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Leh is a capital of Ladakh and there are many Temples, Castle, Monasteries, Stupas and Maney walls which were built by the ancestral Dharmarajas. Leh was 1st of all the capital of king Tagpa Bum-Lde, who ruled over the area of Stod and Leh from 1400AD to 1430AD. It was him who build the Red Chapel containing the statue of the Buddha Maitreya, three storey in height with the statue of Avalokiteshvara and Manjushiri on either side , each one storey high.
Place to see in Leh City and around
The Leh Palace;
Leh Palace also known as Lhachen Palkhar or Namgyal Palace Is a nine storied building which is truly a one piece structure not only in this country but in the whole world. This building is also the oldest nine storied building in the world. It was built by the King Singe Namgyal, who was the greatest king of Ladakh more than 350 years ago.
The magnificent building was built in the late 1630’s by the king who reigned from 1616 to 1642. It took around three years to complete the building of the structure. The main façade is 60mt wide and 58m high. Its massive masonry is constructed by the rammed earth technique, with foundations and cross walls giving buttressed support to the external south wall and the internal spine walls. The heavily battered wall are at least 1.75m thick at the base and diminished to 0.5mt where the rammed earth changes to sun baked bricks. The palace was made nine storeys’, perhaps keeping in a mind the auspicious number nine as per Tibetan Buddhism or Culture. In accordance with tradition, the upper section is given over to the Nobel uses Royal apartments, State rooms, reception halls, two temples and the rooms used for religious purposes. The lower sections were for staffs, Storage silos and Stables. In 1836 during the military expedition by the Dogra’s, the palace suffered partial damage. The palace is now being renovated and reconstructed by the ASI, The Archaeological Survey of India.
The Namgyal Tsemo(victory peak);
The temple of Namgyal Tsemo was built during the lifetime of King Tashi Namgyal who ruled from 15000AD to 1532AD.It was him who reunified upper and lower Ladakh and came out victor against the Hor (central Asian invaders) and their bodies were placed under the image of Mahakala, the guardian deities to subdue the spirits of the dead and prevent further invasion by the Hor.
The “Red Gonpa” known as Tsemo Gonpa was built by king Gragspa Bum-Lde in 1430AD. The monument has three storey statue of Maitriya Buddha and a one storey statue of Avaloketeshvara and Manjushiri. The Tsemo Sungbum Chenmo (sacred text) is written in Gold and Silver.
This Stupa was built during the period of Dragspa Bum Lde. It has around 108 stupas inside.This stupa is located near Sankar village or near Shanti Stupa.
Sankar Monastery (Pethub)
Sankar Monastery, is within an easy half-hour walk from Leh. It is a branch of Spituk Monastery and the residence of the Abbot of Spituk, the Venerable Kushok Bakula, who is the senior incarnate lama of Ladakh due to his ancient lineage and personal authority. .There are more than 20 monks at the monastery. Climbing the steps one reaches the double doors leading into the dukang (‘du khang) or assembly hall. Three green drums are on the right of the door under which is the place of the Gyeskos. The wall and entry door are richly painted. Upstairs is the Dukar Lhakang (“residence of the deity”) or inner sanctuary. There is an impressive figure here of Avaloketeswara (Tibetan: Chenrazig) with 1,000 arms (all holding weapons) and 1,000 heads. The walls are painted with a Tibetan Calender,Thankas,Protectors,Deities and rules for the monks. Above the wooden stairs can be seen the rooms of the Abbot, guest rooms and the library.
The site of Spituk was blessed by the Arhat Nyimagung and it is 8 kilometres from Leh. It was founded by Od-de, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub Od when he came to Maryul in the 11th Century. He introduced the monastic community. When Lotsewa Rinchen Zangpo (Translator) came to that place he said that an exemplary religious community would arise there and so the monastery was called Spituk or Pethub(exemplary).During the time of Dharma raja Gragspa Bum-Ide the monastery was restored by Lama Lhawang Lodos and the stainless order of Tsonkhapa was introduced and it has remained intact as such till present. Founded as a Red Hat institution, the monastery was taken over by the Yellow Hat sect in the 15th century. The monastery contains 100 monks and a giant statue of Kali (unveiled during the annual Spituk festival).Every year the Gustor is held at Spituk from the 27th to 29th day in the eleventh month of the Tibetan Calender.
Spituk has an average elevation of 3,307 metres (10,852 feet).
Nubra Valley (Valley of flowers)
Nubra or Ldumra is situated in the northern part of Ladakh with an altitude of about 10,000ft above sea level. The main settlements are along the Shayok and Siachen river. The river belt areas are sandy and the vegetative cover includes green Farmarisk and Myricaria. Sand Dunes between Hunder and Diskit village is one of the main feature of Nubra valley. This valley was the ancient trade route that linked the North Indian plains with Central ancient cities of Yarkand and Khotan, a trade route which existed until 1949, when Chinese firmly closed the border. Nubra is reached by road transverse from Leh across the Khardungla pass on the Ladakh Range.
Khardung la Pass
The 39km stretched road to Khardungla is good till half way (till South pullu), it gets little bumpy with snow melt carving patterns on the roads. Khardung la is famously known as the world highest motorable road in the world with its elevation of 18380 ft or 5600mt high from sea level. You can witness the great Stok Kangri and Golep Kangri of Stok Range and Zanskar range beyond it. In the north, you can view the great Karakoram Range. You will also witness motorcycles and cyclists earning bragging rights for conquering the world’s highest motorable pass.
Places to see in Nubra valley ;
Built in around 1340, Diskit Monastery is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery (Gonpa) in the Nubra Valley . It belongs to the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan buddhism. It was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsonkhapa founder of Gelukpa, in the 14th century. t is a sub-Gonpa of the Thikse Gonpa. Diskit monastery has biggest statue in Ladakh with its height of 105 feet. It was built and finished in 2010 and got inaugurated or blessed by H.H. Dalai Lama.
A popular festival known as Dosmoche or the “Festival of the Scapegoat” is held in the precincts of the monastery in February during the winter season, which is largely attended by people from villages of the Nubra Valley, since the other regions in Leh are inaccessible during this period due to heavy snow fall.
Hunder village is around 7 km away from Diskit village. On a way you will come across the sand dune of the village where you can find double hump Bactrian camels waiting for the tourist to ride around the Dunes. It has a nice stream too flowing through. These Camel reminds you of the famous Silk Route.
At Hunder, there is a monastery which is more than 500 years old and one of the only witness of the great Shayok flood that washed away almost everything. Here you can visit Zimskhang, the another survivor of the big flood.
Sumur is the largest village in the Nubra Valley across the Shayok River along lush green meadow. Samstenling Monastery founded by Lama Tsultim Nima more than 150 years ago, is the biggest attraction of Sumur. The monastery comprises of seven different temples and has a huge collection of Thangkas and arduously restored frescoes. And just besides the Sumur village, here is a village of Tegar.
Shey Palace complex is located on a hillock in Shey, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) to the south of Leh in Ladakh, northern India on the Leh-Manali road. Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh in the past. The palace, mostly in ruins now, was built first in 1655, near Shey village, by the king of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal, also known as Lhachen Palgyigon. It was used as a summer retreat by the kings of Ladakh.The Shey Monastery was also built in 1655 on the instructions of Delden Namgyal, in the memory of his late father, Singay Namgyal, within the palace complex. The monastery is noted for its giant copper with gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha. The statue is said to be one of its kind in whole Ladakh.
And near the Shey Palace, there is a rock carving of Five Dhyani Buddhas which is said to be dating from 11th century.
Thiksay Monastery located on top of a hill approximately 19 kilometres (12 mi) east of Leh . It is noted for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet and is the most beautiful Gonpa (monastery) in central Ladakh. The monastery is located at an altitude of 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) in the Indus Valley. It is a twelve-story complex and houses many items of Buddhist art such as Stupas, statues, Thangkas, wall paintings. One of the most beautiful thing to see at Thiksey monastery has a two storey statue of Buddha Maitreya, which was made in 1980 and got it blessed by H.H.Dalai Lama.
In the mid 15th century, Palden Sherab Zangpo continued the monastic work started by his teacher, Sherab Sangpo. He decided to build a larger monastery here that was dictated by an unusual event that occurred while choosing a site. Legends narrate that Tsongkhapa had predicted that his doctrine would prosper on the right bank of the Indus River. This prediction came true when the Thiksey Monastery was established. This was followed by others such as the Spituk and Likir Monastery, which are also situated on the right bank of the Indus.
Stakna Monastery is a monastery of the Drugpa sect and is 21 or 25 kilometres from Leh on the left bank of the River. It was founded in the late 16th century by a Bhutanese scholar and saint, Chosje Jamyang Palkar. The name, literally meaning ‘tiger’s nose’ was given because it was built on a hill shaped like a tiger’s nose. Of note is a sacred Arya Avalokitesvara statue from Kamrup, Assam. Stakna has a residence of approximately 30 monks. The branch monasteries of the monastery are Sani, Bardan and stakrimo in Zanskar.
Stok palace is 14 km away from Leh which lies in the south east of Leh. The palace was built in 1825 by the king Tsespal Tondup. Around in 1834, the royal family was forced to flee to Stok palace when Zorawar Singh, the army general of Dogra king annexed Ladakh and ended the Kings rule of Ladakh. The royal family still lives at the palace. At present the palace museum has a collection of Royal dresses, Kings Crown, Ornaments and Jewels etc.
Gurphuk Gonpa, a branch of Spituk monastery is little far from the palace. Every year a festival called “Stok Guru Tseshu” held on 9th and 10th of 1st month of the Tibetan Calendar. During this festival two Oracles show up and make predictions for the next year or the coming months.
Founded in 1410 century by Lama Dugpa Dorje, it belongs to the Sakya Order., Matho Monastery, Mangtro Monastery or Mangtro Gonpa, from the Tibetan “mang” that means “many” and “tro” that means “happiness”, is located 26 kms southeast of Leh , on the banks of the Indus River. The village of Matho is located at the mouth of a deep gorge running out of the Zanskar Range and across the Indus. It is directly opposite Thiksey Monastery.
Matho is the only example in Ladakh of the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Because it does not lie on the main highway from Leh, it sees fewer visitors than Hemis, Thiksey or Shey. However, it is known to outsiders for its annual Oracle Matho Nagrang Festival, held on the 14th and 15th days of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. During this festival, two oracles, known as “Rongtsan”, are said to inhabit for a few hours the body of two monks. The purpose of these oracles is to attempt to predict the fortunes of the local village communities for the coming year. The monks that are to be the oracles vehicles are chosen one every two years for duration of 4 years. The first year the monk will have to meditate for 9 month before the festival. The three next years the meditation will last 3 months. The selection is done by lots: one name is drawn from a bowl where all monks allowed to be oracles have put their name written on a paper.
Matho is also home to a collection of Thangkas dating back to the 14th century.
Hemis monastery is 48 kms away from Leh and famous as the richest and the biggest monastery of Ladakh. It was built in 1630 AD and founded by the first incarnation of Stagsang Raspa who was invited to Ladakh by the king Singay Namgyal. This monastery belongs to Drukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Hemis Festival is dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche) venerated as the Dance Performance at Hemis Monastery representative reincarnate of Buddha. He is believed to have been born on the 10th day of the fifth month of the Monkey year as predicted by the Buddha Shakyamuni. It is also believed that his life mission was, and remains, to improve the spiritual condition of all living beings. And so on this day, which comes once in a cycle of 12 years, a special Thanka gets exhibited. Last time it was shown in 2004.
Hemis also has a very beautiful museum with a souvenir shop.
Chemrey Monastery is a 1664 Buddhist monastery, approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) east of Leh. It belongs to the Drugpa monastic order and was founded by the Lama Stagsang Raspa and dedicated to King Namgyal. The monastery has a notable high Padmasambhava statue. It also contains a valuable collection of scriptures, with title pages in silver and the text in gold letters. The monastery is also a venue for the festival of sacred dances which takes place on the 28th and 29th day of the 9th month of the Tibetan calendar every year
Takthok Monastery (also known as Thag Thog or Thak-Thak) is in Sakti , located approximately 46 kilometres east of Leh. The name Takthok, literally meaning ‘rock-roof’ was named because both its roofs as well as walls are made up of rock. It belongs to the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and approximately 55 lamas reside there. It is the only Nyingma monastery in Ladakh.
The monastery was founded around the mid-16th century during the reign of Tsewang Namgyal on a mountainside around a cave in which Padmasambhava is said to have meditated in the 8th century. Every year on the 9th and 10th day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar, celebrations (Tak-Thak Tseshu) which include sacred dances are held.
Korzok belonging to the, Drukpa Lineage and ancient village on the western bank of Tsomoriri Lake in Leh District. Korzok, situated at 4,595 metres (15,075 ft), houses a Shakyamuni Buddha and other statues. It is home to about 70 monks. In the past, the monastery was the headquarters of the Rupshu Valley. It is an independent monastery under Korzok Rimpoche, widely known as Langna Rimpoche. The 3rd Korzok Rimpoche, Kunga Lodro Ningpo was the founder of Korzok Monastery.
This revered monastery is 300 years old. The Tsomoriri Lake in front of it is also held in reverence, and considered equally sacred by the local people. With the efforts of the WWF-India the Tsomoriri has been pledged as a ‘Sacred Gift for a Living Planet’ by the local community (mostly Chang-pa herdsmen). As a result, the area has been opened up for tourists.
The Korzok Gu-stor festival is held at the monastery and attracts many Chang-pa, the Tibetan plateau nomadic herdsmen. The festival lasts for two days (July/August) and ends with the dismemberment and dispersal of the ‘Storma’ (sacrificial cake) by the leader of the Black Hat dancers in a ceremony called ‘Argham’ (Killing).
Lakes of Ladakh
Pangong Lake is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m. It is 134 km long and extends from India to Tibet. It is said that, 30% of the lake is in India and rest is in China. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. It is not part of Indus river basin area and geographically a separate land locked river basin.The lake is in the process of being identified under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance. The lake acts as an important breeding ground for a variety of birds including a number of migratory birds. During summer, the Bar-headed goose and Brahmini ducks are commonly seen here. The region around the lake supports a number of species of wildlife including the Skiang and the Marmot.
Tsomoriri Lake is one of the most beautiful and natural lake in Ladakh which lies in the region of “Changthang” east of Ladakh. Lake has a source of fresh water coming from the mountains. Lake is in front of Korzok village and monastery which was built in 1630. During winter whole freezes, so the nomads walk on frozen lake to go to other side. Tsomoriri (Changthang) also known as the land of nomads.
Tsomoriri is a home for more than 3000 migratory Birds and 250 species of them like Brown Headed Gulls, Horned Lark, Red-billed Chough, species of Wagtails, Tibetan Snow finch, Crag martin etc
Tsokar means “the white lake”. It is approx 45 kms northwest of the Tsomoriri lake. Tsokar is salt water lake & is so salty that salt extracted are still sold all over Ladakh. The wild ass can be seen grazing on the pastures on the side of the lake. There is a small gompa and the surrounding village THUKJE. Tsokar is breeding ground for Bar headed geese & Rudyshel duck. Birds that can be seen here are Black-necked Cranes, Great Crested Grebe , Tibetan Sandgrouse , Plain-backed Snowfinch , Golden Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Lesser Sand Plover , kites, harriers Little Owl etc. Tsokar is a great spot for Mammals including wolf, fox, weasel, wild ass (Kiang ), blue sheep, argali, marmot, woolly hare and pika .
Western Ladakh (Sham valley)
Phyang Monastery is located just 15 or 16 kilometers west of Leh. It was established in 1515. .”The site where the monastery now stands was once a part of the numerous monastic properties, offered during the time of Dharma raja Jamyang Namgyal to Chosje Damma Kunga. The hill of Phyang served as the venue of a monastery, known as Tashi Chozong, established in the year 1515. A monastic community was introduced to the monastery and with this started, the first establishment of the Digung teachings in Ladakh.”
The monastery is one of only two in Ladakh belonging to the Drikung Kagyu, Dri-gung-pa or Drigungpa School, one of eight schools derived from the teachings of Phakmadrupa Dorje Gyelpo (1110-1170 CE).
After the monastery was built, it specialized in Digung teachings under Skyoba Jigsten Gonbo. The current head teacher is Apchi Choski Dolma and the reincarnation of Skyabje Toldan Rinpoche is the head lama.
Basgo, originally named Bagoo (The Bull Head) is located approximately 40 km from Leh. Although the monastery was built for the Namgyal rulers in 1680, Basgo itself was embedded in the early days of Ladakh and is frequently mentioned in the Ladakhi Chronicles when it was a political and cultural center. It was once the Capital of Ladakh. The monastery is situated on top of the hill towering over the ruins of the ancient town and is noted for its Buddha statue and murals. In the 15th century, a palace was built in Basgo.
Likir Monastery or Lhu- khil is located approximately 52 kilometres (32 mi) west of Leh. It is picturesquely situated on a little hill in the valley. It belongs to the Gelukpa sect 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).Likir is mentioned in the Ladakhi chronicles as having been erected by King Lhachen Gyalpo(Lha-chen-rgyal-po) (c. 1050-1080 CE). 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 Kadampa order of Tibetan Buddhism.
The monastery currently has approximately 120 Buddhist monks and a school, in which almost thirty students study. The Central Institute of Buddhist Studies runs it and teaches in three languages, Hindi, Sanskrit and English. It also serves as the venue of an annual event Dosmochey, the assembly of votive offerings and sacred dances which takes place on the 27th day to 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar. It is the seat of the Ngari Rimpoche, the present emanation of whom is the younger brother of the Dalai Lama. Although he does not permanently reside here, he attends for the more important pujas.
Although Likir is relatively isolated, it was once on a major trade route which travelled via Tingmosgang, Hemis and Likir to Leh.
Likir also has the second biggest statue of Buddha maetriya which is the second biggest statue in Ladakh with its height of 80 feet. It was the biggest un till the biggest was built in 2010 at Diskit in Nubra valley of height 105 feet.
68 km from Leh, Alchi temple or the Alchi Choskor was founded by the famous scholar and translator Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055) in the 10th century, along with the Lamayuru Monastery, the Wanla, the Mang-gyu and the Sumda. During the tenth century, the Tibetan King Yeshe Od of Guge, in order to spread Buddhism in the Trans Himalayan region, took the initiative by allocating 21 scholars to the region. However, due to harsh climatic and topographic conditions, only two survived, one of them the esteemed scholar and translator Rinchen Zangpo who established Buddhist activity in the Ladakh region and other areas of India including Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim. During his sojourn there, he also went to the neighboring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. Zangpo became known by the epithet “Lotsava” or the “Great Translator”; he is credited with building 108 monasteries in the trans-Himalayan region in his quest to disseminate Buddhism.
Since the monasteries of this period did not belong to any of the established Tibetan schools, they were initially brought under the control of theKadampa order. When the condition of the monasteries deteriorated, they were mostly taken over by the Gelukpa order, with the exception of Lamayuru which was placed under the Drigunkpa sect. After worship at Alchi monastery ceased for some reason in the fifteenth century, it also became under the Gelukpa sect controlled from Liker.]
Mangue Temple: Mangue temple is one of the temples like Alchi and Sumda which was founded Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo in 11th century. Main temple complex comprise two early temples (Sakyamuni and Vairocana temples) situated adjacent to each other and two chapels, one each on either side of the temples, that house large images of two armed and four armed MaitreyaThe Sakyamuni temple with a beautiful image of Sakyamuni on the North West wall is also known as Chenrezig Lakhang where as Vairocana temple with assemblage of sculptures on NW wall is known as Nangbar Nangzad . But unfortunately some of the wall paintings were lost and some were repainted in the past, especially those in the Vairocana temple
Architectural conservation of all the temples and chapels and conservation of paintings of Sakyamuni temple were carried out by the Architectural and Material Heritage divisions of the Delhi chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
Rizdong Monastery or Rizdong Gonpa
Rizdong monastery is located 73 kms west of Ladakh. Rizdong is also famous as “Yuma Changchubling”. A yellow Hat monastery is situated at the top of a rocky side valley on the north side of the Indus, to the west of Alchi on the way to Lamayuru. It was established in 1831 by Lama Tsultim Nima under the Gelukpa order, at Ri-rdzong. There are 40 monks in the monastery. The monastery is also called “the paradise for meditation” and is noted for its extremely strict rules and standards.
The nunnery, located about 2 km from the monastery, is called the “Chulichan (Chomoling), where, at present, 20 nuns reside.
It is also believed that long ago Guru Padmasambhava meditated in the caves around Rizdong years before the monasteries were built. It is also inferred that in the small caves in the vicinity, Lamas used to meditate for years in isolation from the rest of the villages. They subsisted on one meal a day, which was provided to them by local people through a 1 foot (0.30 m) square window opening in the cave.
Drogpa’s (The Aryans)
Drogpa areas have been outlined in the tour circuits. Out of 5 Drogpa villages in India, two are open for foreign tourists. The greatest attractions in these areas are the villages of Dha and Bema which are entirely populated by last remnants of the Dards in the District. Dards are considered as last race of Aryans confined to Indus Valley. These villages have considerable anthropological and ethnographic importance. There is a very good road leading right up to Drogpa village and tourist can stay overnight in some private guesthouse or at some identified camping site at Khalsi, Dhomkhar, Skurbuchan, Achinathang etc.
Lamayuru monastery or Tharpaling is situated at around 125 kms from Leh on NH1 (National Highway One). Arahat Nyimagon, when he came to this place, he made a prophecy that there will be a monastery here and he made a offerings to Naga spirits with grains. The grains got mixed with earth forming Swastika (Yundrung), so this way the monastery got its name. It is said that the Indian scholar Naropa (956-1041 CE) also visited and meditated here. The oldest surviving building at Lamayuru is a temple called Seng-ge-sgang, at the southern end of the Lamayuru rock, which is attributed to the famous builder-monk Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055 CE). Rinchen Zangpo was charged by the king of Ladakh to build 108 gompas, and certainly many gompas in Ladakh, Spiti Valley and the surrounding regions, date from his time.
The monastery festival is called “Yuru Gabgyad”, which takes place on 17th and 18th of 5th month of Tibetan calendar.
The Kargil town is 220 kms from Leh which is almost a half way to Srinagar. Kargil is Shia populated town which was a transit point of trade caravans from Tibet Central Asia Yarkand enroute Kashmir until 1949. Since Ladakh was open to tourist in 1974, the Kargil town became a night halt place to tourist travelling between Srinagar-Leh-Zanskar. Kargil, at an altitude of 10.000 feet, has the mighty Suru River flowing through it. Once a Buddhist area, this Shia Muslim dominated district was converted into Islam in 15th century.
Around 40 kms from Kargil towards Leh, there is a rock cut image of Maitreya Buddha at Mulbek village, popular as Mulbek Chamba. This place comes on a highway “NH1” to Srinagar or Kargil. It is nine meters in height. There are various interpretations on its date on origin. Some traces this carving back from 7th century and some from early 1st century. Some historian also claim that the image is actually of Buddha Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of compassion), not The Maitreya (future Buddha).
Panikhar is the best station for undertaking mountaineering expedition to the various peaks of the surrounding valley. Tanyol, the approach base for climbing Mt. Nun is just 6 kms further up the valley along the road. A short walk up the hill slopes from here takes the crossing of Sentik Ridge to the base camp on the rim of the ice plateau. Another very interesting hike is to the Nun-Kun view saddle (3810) in the Parkachik ridge. This requires the 3 hours of walking along the verdant slopes overlooking the fertile valley below.
With an area of 5000 square kms and an elevation of 13,154 ft high above sea level ,Zanskar lies to the south- west of Ladakh surrounded by the Himalayan and Zanskar ranges, which are the most isolated of all trans-Himalayan valleys. It takes two and half days to reach via Kargil. Zanskar has two main valleys of Stod (Doda chu) and Lhungnak ( Tsarab Chu), which converge below the Padum. The area remains inaccessible for nearly 7 months in a year. All the high passes are closed in the winter. The only way to reach to the valley during the winter is by doing the Chadar trek. The trek which is now is famous as a winter frozen river trek in the Tourism industry around the Globe. The geological isolation of Zanskar has resulted in the preservation of the Buddhist Heritage and identity. Islam did not reached beyond Parkachik. The settlement of a small Muslim community at Padum area is a recent phenomenon. Many ancient monasteries can still be seen performing various religious practices. Some caves in Zanskar are believed to have been used by different Buddhist Saints to sustain meditation in pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment. The most sacred Sani monastery has a Stupa of Kanishka, believed to be from the period of Kanishka Empire.
At Zanskar , like the rest of the Ladakh , there are many beautiful and old monasteries like the monastery of Sani, Phugtal, Bardan, Karsha, Stongday, Rangdum etc.
Padum is 464 kms away from Leh and 234 kms away from Kargil. It is a capital of Zanskar valley and is the administrative head quarter of the region. This place is like a city for the all villages in the valley. There is a small market along the main road with Shops, Hotels and restaurants. The town has a small mosque which is newly constructed.
Padum has a small monastery on a hillock called Stakrimo Gonpa which is a a branch of Stakna monastery at Leh and Pibiting Gonpa which is 2 km north of Padum, back towards Karsha. Besides these, there is a famous rock carving of five Dhayani Buddhas (Buddha of five directions and five elements) . The period of these carvings is still unknown.
Zongkul is a isolated and a very beautiful in a near surreal location at the mouth of a valley that leads onward to the Omasila pass on the Great Himalaya Range. Zongkul monastery was founded by Maha Siddha Naropa around 1000 years ago, who meditated in a cave above the monastery. It remained the meditation centre for many years. The footprint of Naropa can be seen in the caves even today. This monastery has more than 30 Monks and Nuns.
Sani is a village which is around 6 km away from Padum. It’s in the north west of Padum along the Stod River. It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava visited Sani and meditated for many years. Maha Siddha Naropa is visited the place and meditated. Sani Nasjal is a monastic festival that happens during 15th to 20th of sixth month of the Tibetan calendar.
The very ancient Kanika Stupa/chorten is located at Sani. This Stupa lies behind the monastery. This Stupa is popularly associated with the Emperor Kanishka from 1st century. In a small shrine near Stupa, we can see old icons and murals preserved behind the glass.
The Karsha monastery, like every big and majestic monastery in Ladakh and Tibet, Karsha is built like a fortress and defiant against the Hillside. It is the largest monastery in Zanskar. It is around 9 km away from Padum across the river and it takes 2 hours on foot to reach the place. Gonpa was founded by translator Phagspa Sherab from Zanskar. Later it got improved or upgraded by Dorjay Sherab and Sherab Zangpo of Stod. At present, it is the largest Gelukpa monastery with more than 90 monks.
Lying 13km in the north east of Padum, the road continues along the plain above the sunken gorge of the Zanskar River, narrowing as it approaches Zangla, the ancient capital of Zanskar. The ruins of Zangla Fort appear high on a rickety wooden suspension bridge to enter Zangla village.
The Fort is a square three storied with narrow structure balconies that look out from the top floors. This was where half of Zanskar was ruled from. It was also where Alexander Csoma de Koros, the 19th century Hungarian Tibetologist, stayed and worked for a year in 1823. Later he studied under the Lamas of Zangla, read Buddhist texts, published analysis of the Kangyur and compiled the first Tibetan- English dictionary in 1834.
A narrow passage way leads into the Fort. Many rooms have fallen, but it is still possible to climb up to Csoma’s small dark room on the 3rd floor. And also you can visit the Nunnery of Zangla.
The Phugtal monastery is picturesquely set on the mountain that looks like a birds nest. It is situated on west of Padum. This monastery was founded by Phagspa Sherab, later a monastic community was introduced. The Phugtal festival takes place on 18th and 19th days of the 12th month of Tibetan calendar.
Bardan Monastery is a 17th-century Buddhist monastery, approximately 12 kilometres south of Padum. It belongs to the Dugpa-Kargyud monastic order and was one of the first monasteries of this sect to be established in Zanskar. The monastery also ran several smaller hermitages in the area.The monastery consists of a large Dukhang or assembly hall which has some grand statues of Buddhist figures and several small stupas in clay, bronze, wood and copper.