Ulli’s bucket list of the 10 things you have to do / see in Bhutan

By Ulrike Čokl

Ulli has lived in Bhutan on and off for many years. She has
conducted ethnographic research on traditional hospitality practices,
travelling & gift-exchange in rural communities. Thus she is very
familiar with village livelihoods all over the little kingdom. She loves
developing unique itineraries that offer a glimpse into the rich
cultural traditions and practices of Bhutanese society.

It is truly difficult for me to think of only 10 must-see places and attractions in Bhutan where I have spent so much time over the past 18 years. However, I will try and choose from my long list of things, places and activities that I love, keeping in mind that it is for people who have not been to the Himalayan Kingdom before.

 

1 Taktsang Gonpa

Tigernest monastery

There is no way around it, Tigernest monastery is undoubtedly one of the best known attractions in the Himalayan kingdom and for many first time visitors impossible to skip. I was lucky enough to hike up to Taktsang several times before it became a highly frequented tourist spot during high season. Nevertheless, the first close up glimpse of Taktsang monastery, perched on a steep cliff, never ceases to enchant me. One recommendation though: Try to hike up as early as possible, maybe start around 6 o’clock in the morning or even earlier! That way you will more likely be able to enjoy the place for what it was intended to be: a remote recluse for peaceful and quiet contemplation and meditation.


 

2 Dzongs – Fortresses with ancient history

Punakha Dzong

I love Bhutanese Dzongs, they are great architectural masterpieces, embellishing the landscape. They were built in ancient times without the use of metal nails mainly from wood, stone and mud. Dzongs tower over every one of the 20 districts, some very historic, some rather recent. Landing in Paro and spotting Rinpung Dzong from the plane always makes me feel sentimental. Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, one of my favorites, unfortunately burned down a few years ago. It was a very authentic example of these fortresses and is now under restoration. Visiting Punakha Dzong is also impressive and offers wonderful opportunities for walks in the surrounding areas, such as to the longest suspension bridge and even further to an idyllic homestay amidst the fields and near the river. Jakar Dzong in Bumthang, as well as Lhuentse Dzong and Trashigang Dzong in the East are equally stunning and worth visiting.


 

3 Hike to a mountain pass

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

If you don’t have time to go on a serious trek, there are still plenty of opportunities to hike up to mountain passes from where you can spot the Himalayan snow giants. Most Bhutanese believe that the peaks are the dwelling places of birth and protector deities, the kyelha. Hiking to such passes can take from a few hours to a full day. The passes are often marked by a chorten (Buddhist shrine) decorated with prayer flags, and a latshe (stone pile) where you can offer a twig, flower or leaf to the local deity. When Bhutanese travelers reach a mountain pass, they will shout “lha gyelo” (“the victorious gods” or “may good win over evil”), and offer a cup of ara (local moonshine) to the local deity before drinking some themselves. Along the way you might come across cow herders, mostly the grandparents of village householders whose job it is to look after the cattle. If you are lucky you will be invited for butter tea and snacks in one of their makeshift huts!


 

4 Spending time in a local home

A Bhutanese saying goes: “The guest of one night is like a god.” I am convinced that you have not truly experienced Bhutan without having spent some time in a non-commercialized farmhouse. Enjoying local hospitality in a Bhutanese home is simply fantastic! Furthermore, food in homestays is much better than in the hotels and guesthouses.  You can observe the nangi aum (woman of the house) going about her chores and even join in yourself and learn how to prepare local dishes. Or you can meditate in the choesham (altar room) and have a look around the house and surroundings. Make sure to find a real farmstay and not one that has been meddled with and commercialized for tourists. There are plenty of genuine village homes who occasionally host foreign guests from far away, keeping in line with ancient Bhutanese hospitality traditions.


 

5 A village festival

Masked dances are grand, especially in the Dzongs where they are performed annually at auspicious dates to celebrate the victory of good over evil. They re-enact the story of how the Buddhist dharma was introduced by famous lamas and saints in previous times, leading to the subduing of demons and evil beings. I personally prefer small village festivals where you can get an idea of how such events involve the entire community and shape the relationships of humans in daily life. I know this can be tricky as the village folks often keep festival dates tentative till last minute. However, if you manage to participate in one of the smaller local festivals, you will get insights into how such community festivals reinforce community cohesion and cooperation, a sense of belonging and communal identity. Such important local socio-cultural aspects are vulnerable to a fast changing society where rural-urban migration is a huge issue.

An insider’s tip: Travel to East Bhutan in the winter months (December, January and February) and you will most likely stumble into festivals every now and then. You might also be the first foreigner to ever have witnessed one!


 

6 Trekking in Bhutan

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

It goes without saying that trekking in Bhutan is a stunning experience. The trekking routes are unique and you will not meet many fellow travellers. On ancient footpaths, you will hike through rhododendron and conifer forests, juniper shrubs and bamboo bushes, passing by chortens, mani walls and beautiful gonpas. On some treks you will encounter yak herders whose yaks graze on pastures covered with medicinal plants. Meet with villagers of distant valleys such as the Layaps during Lingshi-Laya-Gasa or Jomolhari treks, and share a cup of tea or ara with them. The flora and fauna are amazing and you will most certainly also come across wild deer and blue sheep. On a final note, in Bhutan, your luggage will be carried by mules, not humans, and overnights will be in tents.


 

7 A Crafts workshop

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

If you have time and visit the right places, take part in a crafts workshop such as bamboo or textile weaving in Central and East Bhutan, and thangka painting in the West, to mention just a few. It is a wonderful way of getting closer to local Bhutanese and you will learn more about the role of handicrafts within communities in the past and present. You will develop an appreciation for the hard work that goes into such crafts. The harvest and collection of the wild or cultivated raw materials and the further processing of the latter are tedious and labor intensive. Imagine for example the raw material for nettle weaving, a thread made of stinging nettle, difficult to harvest and peel. Similarly it takes a while to collect and process bamboo into the raw material needed to weave the beautiful bangchung (woven bowls), famous in Bhutan and available in every souvenir shop in Thimphu.

By participating in such local workshops you benefit the artisans directly. No better way to support them and at the same time immerse in local culture!


 

8 Zhemgang

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

I simply love Zhemgang. It is remote, hardly visited and sub-tropical in the lower parts with opportunities to visit the jungle of the Royal Manas National Park. There is an abundance of birds, which even I can take good pictures of by simply using my cell phone camera – the great hornbill just being one of many! The locals are lovely, reserved but very hospitable, and jolly when the ice has broken. Many houses are still in traditional style, made of bamboo and sitting on stilts. If you are adventurous at heart and not picky when it comes to accommodation, Zhemgang is the perfect place to explore! Visit some of the farmer cooperatives, venture into the jungle for bird watching or enjoy the rafting opportunities. Try the delicious local food, some ingredients come directly from the forest, and visit the bamboo basket weaving community in Bjoka.


 

9 East Bhutan

Photo: Marina Beck Photography

The East is great for those who want to enjoy less touristy places and experience more immersion in local culture and tradition. The valleys are steep and cliffy in some places and the slopes are terraced for rice cultivation. The climate is mild due to the lower altitude. Banana trees and plenty of fruits grow all over the place and throughout the year. In winter the orange tangerines dotting the trees look beautiful among the brownish dry landscape. The East has many local crafts to show, mostly located in remote areas such as Trashiyangtse, Trashigang and Lhuentse. You can use Lingkhar lodge as your “base camp” and periodically venture out to the surrounding villages. Or stay at some of the lovely homes in the region and enjoy local hospitality. In spring and autumn, visit the Brokpa communities in Merak and Sakteng, and in winter observe the Black Necked Cranes in Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary.  There are many places in Bhutan that are still rather unexplored. If you have the mind of a pioneer, you might even enjoy being our “guniea pig”, a pioneer exploring new routes, places and homes!


 

10 Food – picnics and cooking classes

I really like chili and cheese (=ema datshi) but there is so much more to Bhutanese food. Forget about ema datshi; if you travel to remote places at the right time of the year you will get to taste greeneries from the forest and fields, mushrooms and tasty herbs, homemade bread made from buckwheat, wheat rolls stuffed with a mix of garlic leaves, cheese and chili; home grown vegetables and potatoes and very traditional dishes such as “rice-pizza” (only prepared on special occasions), red rice and fried wild fern, the list goes on. Bhutanese cuisine also includes plenty of meat items such as sikam (dried pork), dried yak-meat and beef; beef bone soup and porridge as well as fried chicken, vegetarian sausages and homemade buckwheat noodles. Not to forget the popular momos with a variety of stuffings! Bumthang is a particular culinary hot spot but there are also places in Zhemgang and East Bhutan and wherever you move a bit off the beaten track or where plenty of produce is supplied from the forests.


 

Some final words for Bhutan travelers

My bucket list of highlights in Bhutan can never be complete.  Some aspects are worth mentioning in addition: Gesar Travel can arrange specialized tours where you can choose a particular focus during your travels. This can be anything from remote village visits and farmstays to textiles, pilgrimages, bird watching or traditional medicine, Sowa Rigpa. Let us know what interests you most and lectures and guided tours with experts can be arranged. Admittedly, additional activities may incur extra fees, but you will support local specialists and communities directly and non-bureaucratically.

 

Travelling off the beaten track

In Bhutan there is still a lot to be discovered. Hence it is always good to keep an open mind and remain flexible during your journey. It can be tedious to travel along unpaved roads to reach often times very remote villages. But at the end you encounter interesting activities such as cotton cultivation and cotton weaving in Chimoong, Pemagatshel. Sometimes ad-hoc changes might be necessary due to unforeseeable circumstances but you can consider that to be part of your authentic Bhutanese experience!

 

My insider’s tip:

Last but not least, I will share an insider’s tip with you:  the Monpa communities in Trongsa, along the Nabji-Korphu trek, have incredibly rich local knowledge on medicinal plants and edibles from the forest! From leafs to roots, the selection is vast and very tasty. While normally guests stay in designated camp grounds, we put you up in the homes of the Monpa communities! They are considered the aboriginal people of Bhutan with their own language and customs. Together with a Monpa guide, you will gain insights into the rich ethnobotanical knowledge of these interesting people and at the same time support them in their endeavor to preserve their local knowledge and culture.




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When entering a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for the first time, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the incredible variety of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities – some angry, some peaceful, and all almost always very colorful. But who is who and how can we distinguish the individual personalities from each other? There are usually some very clear attributes, symbols and colors that help identify the Buddha or deity in front of us. We’ll tell you here how to recognize the 10 most significant figures of Tibetan Buddhism.

 

(c) Roland Amon

The painting of Buddhist figures is subject to strict formal rules. Artistic freedom is in this case virtually inexistent. © Roland Amon

 

10 Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and deities

We have made a selection of Tibetan Buddhism figures which can be found in almost all Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and temples, no matter if in Tibet, Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan or Nepal. Some play a greater role in a specific school of Tibetan Buddhism, while others share a similar importance in all schools. They all have in common, though, that they are relatively easy to identify.

 

1. Buddha Shakyamuni – the historical Buddha

shakyamuni

Who is this? Buddha Shakyamuni is the historical Buddha, who lived around 600 BC and is considered the founder of the Buddhist religion.

How can I tell? Buddha Shakyamuni’s representations are usually scarcely decorated and show him scantily dressed. The hair is typically blue and the head is surrounded by an enlightenment aura. He is depicted in meditation posture (Dhyanasana) and holding a begging bowl in his left hand. The right hand touches the ground (a mudra called Bhumisparsa or “calling the earth to witness” = Buddha has called the earth as a witness of his inexorable path to enlightenment). His two favorite students flank him on his right and left side

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2. Buddha Maitreya – the future Buddha

Maitreya

Who is this? Buddha Maitreya is the future Buddha. In Buddhism there are 5 “earthly” Buddhas, each associated with one of the 5 ages (Kala) of the world. Buddha Shakyamuni is the earthly Buddha of the fourth and present age. Buddha Maitreya is the final earthly Buddha, expected to appear during the 5th Kala. In his function as great teacher of mankind, he will supposedly lead humanity back to Buddhism.

How can I tell? Maitreya is easy recognizable by his posture from – he sits in “European posture”, with both feet on the ground. From this position one can quickly stand up and rise – a symbol of what is to come. In some occasions he is also represented standing up, waiting his time. Additionally, he usually wears a crown and is entwined with flowers. The associated mudra (hand gesture) is the Dharmacakra – the gesture which stands for the turning of the wheel of knowledge (in Buddhism, the wheel is also a symbol for teaching).

 

 

 3. Avalokiteshvara – Bodhisattva of compassion

Avalokiteshvara

Who is this? Avalokiteshavara (Tibetan: Chenrezig) is the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who out of compassion don’t go into Nirvana, but instead stay back and help others to find salvation. The Dalai Lama is regarded as a manifestation of Avalokithesvara.

How can I tell? There are 108 (this is a sacred number in Tibetan Buddhism) different manifestations of Avalokiteshvara. However, the most common mode of representation is the shown above, with 11 heads and 1000 arms. On the palms of each of the 1000 hands you can see the eye of compassion. Its main distinguishing feature is Amitabha Buddha, pictured in his crown or as the last face at the top of the highest of his 11 heads.

 

 

4. Manjushri – Boddhisattva of wisdom

Manjushri

Who is this? Manjushri is the bodhisattva of wisdom and literature. As expected then, he holds great significance for scholars and students, who call and pray to him requesting gifts of knowledge and memory.

How to recognize him? The Bodhisattva is very easy to recognize thanks to his sword. The sword is a symbol of wisdom: with it, the ties of ignorance are cut. Another important symbol is the book by his side, resting on a lotus flower.

 

 

5. Mahakala – the guardian

mahakala

Who is this? Mahakala is among the Dharmapalas or “Defenders of the doctrine”. These are actually ghosts, demons and deities belonging to the old Tibetan tradition that have been converted or adapted from Padmasambhava (see below) to Buddhism. You can recognize them by their wrathful representations. Mahakala tantamounts to the Hindu deity Shiva.

How can you tell? Well, this is not always easy, since there are 75 different manifestations of Mahakala. He is, however, usually standing up. In the front left hand he holds a skull cup and in the right one the Vajra cleaver, with which he cuts through all the negative, materialistic attitudes. In the two back hands he carries a tricorn and a goad. He wears a tiger skin and a belt made of heads, and stands on two outstretched smaller versions of himself. Mahakala has three eyes and carries a 5-skull crown that represents the transformation of the mental poisons of hatred, greed, pride, envy and ignorance. These gruesome attributes symbolize his tireless determination to redeem himself.

 

 

6. Tara – female deity

Green_Tara

Green Tara

 

 

white-tara

White Tara

Who is this? Tara (Tibetan: Dolma) is a female Bodhisattva. There are five variations of her: green, white, blue, red and yellow. She is considered a great protector that guards people against the eight major dangers in life: pride, delusion, anger, jealousy, wrong views, greed, desire and doubt.

How do you recognize her? The Taras differ primarily by their different foot placement. For example, while the white Tara sits in meditation posture, the green Tara’s right foot rests on a small lotus flower. Also, in the white Tara, we can see the open eye of compassion on her forehead, her palms and her soles. Another symbols that we can find are the full-blown white lotus (representing the day) or the blue closed lotus (representing the night). The hands, both with their palms outwards, point in opposite directions: the right one down (a giving, conceding gesture), and the left one up (a gesture that grants protection).

 

 7. Padamsambhava – Guru Rinpoche

gururinpoche

Who is this? Padmasambhava (the lotus born), also called Guru Rinpoche, is the historically tangible founder of Tibetan Buddhism. He is considered the founder of the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma school, but is nevertheless of great importance for all the other schools too.

How do you recognize him? There are eight different forms, the most common of them being fairly easy to recognize: he is depicted sitting with a special hat with upturned ear flaps and a spring at the top. As hardly anyone else in Tibetan iconography, Guru Rinpoche is pictured with a beard. In his left hand he holds a blood-filled skull-cup and in the right the Vajra (Sanskrit: thunderbolt and/or diamond). With his left elbow he holds a magic wand, which tip is usually a flaming trident.

 

8. Palden Lhamo – female guardian

paldenlhamo

Who is this? Palden Lhamo is an old Tibetan female guardian deity. She is the only female deity of the 8 Dharmapalas. She is worshiped in particular by the yellow hat monks of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, and is considered the patron saint of Lhasa and the Dalai Lama. She is the wrathful manifestation of Tara.

How can you tell? Palden Lhamo is pictured riding on a mule through a sea of blood. She is black and blue, with sagging breasts, flaming eyebrows and a mustache (not very feminine J). In her hand she carries a cup made of her child’s skull, who was the product of an incestuous act. She is also surrounded by the loops of a string made with 15 severed heads. In her navel we can see a bright sun disc.

 

9. Tsongkhapa – founder of religion

tsongkhapa

Who is this? Tsongkhapa is also a documented historical figure. He is the founder of the last of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Gelug.

How can you tell? Tsongkhapa is very easy to recognize – he wears the yellow hat reserved for the Gelugpa, his hands make the gesture of Dharmacakra-Mudra (The Turning Wheel of Doctrine), and on his right and left sides we can find, respectively, the sword (a symbol of wisdom) and the book, supported by two lotus flowers.

 

10. Vajrapani – Bodhisattva of power

vajrapan

Who is this? Vajrapani is the Bodhisattva of power, one of the three main protective deities surrounding the Buddha, and is often represented in conjunction with the other two: Avalokiteshvara (compassion) and Manjushri (wisdom).

How can you tell? Vajrapani is usually depicted as a wrathful Dharmapala. He wears a crown and a tiger skin, and has a lasso in his left hand with which he captures and ties the adversaries of Buddhism. In his right hand he carries the Vajra (Tibetan: Dorje). His figure is surrounded by flames.

 

 

These tours with focus on buddhism might be interesting for you


lamayuru

Basics of Ladakh
Cultural trips with dayhikes
Our starter’s travel for those who do not know Ladakh and would like to visit the classic highlights and some insider spots within a relatively short time. Impressive dayhikes put the little extra to this marvelous tour.
On date request also possible for single persons
Best time: June-October


Mystic Ladakh
A travel to the spiritual roots
During this tour you are not only visiting monasteries but also special spiritual places and people like oracles, shamans and healers, who have a deep connection to their religion and important functions.
On date request also possible for single persons
Best time: June-October


Culture & Hiking in Sikkim
Cultural tour with dayhikes
This travel is ideal to get to know the former kingdom of Sikkim and the colonial town Darjeeling. Beautiful accomodations combines with impressive cultural sites and memorable day hikes.
On date request also possible for single persons
Best time: March-May & October-December


 




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Bhutan has a lot of monastery and not-religious festivals to offer. It is difficult to choose among them all. Our advice: If you have the time/possibility, visit festivals in the off-season. They are very special because they have less foreign visitors. Also travelling in off-season is more cheap than in high season. If you want to travel in high season be prepared to book early as flights and hotelrooms are quickly sold out during that time. Anyhow: The monastery festivals are a special highlight and if you go to Bhutan you should see at least one. 

IMG_5066 (002)

 

 

Overview: Festivals from July 2016 onwards

Here you will find not only monastery festivals but also non-religious festivities taking place between july 2016 and december 2016.

5.-6. July 2016
Haa Summer Festival in Haa


2.-3. August 2016
Merak Tsechu (=Monastery festival) in Trashigang


13.-14. August 2016
Matsutake Festival in Bumthang (Infos about the “mushroom”-festival under this Link: http://www.tourism.gov.bt/activities/matsutake-festival)


15.-16. August 2016
Matsutake Festival in Genekha (see above)


15.-19. August 2016
Chha Festival in Lhuentse


25.-28. August 2016
Mountain Echoes in Thimphu (Literaturefestival – further Infos: http://mountainechoes.org/)


3. September 2016
Tour of the Dragon (Mountainbike-race over 268km – further infos: http://www.tourofthedragon.com/)


9.-11. September 2016
Khaling Tshechu in Trashigang


7. October 2016
Thimphu Drubchen in Thimphu


9.-11. October 2016
Wangdue Tshechu in Wangdue Phodrang


9.-11. October 2016
Haa Tshechu in Haa


9.-11. October 2016
Gangtey Tshechu in Wangdue Phodrang


10.-11. October 2016
Geling Tshechu in Chhukha


10.-13. October 2016
Thimphu Tshechu in Thimphu


11.-13. October 2016
Tamshing Phala Chhoepa in Bumthang


14.-17. October 2016
Thangbi Mani in Bumthang


22. October 2016
Dechenphu Tshechu in Thimphu


25.-16. October 2016
Jomolhari Mountain Festival in Paro (more infos: http://www.tourism.gov.bt/activities/jomolhari-mountain-festival)


6.-9. November 2016
Monggar Tshechu in Monggar


6-10. November 2016
Pemagatshel Tshechu in Pemagatshel


6.-9. November 2016
Shingkhar Rabney in Bumthang


7.-9. November 2016
Chhukha Tshechu in Chhukha


7.-10. November 2016
Trashigang Tshechu in Trashigang


7.-10. November 2016
Jakar Tshechu in Bumthang


11. November 2016
Black Necked Crane Festival in Wangduephodrang (further infos: http://www.tourism.gov.bt/activities/the-annual-black-necked-crane-festival-11th-november)


13.-15. November 2016
Nalakhar Tshechu in Bumthang


14.-17. November 2016
Jambay Lhakhang Drup in Bumthang


25.-29. November 2016
Sumthrang Kanssoel in Bumthang


6.-8. December 2016
Gelephu Tshechu in Sarpang


7.-9. December 2016
Dungkar Tshechu in Lhuentse


7.-9. December 2016
Samtse Tshechu in Samtse


7.-10. December 2016
Lhuentse Tshechu in Lhuentse


8.-9. December 2016
Tang Namkha Rabney in Bumthang


9.-10. December 2016
Trongsa Tshechu in Trongsa


10.-12. December 2016
Samdrup Jongkhar Tshechu in Samdrup Jongkhar


11.-14. December 2016
Kangso Tshechu in Monggar


11.-13. December 2016
Dremetse Tshechu in Monggar


12.-16. December 2016
Chojam Rabney Festival in Bumthang


12.-14. December 2016
Korphu Tshechu in Trongsa


12.-14. December 2016
Nabji Lhakhang Drup in Trongsa


13. December 2016
Druk Wangyel Tshechu in Thimphu


19.-23. December 2016
Dagana Tsechu in Dagana


24.-29. December 2016
Pangkhar Choepa in Bumthang


 

Attention: Please reconfirm all dates – it is possible there are typing mistakes 😉

 

 




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Every Buddhist village in Ladakh has a cloister or a temple. There are so many that you don’t know where to start, or when to stop. In this post we tell you what monasteries you shouldn’t miss no matter what. 

The Monasteries of Ladakh

There are many impressive monasteries in Ladakh – most of them outshine everything else in the village and are usually also great vantage points from where to enjoy beautiful sights. They are often architectural masterpieces, with both their facades and inner areas impressively decorated with wall paintings and wood carvings. It is very hard to say which monastery deserves more attention, as every site has their own special qualities and passionate fan club ;-). For this reason, this can never be a completely objective list.

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Thikse

Thikse (c) Roland Amon

Thikse. Photo: Roland Amon

This 15th Century monastery belongs to the Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism and is just 18 km from Leh. It is one of the most visited monasteries of Ladakh and one of the most photographed religious sites in the country.
We have selected it because of its particularly impressive location and the architectural similarity to Potala in Lhasa.
Every morning, an open Puja draws a multitude of pious people in.

The Monastery Festival usually takes place in November, and the presence of foreign visitors is scarce. (Link: Monastery festivals 2016 and 2017)


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Hemis

hemis10

Hemis Monastery during Hemis-Festival

Hemis is located about 40 km southwest of Leh in a side valley. Its secluded location is also the reason why this Drukpa monastery was spared most of the looting during the last centuries.
Hemis is in our list, among other things, due to its ancient and valuable treasures, which are permanently taken care of and exhibited inside.
The Hemis Monastery Festival is held annually in June or July and attracts many tourists.  (Check also: Hemis Festival: What is it about? and the Hemis-Festival Program for 2016)


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Alchi

Alchi

Entrance to the Manjushri-Temple in the Alchi-Complex

Alchi is 70 km away from Leh. The first sections of the complex were built in the 11th century, and the complex belongs, along with the Mangyu and Sumda Chun monasteries, to the “Alchi group”, characterized by a very special constructionol style and ornamental elements. In contrast with the other Ladakhi monasteries, inspired mainly by the Tibetan style and technique, the influence of Kashmir is very clear in Alchi.

The elaborate wood carvings, enormous statues of Buddha, and detailed painted murals are especially impressive.

However, any form of photography or video recording is strictly prohibited in the temple premises. This ads to the Museum-like character of Alchi, which stopped being a “living monastery” a long time ago


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Lamayuru

lamayuru

Lamayuru

We have included this monastery, located at about 100 km west of Leh, due to the awe-inspiring scenery that surrounds it: the very uncommon lunar landscape of Lamayuru. This Drikung-school temple is perched high above its village. The oldest part of the monastery dates from the 11th century (Singe Lhakhang). However, there are some historians (e.g. Francke) who think that Lamayuru was a Bon monastery before the arrival of Buddhism.
The Lamayuru Monastery Festival usually takes place in June.


These four monsteries give a pretty good overview of the monasteries of Ladakh, and three of them also represent the main Buddhist schools of the region: Gelugpa, Drukpa and Drikung. But of course, there is still much more to discover.

Anybody who wants to see, for example, one of the few Sakya monasteries, should visit the one in Matho, while those interested in one of the oldest schools of Tibetan Buddhism – the Nyingmapa school – can’t help but go to the monastery Thaktok in Sakti. There is also a cave there, where the Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated

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Tsemo – above Leh-Palace – perched high above the capital of Ladakh

Two temples in Leh are particularly worthy of attention: the temple complex of Tsemo, above the royal palace, and the hidden convent of Samkhar, in the northern area (which can be visited only in the afternoon). Near Leh are also the highly recommended Phyang, Spithuk, Chemde and Stagna. Then, in the upper Indus: Likir, Basgo, Ridzong.

In Nubra one should always make time for a visit to the monasteries in Samstanling and Diskit.

Zanskar has much to offer as well: the rock monastery of Phuktal is particularly outstanding for its architecture, which resembles an eagle’s nest. For other unusual or interesting monasteries in the area, check out our blog post:  The 10 most beautiful places in Zanskar.

In Changthang, the monasteries of Shachukul and Nyoma are especially worth mentioning.

As you can see, whoever declares themselves a monastery aficionado can easily spend several weeks in Ladakh.

Before we finish, we’d like to give you a small tip. Anyone interested in Buddhism and its monasteries, should also find the time to visit one of the nunneries of Ladakh. For example, the one at Nyerma, next to Thikse, or Chulichan, before Ridzong. They are very simple and can’t compete with the historical, artistic and architectural highlights of the more known cloisters, but nevertheless it is our opinion that they deserve the attention, because it is also interesting to see the contrast with the male-dominated monasteries. And of course, whoever feels so inclined can perhaps even leave a small donation. 😉

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Interested in Ladakh’s monastery culture?


lamayuru

Basics of Ladakh
Cultural trips with dayhikes
Our starter’s travel for those who do not know Ladakh and would like to visit the classic highlights and some insider spots within a relatively short time. Impressive dayhikes put the little extra to this marvelous tour.
On date request also possible for single persons
Best time: June-October


Mystic Ladakh
A travel to the spiritual roots
During this tour you are not only visiting monasteries but also special spiritual places and people like oracles, shamans and healers, who have a deep connection to their religion and important functions.
On date request also possible for single persons
Best time: June-October

 


 

If you prefer to trael individually and have your very own ideas, get in touch with us. We’d love to organise your tailor-made trip:

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