Trekking along the Markha River through "Little Tibet," one of the world's highest inhabited plateaus, you take in spectacular views of the Great Himalayan, Ladakh and Zanskar ranges.
Highlights include :
Spituk: Stands prominently on the top of a hillock commanding a panoramic view of the Indus valley for miles. Many icons of Buddha and fine thankas are to be found in this 15th century Gompa. The Gompa also houses a collection of ancient masks, antique arms and an awe inspiring image of mahakal. The face of the Kali image is kept covered and is revealed only at the annual function in January.
Phyang: looks like a huge Palace from afar, built by Tashi Namgyal in the later half of the 16th century AD., it belongs to the Red Cap sect of Buddhists. Hundreds of icons of Buddha and other Gods are kept on wooden shelves.
Samkar Gompa: the seat of the yellow Hat Sect and one of the few Gompa built in the valley bottom, is a 3 km. Pleasant walk through fields. It houses the chief lama of Spituk and 20 others. The newer monks quarters are on three sides of the courtyard with steps leading up to the Du-Khang ( Assembly Hall ). There are a number of gold statues, numerous wall paintings and sculptures including a large one of the 11 headed, 1000-armed Avalokitesvara.
Shanti Stupa: There are good views from the top where a tea room is a welcoming sight after the climb. There is also a jeep able road.
Lamayuru: The oldest holy site in Ladakh, it was a Bon shrine prior to the advent of Buddhism. Also known as Yun Drung ( Swastika ) it is sighted on a high promontory overlooking the village and valley. For sheer spectacle value no other Gompa can match.
Shey : The old summer Palace of the kings of Ladakh, Shey ( 15 km. From Leh
towards Hemis ) was built more than 550 years ago by Lhachen Palgyigon, the king of Ladakh. It stands next to the remains of a larger construction on the east side of a hill, which runs south-east towards the Indus. From the Palace you can see over the fertile Indus plain, north-east to the Thiksey Gompa and over the Indus to the Zanskar mountain range. Hundreds of Chortens of the most diverse from and size stand on the barren plains to the north, separated from the fertile riverbank along the Hemis road. The old palace Gompa has the largest golden Buddha statue in Ladakh.
Thiksey: The 500 year old Thiksey monastery, perched on a hill high above the Indus. Has about 100 yellow cap monks. On the right of the entrance to the main courtyard, a new chapel houses an enormous 15 meter high, seated Buddha figure. The morning prayer can be witness around 6 AM, but there are also prayers closer to noon, preceded by long mournful sounds from the horns on the roof. The monastery mountain is best ascended on foot although there is also a new road up to the monastery. The temple of Zan-la is beside the car parking area on this road. On the walls of the Gompa courtyard are some interesting Tibetan calendars. In the chapel is a picture near the central Chamba statue, of Tsung-Khapas, the founder of the Tugend ( Gelupa ) sect. Some steps run up to a roof balcony from which there is access to the rooms of the head lama.
Hemis: It is the wealthiest , best known and biggest Gompa of Ladakh. Its popularity stems from the major annual festival held here in summer. The festival is in honor of Guru Padma Sambhav’s birth anniversary. It also has the largest Thanka in Ladakh, which is unfurled once in 12 years ( next in 2004 ). Hemis was built in 1630 during the reign of Sengge Namgyal , an illustrious ruler of Ladakh. It flourished under the Namgyal dynasty for the royalty favored for Drugkpa Sect, which managed the monastery. It is divided into two, the Assembly Hall on the right and the main temple on the left. The hall, Dukhang, is also used as a ‘ Green room ’ by the dancers during the festival. The temple is known as Tshogkhang. The verandahs have a surfeit of frescoes among them the Buddhist Wheel of Life ( Kalachakra ) and the Lord of the four quarters, besides rows of prayer wheels.