India (July-August 2016): Brandy Nala (Ladakh) to Kibber (Spiti)

Before and after trekking: Palace, gompas, and temple in Ladakh, Spiti, and Manali


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Prior to this 2016 trek I spent a few acclimatization days in Leh (3500m). I used that time to visit the summer palace of the Ladakh‛s royal family in Stok and several Buddhist gompas (Matho, Hemis, Chemre, and Takthok). After the trek, before returning to Delhi, I visited other Buddhist gompas in Spiti valley (Kye, Dhankar, and Tabo), as well as the Hindu Hadimba Devi temple in Manali.


Click here to see photos of Leh and the area around it that I took during a previous trip in 2013.


Landing at Leh airport in the early morning.


Spituk gompa (situated 8km southwest of central Leh):


Stok Palace (situated 10km south of Leh):

Views of the palace.





Paintings in the chorten at the entrance of the palace.


Inside the prayer room of the palace.


View over the Indus valley and Leh from the palace.


Mani stones and chortens near the palace.


Views of the golden Buddha statue south of the palace.





Matho gompa (18km south-east of Leh):

Views of the gompa.



Inside the modern prayer room.


Left: entrance of the old prayer room. Right and below: inside the old prayer room.



Chemre gompa (30km south-east of Leh in the valley of the Chemre Chu river).


Takthok gompa (located in the Sakti village 6kms north-east of Chemre gompa):

The oldest part of the gompa has been built in a pre-existing cave in a rock cliff. The name ″takthok″ literally means ″rock-roof″.


Paintings at the entrance of the old prayer room.


Inside the cave forming the old prayer room (with banknotes stuck to the rock ceiling).



Monks and statues in a more recent prayer room.





Long mural in the courtyard outside the prayer rooms (this image is an imperfect collage of five photos).


Hemis gompa located some 40km south of Leh, at the end of a small valley 8km uphill west of the Leh-to-Manali road:

Hemis gompa is an important Buddhist monastery of the Drukpa lineage established in 1672 (although a monastery is said to have existed here much earlier). I visited this monastery during the festival of July 14-15, 2016, which celebrates the birth anniversary of Lord Padmasambhava (a.k.a. Guru Rinpoche), an 8th-century Buddhist master believed to have been born on the 10th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan Monkey year. The annual festival is therefore particularly busy on each Monkey year, which only comes once in a cycle of 12 years. July 14-15, 2016, happened to be during a Monkey year. During two days colorful dances and sacred plays are performed by monks in the large central courtyard of the monastery. Unfortunately, the festival has become a major touristic attraction. Most of the space around the courtyard, especially the balconies and the terraces on the roof that offer the best unobstructed views, had been reserved for dignitaries, monks, and more prominently pre-paid tourist groups (as tourist organizations make the reservations long before they actually get their clients). With the rest of the attendance, mostly Ladakhi people, I was uncomfortably squeezed in the sun in a small area near the entrance of the courtyard, with only partial views over the central stage. In fact, just reaching this area had been quite an ordeal.






Key gompa located mid-way between the village/town of Kibber and Kaza, in the Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh:

Views of the gompa.



Left: inside the new prayer hall, inaugurated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 2000. Right: effigy of the Dalai Lama in the prayer hall (also visible on the right-hand side of the other photo)


Main kitchen of the gompa, with its traditional wood fired ovens.


Skulls mounted below tridents on poles with long tufts of threads (Tantric symbols of Buddhism) on the roof of the gompa.


Valley of the Spiti river seen from Key gompa.



Dhankar gompa, 20km south-east of Kaza along the Spiti river:

Approaching the gompa from Kaza. The gompa, partially visible on the ridge on the left of the photo, dominates the Spiti river on the right.


View of the gompa from the other side. The yellow building on the right is the new gompa.


The old Dhankar gompa.



Paintings in the old gompa.


Tabo gompa, 28km east of Dhankar gompa in the Spiti valley:

Founded in 996CE this Buddhist monastery is said to be the oldest continuously operating gompa in the Himalayas. Built like a fort with very thick adobe brick walls, it looks on the outside very different from other gompas in northwest India and not very impressive. But the inside is quite extraordinary with old mural paintings, thankas, manuscripts, statues, and wooden columns. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to take pictures.


Along the road between Kaza and Manali:


Chortens at Kunzum pass.


One of a number of river crossings along the road.


Hadimba Devi temple in Manali:

The pagoda-shaped temple (three square roofs topped by a brass cone) first built in 1553 is dedicated to Hidimbi Devi, wife of Bhima, a figure in the Indian epic Mahābhārata. It is located in a beautiful cedar forest 2km from Manali center.




The beautifully carved wooden entrance of the temple.



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