Lure of Leh Palace

Leh Palace in Leh town, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India

The dun-color historic landmark Leh Palace in the old part of Leh town affords sweeping views of almost entire town. The panorama consists of a craggy skyline scribbled by the brown barren Ladakh and Stok mountain ranges fencing the settlements of mud houses shielded with flat roofs partly covered with dry grass, modern solar panels, and television dishes.  The popularity barometer of the monument fluctuates from year to year. For instance, according to official statistics the number of the visitors rose from 8,760 (2009) to 17,184 (2010), and slipped to 14,677 (2011). 

The nine-level palace, a huge royal residential building, crowns a hillock but appears dwarf vis-à-vis the mountains ranges. Now-a-days Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) manages the ruins starving of royal artifacts and hosts various kinds of exhibitions. During Dosmoche Festival, monks from nearby monasteries carry out rituals and Tagthog monastery monks perform sacred and secret dances within the palace complex. The complex consists of chortens, palace fort of Tashi Namgyal, religious structures, royal stables… 

A small temple within the palace, Duk-kar Lhakhang is still open for public. A clerestory window is carved out in the center of the roof for sun and air. The roof rests on beautifully carved wooden pillars. An image of Duk-kar, Tara with 1,000 arms, Padmasambhava, and Sakyamuni adorn the sacrosanct. The Kanjur collection of 103 volumes of the Buddhist religious scriptures makes the temple a perfect place for learning the religious nuances. 

Architects and historians believe that the palace building is an imitation of the famous Potala Palace situated in Lhasa, Tibet. At the lower levels, the walls are either window-less or punctuated with narrow slits. However, the big windows adorn the top floors. Generally, the lowest levels in royal palaces built in the Ladakh region are used as animal shelters and / or store rooms for fodder, food, and wood. The following upward levels host staff and servants. This hierarchical allocation continues until the top floors that are a sole privilege of the royalty. 

After Dogras siege in 1836 AD, the royal family moved out of partly damaged palace forever. The family sold the palace to the Government of India. During our visit on September 19, 2013, ASI was repairing, renovating, and revamping more than four centuries old national public monument visible from all parts of the town. The main gate facing north east, at the third level, is linked to Polo Ground by a kachha-pakka (un-metaled) road. 

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The tall carved wooden porch supported by a pair of circular pillars features two wooden snow lions. The staff and servants resided in the small rooms at 2nd and 3rd levels. Katog chenmo, the small courtyard at the 4th level, hosted various cultural and social events. The courtyard affords views of the full Leh Valley. 

The 5th and 6th levels feature assembly cum audience halls (tak chen) and the royal family residence. The wooden balconies jut out from these levels that have luxury of huge windows. These areas are however not open for public. Both the beams and the columns of the audience hall at the 5th level are decorated with carvings. 

The 7th level has a space for ceremonies, throne room, temple (Sangyeling Lhakhang), and royal chamber facing east. The throne room is also embellished with carvings. Mystery however surrounds the purpose of a few rooms built at the 8th level. A small temple at the 9th level is dedicated to Gurlha. 

The monument is modeled like a “dzong” of Tibet. Dzong is a regional administrative structure. The palace is one of the finest examples of stone masonry in Ladakh.

King Sinnge Namgyal built the palace on an elephant-head-shaped ridge in 1600 AD. The three-year long construction process consumed scores of dressed stones featuring a timber layer and sun-dried bricks.  The dressed stones prevented lateral movements ascribed to earthquakes. The sun-dried-brick-walls of the upper levels played two-fold role: lighter structure and thermal insulation. The palace without any foundation is thus lighter at the top and heavy at the base. The structure rests on a granite rock. 

However, this magnificent engineering marvel has a gloomy side too: fear of plagiarism led to cruelty. Surprised? We thought that plagiarism is a modern jargon, an accomplice of the Web writers, but the historic records speak otherwise and highlight cruel punishments for the master creators instead of the cheaters. According to legends, the king ordered chopping off the right hand of the chief mason so that copying design and style of the building became impossible, ensuring ageless uniqueness.

Upcoming Event

The ticketed monument would host Czech Castles Exhibition, a joint venture of National Museum of the Czech Republic and the Archaeological Survey of India, during June-July 2014. The exhibition would showcase more than thirty-five unique chateaux and castles of Moravia and Bohemia, the architectural, artistic, and historic landmarks of the country.

Practical Information 

Entry Fee

₹ 5 per person (Visitors from India and SAARC)

₹ 100 per person (Visitors from other Countries)

Photography

Still Photography: Allowed

Still Photography Fee: No

Video Filming without Stand and Cast (non-commercial use): ₹ 25

Opening Hours 

Sunrise to Sunset

Public Conveniences 

Traditional Ladakhi Style

 

 

 

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