Any trip to Leh is incomplete without a visit to Thiksey Monastery. It is about 20 kilometers from Leh city on the way to Karu. The monastery is said to be fashioned on the Potala palace in Lhasa. As you approach from the highway you get your first glimpse of the majestic structure. Stark white on the brown hill, it looks really palatial.
A top a sacred hill
The Thiksey Monastery is built on a hill considered sacred by the locals. A divine sign showed the way to this hill near the Thiksey village and the monks decided to construct this 12 storey monastery here.
Whenever you visit any monastery be ready to climb a lot. They are all built atop hills. Some monasteries are in fact inaccessible by road and you have to spend hours trekking up mountain trails to reach them. Thankfully that is not the case with Thiksey Monastery. A winding road allows you to take your vehicle right up to the main gate. There is ample parking space for a large number of vehicles.
A Bird’s eye view
As you climb inside the Thiksey Monastery you get a bird’s eye view of the whole valley floor. It is an amazing sight. The valley extends to the far distance till the mountains and you can see the different ranges rising high topped by snow clad peaks. They might all seem within easy reach but we are talking about hundreds of kilometers in distance and thousands of kilometers in altitude.
An imposing structure
The Thiksey Monastery is a 12 storey structure. It houses numerous stupas, statues and thangkas. The 12 storeys are arranged in ascending order of importance. It was built as a fort monastery. There are a total of 10 temples here, with the main temple being that of Maitreya Buddha. It houses an almost 50 feet statue of Buddha which covers two floors. As you enter the temple you can see a huge bust and it is only when you peek down that you can see the torso sitting on the lower floor. This statue took four years to be completed.
The Maitreya Buddha
The Maitreya Buddha is revered as the future Buddha. The face of the statue exudes calm and serenity. The elaborate head dress is intricately adorned with various deities. The walls are painted with beautiful paintings. Look out through the windows and you can catch a glimpse of the Stok Kangri range. The temple is a place of solitude. Take a moment to be one with yourself, away from the daily humdrum of life, detached from worries and tensions.
Take a stroll around the various prayer halls. If you are lucky enough to visit the Thiksey Monastery during prayer times then take a seat at the rear of the prayer hall and observe the rituals. Drums, cymbals and chants resound as monks of all ages, starting from small children to very old, sit and chant in one tone. You might not be able to understand the words but they will find a resonance within your soul.
Other Important temples
A short flight of steps away is the temple dedicated to Tara Devi. She is revered as the female Buddha. The whole temple is full of glass cases behind which are kept 21 images of Tara Devi. The top most floor of the Thiksey Monastery houses important Buddhist scriptures and only men folk are allowed to enter this portion. The top floor is also the official residence of the top most Lama and head of the Thiksey Monastery.
The wheel of life
As you walk around the main courtyard of Thiksey Monastery do look out for mural of The Wheel of Life. The Bhavchakra depicts the cyclic representation of life as humans go through the process of life and death. It is thought that Buddha himself had drawn the wheel of life so that ordinary human beings could understand his teachings.
The golden chortens
It will take you almost two hours to walk around the monastery looking at all the temples. And as you think you have seen it all you will notice a large complex of chortens a little away from the main complex. Chortens are Buddhist shrines, typically a saint’s tomb or a monument to the Buddha. The chortens are laid out in a single file and the prayer flags flutter wildly in the wind. The beauty all around is astounding. Climbing up the Thiksey monastery will be a task ad you will find yourself winded. The chortens are still higher up but the view is worth the pain. Stand there soaking in the ambiance and spend some time alone. After all that is what Ladakh has to offer you. Some time for yourself amidst raw natural beauty.