Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ladakh - Visiting Diskit Monastery

Ladakh – the moonland of Monasteries
(Visiting Diskit Monastery)

Maitreya Buddha statute - with Diskit Monastery in background
          After having spent the night at Hundar/Hunder, we started for Leh and on the way stopped over at Diskit to visit the monastery.  The Diskit monastery is situated on the hill, just above the flood plains of the Shyok River, a tributary of the Sindhu River, on its right bank in the Diskit village (3,144 metres (10,315 ft)) in Nubra Valley.  Diskit is the headquarters of the Nubra Valley and thus has lot of government offices with basic facilities. Leh to Diskit is 150 kilometres by road. The approach road to the monastery is from the Diskit village through a rugged and dusty road that crosses a stream in the middle of the village.  Diskit Monastery has been built at the edge of the approach road. This main road links with Paramanik and Thoise. Approach to the monastery is through a flight of steps made of stones, which lead to the prayer hall of the monastery.
Panoramic view of Diskit Monastery
Maitreya Buddha statute - as seen from Diskit Monastery
The main facade of Diskit Monastery
Inside view of Diskit Monastery
The lamps in Diskit Monastery - reflections of valley & me on glass front
         Diskit Monastery also known as Deskit Gompa or Diskit Gompa is the oldest and the biggest Buddhist monastery in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh.  It belongs to the ‘Yellow hats’ or the Gelupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of the great monk Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century. It is a subsidiary of the Thiksey monastery/gompa.  Diskit monastery was given to Rimpoche of Thiksey monastery during 18th century. It is still under the management of Thiksey monastery and hence, considered a sub-gompa of Thiksey. The monastery constructed in Tibetan style and boasts of murals and frescos.  The history of the Nubra Valley and the monastery can be traced from 14th century onwards. Ladakh was then ruled by King Grags-pa-‘bum-lde (1400–1440) and his brother, who unsuccessfully attempted to usurp Nubra Valley, which was under a local ruler named Nyig-ma-grags-pa. The local ruler assisted a Gelugpa order advocate to build the monastery at Diskit and deify the idol of Tsong Khapa (whose story is narrated in my blog about Thiksey Monastery).  During the rule of King Blogros-chog-idan (1440–1470) who had even controlled western Tibet, Panchen Lha-btsun - a resident of Nubra Valley by birth - studied in Tibet and later became a regent to the founder of the famed Tashi Lhunpo Monastery of Tibet and returned to Nubra during the last stages of his life. His remains have been preserved in a place known as Charas. During 1500 A.D, Ladakh was ruled by Bkra-shis-r- namgyal, who fought the invader Mirza Haider from Central Asia, in Nubra and close to Leh, finally defeated the latter and thus, bringing Nubra under Ladakh King’s rule. Even then, the local chieftains still yielded power in Diskit and Hundar.   There is a sizeable number of Shia Muslims Muslims in Nubra, who had started settling in Nubra after this war. Tshedbang-r- namgyal ruled Ladakh from 1530 and expanded his kingdom. At that time, Nubra people prevailed on him and preventing him from invading, what is known as Ughyur or Xinjiang region of now China, as trade with the Yarkand of Central Asia was considered crucial to Nubra. During the reign of Jams-dbang-rnam-rgyal, historical records indicate that a regular tribute payment was made by the Nubra people to the king. The King Bde-‘Idanrnam-rgyal (1620–45) successfully defeated and defended their territory from the Baltistan and the Mughals. Rgyal kings were very religious and built Mani walls throughout their kingdom. Monks were specially engaged to recite hymns of Mani-tung chur in Nubra Valley and in other surrounding areas. In mid eighteenth century, Tshe-dbang-rnam-rgyal gave away the control of Diskit monastery to the Rimpoche of Thiksey Monastery and this arrangement has been perpetuated to this day. Since then, Diskit is considered a sub-gompa of Thikse.
The prayer lamps inside Diskit Gompa
Eons old prayer wheels in Diskit Monastery
The famed Diskit Monastery as it sits on a cliff side
The monastery has statue of the Maitreya Buddha in the prayer hall, where a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities are housed. An elevated cupola of the monastery depicts a fresco of the famed Tashi Lhunpo monastery of Tibet.  Diskit Monastery is connected to Mongol mythology,  the monastery is believed to be the place where an evil anti-Buddhist Mongol demon once lived and was killed near the monastery grounds but is said to have been resurrected several times. Today, the wrinkled head and hand of the demon are believed to lie inside a temple in the monastery. The gompa roof offers "glorious" views of the Nubra Valley.  Recent extensions to the monastery building are in good shape but the Dukhang ("main prayer hall") and Zimcchungh are not in good condition. Paintings have been covered with soot and images are kept in total disorder. The older part of the monastery is said to be in certain degree of decay, as cracks have been observed, and they remain untended.
Reflections in the water
As we head back towards Khardungla
The photong or official residence of the Chief Lama of Nubra is located at the foot hill where there is also a very large statue of Jampa (Maitreya) Buddha.  This impressive 32 metre (106 foot) statue on top of a hill below the monastery faces down the Shyok River towards Pakistan.  The statue's construction was started in April 2006 and it was consecrated by H.H. the Dalai Lama on 25 July 2010. Mr. Nophel says the statue was built with three main functions in mind - protection of Diskit Village, prevention of further war with Pakistan, and to promote world peace.  Lachung temple is close but above the Diskit monastery, and is said to be one of the oldest temples in the Nubra Valley where a large idol of Tsong Khapa is deified and a Gelugpa yellow hat crowns the image. Desmochhey or Dosmoche, also known as "Festival of the Scapegoat" is the popular prayer festival that is celebrated at Diskit Monastery. Since the festival is celebrated in February during the winter season, large crowds from villages in the Nubra Valley assemble at Diskit to witness the mask dance. The mask dance is performed by the monks or Lamas of the Monastery to dramatically express the superiority of good over evil forces. The dances are believed to avoid ill-fortune in the New Year (Tibetan New Year is celebrated in December/January).
When I became a National Geographic photographer - watch the Himalayan Golden Eagle trying to swoop over the Marmot below
Every trip has an interesting personal anecdote associated with it, we had visited the Diskit Monastery and were well on the way back, when just as we were crossing over Khaltse that I remembered having left my jacket on the camp bed.  While I was debating not to go back and get it collected over the next few days, but my wife was insistent that I get it back as we were to cross the Khardung La and the weather could take a turn for the worse any time.  Therefore, we had to turn back and retrieve the jacket with a lot of acrimony between me and my wife.

Here is a link to the destination video -

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