Ladakh –the moonland of Monasteries
The rain had taken a breather as we turned towards Alchi from the main highway. Alchi Monastery, also known as Alchi Choskhor is one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh and is a major attraction in Alchi village. The monastery is well known for its magnificent, well preserved wall paintings dating back to 12th century, all in Indian style. There is no electricity inside and photography is also prohibited inside the monastery. Alchi monastery is situated on a low land, unlike the other monasteries of Ladakh, which are constructed on higher elevations or hillocks. It is situated downstream of Indus/Sindhu River, 70 kms from Leh, across a bridge through a diversion about 6 km from the main Leh Srinagar Highway, on the banks of Indus river is Alchi village, perched at a height of 3100 meters from sea level. Alchi is one of the oldest, well preserved monasteries and dates back to about 1000 years, akin to the Tabo Monastery of Himachal Pradesh and similarly built. The main attraction is it’s thousands of miniature paintings of Lord Buddha on a wall, three large clay images of Buddha in bright colors. During the past 500 years no religious activity has taken place here and it is currently looked after by a monk from the nearby Likir monastery.
|The inclement weather has pushed the residents inside - only dogs on road - going past Saspol village|
|The description regarding Alchi Monastery on the bill board outside the main Monastery|
Alchi is part of three villages composite that house the ruins of such monasteries; the other two villages are Mangdu and Sumnda Chun. The monastery complex was built, according to local tradition, by the great translator Guru Rinchen Zangpo between 958 and 1055. However, inscriptions in the preserved monuments ascribe it to a Tibetan noble called Kal-dan Shes-rab later in the 11th century. The complex houses many structures whose details are, Dukhang or Assembly Hall and the Main Temple (gTsug-lag-khang), which is a three-storied temple called the Sumtseg (gSum-brtsegs), are built in Kashmiri style as seen in many monasteries; the third temple is called the Manjushri Temple ('Jam-dpal lHa-khang). Chortens are also an important part of the complex. Zangpo became known by the epithet “Lohtsawa” or the “Great Translator”; he is credited with the construction of 108 monasteries built in the trans Himalayan region to spread Vajrayana Buddhism from Tibet also known as Lamaism. Kashmiri artists were engaged to create sculptures and paintings. The monasteries of this period did not belong to any of the established Tibetan schools; they were initially brought under the control of the Kadampa Sect. When the condition of the monasteries deteriorated, they were mostly taken over by the Gelukpa Sect or commonly known as the ‘Yellow hats’.
|The outer facade of the Sumteseg|
|Close up of the Sumteseg|
|Outer facade of the Manjushri|
|As the Sindhu/Indus flows behind Alchi|
|Another view of Sindhu/Indus as it flows behind Alchi Village|
The Sumteseg is a three storied building whose purpose of construction is not understood by the scholars, but it is known for its wood carvings of Kashmiri style. The most important building in the complex is the Manjushri Temple, also called ‘Jampe Lhakhang‘, is built around the four central images of Manjushri (seated back to back)/Lord Buddha, seen on a common platform each of the four images is single-headed with four arms that are adorned with a sword, a book on top of a lotus, a bow and an arrow. Each wall in the shrine is dedicated to a Buddha image. Manjushri is depicted on the main wall, seated on a lion throne; the side walls have images of Amitabha on the right and Aksharabhya on the left. The images are set around the central image of Manjushri in a niche in the wall. Manjushri is adorned with jewelry (pearls and other moulded forms) and a crown made of a flower band. At the base of the throne on which the Manjushri image is deified, is a depiction of ‘Seven Jewels’ and ‘Eight Suspicious Symbols’ (flanked by lions) enclosed in a square frame that is distinctive. The top of the throne frame has Makara mountings. The artistic and spiritual details of bothBuddhist and Hindu kings of the relevant point of time in Kashmir are reflected in the wall paintings in the monastery. These are some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also has huge statues of the Buddha and elaborate wood carvings and art-work comparable to the baroque style. Shakti Maira has vividly explained the beauty of this small monastery. Apart from this, there are many small and big Chortens, some of which have beautiful paintings. By them time we had checked them out, it had again started drizzling intensely and we had to rush back, but on the way my wife checked out some local trinklets and found that all of them were very overpriced. We headed for Lamayuru thereafter.
Here is a short video of the destination -