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 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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 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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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?
- 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.
- Try to catch the annual masked dance festival – the Yundrung Kabgyad festival, that 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.