Ladakh Monastery Tour: 8 Monasteries You Need To Visit For A Cultural Odyssey 


Ladakh, the place that is famous for its captivating landscapes, mystical mountains, ethereal lakes and cold deserts is also home to some of the greatest monasteries of India. The monasteries, exhibiting the rich Buddhist culture of Ladakh, are great for some peace and quiet, away from the city hustle-bustle or for a deep insight into this style of architecture. Let me take you on a Ladakh monastery tour that'll show another mesmerising side of this heavenly place.

Alternatively, you can book a pilgrimage tour to Ladakh here.

1. Hemis Monastery

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Photo of Hemis Gompa, Hemis by Ishvani Hans

Built under the reigns of King Sengge Namgyal, in 1672 AD, Hemis Monastery is the largest and the most popular monastery in Ladakh. Handled by the Drupka Sect of Buddhism, the monastery is famous for its beautiful paintings, a statue of Lord Buddha and a day-long annual festival, Hemis Tsechu where local residents perform a holy masked dance to glorify the victory of good over evil.

Distance from Leh: 41km (1 hour 6 minutes)

Key attractions: Hemis Tsechu festival, statue of lord Buddha

2. Matho Ladakh Monastery

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Photo of Matho by Ishvani Hans

Credits: David Nunn

Photo of Matho by Ishvani Hans

Matho Monastery, also known as Mangtro Monastery, from the Tibetan "mang" which means many and "tro" which means happiness, is a Tibetan monastery located on the banks of the picturesque Indus River. Matho, along with Skidmang, are the only two monasteries in Ladakh that represent the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is not a very popular monastery, however it is known for its annual Oracle Matho Nagrang festival. 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. Matho is also home to a collection of thangkas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings made on cotton) dating back to the 14th century. It is a nice place where you can understand Buddhist teachings and philosophies.

Distance from Leh: 21.5km (38 minutes)

Key attractions: Matho Nagrang festival

3. Lamayuru Monastery

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Photo of The Lamayuru Monastery, Lamayuru by Ishvani Hans

Credits: Saurabh Chatterjee

Photo of The Lamayuru Monastery, Lamayuru by Ishvani Hans

Lamayuru is one of the largest and oldest monasteries in the Ladakh monastery tour, with a population of around 150 monks. It was founded by Mahasiddhacharya Naropa in the 11th century and belongs to Red-Hat sect of Buddhism. There are several legends associated with this gompa. One such legend is that Lamayuru was a lake that drew back up to the mountains after blessings from a lama, in order to evacuate space for this monastery. It features a rich collection of wall paintings and thangkas.

Distance from Leh: 114.7km (2 hours, 31 minutes)

Key attractions: Famous for legends and wall paintings

4. Diskit Monastery

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Photo of Diskit Gompa, Diskit by Ishvani Hans

Diskit Monastery, also known as Deskit Ladakh Monastery, is not only the oldest but also the largest Buddhist monastery in the Nubra Valley, Ladakh. Belonging to the Yellow-Hat sect of Buddhism, the monastery has a statue of Cho Rinpoche (Crowned Buddha) in the prayer hall, a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities. The monastery administration runs a school, with support from a NGO known as the 'Tibet Support Group', which has computer facilities and teaches science subjects, in English, to Tibetan children of the region. The monastery is famous for the Dosmoche festival, which is celebrated with great zeal for the eradication of evil.

Distance from Leh: 117.9 km (3 hours 17 minutes)

Key attractions: Statue of the crowned Buddha, Dosmoche festival

5. Phugtal Monastery

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Photo of Phugtal, Himachal Pradesh, India by Ishvani Hans

Located in the remote Lungnak Valley in Zanskar, Phugtal Monastery is one of the only Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh that can still be reached only by foot. The monastery is built around a natural cave, which is believed to have been visited by numerous sages, scholars, translators, and monks around 2,550 years ago. The remote location of the monastery was ideal for monks looking for peace and solitude to meditate. The beauty and architecture reflects the ancient Indian art. The Phugtal monastery also provides stay facility for travellers.

Distance from Leh: 411km (12 hours, 42 minutes)

Key attractions: Historical beauty, serene environment, splendid views

6. Thikse Monastery

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Photo of Thikse Monastery, Thiksey by Ishvani Hans

This 12-storey building complex consists of a number of things related to Buddhist art such as Thangka paintings, statues, stupas and swords. The building also has a nunnery. A major tourist attraction is the Maitreya temple installed in the monastery in 1970.

Distance from Leh: 18.3km (36 minutes)

Key attractions: Maitreya temple

7. Shey Monastery

Credits: Kondephy

Photo of Shey by Ishvani Hans

The Shey Monastery and the Shey Palace complex are structures located on a hillock. 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. It was used as a summer retreat by the kings of Ladakh. The monastery is noted for its giant copper and gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha.

Distance from Leh: 12.4km (24 minutes)

Key attractions: Panoramic views, Buddha statue

8. Stakna Monastery

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Photo of Stakna Gompa, Stakna by Ishvani Hans

Stakna Monastery belonging to the Drugpa sect in Stakna, lies on the left bank of the Indus River. The name, literally meaning 'tiger's nose' was given because it was built on a hill shaped like a tiger's nose. Apart from offering jaw dropping views of the Indus Valley, it also houses numerous paintings, idols and Buddhist scriptures.

Distance from Leh: 24.2km (43 minutes)

Key attractions: Spectacular views, paintings, Buddhist scriptures.

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