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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Visiting Likir


Ladakh – the moonland of Monasterires
(Visiting Likir)

The famed Likir Monastery
         The cold conditions that had made us beat a hasty retreat the previous night in Leh had turned into a full fledged thunderstorm the next day.  We started for our visit to Lamayuru Monastery early in the morning on 15th June, 2013.   It was an overcast and dull day and we had not forgotten to carry our heavy woolens, having had a bad experience the previous night and this lesson that we learned, helped us during our stay in Ladakh during the entire duration of the tour.  We went past the Leh airport and headed forward on the Leh-Srinagar highway.  Situated 25 Kilometers from Leh was our first stop, was a Gurudwara named Pathar Sahib.  The Gurdwara stands at the place where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion and the first guru, is believed to have vanquished a demon.  Situated in predominantly Buddhist Ladakh, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is also worshipped and venerated by Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhists venerate Guru Nanak as Guru Gompka Maharaj and as Nanak Lama.  According to legend, during his visit to Ladakh, Guru Nanak was attacked by a demon. The demon threw a large boulder on the guru as he sat at the base of a hill meditating. However, the rock became soft like molten wax and failed to cause any harm to the Sikh guru.  The demon was in for a surprise when he found the Sikh guru unscathed. Bristling with fury, the demon tried to crush Guru Nanak by kicking the boulder with all his might. To his surprise, the demon’s foot caused a deep impression in the boulder which had turned soft. Realizing that the man in front of him was no mortal soul, the demon underwent a transformation and stopped harassing the people.  The boulder and the legend associated with it were forgotten with the passage of time. The boulder was re-discovered again during the construction of Leh-Nimu road in 1970s.  Construction work was brought to a halt by a huge boulder and despite all efforts it could not be removed.


Entry Gate to Pathar Sahib Gurdwara on Nanak Hill
Panoramic view of Pathar Sahib Gurdwara
          Further 5 kms. ahead i.e. at a distance of about 30 Kms. from Leh, was the next halt right on the highway, where an unexplained phenomenon occurs, known as the ‘Magnetic hill’, a short stretch of road that defies Earth’s gravitational force and it appears that the vehicles and even water bottles move upwards, instead of downwards as per norms.  The layman’s tale is that the hill is alleged to possess magnetic properties and is strong enough to pull cars uphill and force passing aircraft to increase their altitude in order to escape magnetic interference. In reality, the effect is because of an optical illusion and there is no magnetic disturbance in the area at all.  As we proceed further, we reach the ‘Sangam’, the confluence of the mighty Sindhu or Indus River with its tributary, the Zanskar River.  It is also a must visit destination for the tourists and some even drive down to the valley below, at the actual site of the confluence, where a small temple like structure stands.  The road thereafter, passes through Nimmu village, wherein we had an interesting altercation where we found a mineral water supplier was de-boarding the crates, on inquiry he agreed to sell entire crates and we purchased two crates from him.  This infuriated the local shop keeper who started fighting with the supplier, when I had to interject of settle the issue, where after we reached the Basgo plains.

The Magnetic Hill in Ladakh

The road to Magnetic Hill

The panoramic view of the 'Sangam' - Confluence of Sindhu/Indus with Zanskar River

Close up of the 'Sangam' in Ladakh

The Basgo plains - distant view of Nimmu village
           Basgo is an ancient village situated at a distance of 42 Kms. from Leh.  The present kingdom of Ladakh owes its existence to this village, as the Lower Ladakh region was ruled by King Tapabum from Basgo and Upper Ladakh by Kind Takbumde from Leh and Shey.  The successor of Lower Ladakh, King Bhagan reunited the entire Ladakh region by overthrowing the king of Upper Ladakh and assumed the surname of Namgyal, meaning ‘victorious’ in Tibetan and this lineage exists till date.  During its glorious days during the reign on King Tashi Namgyal (1555-1575), not only did he repel all the Central Asian raiders, he built a royal fort on top of Namgyal Peak as well.  His successor King Tsewang Namgyal temporarily extended the kingdom as far as Nepal.  Thus, Basgo hold a very important position in the history of Ladakh.  At present there is a castle known as Basgo Rabtan Lhartsekhar is situated atop a clay hill.  The monastery complex within, built by father-son duo of Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgyal and Singay Namgyal respectively, houses the ‘Golden Maitreya’ statute of Lord Buddha, made up of copper gilt about two storey high.  There is also an image of Lord Buddha made of clay that is three storey high, which is visible from the top of the castle.  The ruins of a temple & stupa built by the famous monk & translator Rinchen Zangpo can also be seen.  Due to intense rain and the clay composition of the region, I did not visit Basgo and have culled images from the internet for the viewers.
Panoramic view of Basgo Monastery

The Basgo Buddha image - taken from net (name of photographer at bottom left hand corner)
            Having gone past Basgo, we headed towards the Likir Monastery or Likir Gompa (Klud-kyil), which is a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, located approximately 52 kilometers west of Leh  on the Leh-Kargil-Srinagar Highway, a little off the main road. It is placed on a hilltop in the valley near the Indus River and the village of Saspol about 10 Kms. north of the Srinigar to Leh highway. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect or Yellow Hats of Tibetan Buddhism and was established in 1065 by Lama Duwang Chosje, under the command of the fifth king of Ladakh, Lhachen Gyalpo (Lha-chen-rgyal-po).  Although Likir now appears rather out of the way, it used to be on a major trade route which traveled via Tingmosgang, Hemis and Likir to Leh during the ancient times.  The monastery is now known for housing a 23 m high gilded gold statue of Maitreya Buddha.
Panoramic view of the Likir Monastery

Inside the Likir Monastery 

The big statute of Maitreya Buddha in Likir Monastery
            The name Likir means "The Naga - Encircled", representing the bodies of the two great serpent spirits, the Naga-rajas, Nanda and Taksako. It presumably, originally belonged to the early Karmapa  order of Tibetan Buddhism.    The monastery has two assembly halls, known as Dukhangs and the older one is located on the right of the central courtyard with six rows of seats for the lamas and a throne for the Head Lama of Likir. The Dukhangs contain statues of Bodhisattava, Amitabha, three large statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya and Tsong Khapa, founder of the yellow-hat sect.  The verandah has thangka paintings of the Guardians of the Four Directions and wheel of life mandala held by Yama and the courtyard has a large Jupiter tree, a rare species. Placed on the roof is a 23 metre (75 ft) high gilded gold statue of Maitreya (the future) Buddha. It was completed in 1999.  Besides, the annual event of Dosmochey is organized here on the 27th day to 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar.  Having visited the monastery, whose main prayer or assembly hall was closed either because of the fact that we had reached early or because of rains, I am not aware, we retraced our steps back to the Leh-Srinagar highway heading for Alchi, about which I will describe in my next blog.

Here is the link to the video for the destination -


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