cultural tours

Destinations: ladakh/zanskar monastries
Trip Duration: on your choice
Best Time: June to end of September
Activities: ladakh zanskar monastries
Grade: moderate
Altitude: 4000
Highlights: 5600

Trip Cost

on request

 With its abundance of ancient monasteries, Ladakh is ideal ground for pilgrimage journeys to these age-old pillars of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also a region where ancient trade caravans once passed through on their way to the teeming markets of Central Asia. Numerous monasteries lie within easy driving distance from Leh while others are more remote and require a few days to reach. Each region and almost each village in Ladakh has its own monastery. Home to student monks and nuns many of these edifices stand on rugged mountain sides high above the valley floor and provide religious sustenance to the local populace strengthening their beliefs and traditions. All our pilgrimage journeys are undertaken by Jeeps that provide easy access even to remote areas. We offer four selective pilgrimage journeys that very much take in the major accessible monasteries and the villages that once hosted traders of the fabled silk route.

In a larger pilgrimage group we offer the services of a highly trained 'yogi' to teach and perform prayers on different occasions during the tour.

Leh - Nubra Valley: 3-4 Days. Includes a days Camel Safari. 
Maximum altitude: 18,380ft/5602m (Khardung La)
The enchanting Nubra valley lies between the Ladakh and Karakorum mountain ranges north of Leh town over the second highest motorable road in the world. The first sight of this fertile valley is unforgettable as you sight the wide river basin of the Shyok river. 
This fascinating journey takes you over the 5602m / 18,380ft high Khardung La into the fertile Nubra Valley. Once a humming trading post during the days of the merchandise laden caravans traversing the fabled silk route enroute to the bazaars of Central Asia, it now attracts visitors from all over the world. The ancient Diskit Gompa presents you with a 180 degree view from its prayer flag adorned terrace. Ahead sprawl the extraordinary sand dunes on the banks of the Shyok. We also visit the most important Gompa in the valley - the SamstamLing monastery high above the relaxed Sumur village. Nubra incidentally lies on the route to one of the largest glaciers in Asia - Siachen. Presenting a rich green panorama of barley, millet and buckwheat fields and fruit orchards around quaint villages, Nubra is also home to the double humped Bactrian camel a reminiscent of the heydays of the silk route. 

Leh -Drokpa Tribal Dah Hanu & Biama Villages Tour: 3 Days 

Maximum altitude: 13,450ft / 4100m (Fatu La) 
An enlightening Jeep Safari into the villages of the Drokpa tribals a visibly different tiny ethnic community that live in the area north of Kargil town. With their angular Aryan features, they stand out among the other Ladakhi people with their unusual costumes and fancy head gear. They subsist on agriculture and are a lively community who still believe in animism. We visit two villages and get to see this vibrant and racially different community in their homes and share a traditional meal with them. 

Leh -Zanskar: 8 Days 

Maximum altitude: 14,440ft / 4400m (Pensi La) 
South west of Leh, stretches the stark and isolated territory of Zanskar which means white copper in the local dialect. It is a vast land covering over 7000 Sq.Kms. of desolate barren mountains, deep river valleys and deep blue skies. Lying sprawled between the Zanskar and Great Himalayan mountain ranges, Zanskar plays host to two important rivers- the Stod and Tasrup lifelines for this agrarian community. Here stand ancient monasteries high up on craggy barren mountain sides. We take you visiting in the ancient monasteries of Zangla, Rangdum Karsha, Bardan and Stongde all rich in intricate Thanka paintings, enormous gilded statues of the Buddha and his incarnations and tomes of ancient valuable scriptures. Zanskar which lies open for visitors for only four months a year offers the visitor spectacular views of the rugged landscape and a land immersed in monastic traditions that seems to have resisted time.

Numerous monasteries stand close to Leh. Most of them are ancient and over 500 years old and house a wealth of statues, fine Thankas and tomes of scriptures. The older monasteries lie sheltered in and around the Zanskar valley some distance away from Leh. Himalayan Summits takes you on leisurely visits to these living heritage sites with each day tour taking in three to four monasteries while the ones further away involve a nights stay.

Thiksey
Further east of Shey a short drive away is the imposing Thiksey monastery built in the mid-fifteenth century, rising up in tiers on a craggy hillside resembling a sized down version of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Before entering the complex there is a new temple housing a large statue of the Maitreya Buddha sitting in a lotus position with beautiful bright murals behind depicting his life. Climbing up a steep stairway, the original main temple is gloomy with ancient wall paintings portraying the darker deities while further on another chamber has a large image of the Sakhyamuni. There is also a large library with ancient scriptures. Once on the terrace you are afforded with fantastic views of the fertile green fields stretching to a horizon of towering snow clad mountains.

Shey
About twenty minutes south east of Leh stands Shey, the erstwhile capital of Ladakh which was abandoned only after the Dogra invasion. Strategically located it still has remains of some ancient fortifications falling victim to the vagaries of the weather. You will notice a number of Chortens around the village unlike other Gompas and also an engraving on a rock that show five Buddhas on lotuses in meditation on animal vehicles. The main temple itself bears a gigantic image of Sakhyamuni with numerous butter lamps burning before it while intricate paintings adorn the walls though these are now filmed over with a greyish layer of soot emitted from the lamps over the years. The other temple too has a huge statue of Sakhyamuni said to have been built by Nepalese craftsmen specially brought here. The walls have fine paintings which are brighter here having been done more recently representing the sixteen disciples of Buddha.

Hemis
This is the largest and richest monastery in Ladakh known for its gigantic Thanka painting that is unveiled only once every 12 years - the last one was in 2004 - and its dramatic masked dances during its annual two day festival. This is the time when you get to see the resident Lamas dressed up in ornate gowns slowly dance around the flagpole in the centre of the temple's courtyard to the sounds of enormous trumpets, horns, cymbals and drums. This festival dedicated to Padmasambhava is clearly focused on the victory of good spirits over evil. Nestling in a craggy mountainside after a grove of green willow and polar, the monastery is said to have been built in 1630. The main temple has a ferocious looking partly veiled deity and quite a few murals now in disrepair. On the left of this main temple stands an exquisite silver Chorten adorned with turquoise and other semi-precious stones while other Chortens around the temples are also elaborately designed.

Stakna
Above Thikse Gompa in a spectacular setting stands the Stakna monastery rising above the flat plains of the Indus. Said to be older that Hemis, it appears like a solitary edifice rising up from a vast plain and can be easily distinguished from a distance. Outside the main temple, in the courtyard is a finely designed silver Chorten decorated with bright turquoise while inside are beautiful murals and paintings that seem to have been done when the monastery was built. A torch is essential to catch glimpses of these finer artworks.

Basgo 
This ancient edifice is both a palace and a monastery. Containing three temples within the complex, Basgo was once the capital of Ladakh before the Balti conquest around the 15th century. Inside the temple are some of the most beautiful murals painted in the 16th century. dedicated to Maitreya, the temples are ornately decorated with figures of Tibetan Buddhism including deities, and other divinities. Numerous scriptures are stored in wall racks and there is an exquisitely carved door leading to a chamber where a huge image of Maitreya stands. The paintings are quite imaginative some portraying a seas with people bathing, and Buddhas amidst cityscapes with buildings and palaces. Second in fine artwork only to the Alchi Gompa Basgo is well worth a visit.

Stok 
Once the royal seat of the Namgyal dynasty which ruled Ladakh, it is still home to the descendants of the royal family. A fascinating museum houses the royal heirlooms, ancient relics and religious artefacts of a splendorous era gone by. Finely painted thankas depict the life of the Sakhyamuni dating back to the mid 16th century and seem to have been painted just recently. There are two tiny temples with gold and bronze images of the Buddha. There are also interesting displays of armoury and weaponry besides seals and coins of the royal family. One particular item of interest is a sword with a violently twisted blade. Other household items used by the royal family include finely crafted silver and copper vessels and delicate porcelain and jade cups and bowls. Also on display are some the Queen's jewellery and ornaments made up of turquoise, other semi-precious stones and fine pearls.

Alchi
Further west of Basgo, stands the famous Alchi Gompa known for some of the finest art and religious paintings and statues in the Western Himalayas. Set amidst a green oasis surrounded by a stark barren landscape, with its five temples, Alchi seems to have been a revered centre of Buddhism. Inscriptions within the temple date its construction to the 11th century. It was also a place from where the second spread of Buddhism in Tibet germinated. The monks who serve here belong to the Ge-lugs pa sect many of them from the nearby Likir monastery. The painting style here is entirely different than those found in other Gompas of the region and they all appear to be in an excellent state of preservation, rich in colour and detail. Here you'll find a fine painting of Rinchen zangpo the great translator, images of Sakhyamuni, Avalokiteswara and other superb art forms. A torch is an essential item as all of the temples and chambers in Alchi do not have any light save for that filtering in from windows or doors. Replete with sculptures, images, statutes and paintings Alchi is an art lovers treasure trove. The design of the main temple or du-khang is unique being unlike any other Gompa structure in the Himalayas. Housing superb wood carvings, and the images of three Bodhisattvas attired in unusual costumes painted with different buddhist images, the monastery of Alchi has astounded many by its incredible state of preservation over the years especially with its location in such a remote site.

Lamayuru 
One of the most dramatically located monasteries in central Ladakh, Lamayuru stands clinging to a cliffside overlooking a deep canyon. Some structures resemble Alchi but do not have the fine detail. Said to be the oldest monastery in central Ladakh, the main temple stands outside a cave in which the ancient sage - Marpa is said to have meditated. There are some old thangkas but surprisingly no paintings. With its spectacular location, Lamayuru does not have so many ancient artefacts or statutes as one might think but is still used for worship being looked after by monks of the Dri- gung-pa sect.

The Zanskar Gompas are all imposingly located and contain a wealth of ancient images, delicate wall paintings and intricate thangkas besides tomes and tomes of scriptures. Rangdum Gompa is one of the well know ones standing on a rock overlooking an extensive flood plain. Belonging to the Ge-lugs-pa sect, Rangdum has a number of beautiful murals dating back to the 18th century. The other Gompas in Zanskar include Bardan, Sani, Karsha, Stongde and the awesome Phuktal cave monastery. Some of these Gompas are not approachable by road and require walking a day or two.

Itinerary at a glance

 With its abundance of ancient monasteries, Ladakh is ideal ground for pilgrimage journeys to these age-old pillars of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also a region where ancient trade caravans once passed through on their way to the teeming markets of Central Asia. Numerous monasteries lie within easy driving distance from Leh while others are more remote and require a few days to reach. Each region and almost each village in Ladakh has its own monastery. Home to student monks and nuns many of these edifices stand on rugged mountain sides high above the valley floor and provide religious sustenance to the local populace strengthening their beliefs and traditions. All our pilgrimage journeys are undertaken by Jeeps that provide easy access even to remote areas. We offer four selective pilgrimage journeys that very much take in the major accessible monasteries and the villages that once hosted traders of the fabled silk route.

In a larger pilgrimage group we offer the services of a highly trained 'yogi' to teach and perform prayers on different occasions during the tour.

Leh - Nubra Valley: 3-4 Days. Includes a days Camel Safari. 
Maximum altitude: 18,380ft/5602m (Khardung La)
The enchanting Nubra valley lies between the Ladakh and Karakorum mountain ranges north of Leh town over the second highest motorable road in the world. The first sight of this fertile valley is unforgettable as you sight the wide river basin of the Shyok river. 
This fascinating journey takes you over the 5602m / 18,380ft high Khardung La into the fertile Nubra Valley. Once a humming trading post during the days of the merchandise laden caravans traversing the fabled silk route enroute to the bazaars of Central Asia, it now attracts visitors from all over the world. The ancient Diskit Gompa presents you with a 180 degree view from its prayer flag adorned terrace. Ahead sprawl the extraordinary sand dunes on the banks of the Shyok. We also visit the most important Gompa in the valley - the SamstamLing monastery high above the relaxed Sumur village. Nubra incidentally lies on the route to one of the largest glaciers in Asia - Siachen. Presenting a rich green panorama of barley, millet and buckwheat fields and fruit orchards around quaint villages, Nubra is also home to the double humped Bactrian camel a reminiscent of the heydays of the silk route. 

Leh -Drokpa Tribal Dah Hanu & Biama Villages Tour: 3 Days 

Maximum altitude: 13,450ft / 4100m (Fatu La) 
An enlightening Jeep Safari into the villages of the Drokpa tribals a visibly different tiny ethnic community that live in the area north of Kargil town. With their angular Aryan features, they stand out among the other Ladakhi people with their unusual costumes and fancy head gear. They subsist on agriculture and are a lively community who still believe in animism. We visit two villages and get to see this vibrant and racially different community in their homes and share a traditional meal with them. 

Leh -Zanskar: 8 Days 

Maximum altitude: 14,440ft / 4400m (Pensi La) 
South west of Leh, stretches the stark and isolated territory of Zanskar which means white copper in the local dialect. It is a vast land covering over 7000 Sq.Kms. of desolate barren mountains, deep river valleys and deep blue skies. Lying sprawled between the Zanskar and Great Himalayan mountain ranges, Zanskar plays host to two important rivers- the Stod and Tasrup lifelines for this agrarian community. Here stand ancient monasteries high up on craggy barren mountain sides. We take you visiting in the ancient monasteries of Zangla, Rangdum Karsha, Bardan and Stongde all rich in intricate Thanka paintings, enormous gilded statues of the Buddha and his incarnations and tomes of ancient valuable scriptures. Zanskar which lies open for visitors for only four months a year offers the visitor spectacular views of the rugged landscape and a land immersed in monastic traditions that seems to have resisted time.

Numerous monasteries stand close to Leh. Most of them are ancient and over 500 years old and house a wealth of statues, fine Thankas and tomes of scriptures. The older monasteries lie sheltered in and around the Zanskar valley some distance away from Leh. Himalayan Summits takes you on leisurely visits to these living heritage sites with each day tour taking in three to four monasteries while the ones further away involve a nights stay.

Thiksey
Further east of Shey a short drive away is the imposing Thiksey monastery built in the mid-fifteenth century, rising up in tiers on a craggy hillside resembling a sized down version of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Before entering the complex there is a new temple housing a large statue of the Maitreya Buddha sitting in a lotus position with beautiful bright murals behind depicting his life. Climbing up a steep stairway, the original main temple is gloomy with ancient wall paintings portraying the darker deities while further on another chamber has a large image of the Sakhyamuni. There is also a large library with ancient scriptures. Once on the terrace you are afforded with fantastic views of the fertile green fields stretching to a horizon of towering snow clad mountains.

Shey
About twenty minutes south east of Leh stands Shey, the erstwhile capital of Ladakh which was abandoned only after the Dogra invasion. Strategically located it still has remains of some ancient fortifications falling victim to the vagaries of the weather. You will notice a number of Chortens around the village unlike other Gompas and also an engraving on a rock that show five Buddhas on lotuses in meditation on animal vehicles. The main temple itself bears a gigantic image of Sakhyamuni with numerous butter lamps burning before it while intricate paintings adorn the walls though these are now filmed over with a greyish layer of soot emitted from the lamps over the years. The other temple too has a huge statue of Sakhyamuni said to have been built by Nepalese craftsmen specially brought here. The walls have fine paintings which are brighter here having been done more recently representing the sixteen disciples of Buddha.

Hemis
This is the largest and richest monastery in Ladakh known for its gigantic Thanka painting that is unveiled only once every 12 years - the last one was in 2004 - and its dramatic masked dances during its annual two day festival. This is the time when you get to see the resident Lamas dressed up in ornate gowns slowly dance around the flagpole in the centre of the temple's courtyard to the sounds of enormous trumpets, horns, cymbals and drums. This festival dedicated to Padmasambhava is clearly focused on the victory of good spirits over evil. Nestling in a craggy mountainside after a grove of green willow and polar, the monastery is said to have been built in 1630. The main temple has a ferocious looking partly veiled deity and quite a few murals now in disrepair. On the left of this main temple stands an exquisite silver Chorten adorned with turquoise and other semi-precious stones while other Chortens around the temples are also elaborately designed.

Stakna
Above Thikse Gompa in a spectacular setting stands the Stakna monastery rising above the flat plains of the Indus. Said to be older that Hemis, it appears like a solitary edifice rising up from a vast plain and can be easily distinguished from a distance. Outside the main temple, in the courtyard is a finely designed silver Chorten decorated with bright turquoise while inside are beautiful murals and paintings that seem to have been done when the monastery was built. A torch is essential to catch glimpses of these finer artworks.

Basgo 
This ancient edifice is both a palace and a monastery. Containing three temples within the complex, Basgo was once the capital of Ladakh before the Balti conquest around the 15th century. Inside the temple are some of the most beautiful murals painted in the 16th century. dedicated to Maitreya, the temples are ornately decorated with figures of Tibetan Buddhism including deities, and other divinities. Numerous scriptures are stored in wall racks and there is an exquisitely carved door leading to a chamber where a huge image of Maitreya stands. The paintings are quite imaginative some portraying a seas with people bathing, and Buddhas amidst cityscapes with buildings and palaces. Second in fine artwork only to the Alchi Gompa Basgo is well worth a visit.

Stok 
Once the royal seat of the Namgyal dynasty which ruled Ladakh, it is still home to the descendants of the royal family. A fascinating museum houses the royal heirlooms, ancient relics and religious artefacts of a splendorous era gone by. Finely painted thankas depict the life of the Sakhyamuni dating back to the mid 16th century and seem to have been painted just recently. There are two tiny temples with gold and bronze images of the Buddha. There are also interesting displays of armoury and weaponry besides seals and coins of the royal family. One particular item of interest is a sword with a violently twisted blade. Other household items used by the royal family include finely crafted silver and copper vessels and delicate porcelain and jade cups and bowls. Also on display are some the Queen's jewellery and ornaments made up of turquoise, other semi-precious stones and fine pearls.

Alchi
Further west of Basgo, stands the famous Alchi Gompa known for some of the finest art and religious paintings and statues in the Western Himalayas. Set amidst a green oasis surrounded by a stark barren landscape, with its five temples, Alchi seems to have been a revered centre of Buddhism. Inscriptions within the temple date its construction to the 11th century. It was also a place from where the second spread of Buddhism in Tibet germinated. The monks who serve here belong to the Ge-lugs pa sect many of them from the nearby Likir monastery. The painting style here is entirely different than those found in other Gompas of the region and they all appear to be in an excellent state of preservation, rich in colour and detail. Here you'll find a fine painting of Rinchen zangpo the great translator, images of Sakhyamuni, Avalokiteswara and other superb art forms. A torch is an essential item as all of the temples and chambers in Alchi do not have any light save for that filtering in from windows or doors. Replete with sculptures, images, statutes and paintings Alchi is an art lovers treasure trove. The design of the main temple or du-khang is unique being unlike any other Gompa structure in the Himalayas. Housing superb wood carvings, and the images of three Bodhisattvas attired in unusual costumes painted with different buddhist images, the monastery of Alchi has astounded many by its incredible state of preservation over the years especially with its location in such a remote site.

Lamayuru 
One of the most dramatically located monasteries in central Ladakh, Lamayuru stands clinging to a cliffside overlooking a deep canyon. Some structures resemble Alchi but do not have the fine detail. Said to be the oldest monastery in central Ladakh, the main temple stands outside a cave in which the ancient sage - Marpa is said to have meditated. There are some old thangkas but surprisingly no paintings. With its spectacular location, Lamayuru does not have so many ancient artefacts or statutes as one might think but is still used for worship being looked after by monks of the Dri- gung-pa sect.

The Zanskar Gompas are all imposingly located and contain a wealth of ancient images, delicate wall paintings and intricate thangkas besides tomes and tomes of scriptures. Rangdum Gompa is one of the well know ones standing on a rock overlooking an extensive flood plain. Belonging to the Ge-lugs-pa sect, Rangdum has a number of beautiful murals dating back to the 18th century. The other Gompas in Zanskar include Bardan, Sani, Karsha, Stongde and the awesome Phuktal cave monastery. Some of these Gompas are not approachable by road and require walking a day or two.

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