Leh the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Ladakh is now a dream destination of many and especially the adventure enthusiasts! Leh, one of the coldest deserts in the world is located at a distance of 434 Kms from Srinagar and 474 Kms from Manali (Himachal Pradesh). At the time of reorganization of districts in 1979, Ladakh was divided into Leh and Kargil and now Leh district is synonymous with Ladakh and vice-versa! Built by the Buddhist kings of Ladakh in 1553 the Leh Palace was once the world’s highest building. The primary attraction within the Leh city this palace is structurally similar to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Now only the palace prayer room lives up to the sense of former grandeur of Leh Palace. Leh is a backpacker's haven with numerous trekking trails, valleys, and picturesque lakes. Renowned as the land of monks and monasteries there is lots to see in this amazing piece of land.
Shanti Stupa - Shanti Stupa is situated at a height of 4267 meters overlooking the Leh city, it gives a panaoromic view of surrounding snow capped mountains . Situated at a distance of about 5 km drive able road from the Leh city or one can reach here by climbing 500 steps . The location of Shanti Stupa is such that it is visible from all over Leh city.
It is built as a two level structure, a flight of stairs leads to the first level where a Dharmchakra (as in white strip of Indian national flag) with two deer on each side, features a central image of Lord Buddha in golden colour sitting on a platform turning the Dharmchakra wheel, the second level depicting the birth of Buddha, defeating of devils in meditation and death of Buddha along with many small images of meditating Buddha, all embossed in vibrant colours.
Hemis Monastery - The monastery of Hemis is situated on a green hill, surrounded by spectacular mountains. Hemis is situated around 45 kms in the south of Leh on the west banks of the Indus river. The Hemis monastery is the biggest and very richly endowed monastery of Ladakh. The Hemis monastery was built in 1630 and it belongs to the red sect, Brokpa.
It is not visible from the road as it is located in a side valley. Impressive and intriguing, Hemis is different from the other important monasteries of Ladakh. The monastery is decorated on all the four sides by the colourful prayer flags which flutter in the breeze and send the prayers to Lord Buddha.
Spituk Monastery - Spituk is yet another interesting monastery, on the hill top near Indus about 18 kms. from Leh on Srinagar road. The Spituk monastery offers a commanding view of Indus. It has a totally new Gompa within the monastery as well as the old Gompa has also been restored meanwhile.
It is constructed in a series of tiers with courtyards and steps. Higher up in the hill is a chamber which houses the enormous statue of goddess. Its face is covered and uncovered only once in a year during the festival time. The Spituk Gompa was founded in 11th century by Od-De, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub-od. The Gompa was named Spituk (exemplary) by Rinchen Zangpo, a translator came to that place and said that exemplary religious community would rise. Initially the Gompa was run according to the Kadampa school then during the reign of king Gragspa Bumide he converted it to Gayluk Pa order. Many icons of Buddha and 5 thangkas can be visited in this 15th century monastery. The Dukhang Hall is the largest building and has two rows of seats running the length of the walls to a throne at the far end. Sculptures and miniature chortens are displayed on the altar. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms and fine thangkas. Higher up the hill is the Mahakal Temple, containing the shrine of Vajrabhairava. The terrifying face of Vajrabhairva is unveiled only at the annual festival in January. Every year, on the 17th and 19th day of the 11th of the Bodhi month, the Gelukpa order of monks celebrate the Spituk festival known as Gustor. During the festival, the lamas wear the masks of religious deities and perform the dances, which is normally about good and evil and mythological stories related to the Buddhism.
Alchi Monastery - The village of Alchi is situated around 70 kms. from Leh on the left banks of the Indus river. The village Alchi differentiate itself from other villages of Ladakh by being so lush green. The flood plain at Alchi is very fertile and provides good and relatively extensive agricultural land. Now most of the small houses are made of bricks. The main road at both side is covered by the Apricot trees. It is a normal sight to see the donkeys (Mules) laden with wares and building material during the summers when all the activities are at their peak. The Alchi region too received cultural influence from other areas. Alchi had contacts with Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism, however the Alchi’s isolation helped the village and the Gompa to keep their culture and traditions intact. Alchi was also on the main trade route of central Asia. The route along the Indus via Leh was connected to the Chinese Turkestan.
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