The calming vibes of Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Jammu & Kashmir | 61

If you are driving along the Leh-Srinagar highway or even if you are visiting Leh, one of the most recommended places to visit is the Lamayuru Monastery. Naturally, on our Ladakh Road trip, it became one of our major stops enroute from Kargil to Leh. The monastery is possibly the sanest thing that happened to us on this stretch of the road trip. With its soothing vibes, it became a  perfect way to calm our senses that were overheated with all the stunning landscapes that we encountered on our way.

The Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh
The Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh

The Lamayuru Monastery is one of the oldest and largest monasteries in the Ladakh region.That itself is one big reason for people to visit it. However, having visited it, I found plenty of other reasons to see it. Some of them are inexplicable and some obvious when you see the post below. Whatever being your reason, there is no denying one thing – there is something soothing about a visit here.

Legend of the Lamayuru Monastery

The name Lamayuru means “Eternal“. They say that the whole Lamayuru Valley was actually a lake filled with serpents. Arahat Madhyantika, an enlightened soul responsible for spreading Buddhism in this part of the world, visited here and made some offerings to the Nagas here. With a crack of his walking stick, a hole was created and the water from the lake drained out. The same soul blessed the valley and since then, only positive vibes flourish here.

A view of the Lamayuru valley from the monastery
A view of the Lamayuru valley from the monastery

Somewhere in the 1060s, Mahasiddha Naropa visited and meditated within a cave here and that was the start of the Lamayuru monastery. There were originally 5 temples, of which you can only see one today. The others over time were vanquished with the battles that were led by Zorawar Singh – a general in the army of King Gulab Singh of Jammu. Ravages of this destruction are visible even today when you visit the temple but a lot of it has now been made functional, thanks to the donations of the believers.  Today there are over 100 monks who reside here and practice their faith.

The lone temple that remains at Lamayuru Monastery
The lone temple that remains at Lamayuru Monastery

Given that it is one of the oldest monasteries, there is much more to the history of the Lamayuru monastery but that itself can take a separate post. If you visit the place today, you will be able to spot several boards that enlighten you on the same. For those who are interested to know more, they can visit this website for the detailed history. For now, we will take forward my visit from here.

Arriving from Fotu La

Fotu La - Our stop over before Lamayuru Monastery
Fotu La – Our stop over before Lamayuru Monastery

We had set off from Kargil towards Leh that morning and with a brief stop at a few attractions along the way, we reached the highest pass on the Srinagar – Leh Highway. The Fotu La pass was a quick photo opportunity for most of us and having done so, we set off on a descent to the Lamayuru town. This was an absolutely scenic drive with winding roads that enhanced every bend. As we finally started our ascend again, we caught the first sign of the Lamayuru Monastery.

The winding roads that lead you down Fotu La to the Lamayuru Monastery
The winding roads that lead you down Fotu La to the Lamayuru Monastery
The first sight of the Lamayuru Monastery high up in the valley
The first sight of the Lamayuru Monastery high up in the valley

Nestled high up, amidst beautiful rocky landscape, it appeared as a highlight of the entire valley. There was something quietly fascinating about it. A true example of how one can silently dominate the whole scene.

Of Prayer Stones & Old paintings

Along the Entrance of Lamayuru Monastery
Along the Entrance of Lamayuru Monastery

As soon as I got off the car, Deepak, our chief from ScoutMyTrip, urged me start exploring the monastery – knowing that I would be the first to get in and last to get out. He could not resist rubbing in the Indiana Jones bit and boy! As much as I hate admitting it, he sure was right about that. (Yes, I can see the smirk on his face!). From the moment, we crossed the ticket counter, I got lost! There were so many small details that fascinated me – starting with the fallen prayer wheels that led to stacks of Prayer stones or Mani as they are called.

The Prayer wheels at the entrance of Lamayuru monastery
The Prayer wheels at the entrance of Lamayuru monastery
The Mani stones at Lamayuru Monastery
The Mani stones at Lamayuru Monastery

Mani is kept in stacks or used to form walls as an offering to the local spirits. It is believed that they spread peace and harmony in the surroundings. Right from the entrance to the old Gompa, I found tons and tons of them. In fact, they lined even the driveway to Lamayuru monastery. I enquired of a monk on what was inscribed on it. He said – “Om mani padme Om”.  It essentially means as he explained with a smile – “See! The lotus jewel”.

The paintings at the Old Gompa of Lamayuru Monastery
The paintings at the Old Gompa of Lamayuru Monastery

While I admired these Mani stones, I also, caught sight of beautiful paintings along the walls, that seem to fade with the time. This is where we rediscovered the old Gompa or the old Stupa of Lamayuru Monastery.

The Old Gompa at Lamayuru Monastery

Though it was in shambles, there was something fascinating about it. And it wasn’t just me, but Abhinav, my partner in crime for this attraction, who felt the same. The prayer wheels here were no longer functional and the walls were all cracked. It was evident that the place was plundered at some point. And yet, there seemed to be a mystical power that beckoned us to explore further. It was here that we found the white capsules with the remains of the departed, kept amidst the prayer wheels in grooves along the walls. I first discovered this ceremonial part of the Buddhism at the Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu, where our guide had explained the entire process elaborately.

The white capsules kept in the Old Gompa at Lamayuru Monastery
The white capsules kept in the Old Gompa at Lamayuru Monastery

This structure that we explored here,  was indeed one of the five old temples that remained for us to tour and appreciate today. Abhinav and I could not help but wonder what it must have been in its glory days – with that golden stupa, bright red paintings and white walls, intact with its prayer wheels.

The old Gompa of Lamayuru Monastery
The old Gompa of Lamayuru Monastery

The Assembly hall of Lamayuru Monastery

Thangka Paintings at the Assembly hall of Lamayuru Monastery
Thangka Paintings at the Assembly hall of Lamayuru Monastery

The first thing that I noticed was the beautiful Thangka art. Got me back to my Indo Nepal trip, where I had seen it being created and painted. There was a sudden calm in the air, as we entered the Assembly hall. It was like as if you would not want to drop the pins and disturb the monks. It just felt so wrong to make a sound. And yet, it was not a punishment.

Colorful interiors of the Assembly hall at Lamayuru Monastery
Colorful interiors of the Assembly hall at Lamayuru Monastery

The colorful interiors were a stark contrast to the plain exteriors that we had encountered so far. There was just an aura of serenity and joy within this assembly hall. The visitors all sat by the side watching the Buddhist monks at work. It was evident that I had stumbled upon an unusual ceremony. As much as I did not want to disturb the monks, I could not resist catching one who was on his way out. I quizzed him about what was happening and he very sweetly, indulged me to tell me all about the Mandala ceremony that was going on.

The Mandala ceremony

Monks consulting over the Mandala Ceremony at Lamayuru Monastery
Monks consulting over the Mandala Ceremony at Lamayuru Monastery

My Monk guide helped me understand that the Mandala was an annual ceremony that had just begun a day back. It was to create a Mandala over the next 7 days.  The colored flags that were being kept around were called Dattar flags. At the end of one year, they would dismantle it and make it all over again.

The Monk adding Dattar Flags around the Mandala design
The Monk adding Dattar Flags around the Mandala design

The Mandala as he explained, was a sand painting that depicted life. Quite like the rangolis that we made during Diwali, he added with a smile. At the end of one year, this sand would be immersed in a river and a new one would be made in its place. I could not get a picture of this mandala as it was already covered by the Dattar flags but if you look closely, you can get a glimpse of the same in the picture. I felt truly blessed, to be able to have seen this ceremony for myself. As I told myself – it was a sign of good tidings 🙂

The Prayer hall & the other buildings

My cute little monk
My cute little monk

Done with the prayer hall, we met the cutest little monk. The little monk with his red sun-burnt cheeks was quite fascinated with us but at the same time, did not want to draw attention to himself. We asked his permission to click a picture and he refused. At the same time, he followed us around and would shyly look away if we beckoned him. In the end, he did allow us to take a picture of himself.

Discovering the prayer hall and the school at Lamayuru Monastery
Discovering the prayer hall and the school at Lamayuru Monastery

Along this journey that we took with the little fellow, we also discovered their new prayer hall and school. It was shut when we found it and hence, we could not inspect it from within. Fascinating is how I would put it from outside, I hate to think what I had missed by not seeing the inside.

The prayer hall at Lamayuru Monastery
The prayer hall at Lamayuru Monastery
The prayer hall at Lamayuru Monastery
Near the prayer hall at Lamayuru Monastery

With no choice left but to exit, we soon had the most expensive lunch at the cafe here. And with that, we piled back into the car to be on our way to Leh.

Exiting Moonland in Ladakh

Hey but not without stopping by to take in the beauty of what is called as moonland in Ladakh. The Lamayuru valley is termed so owing to its striking resemblance to the moon’s surface. The fantastic landscape seemed to be a befitting end to the serene visit to the Lamayuru monastery.

Moonland in Ladakh
Moonland in Ladakh

There was something serene, rustic and amazing about the place here. Whether it was the history, or the aura, or the people there, I am not sure. But each of these is a reason enough for me to recommend a visit to the Lamayuru Monastery. Definitely one of the things to do in Leh. Do you agree?

Lamayuru Monastery

Getting here

  • If you are on a road trip to Leh, you will be able to stop by this place on the Leh-Srinagar highway. It is approximately, 127 kms from Leh and 15 kms from the Fotu La pass.
  • If you have flown into Leh directly, you can hire a local taxi to get you there.

Travel Tips

  • Try to catch the annual masked dance festival – the Yundrung Kabgyad festivalthat takes place in July every year.
  • The entrance fee for the monastery is INR 30.
  • Respect the rituals of the place and maintain decorum when visiting the Assembly hall and the prayer hall.
  • Remember to stop at Fotu La as well as Moonland to admire the beauty of the Lamayuru valley.
  • Avoid the cafes at Lamayuru Monastery. They are frightfully expensive with very average food.

P.S: I visited the Lamayuru Monastery as a part of my Ladakh trip for the Highest Blogger Meet with and OYO Rooms




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61 Responses

  1. By the time we had reached Lamayuru, I remember there was so much happening around like the ILPs for Deepak and Amit to scout the venue, Anuradha not feeling well and the food ordering that I could hardly even think about enjoying Lamayuru. I was regretting not being able to spend time doing a ‘Jones’ myself here having only read about it and having skipped it in my previous trip to Ladakh. Thank you for making me live the monastery finally! Learned so much without having visited it fully.

    And, I really need to learn to edit pictures like you do

    • I know, things got a little frantic for you guys and well, you could not really explore this place. I am just glad that I could share this with you so that at least virtually, you got to see it all. Thanks Vineet for everything.

  2. As someone who connects with Buddhism, I really enjoyed visiting Lamayuru and glad you chose to write about it. Loved the post and the pictures.

  3. Awesome post. Amazing monastery.
    Thanks for all pics.

  4. Really enjoy your posts! The pictures speak a thousand words…for sure bookmarking this 🙂 Lots of love to you from a travel freak:)

  5. Sandy N Vyjay

    Have always been attracted to monasteries which are up in the hills and far removed from normal human life. A set of people practicing their esoteric rituals, little kid-monks running around innocently in long robes. The Lamayuru monastery seems to be exactly like that. So tranquil and seems far removed from the material world.

  6. The view towards the valley from the top stories is breathtaking too. I agree it is an amazing place!

  7. The monastery looks breathtakingly beautiful 🙂

  8. LOL on this being the sanest thing you experienced Ami 😉 I watched a string of YouTube videos last night. One covered the 10 most dangerous roads on earth. I am pretty sure #1 was right in this Ladakh region. Or maybe it was #2. Either way, looked intense, hectic, frightening and exciting all at once. A whole medley of human emotions.

    • You got that right Ryan. This monastery was like a cooling and therapeutic part to the entire medley of emotions. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. I can’t get over how rich the colors are in the monk’s robes. That kid is definitely adorable…I wonder what he’ll be like when he gets older! Thanks for sharing a really interesting part of the culture with us!

    • Glad you enjoyed the little insight into their lives. The monks there are really friendly and nice and yes, the little one is special. Thanks for stopping by Henry.

  10. Love looking at & learning about old monasteries! The mani stones are so intriguing, and I love how colorful it is inside.

    • Thanks Miranda. This place was a treasure trove of these things. I pretty sure I missed plenty but well, always ready for another visit.

  11. I was in Kashmir last month trekking in Tosa Maidan and the Greater Lakes. I’d love to try Ladakh especially to see more than trekking, the monastery looks amazing… I hope to see this in the flesh!

    • Ladakh is so different from Kashmir – it is in fact a mix of desert, mountains, streams. You should definitely explore this along with the monasteries of Ladakh. Cheers

  12. This monastery looks amazing. How awesome it must have been be to spend time there. Thanks for sharing this experience!

  13. This monastery looks wonderful, and definitely calming! I love the fact there’s still one temple that remains, and is clearly active. Good for you for asking the little monk for his permission before taking his photo. It’s something we all take for granted, and sometimes forget not everyone wants their photo taken!

    • Thanks Lisa. It is something that sometimes we do forget but am glad in this case I did not. He was such a shy and cute thing.

  14. I love all the pops of color. That child in your photo is so cute! The monastery is just gorgeous, I would love to visit it myself!

  15. No doubt ladakh is a very beautiful place. Thanks for your sharing. awesome image.

  16. nice post and thanks for sharing

  17. Lovely pictures and great article.

  18. Lamayuru Monastery is situated in stunning surroundings with perfect blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Assembly Hall is so colorful with beautiful Thangka paintings. It would be great to visit this place during Mandala ceremony. Little monk is really very cute.

  19. Indeed an amazing place almost magical. The views are gorgeous and the little shy monk… so cute. Glad he finally agreed to be clicked.

    • Thanks Indrani. I am pretty sure you might have experienced something like this in Cambodia too.

  20. A visual delight, as expected from a Ladakhi Monastery. Even the name Lamayuru sounds lyrical and poetic even if one doesn’t know the meaning. Loved all the photographs. Don’t you think the multicolored Mani stones always offer great pictures?

    • It sure was a visual and cultural delight for me. I agree, the Mani stones in color make a beautiful picture. Thanks for stopping by

  21. Wow the monastery looks amazing, I love a good monastery trip as you always find hidden gems. I love your images must have been an amazing experiencing meeting the monks.

    • Thank you so much. Since you love monasteries, you sure will find this a gem. Hope you visit it.

  22. Have always wanted to visit Jammu & Kashmir (anything further north than Mumbai is mostly unexplored by me yet!) and this is exactly why. So many authentic, cultural experiences and sites that seem to be almost totally untouched by modernities. This looks like an amazing place to visit — and I definitely have a soft spot for monasteries in unusual places! That little monk is adorable too 🙂

    • This place is so unlike the rest of India and I would highly recommend a visit here just so that you enjoy a different side of India. Thanks for your lovely comment and for stopping by.

  23. Ah! So, that’s what I missed!!! Too bad I missed this trip! I’ve always wanted to got to Ladakh. Hope I’ll get a chance to visit the crowning glory of Indian subcontinent! It looks so colorful against the Himalayas!!! 🙂

    • You will so love Ladakh Bhushavali. You must plan a trip and head there…the experience is mindblowing.

  24. The whole terrain , landscapes and the Buddhist vibes are mesmerizing there. I love visiting monasteries and really fascinated by the lifestyle of the monks. Quite interesting to know about this particular Monastery though. The photograph of the cute little monk is a good one.

  25. Your views are amazing, in a couple of the photos I feel like I’m there! The history and culture look colorful and beautiful with the backdrop of the Himalayas. You seem to have captured a nice variety of what the area has to offer from the architecture, people and the beautiful views.

    • Thanks Sara. The place was a beautiful cultural and heritage experience and naturally, I had to capture it all. Glad you liked it too.

  26. I have never put India on my travel list but your pictures look really nice. I think I need to rethink this 😉

  27. We haven’t been to Ladakh yet, so this post adds definitely to the inspiration. You have portrayed the calming effect of the monasteries so well in your narrative. The little monk is adorable.

    • Thank you and since you haven’t been, I would so recommend a trip as soon as you can. It is one amazing place.

  28. I love visiting monasteries. The utmost peace that one feels inside them is unparalleled. But this is the first time I have heard about the legend and history behind the valley as well as the monastery. Makes me all the more curious to visit here. Will definitely mark it as a must visit for my Ladakh trip

  29. thesanetravel

    Lamayuru monastery looks like a very special place to visit. Your detailed description and tips are most helpful for planning a visit. I also love pictures of the monastery soroundings. Thanks for sharing!

  30. OMG the scenery is so gorgeous! It’s a shame that it crumbles and that some of the iconic items are not working 🙁

    • Yes, a shame indeed and hoping that the authorities notice it and do something about it. But it still is a stunning place

  31. The Dogras had had a lot of influence here, and Zorawar Singh was a frequent traveler to this place-as a soldier. Thanks to your post, now I know that the Nagas used to live here also.

Would love to know what you think