Leh was plagued by bad weather when we reached there, so we decided to play safe parked Taurus right at the base of the Thiksey Monastery. Tired at the end of a long day, we chose to retire for the night in the guest-house of the monastery. Sometimes even the mundane things like the sound of flush in the toilets can bring immense joy! The first item for the next morning was to explore the majestic Gompa that towered above us.
Located on the top of a rocky outcrop, at an altitude of 11,800 feet, the 12 storied Thiksey Gompa is the largest structure in Central Ladakh and comes next only to Hemis in terms of importance. Built in the Tibetan Fort-Monastery fashion, it closely resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, thus earning it the name – Mini Potala. The layered architecture has buildings arranged in ascending order of importance, with the ordinary dwellings at the foothill and the shrines and Potang (seat of the Lama) at the top.
The earlier buildings at the Monastery were mostly built of brick and mud and concrete has started being used only recently. A lot of restoration work has been done using concrete mortar and the Archaeological Survey of India has come under flak for disturbing the natural harmony of the place by its ill-conceived restoration plans. To our naive eyes, it looked majestic nonetheless.
After having a quick breakfast, we started the ascent to the Gompa. While the number of steps are not too many, the altitude of the place makes climbing a strenuous task and if one is not careful enough to go slow and take periodic rest, breathlessness comes fairly easy. So we took our time, a few steps at a time and it gave us a chance to soak into the beauty of the surroundings and step into another realm beyond time and space.
“According to the Buddhist legends, in the 15th century, high priests Sherab Zangpo and Palden Zangpo were performing sacred rituals at the Yellow Temple in in Stagmo. As they took the torma (figurines made of wheat and butter, used in Tantric rituals) offerings to a high place to throw down the valley, two crows appeared all of a sudden and flew away with the ceremonial plate carrying the torma. A search party was sent and when the lamas reached Thiksey, they found that the torma was placed on a stone in perfect condition. This was taken as a divine sign to build a monastery there, one which is now known as the Thiksey Gompa.”
People have sometimes referred to Thiksey as being from another plant and this is no exaggeration. As we climbed up, the noise from the civilization below became feeble and the sounds of monks chanting prayers in deep sonorous voices became more pronounced. We were walking through the by lanes of this monastery and as if a cloud of tranquillity came and settled upon us. If this makes you laugh, rest assured that I am not exaggerating either.
The Morning Prayer had started by the time we reached the main prayer hall so we entered quietly and settled in the back rows. Visitors are free to come and sit in the prayers as long as they maintain silence and do not use flash in the cameras. Rows of monks, children and elders alike, in red robes were sitting, chanting mantras and playing the musical instruments. The energy of this place leaves newcomers so awestruck that all they do is sit and let the surroundings soak in. I remember seeing a girl, her eyes closed and tears streaming down her cheeks…
A small video of the morning prayers that we made there
I am not a patient guy and Ekta is even more restless, but we sat through the prayer and loved every moment of it. We interacted with some monks after the prayers and took their photographs, before proceeding to another section of the building which had a staircase going to the terrace. The 360 degree view of Ladakh from the terrace is breathtaking, with snowcapped mountain peaks on all sides and mostly barren valleys beneath. If you happen to visit Thiksey, try to reach the terrace and look around at the beauty Mother Nature has given us to take care of; we owe this priceless inheritance to our coming generations…
A view of the countryside from the top
There is an ornately carved temple in the other section with 21 idols of Goddess Tara encased in glass cabinets. When we reached there, the doors were closing and the monk smiled and asked us to go visit it and then close the door behind us while leaving. We spent some time here and then went to see the Maitreya Buddha in another temple.
The majestic Maitreya Buddha of Thiksey is perhaps the newest (and one of the most popular) additions to the monastery. About 15 m high, the statue is built over two stories of the temple. It took 4 years to complete and was inaugurated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1970. Richly adorned and with ornaments and a crown, the Buddha of the future sits on a lotus as the embodiment of hopes of Buddhists all over the world.
After nearly 4 hours, we were tired and famished, so we started the walk back rotating the prayers wheels to the foothill where Taurus stood with promises of good food and rest.