First Published on October 12, 2018
Pretty landscapes cruised past my window Causing my gasps to be caught in my throat. Then came those Basgo monastery ruins Replacing those gasps with a racing pulse - like an antidote.
I stared at the pretty landscapes as our van tackled the curves to Alchi Monastery in Ladakh. My gasps at the stunning scenery had got stuck in my throat for each view turned out to be better than the one I left behind. Until I saw strange peaks that looked like turrets of a castle. Rubbing my eyes, I focused again – only to realize that I was indeed staring at the crumbling walls of an erstwhile castle – atop a hill. My breath released and my pulse raced as it always does when I see the ruins. Basgo – a large sign on the mountains announced the name of the village. And that was my first glimpse at the Basgo Monastery and Castle.
The present-day Basgo village was a bustling hub in the yesteryears with a palace and monastery atop a hill. There was little else that my research prior to my trip told me. However, the one thing that caught my attention was that this was declared as one of the 100 endangered heritage places in the world by UNESCO. The Indiana Jones in me was keen to find out why and the first glimpse definitely did not disappoint me. Scouting it in was like a stamp to this listing. I am sure that by the time you explore it with me, you too, will agree that Basgo Monastery is one of the key places to visit in Ladakh.
History of Basgo Monastery Ladakh
With the kind of ruins that I saw, I expected Basgo history to go back to the 10th century or so. Interestingly, these aren’t so old. They date back to the 15th century. This early part of the Basgo history is mentioned in the Ladakhi chronicles. It is associated with Raspa Bum who was based in Shey. The man was a patron of religious institutions and commissioned several buildings. As a part of a settlement with his brother, he came to own the area around present-day Basgo village. The chronicles say that he commissioned a temple fitting the description of the present-day Chamba temple of Basgo.
Raspa Bumde began setting up Basgo village as his center. It was his grandson – Bhagan who further, contributed to the development of Basgo as a center of power and trade. It was around the same time period that the Mughals came into India.
Owing to its strategic location, Ladakh was constantly attacked by the Muslim rulers of Central Asia. The constant wars divided Ladakh into two major kingdoms, each ruled by different kings. The North Ladakh which included Leh was ruled by King Takbumde and the southern part by King Takpabum. The Leh king used his power to usurp Basgo.
Eventually, the original king from Basgo – Bhagan fought back and got his kingdom back the Leh King. He took on the name Namgyal – which means triumphant. He started fortifying Ladakh and his dynasty kept hold for many centuries after that. His descendants – Dharmaraj Jamyang Namgyal and Dharmaraj Singay Namgyal are the ones who are credited to have built the Basgo monastery and castle. One of the Buddha images built by King Jamyang is in fact, a funerary for the Father King.
The first glimpse of the ruins of Basgo Khar (fort)
The crumbling walls of Basgo stood tall over the village, setting off light streaks – almost as if they were highlighting the best features of the ruins. It was easy to see how formidable the castle might have looked in its heydays. Built at 300 meters over the Basgo village on the already tall mountains of Ladakh, I am sure the enemies would have thought twice before attempting to raid it.
The brown earthen walls of the erstwhile Basgo castle were now in shambles with some parts being indistinguishable from the surrounding mountains. I could see only parts of them and most of them visible owing to them standing solo. Frankly, it is only those tiny window holes on the watchtowers that help you separate them from their surroundings. The main structure that stood out was the Basgo Monastery. They were a cluster of white buildings enclosed by the ancient walls. As I understand, the white too is a recent addition in a bid to restore and preserve what is left of Basgo fort.
A familiar frenzy filled me as I walked to the steps of the monastery. The excitement of finding hidden alleys and treasures got my adrenaline high. I am sure my eyes looked like how Tom’s would (of the Tom and Jerry fame) when he did speed reading. I scanned the lone board at the entrance of Basgo Castle for its history.
There were just three living shrines remaining of Basgo Monastery – the Chamba Lhakhang, the Serzang Temple and the Chamchung Lakhang. Each one of them had some fascinating features. From where I stood, I decided to tackle the higher temple first. And off, I went to discover the Chamba Lhakhang.
Chamba Lhakhang at Basgo Monastery
A sign told me that I needed to buy tickets to visit the Basgo Gompa but where was not clear. Following a flight of vertical stairs to the Chamba temple, I reached the top. Yet, I still could not see a window. However, what I encountered were some stunning views of the ruins around. Circling around, I attempted to capture them all and finally landed back in front of the open temple door.
A 2-storied statue of Maitreya Buddha (fifth incarnation of Shakyamuni) stands in the center of the Chamba temple Ladakh. When you enter, you can only see the body and hands of this idol. It was only when you get closer, you see the serene face of the idol.
The Maitreya Buddha at the Chamba Temple is made out of clay. It was made by King Drakspa Bumde in the 1490s. However, it was King Jamyang who added the surrounding color of the temple by building it and adding colorful murals to it. From the ceiling to the walls, there was so much to grasp here.
Along the walls are idols of Buddha. And even in these, I spotted one on either side of the main Buddha that looked like a standing miniature of the main idol. The same face, the crown and the colors. My guess is that this might have been a prototype before the large one was built. However, with no guide or signs or even people around, I could not be sure.
Upon my exit, I chose to quickly meander to the surrounding buildings. I found plenty of doorless balconies, interesting walls structures and closed doors.
Serzang temple in Basgo village
The other two Maitreyi temples in Basgo monastery Ladakh are located in what seems to be the main entrance of the palace. At the gate, you will find something like a crossroad. One temple is at the end of the narrow passageway on the left and the other one straight down.
As I made my way towards the Serzang temple, my fellow travelers urged me to hurry as the monk was waiting for us and was ready to close the temple. That was like adding fire to my raging fuel and though there were interesting sights outside the temple, I blindsided them and rushed in through the gate towards the waiting monk at the Serzang temple.
A small cute, old door led me into a dimly lit shrine where I encountered yet another gigantic idol of a Maitreya Buddha. The only difference was that this was slightly smaller and the entire statue was visible from the entrance.
This Maitreya Buddha in the Serzang Temple is made of Copper. This was started by Jamyang Namgyal but completed by his son. While this was one distinct feature of this temple, it isn’t the only one. The temple is home to sacred books of Buddhism like Kangur and Stangur, written in 5 precious colors like Gold and Silver.
The monk around was not aware of where the books were for his superior was at Hemis Monastery, attending the Naropa festival. He did say that the texts were still around. He also, told us this temple was used by the royal family exclusively. That actually explains the location of the temple. In its heydays, one was required one to go through the various sections of the palace.
As I waited for the rest of my group to finish examining the small temple, I played truant by climbing the narrow stairs and crude stones to see if I could find a treasure of my own. And I did – by way of these ancient windows that might have been a part of the Basgo castle or the narrow flight of stairs that might have led to some room.
Chamchung Temple at Basgo Gompa
It was time for the last temple at Basgo. This one was unique not just for the lovely Maitreya Buddha statue but for the fact that it was originally a Mosque. It was built by a Balti prince Gyal Khatun but was converted to a Buddhist temple later when he converted. It is that which possibly explains the manner in which this was built – almost as if the traditional dome of the mosque was changed to the spire of the temple.
The other interesting thing about the temple for me was that on the walls were images from Tantric Buddhism – symbolic of the destruction of evil. Quite unlike the previous two shrines.
The shrine was a small one, enough to just let two or three people within it. However, it was the location that made it important. It was literally perched on the edge of a cliff and as you take a walk along its walls, you get some magnificent views of Basgo Castle and the Basgo Village.
The remains of Basgo Castle
Empty walls, fallen rooms, glimpses of the staircases in between, and what might have been the narrow passages between the rooms – there was little left of the Basgo Palace. No one is allowed within the rubble that is left but my heart still yearned to walk there. I just felt as if there was something being missed. It was the same feeling that I got when I glimpsed the Jal Mahal in Jaipur from far.
With a stone on my heart, I turned around and walked out of the Basgo Monastery. It is then I noticed the stacked stones that people left behind for Good luck. The same ones were found around Pangong Lake. That made me realize that people did still visit here and the temples were living. The disrepair makes you think otherwise. As I understood from the lone signboard that I had seen earlier, the Hemis Monastery is in charge of Chamba temple while the Serzang is being maintained by the Basgo village.
You might want to read this about the gorgeous Hemis Monastery
There have been active steps taken to restore and protect what is left of the monastery but there is more that needs to be done. I hope that someday, there is a path that leads me to the incomplete scouting that I have done at the Basgo monastery. However, till then, I leave you with a hope that you too, found it interesting enough to add it to your list of must-visit places in Leh.
What is the best way to reach Basgo Monastery?
Basgo is 40 km from Leh, enroute to Alchi Monastery. Leh is accessible by road and air. Assuming you are in Leh, you can follow this route to get to Basgo Gompa.
Leh – Nimmoo – Basgo village
You can find a cab to get here from the Leh market. You can even avail a shared cab from here to Basgo.
However, if you are coming into Leh from Kargil, you can stop by at Basgo on the way. For that, you can take this route –
Kargil – Mulbekh – Saraks – Khangral – Lamayuru – Khalsi- Khaltse – Saspul – Basgo.
The distance on this route is 170 km and it will take you around 4 hours to reach Basgo.
What is the best time to visit Basgo Monastery Ladakh?
The Basgo Monastery timings are from Sunrise to Sunset. It is open on all days.
In terms of season, you will find the period between May to September most comfortable to visit Ladakh. Even in this season, you will find the place cold. Winters naturally, are really harsh. For more details on Ladakh, you should read my Travel Guide to Ladakh
Where is the best place to stay in Basgo?
The closest accommodation to Basgo village is in Alchi village. However, the options here are quite limited. You will find better options in Leh. Check the booking resources.
There is no hotel or homestay in Basgo.
Where can I eat in Basgo?
There are no fancy restaurants around Basgo monastery. You will find a few shops and local eateries in Basgo village. You can try the local Thukpa and get some hot Maggi here.
How much are the entry fees to Basgo monastery?
Basgo monastery does not have a singular fee. Each temple charges a nominal fee of INR 40 per adult.
- Read through this Leh Ladakh travel guide for planning you trip to this region. Trust me, it does need some special attention.
- There are no cafes or rest rooms at the Basgo monastery. The closest ones would be in the Basgo Village
- Please cover your shoulders and legs when you visit the Maitreyi temples of Basgo monastery
- Photography is permitted in the shrines. However, ensure that you do not use flash.
- Wear hiking shoes if possible as the steps and the path along the Basgo ruins is quite uneven.
- Speaking of steps, some of them, especially to Chamba temple is quite high. Take your time climbing them.
- Booking.com has a few listings for hotels in Alchi . In case you are looking at booking a Leh hotel, you can click through this link for the same.
- For any of your travel needs or general shopping, consider using Amazon through this link.
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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.