Sunday, July 10, 2011

In Ladakh – On Monastery trail (Pictures by Dr. Dinesh Maskeri)

Leh Monastery entrance

Maitreya Buddha in Thiksey Monastery

Maitreya Buddha in Thiksey Monastery

Prayer hall in Thiksey Monastery

Beautiful evening at Thiksey

Shey Palace entry

Alchi Monastery

My inquisitiveness to travel to mysterious destinations took me to Ladakh, a place which remains completely shrouded in mystery for most part of the year. An amazing contrast is how Ladakhis choose to live their life happily with bare minimum in spite of the harsh weather and barren lands. Even then every person you meet greets you with a smile. The happiness quotient of the people in Ladakh is very high and perhaps this has a lot to do with their religion. Most people are Buddhists which t eaches one to be happy and content even in adversity. When Lord Buddha attained Nirvana, it was a victory of good over evil and the numerous idols in every monastery depict such pictures. The rituals followed by the monks appear complex but the sight of a meditating monk is when you feel the time has stopped and as if is an indication that though religion may differ with people, man’s need for communion with God remains constant.

While in Ladakh this time around, it was snowing intermittently and was chilling to such an extent that it would freeze tears on the cheeks and we therefore had to restrict ourselves to only visiting monasteries around Leh. It began with a visit to one of the oldest and aesthetically pleasing monastery - Shey Gompa (monastery). A damp and chilling early morning breeze blew lashing at a few dry leaves. While we glanced admiringly at a magnificent statue of Lord Buddha, in a meditative mudra inside the Gompa which I felt was a divine sight and at the same time was also enjoying the solitude of a great silent place, it was suddenly reverberated with the sounds of “Om Namo Padme Hum” chanted by quite a number of monks. It is believed that all the teachings of Buddhism are contained in this mantra.

Next we visited the Alchi monastery. A visit to incredibly picturesque Alchi monastery is a trip back to time. Alchi is an ideal place of retreat for souls tormented by doubt. Some charming kid monks were playfully running around in the corridor. We also got an opportunity to discuss religion and the Ladakhi culture with an elderly Lama dressed in dark red ochres commonly wore by the religious people in Ladakh. In addition to the unique paintings hanging on the walls, the beautiful sight of Indus flowing behind the monastery has potential to make up your day. Attached to the Alchi Gompa is a magnificent Manjusri temple. A common thing in all the monasteries is a brilliant collection of Dalai Lama’s writings and his numerous pictures.

While in the car on the way to Hemis monastery, the driver at the sight of a few falling pebbles from the adjacent hillock stopped the vehicle and astonishingly kept staring at the top of the hill. On enquiring he said that since Ladakh is prone to frequent landslides and therefore it is necessary to exercise caution. Fortunately for us, they were only a few falling pebbles. Soon we reached the Hemis monastery which I felt completely rejected the mad frenetic life we live in cities. This Gompa has a beautiful temple of goddess Dorje Chenmo also known as Lakhang Nyerma. The distinguishing feature of this monastery is the 15 meter tall Buddha statue which happens to be the biggest in Ladakh. This Gompa is the richest of all monasteries and also has Stupas (an object of veneration) made of Gold and Silver. It also is a venue to Hemis festival held in the month of July which is a tribute to Guru Padamsambhava also known as Guru Rimpoche known to have laid the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet.

Next on our list was the Thiksey monastery and when we reached the Thiksey town, the driver pointed at the monastery situated on a hillock. I glanced admiringly at the building which was built in the 15th century and is a house to a few hundred monks. A huge 14 meter high Maitreya Buddha in one of the prayer halls covers two floors. We noticed some monks deep in meditation amidst some mysterious music. The serenity on the monk’s face would definitely make one want to live here forever rather than be just a visitor.

Though my sojourn this time around was restricted to visiting monasteries only, Ladakh is such a beautiful place where I would always want to come back. I have an awesome affection for this place and would keep coming here.. time and again.

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