Located high up on the crest of a ridge overlooking Leh Palace, the imposing red building of Namgyal Tsemo Gompa can be seen from just about anywhere in Leh town.
There are three ways to reach the gompa :
- A zip-zag path from Leh Palace. This is quite steep and not the easiest route to take, but if you’ve just visited the palace the lure to go this way might be hard to resist.
- A path that ascends the northern slope from Chubi. This is less steep and is paved, if you have time it’s well worth taking this alternative route. From the Jamia Masjid take the alley-way that immediately heads north and runs through an area of the town packed with bakeries. Keep going straight and this eventually becomes Sankar Road. Continue ahead up the slight incline, past Horpo and New Moon Guest Houses until you come to a grass clearing on your right with a water pipe. Turn right here, across the grass and head for a small cluster of chortens. From here the start of the path becomes obvious, and you’re on your way. You can use this google map link to see the exact location of the path I’m referring to.
- The third way is to drive to the top 🙂
The guidebooks and indeed the internet suggest a multitude of different times for when the gompa is open. The most consistent timings being reported are 7am-9am, and then 5pm-8pm. From my own personal experience however, it seems quite random The only time I found it open was at 3pm, and by 4pm it was locked up for the day.
A lama from Sankar Gompa down below apparently comes up twice everyday to light butter lamps and full the water bowls, but during my stay in Leh this practice didn’t seem to be very consistently done.
Having ascended the ridge, the first building you come to is the Tsemo Gompa, the red Maitreya temple.
This houses a giant image of Maitreya, the Future Buddha, sitting within a two storey shrine flanked by Avalokiteswara and Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom. The walls are richly decorated and quite vibrant, the murals are actually not that old having been done in the 1970s, replacing much older faded paintings. What did seem a little more original were the paintings on the wooden ceiling, a reminder that when visiting such places one must remember to look up !
It’s believed the gompa was originally built by King Tragspa-bum-lde around 1430, along with Chamba Lhakhang in the palace complex down below.
There’s also a Gonkhang Temple, erected slightly later in the 1560s. Unfortunately this was shut when I was visiting, and by the time I returned to the Maitreya temple (about 1 minute away) everything was locked up and the monk was nowhere to be seen. I stuck around for a couple of hours to see if they reopened at 5pm, but gave up by 6pm !
Luckily the views from Namgyal Tsemo Gompa mean that waiting around for a possible reopening was not such a big deal. The views are stunning, a great place see the early evening light draped over the city.
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