Despite it’s remote location, 43km from Leh, Hemis Gompa is Ladakh’s most famous and most frequently visited monastery. It’s famous for it’s mask dance festival held in the summer, which no doubt attracts even more crowds (although I would like to see it one day).
This was the fourth gompa I visited on my day-excursion from Leh, seeking out the monasteries that lie south of the town. The itinerary for the day was :
Home to some 500 monks just a few decades ago, Hemis is sadly on the decline a little and now has about 200 lamas attached to it.
The site is believed to have been founded in the 13th century by a monked named Gyawla Gotsangpa who chose a cave up in the mountains nearby to meditate.
The cave eventually became a hermitage, attracting more monks that formed the precursor to the monastery.
Hemis has long been Ladakh’s weathiest monastery, which only increased as other gompas brought their treasures here for safekeeping. Being in such a remote location, it was always considered the most secure place.
One of the most controversial objects housed at Hemis is the “Jesus Scroll”, a Tibetan manuscript translated from the ancient Indian language of Pali that tells the story of Jesus Christ and his hypothesised travels in India.
Hemis’ newest temple is Guru Lhakhang, which houses a massive statue of Padmasambhava looking a little upset with life with his glowing eyes.
Hemis’ oldest temple is the Dukhang Barma, and dates back to the 1630s. I had the temple to myself, apart from a monk who was quietly going about his business but was obviously there to attend to the place.
I’m always hesitant to intrude with my photography when it comes to people, especially in a place of any religious significance, but having asked his permission I took a few shots and made sure I gave a donation.
As with all these temples, one starts to suddenly feel very insignificant and enveloped by the surroundings. I ended up walking around this temple for ages, purged of any thoughts, a sense of just being.
As with many of the other Gompas, I failed to locate some of the other temples housed within the monastery at Hemis. There’s no signs, you’re left to discover things for yourself and that is exactly how it should be.
If I do return one day (and I will!), The sculpture gallery of Som Lhakhang is apparently worthy of seeking out.
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