Leh Palace is without doubt one of Ladakh’s most imposing structures, dominating the landscape around Leh it’s impossible to ignore, it’s ever present, and both amazes and awes all visitors to the region.
Although partly gutted and in a dilapidated state, the towering nine storey fort-like palace is well worth the climb up from Leh old town to explore, the commanding views across the town are an added bonus before you enter the palace proper.
It’s believed the palace was designed as a miniature version of the Potala Palace in Lhasa (Tibet) by king Sengge Namgyal (1616 – 1642) in the early 17th century, and is one of the best examples of Tibetan secular architecture.
The palace was damaged in 1685 by the invading forces of Tibetans and Mongolians, and then almost completely wrecked by the conquering soldiers of Zorawar Singh’s Dorga army in 1836. This resulted in the Ladaki royal family abandoning the palace and moving across the Indus valley to Stok.
The castle’s rock facade has not been painted at all, leaving the natural dun colour to blend in with the rocky stark surroundings. Amazingly, the structure has no foundations at all, with the soaring walls tapering to help provide stability. To further assist with stability, the walls have been constructed in traditional Himalayan fashion, with alternate layers of stone and timber. This layering practice helps the structure absorb shocks and survive earthquakes.
Inside the palace, you are left to explore without the assistance of much signage. It’s quite easy to get disorientated, not quite knowing exactly where you are inside the building, but with some perseverance it is possible to find your way up to the upper levels where the stone construction makes way for simpler mud brick structures.
One room not to be missed is the Royal Shrine, possibly the highlight of the palace and easily missed depending on how you navigate your way around the labyrinth interior. It’s located on the third floor beside a small courtyard, and is where the royal family worshipped.
It enshrines the goddess Dukar, “the lady of the white parasol” (Sitatpatra) – a deity with a thousand arms and legs. There’s plenty more to see inside this atmospheric space, needless to say I went a little over the top with the number of photographs I took 🙂
It is said that King Sengge Namgyal, after the construction of the palace was completed, had the right arm of his chief mason chopped off to ensure such a structure was never replicated elsewhere.
On leaving I came across a gathering of local residents from the old town who were meeting at the stable courtyard just below the palace.
They were there to discuss the state of the buildings in the old town, and how the infrastructure could be improved (water, drainage etc), in addition to concerns about the historical buildings that are slowly disappearing. There’s a lot more on that topic in my blog post about the Heritage Walk I attended a few days later. It was great to see everyone getting together to discuss the situation, I really hope over the next few years awareness and funding can increase to ensure the old town structures are not lost forever. It’s very much a race against time…
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