Thiksey Monastery in Thikse Village, less than one hour drive from Leh, is a Buddhist educational institute built on a steep hillock. The twelve-story fortress-style monastery is known as Mini Potala because it shares many architectural features of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The monastery complex comprises whitewashed, red, and / or yellow religious and secular structures erected for different purposes. More than five centuries old Thiksey Monastery is the center of Gelug-Pa (Yellow Hat) sect of the Tibetan Buddhism.
If you lust for beauty, the monastery, a landmark on the right bank of the Indus River, is a treasure trove of religious art and a strategic vantage point unfolding the photogenic landscape of Ladakh region. The landscape is a mosaic of naked mountains of the Ladakh and Stok ranges, the blue Indus River, and lush fields and flat roof houses in the villages along the river.
The monastery on Leh-Manali Road was showcased in the travel show directed by Hollywood director Tarsem Singh in 2006.
We spent six-seven hours at the monastery on September 23, 2013. There was no power when we reached the main prayer hall at the top floor. The sky was grey. It drizzled. But grey clouds cleared in the afternoon. We think that the following things and activities are worth your holiday time:
Several big and small chortens (stupas), the relics of noted Buddhist personalities, dot the monastery complex. Some stupas are simple in design while others are embellished with different decorative patterns. The group of white stupas near the main entrance gate is adorned with patterns in gold. The patterns consist of the Tibetan Buddhism symbols.
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The monastery houses a number of temples:
Dukhang is the main prayer hall. The walls are decorated with paintings of Mahakala, Padmasambhava, and Buddha in various poses.
Palden Lhamo Temple features a statue of ferocious female deity Palden Lhamo.
Chamsrying Lhakhang is dedicated to the protector deity of the monastery.
Gonkhang is dedicated to deities that are known as protectors of Buddhism: four-armed Mahakala, Kitapala, and Yamantaka.
Tara Temple / Drolma Lhakhang features more than twenty statues of Goddess Tara. The temple also houses statues of Gyaltsab Jey, Khedup Jey, Vajrayogini, and Kali Devi. The showcases are decorated with currency notes offered by devotees from different countries. Auspicious Tibetan Buddhism symbols adorn the wooden shelves holding the statues.
Gold and Silver Stupas Temple / Kudung Lhakhang
The walls of Maitreya Temple / Red Chamba Lhakhang are like a book where scenes from the life of various Buddhist leaders and Indian scholars are painted. The paintings also narrate the story of Maitreya Buddha.
3. Colossal Statue of Maitreya Buddha
About forty-foot high statue of Maitreya (Future) Buddha is sculpted by Nawang Tsering, the master craftsman of the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh. Almost three-story-tall statue occupies Maitreya Temple in the complex. The serene expression of the statue matches the personality of Buddha. This is probably the tallest statue of Buddha in entire Ladakh region. The statue was installed in 1980s. Thirty sculptors worked on the statue for three long years. The statue is made from clay and terracotta bricks that are painted with gold.
4. Attend the Prayer
If you are up with the lark, you can attend the prayers at the temples.
5. Wall Art
The walls of the temples are covered with colorful murals. The theme of the murals revolves around Buddha and Buddhism. The painting subjects include various forms of Buddha, scenes from the life of Buddha, Buddhist deities, religious symbols, and mystic animals. Some of the bright-colored murals are fading. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was therefore restoring the art when we visited the monastery. The courtyard walls are also painted brightly.
Exteriors of the secular buildings are decorated with simple line patterns and / or drawings of deities and mystic animals.
6. Thiksey Gustor
The monastery celebrates two/three-day Thikse Gustor in the ninth month of the Tibetan Calendar (October-November). The monastic festival was celebrated on November 20-21, 2013 as per the Gregorian calendar.
After the prayers and celebrations, Black Hat mask dance troupe’s leader distributes the traditional sacrificial cake (the torma).
7. Views from the monastery and Photography from the Terrace
The monastery terrace lends itself to sweeping views of atypical landscape of Ladakh Region. The landscape is a collage of Stok, Shey, Matho, and Choglamsar villages and the Indus River to the west, the Ladakh Range to the north and the east, and Stakna (Tagna) Monastery to the south of Thikse.
A bird’s eye view of Thiksey Village consisting of flat roof white washed houses surrounded by fields and colorful structures of the Indian Army camps cannot escape your eyes.
If you have an eye for rock forms, you will also find rocks with unique shapes.
Photographers would love it for numerous possibilities to capture the unique landscape.
8. A library of Kagyur (religious sacred texts)
(We covered the museum in detail last Friday. Please click the Thiksey Museum.)
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Visiting hours: 06:00 A.M. – 05:00 P.M.
Lunch Break: 12:00 – 12:30 P.M.
Tea Break: 03:00-03:15 P.M.
Entry fee: INR 30 per person
Photography: Allowed but flash cannot be used inside the temples.
Time required for enjoying all attractions: You need at least half a day to enjoy all this. A full day is required if you want to stroll and see everything at a leisure pace and do photography.
Public convenience: The monastery has gender-specific washrooms.
We climbed the steep stairs located in the rear of the complex. Climbing was strenuous but we enjoyed the views during the climb and got a close up of the monastery. Generally, tourists come in vehicles and go directly to the main entrance at the end of the road. We suggest walking from Chamba Hotel and Restaurant to the monastery.