About seventy-kilometer from Leh town, Alchi village is home to Buddhist temples, a hydropower project, and lovely landscape. You will at least need one full day inclusive of return journey of four hours to explore all five attractions of the village.
1. Shangrog Lhakhang
Simple white washed exterior of Shangrong on a rock amid fields in Upper Alchi Village houses a treasure of ancient religious wall paintings. The theme of the paintings revolves around the Drigung School of Buddhism and eighty-four mahasidhas revered by Buddhist. Mahasiddhas are mystical people who did not care about accepted religious and social customs and resided in India during 7th-11th century. The temple, probably built in 1400 AD, shares its neighbourhood with a group of chortens (stupas).
2. Drukling Gompa
A short trail, meandering through houses and fields, climbs from Shangrog to the gompa, a part of Hemis Monastery. The gompa can also be accessed from main road.
3. Tsatsapuri Monastery / Latho Lhakhang / Drigung Temple
Upper Alchi also has another religious monument Tsatsapuri Monastery built during 13-15th century. The monastery is on the other side of a small seasonal stony rivulet that is bridged at one place. The monastery is dedicated to the Drigung School, a part of the Kagyupa School of the Tibetan Buddhism. The wall paintings of historic value are in reasonably good condition. Some of the murals include figures of Drigung Kyopa Jigten Gonpo Rinchen Pal. The complex comprises a lantern, lama residence, ruins of residential structures, and two temples around the central courtyard: 2-level Ridzong Dukhang Chenrezig Lhakhang and Stupa Hall. A mandala is painted on the wall of Stupa Hall that houses a stupa dedicated to the founder of the monastery. A Mahakala painting of the thirteenth century adorns the wall of lama room. The room wall also has other paintings focusing on stories from the life of Buddha. The dukhang wall features a painting of Manjushree. Sumstek, the 3-tier structure in the east of the complex, is probably a recent construction than other structures. The wall paintings are similar to that in the Stupa Hall.
4. Buddhist Monastery Complex / Dharma Wheel Monastery of Alchi /
The drab and faded exterior may not excite you but the interior is a repository of ancient religious paintings and huge statues of Buddha. The interior recreates and relives the life of Buddha. The complex is aptly called “Chos-Khor” that means “Dharma Mandala” or “Dharma chakra.” The monastery design inspired by the Indian Mandala System showcases elements of both Kashmiri and Tibetan craft and art traditions as several eminent Kashmiri and Tibetan artists translated the vision of Rinchen Zangpo into reality. It is believed that Rinchen Zangpo, the famous translator, set up the monastery during 1020-1035 AD. However, an inscription within the Dukhang states that a student / disciple of the translator built the monastery. Miniature paintings of Buddha adorn the interior walls of the temples. The paintings include both floral and geometric patterns that are common in the Gandhara and the Kashmiri styles. The themes also cover the Jataka tales and mandalas. The stucco images are another highlight of the temples. Maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Great Monastery of Likir (Ladakh), the rectangular complex comprises five temples known for ancient murals with or without tantric connotations and Buddha statues, chortens, prayer drums, mani stones, monk cells, and a circumambulation path surrounding all the structures. The complex, submitted to the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998, is one of the best examples representing traditional architecture of Tibet. The date of murals and stucco images varies from eleventh to thirteenth century. Although the monastery started as a place for the Drigung-pa Sect of Buddhism, today it is managed by the Gelug-pa Sect monks of Likir monastery. About one-thousand-year old Alchi monastery is a protected public religious monument built on a plain ground with an extremely gentle slope. The temples are placed in a linear pattern within the boundary wall made of mud.
The 2-storey high Kagan chortens are located near entrance. Exteriors of all white washed chortens, except that of a few, have minimal or no decorations.
Some of the drums are in good condition while others are fully rusted. All drums are not made of traditionally used material. For instance, a shabby prayer drum of Nerolac paint container finds place in one of the exterior alcoves.
The temple houses four clay statues of Manjushree facing four cardinal directions. Each statue of Manjushree is painted in different colour: red, white, blue, and gold. The statues are on a high lotus like platform, a Kashmiri art element. The walls feature one thousand paintings of Buddha. The wooden pillars support the porch.
Vairochana Temple / Dukhang Temple
The eleventh century Dukhang witnessed monk gatherings and ritual performances on several occasions during the heydays. The square shrine features statues of Vairochana and Avilokiteshwara. Buddha-theme murals cover the walls. A colourful sand kalachakra (a wheel of time) is also on display. The oldest and most elaborate structure within the complex has a flat mud roof and the parapet features a red band. Highlight of the murals is seven mandalas of Prajnaparamita, Manjushree, and Vairochana.
Sumtsek means “three tiered.” The three storey temple houses about one-storey high stucco statues of Avilokiteshwar, Maitreya, and Manjushree in the three alcoves. In the centre, a large chorten is built. The mural covered walls feature images of the Goddess of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita). The cornices and capitals of the wooden pillars of the portico are richly carved. The carving motifs consist of floral patterns and animal and human figures. The facade has three triangular gables featuring wooden figures of Manjushree, Maitreya, and Avilokitesvara. The colour-rich paintings of various forms of Buddha on exterior walls have almost faded. Air and light entering from the clerestory at the top floor freshens and lights the interior.
Lo-Tsawa / Lotsa Temple
The wide frame of the short door is embellished with floral patterns interspersed by religious figures. The centre space features Buddha statue in bhumi-sparsh-mudra besides a statue of Avalokiteswara. A portrait of the translator is also placed inside the temple. Mandalas are painted on the walls.
New Temple / Lhakhang Soma
This small temple on a square plan was added later on. The windowless one-chamber temple has a chorten in the centre. The two circular columns of wood support the ceiling of wood.
The library is a collection of Buddhist scriptures (Kanjur) and religious documents.
5. Nimoo Bazgo Hydroelectric Project
The forty-five-megawatt Nimoo Bazgo Hydroelectric Project on Nimoo Plateau in the backyard of Alchi lights up the villages in Ladakh Region. The project has also reduced power-less-hours in Leh town. A commendable engineering feat of National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd (N.H.P.C.), the project harnesses energies of the Indus and converts it into electricity. The river gushes out of various tunnels in the dam, rises like white cotton balls and falls with a force on the bed. This adds some moisture to the dry air and creates cooling effect in adjacent areas. This is a sight that enhances the landscape mainly consisting of tall poplars and the mountains baring the skin.
A short walk along the road behind the Chos-Khor takes you to the bridge connecting Bazgo and Umlung hamlets. From here you can have a full view of the dammed Indus. The road runs along the Indus on which a 57.5-meter-high concrete gravity dam is built. The project would complete by 2014.
Photography is not allowed inside the temples.
Indians: INR 20 per head
Foreigners: INR 50 per head