writings 'Tangyur' , wrapped in silk - are stored in wooden shelves in the hall.  A temple is also dedicated to goddess Tara with her 21 images placed in glass-covered wooden shelves. Also, small shrines devoted to several guardian divinities including Cham-spring - the protector deity of Thikse - can also be seen between the main courtyard and the staircase. The Chi-khang has an image of the Buddha with two of his disciples and the deity Yamantaka.  The courtyard mural depicts Tsong Khapa, the Buddha,  Padmasamhava, Palden Lahmo and Mahakala.

Statute of Lord Buddha in main Prayer hall of Thiksey Monastery

Statute of Padmasambhava in main Prayer hall of Thiksey Monastery

Statue of Yamantaka diety in main Prayer hall of Thiksey Monastery

Statute of Tara in  Thiksey Monastery

The monastery is a teaching school for young monks and also houses a Nunnery in its precincts.  Facilities such as medical clinic, hotel & restaurant, souvenir shops and so forth are available at Thiksey and it remains open from 7.00 A.M. in the morning till 6.30 P.M. in evening and an entry fee of Rs.20/- per person is charged for visiting the Monastery.  The annual festival of Thiksey is held in the monastery precincts is known as the Gustor ritual, which is held from the 17th to 19th day of the ninth month of the Tibetan Calender (October–November). Sacred dances such as the mask dance or Cham Dance  are performed as a part of this ritual.  Another special feature is the trade fair held at the base of the monastery, in which villagers from all over Ladakh assemble to barter and trade items and socialize.

Here is the video of the destination -