Situated at an altitude of 12,000 feet on the banks of the Indus River in Leh is the Hemis Monastery - one of India’s richest Buddhist monasteries housing a treasure trove of ancient statues, books and artefacts.
About 45 km from Leh City, the monastery or gompa was first established in the 11th century. It was re-established in 1672 by Ladakhi king Sengge Namgyal and belongs to the Red Hat Sect or Drukpa lineage of Buddhism.
The monastery has a vast collection of Thankas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings on cotton or silk usually depicting a deity or mandala), gold statues, Tibetan books, and chortens (Tibetan Buddhist shrines) embedded with valuable stones, carriers, and weapons.
The ancient monastery is one of the world's highest human settlements and attracts thousands of tourists every year.
A two-day religious ceremony, known as the Hemis Festival, is held here each year in June in honour of Padmasambhava, an Indian Buddhist Tantrik.
During the festival, dances are performed by the monks to celebrate the victory of good over evil. They also pray for vitality and fertility in the land for the coming year. Every 12 years, a huge silk thangka depicting Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche is unfurled.
According to local legend, Jesus is believed to have visited the Hemis monastery.
The monastery is perched atop Stok Mountain with the Indus River flowing below it. It has been built in the Tibetan style of architecture.
A steep flight of stairs will take you to the monastery from the base. The whitewashed walls of the monastery are painted in vibrant blues, reds, greens and yellows.
The entrance to the Hemis gompa is through a giant gate that opens to a large courtyard. The main gate is bordered by several prayer stones and colourful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.
On the northern side of the main gate are two assembly halls with the guardian deities and the Wheel of Life.
The spacious central courtyard of the monastery provides stunning views of the surrounding mountains and landscape. Several buildings surround the courtyard. The courtyard is also home to a gallery with paintings of the 84 Mahasiddhas, who embodied the Siddhi or perfection. These 17th-century paintings were made using mineral pigments.
The prayer hall has a large collection of Thankas and the largest Thanka in the monastery is displayed only once every 12 years.
The assembly hall has a statue of the Gyalpo (fierce protector), who is believed to protect the Hemis Monastery. The statue depicts the highest and most potent form of Tantric Buddhism.
Another hall called the Dukhang Barpa has paintings on the walls and a golden statue of Buddha.
The monastery has a museum which has an extensive collection of manuscripts, Buddhist thankas, artefacts, and weapons. Photography is not allowed inside the museum.
On the upper floor is a giant statue of Padmasambhava and there is a painting showing the 12 manifestations of Guru Rinpoche.
Built on rugged terrain, the monastery is a symbol of humans living in peace with nature, even in its harshest forms. The monks in the monastery live solitary lives, observing penances, blessing the people and preserving the ancient culture of the land.
(The picture featured at the top of this article has been sourced from Wikipedia)