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Ladakh takes your breath away

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Over KhardungLa to Shyok and Nubra Valleys continued... Shyok and Nubra Valleys

Swinging round a bend, there is the first glimpse of the Shyok valley with Satti village far below. This is in a fertile oasis with wild roses, sea buckhorn and trees hiding fields and houses. The rocks on the far side of the valley are very pale in colour with with great fans of sand deposits washed down the gullies. At the edge of the oasis the sand has blown and covered the fields.

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At the beginning of June, the Shyok river was pale turquoise in colour from melt water. The valley bottom is flat and sandy and the river flows through several different channels which join and divide over the flood plain.

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The road drops steeply down the hillside to Khalsar village where there is a large army camp on the edge of the settlement. The huts are painted in squares of red, green and yellow. They look really bright close to but are well camouflaged against the desert scenery when seen from a distance.

The road branches here for the Nubra and Shyok valleys.

The road to Nubra crosses the flood plain, with the road to Diskit and Hundar runs along the side of the flood plain beneath very steep, bare jagged mountains.

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There are good views of both valleys, which are a vast area of flat sand.

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The road climbs steeply round the side of the mountain to Diskit, with the Gompa and a statue of Buddha towering above the settlement. The road contours along a ledge on mountainside to Hundar above the sand dunes. These are best seen early morning or late afternoon when the low rays of the sun throw the ridges into sharp relief. In places there are trees and water. Camels graze here during the day.

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The Nubra Valley was part of the great trade route between northern India and central Asia. In the 1930s it is estimated 10,000 pack animals passed through the valley. They brought silk, carpets, rugs, pashima and cannabis from Xinjian in exchange for spices, textiles, dyestuffs and tea. Trade stopped in 1949 and many of the bacterian camels were left behind. These now give rides to the tourists.

The camels are owned and looked after by the villagers as they are now regarded as a financial asset as camel rides are very popular with the tourists). These are operated as a communal exercise with the takings split at the end of the day.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Over KhardungLa to Shyok and Nubra Valleys continued... Nubra Organic Retreat, Hundar

We were booked two nights at the Nubra Organic Retreat in Hundar. It is reached down a narrow, muddy road with tall stone walls through the trees. It is in a delightful spot surrounded by trees with the mountains towering above.

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There is a big old farmhouse with accommodation tents, larger dining tent and sun dried mud block toilet block with 6 loos (some with showers), 2 shower rooms and 3 outside basins. Hot water is provided by a wood burning boiler behind shower block in the mornings.

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The tents were very basic with 2 single beds pushed together and a bedside table. The floor was a concrete base with carpet on top. There was a small concrete area outside tent with two plastic chairs. One fairly thin towel was provided each. Tents were not serviced during our stay. There was a single electric light bulb, which did give reasonable illumination. Electricity is available between 7-11.30pm.

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Communal meals were held in the main farmhouse and were good - buffet style with a reasonable choice of dishes and plentiful supply of black tea. Staff were excellent and very attentive.

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The tents are surrounded by poplar and willow woodland with small paths and streams.

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White Aquilegia grows under the trees and there were a few purple orchids along the water.

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There were pink and yellow rose bushes growing everywhere.

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There is a well tended vegetable patch with tiny fields surrounded by small earth banks in the centre of the site. The climate is mild and soil good so two crops can be grown a year. Cabbage, cauliflower, onions are used in guest meals.

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We don’t usually do camping style accommodation and were somewhat apprehensive about this. Apart from the need to visit the toilet block in the dark, it worked well and we enjoyed our two night stay.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A Day around the Shyok and Nubra Valleys - Sumoor and Samtanling Gompa

We spent a day exploring the Nubra and Shyok Valleys from Hundar.

As we drove along road towards Khalsar and could see the camels collected in sand dunes ready to give rides to tourists. Children were walking down the road to school. Obesity isn’t a problem in Ladakh and no one had mobile phones..

Before Khalsar, the road drops down to the river across the flat flood plain and a bridge to the police check point where permit and passports have to be shown.

We drove through the small settlement of Tirit. The road was lined with tall stone walls topped with sea buckthorn so couldn’t see the farms or fields. This has spines and is very effective at stopping animals getting over the walls. There were a lot of wild rose bushes along road. This is a very fertile area and it is possible to get two harvests per year. There were orchards with apple and apricot trees.

We had a brief stop in Sumoor to walk through village.

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We stopped to watch two men painting traditional wooden tables. Each one takes a day to paint and sells for 1700r (about £24).

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Across the road a woodworker was making window and door frames under a canopy shaded with poplar branches.

There was a large modern prayer wheel in the centre of the village, several small shops selling dry goods and sweets, a printer’s shop and several guest houses


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We drove up to Samtanling Gompa, past the old gompa up on the hillside above the road. This is one of the least visited Gompas and there is little information about it.

Samtanling Gompa, was founded by Lama Tsultims Nima in 1841 but has been extensively rebuilt with a new temple, built about 15 years ago. It has a commanding view of the foothills of the Karakoram ranges. A flight of red steps with two big cypress bushes on each side leads to the new temple. To the right is a smaller and older Assembly Hall with kitchen areas and butter lamp store beyond. To the left is the guest house and residence of the head of the monastery.

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The older assembly hall has a beautiful painted doorway.

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Inside are hangings with pictures of Buddha. The inside wall by the doorway wall is painted black with gold outlines of the protector gods.

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There are paintings of Buddha and the Arhats on the side walls.

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The benches for the monks are arranged at right angles to the entrance. On one was a 3D metal mandala with rice, which is thrown during prayers to spread prosperity and happiness.

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The new temple has a large outside porch with paintings of the four cardinal kings (two original and two newly repainted)

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There is also a C19th paintings of the wheel of life, and a painting of a flaming sword cutting through ignorance. The handle is at the bottom and it rises up through a lotus flower, which is a symbol of purity.

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Inside on the right is the throne for the Dalai Lama and on the left, the chair for the reincarnation of the founder of monastery, Tsultim Nima, both with their pictures. On the walls are colourful hangings and paintings.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
A Day around the Shyok and Nubra Valleys - Diskit and the Maitreya Buddha

After Samtanling Gompa, we drove back to Diskit and drove up to big Maitreya Buddha statue, high above the village. The 32m statue was begun in 2006 and the finished statue consecrated by the Dalhai Lama in 2010. The statue is painted gold and gleams in the sunlight. It is seated on a brightly coloured base.

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There is a small temple next to the statue. Inside there were sacred books and beautiful butter sculptures. These are used to gather evil spirits and at the end of the year they are thrown away, either into a stream or left on top of the mountain. New ones are made. As this is a new temple, there was one very large butter sculpture (Storma) as well as smaller chodpa.

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There are marvellous views from the statue across the Shyok and Nubra valleys with their flat sandy flood planes and multicoloured mountains and also up to Diskit Gompa built above the gorge on the opposite hillside. There are white chortens everywhere.

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There is a rough road to the base of the gompa and then 125 steps to climb. It was a very hot afternoon so we decided to admire from a distance.

Looking down, there are wonderful views of Diskit and the Nubra valley with its sand

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Upper Diskit is the older settlement consisting of farms and guest houses. It is separated from Lower Diskit by farmland. There are no stone walls marking the different land holdings. Boundaries are marked on the land and owners have deeds for their land. This is the newer settlement and the main service centre for the area with shops, bank and administration offices. Each village is split into 4 different districts for irrigation and administration purposes and a group of villagers form a committee controlling the district.

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We parked at top of Main Street in Lower Diskit and walked down looking at the shops. Many shop keepers come from Kashmir and rent shop units from Ladakhis.They stay for the summer months and return to Kashmir for the winter. Rooms above shops may also be rented out as accommodation with owner living in separate house.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Drive to Lamayuru


Lamayuru lies on the main highway from Leh to Sringa.

From Leh the road runs past the airport, overlooked by Spitok Gompa and across a flat expanse of desert with views of the distant hills. These still had a dusting of snow on the tops in mid June. There is no vegetation or settlement apart from army camps, the Leh Berry factory, small flour mill and a small Sikh temple maintained by the road workers. To the north is the green oasis of Phyang with its Gompa overlooking the settlement. There are some new half built houses lining the road.

Like all good tourists we stopped for Magnetic Hill. If a vehicle is parked on a certain point on the hill and the ignition turned off it begins to move. An optical illusion makes it seem to be going uphill. We weren’t convinced.

The Indus begins to cut down into a deep gorge with the road running above it.

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We stopped to take photos of the where the brown swollen flood waters of the Zanskar river met the paler blue grey waters of the Indus.

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Nimoo is a large spread out settlement on both sides of main road with chortens, guest houses, shops and restaurants.

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There are clusters of mud brick houses surrounded by trees and fields. It is a very fertile area with apple and apricot orchards.

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There is a large army camp and an army driving school.

The road continues along the broad valley of the Indus across stoney desert. We drove across a new Bailey bridge into Basgo. The previous bridge had been washed away in the floods in 2010 which had scoured out the river bed and brought down huge boulders. Basgo is dominated by its gompa and remains of the C11th palace on a very eroded bluff.

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The road climbs up the side of a big bluff beyond Basgo with good views back over the gompa and palace, before dropping back down to the valley. It then follows the river valley on a narrow ledge cut out of the hillside.

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In places there was excellent new tarmac in places, other parts were rough and very bumpy. There were many people working on the road, although there seemed to be a lot of time spent sitting… All work is done by hand including crushing rocks. There were small, temporary road camps off the road where they lived.

We drove through Saspol, a nice settlement with trees, orchards and a few shops, again dominated by its gompa. We passed the turn to Alchi with the small oasis of Giara on the opposite bank, reached across a temporary bridge and surrounded by many beautifully made terraced fields no longer in use.

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The road crosses a rudimentary iron bridge with a weight limit and only one vehicle allowed at a time, with the washed out road to Rizung running above the river. The new road goes off later.

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Khalse, in a fertile oasis with orchards and farmland, is the main service centre for the area with many small shops along the main street and restaurants. Beyond the settlement is a police point where permits and passports have to be shown. The road then crosses desert scenery again with a huge lorry park and restaurant doing a roaring trade.

The old road to Lamayuru turns off here. The main road (poor surface and rough and bumpy in places) runs alongside the river, up through a narrow gorge, with very steep, bare mountain sides.

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A small peace temple has been built in the bottom of the gorge. The road then turns right up an even narrower gorge with makeshift bridges giving access to the other side of the valley. The scenery gets increasingly dramatic.

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The road climbs up through several steep hair pin bends to the plateau above.

The soft white rocks of ‘Moonlands’ are on one side and green fertile oasis of Lamayuru on the other.

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The ‘Moonlands’ were formed from a dried up lake in a giant crater like depression. The sediments are made up of a very soft pale yellow rock and have been eroded into ‘badland’ type scenery.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Lamayuru Gompa

Lamayuru village and fields lie around the base of the Gompa. This stands on a promontory like spur well above the village with sheer eroded sides.

There are many old deserted houses around the base of the Gompa. They are not pulled down, but left as the spirits still live in them.

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Lamayuru Gompa is reached by a steep road. It was founded in the C11th and thought to be one of the oldest monastic sites in Ladakh. There are small meditation buildings on the hillside above the main Assembly Hall, large new guest house and restaurant.

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There are chortens, prayer wheels and mani walls.

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Short flights oif steps lead to the different parts of the Gompa.

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The main Assembly Hall, the Dukhang, is built on the edge of the cliff and reached by a narrow path round the outside and a flight of steps. There is a small carving of a cardinal King on a slab of slate set into the wall by the doorway.

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Photographs were not allowed inside any of the Lhakangs when we visited. There are photographs of the inside here.

Inside the Dukhang there were several statues on the wall facing the doorway and on the right hand wall behind glass is the cave where the great Kashmiri sage, Naropa meditated over a thousand years ago. There was a small statue of Naropa with his two disciples inside but it was too dark to make out much detail. The walls were hung with Tankas. Behind is a smaller room with more statues and butter sculptures.

There are more steps up to the smaller Chenresig Lkakhang with more statues and 3 chortens
given by the king and decorated with gold and jewels. Chortens represent peace. Statues can be quite fearful, so chortens are often considered a more powerful way of spreading message of Buddhism. The top represents crown of Budha with head, body, arms and legs. The square base represents the throne. They also symbolise the 5 elements of nature - fire, water, air, earth and ether (bodies are converted into ether when they die).
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Old Road from Lamayuru

From Lamayuru we took the old road which climbs above the Gompa and contours round the top of the ‘moonlands’.

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The road surface is in much better condition than the new road. It is a magnificent although slow, drive through high mountain country looking down into deep valleys with the new road far below. Rocks vary in colour from yellow, brown, purple to orange.

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There is some vegetation - mainly melilot, calomel, Stachyis tibetica and Capparis spinosa (caper) which spreads with long trailing stems with spines and pretty white flowers. There were a few cows grazing with small round stone enclosures where dung is left to dry during the summer.

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The road drops steeply down through many hair pin bends, which can be seen looking like a tangled piece of string below. It rejoins the main road just before the lorry park on the edge of Khalse.

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This is a very well worthwhile drive and makes a nice loop going to Lamayuru along the new road and back by the old road.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
To Alchi and Alchi Resort

Alchi is a delightful site set in a side valley of the Indus and is surrounded by fields and trees.

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It is reached along a side turning from the main Leh to Srinagar road. This drops down over a bridge and runs beside old chortens.

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The settlement is made up of four small villages. The road runs above the old village with a large prayer wheel and many chortens.

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Beyond is the main village with guest houses and a small row of shops. The road ends here with a parking area for cars and the start of the track to Alchi Choshkor which drops down past souvenir shops.

We spent one night at Alchi Resort in the main village, within walking distance of Alchi Choshkor. Entry is through a large gateway off the road. There is a large reception building with dining room and kitchens.

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There are smaller semi detached buildings (white with red doors) scattered around site which are surrounded by rough, rather unkempt gardens. These are reached by paths with steps which are difficult to see in poor light. There is a small ‘bandstand’ with seats.

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The bedroom was clean but very basic with 2 single beds (hard, although we had our best night’s sleep here) pushed together, three small tables, wardrobe and two plastic chairs. A candle and matches were provided. There was an attached bathroom with rudimentary shower. A thin towel each was provided when asked. Hot water is only available in the mornings and electricity from 8pm-midnight.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Alchi Old Village

We spent a morning wandering around the old village.

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This is reached by narrow roads and tracks off the main road.

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There is a rocky promontory in the middle of the village with two old mud brick houses climbing up the sides of it, looking like small palaces. There is no record of the history of these buildings.

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The other houses are small and very traditional with sheds and yards for the animals. Fodder is stored on the roof.

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Those near the edge of the village are surrounded by land growing crops.

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Very few tourists bother to visit the old village. We had the place to ourselves and it was delightful. Villagers were beginning to go about their daily chores.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Alchi Choshkor

A track drops down from the road end of the road in the new village of Alchi past souvenir shops and a tree said to have grown from the walking stick of Lotsava Rinchen Zango, the Great Translator, who translate many Indian Buddhist texts into Tibetan in the C10th and founded Alchi Choshkor, an important monastic complex with many temples.

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The track goes round the outside of Alchi Choskho, which is surrounded by a wall with small prayer wheels.

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There are views across the fields and up the river valley.

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The oldest temples in Alchi were built around 1000AD by Rinchen Zangpo, who brought brought sculptors and wood carvers from Kashmir. They were abandoned in the C15th. The wall paintings are some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh, painted with semi precious stones and so have kept their colours. They are considered to be among the rarest and most extensive examples of Buddhist art in Jammu & Kashmir. Unfortunately no photographs were allowed in any of the temples when we visited, although post cards and books are on sale in the Dukhang. There is a very good video showing many of the wall paintings here.

Try and visit in the mornings when it is quieter. It may be necessary to find a monk to unlock temples.

Entry to the site is past large white chortens.

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The site consists of the Dukhang, Sumstek and Manjushri Lhakhangs which date from the C12-C13thC. The Lotsava and Soma Lhakhangs are later.

The Dukhang is at the heart of the complex and is the largest of the temples. From the outside it looks rather a small insignificant white mud brick building with a red band below the roof. Outside is a courtyard with a small building housing the butter lamps.

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Entry is through a low painted doorway. There are two rooms inside. The outer room has plenty of natural light and has a small table where a monk sells books and postcards. In a corner, on the floor inside a glass case is a beautiful mandala made from coloured sand. These are usually only kept a few days before being destroyed.

All the walls are covered with paintings. There are big and small Buddhas each different, with finely painted face details and each with a slightly different expression. We could identify bad hair days, smirks, cross eyes…

There was a low painted doorway which led into the inner room. On either side was a glass shrine with statues. One had small plaster images of Buddha stuck on the side wall.

The inner room was much darker and had big mandala paintings on the walls. These were mainly dark blues and reds with touches of gold and silver on the arms. There was a frieze along the bottom of the wall. Above were large circles which contained a square divided into 9 smaller squares. There was a circle inside each square with an image of Buddha painted in it.

There was a large statue of Vairochana on a throne with lions. Ceilings and beams were painted.

The Sumtsek Lhakhang is three storied with elaborately carved arches on an outside porch and is the work of Kashmiri craftsmen.

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There are old paintings of the 16 Arhats and 5 Buddhas on the walls of the porch. Being outside, these are the only paintings which we were able to photograph. Again each one is different.

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The Lhakhang is entered by a very low carved doorway.

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The inside is dominated by a huge chorten which makes the Lhakhang seem dark. There are huge statues of Buddha in recesses on the side walls. The detail is amazing.

The walls are covered with large squares made up of small circles containing an image of Buddha with a larger circle at the centre.

Looking up the painted ceilings and big wall paintings of Buddha on second floor can be seen.

The Lotsava Lhakhang is through a wall and down a few steps. It is smaller and newer but has suffered badly from water damage and there are large cracks in the walls. Wall paintings have been redone and are disappointing as they lacked the fine detail of the originals and look like rubber stamp copies. There wasn’t the range of colour or facial expressions.

Next door is the Manjustri Lhakhang which has painted ceilings and beams and a highly decorate statue of Buddha in the centre.

Alchi features justly so on nealy all the tourist itineraries and can get busy. The quality of the paintings is truly remarkable.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Likir Gompa

Likir is reached by a short, unpaved road off the main Leh to Srinagar road.

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It is a long village which straggles up the valley. The valley had been badly affected by floods the previous year and many fields had been lost. The river bed was full of large stones and boulders brought down by the floods.

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Likir Gompa is built on top of a hill overlooking the valley with a huge golden statue of the Future Buddha behind.

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Likir is a rich and influential Gompa controlling Alchi and the head monk is a cousin of the Dalai Lama. The original building was C11th when the King of Ladakh invited Lawang Chosje to build a monastery on a sacred hill near Likir, which was thought to be the resting place of the snake gods. The present buildings are C18th and replace the earlier buildings which were destroyed by fire.

It is a steep climb up steps into the courtyard surrounded by covered walkways with the Dukhang on the right and Bakkang on the left.

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Towering above the Gompa is the outdoor statue of the Future Buddha, which stands 23m high and was completed in 1999. It is a gilded statue with blue hair seated on a brightly painted throne. There were good views of the valley from it.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Likir Gompa continued...The Dukhang

On the wall outside the Dukhang is an early carving of the wheel of life and a swastika. The swastika has been widely used as a sacred symbol for millennia. In Buddhism it is said to have been stamped on the Buddha's chest after his death and known as 'the heart seal'.

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The inside is splendid with wall paintings, hangings and tankas covering every surface, as well as cupboards containing the sacred books. There are several chortens set with precious stones and statues of the different Buddhas on the back wall. There are two large tankas rolled up above the doorway which are only displayed during festivals.

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Cupboards containing the sacred books.

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The large drums which are beaten during prayers.

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The throne of the Dalai Lama and the Head Monk with their photographs face the entrance. The benches the monks sit on are at right angles and the monks had left their top robe in a pile where they sit.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Likir Gompa continued....The Bakkang

The Bakkhang is the mian building in the courtyard and is reached up a flight of stairs. There are paintings on the walls of the outside porch showing the rules and regulations governing life of a monk.

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Inside there is a gilded statue of the thousand armed and 11 headed Avalokiteswara.

The walls are decorated with paintings of the 35 confessional Buddhas on the left and the 16 Arhats on the left.

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On an alcove by a widow there is a lovely painting of the Stairway to Heaven. This is a long winding road with a man, grey elephant and grey monkey at the bottom. As they ascend and lose their hatred and the grey gradually changes to white so they are all white by the time they achieve Heaven.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Likir Gompa continued... The Museum in the Bakkang

Above the Bakkhang is a smaller Gonkhang which contains the Museum. There are paintings of all the protector gods on the wall outside.

Inside was a small rather dusty room with display cases

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There are examples of butter sculptures. In Tibetan Buddhism, flowers are traditionally offered to statues of the Buddah. when there are few flowers, butter statues are offered instead. These were traditionally made from yak butter mixed with barley flower and colouring. Many are complex and beautiful designs. They can last for weeks but eventually are left for birds and animals to eat.

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There are small Tanka paintings hanging from the walls

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There is a good display of masks used during festivals. and festival masks.

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The display cases contain religious artefacts, old armour including a 400 year old jacket (Thaap), 800year old skull drinking cup (Thodpa) used by lamas at the time of Tantric prayer (pooja) when they drank either blood or alcohol, and 800 year old wall hangings (Fango) which was a pole framework covered with beautiful blue cloth and used to decorate the hall during functions organised by the king.

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Likir is one of the quieter and less visited Gompas. It repays visiting, especially the museum.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Basgo Gompa and Ruined Palace

Basgo was the capital of lower Ladakh until 1470 and a royal residence at different times between C15th and C17th. The remains of the palace walls and fortress stand high above village with the temples built by the King. It was an impregnable stronghold and resisted the forces of Tibet for three years.

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The village is reached reached along a side road which turns up a side valley and crosses a ford. The area was badly damaged by the floods the previous year and locals were rebuilding the bridge washed away in the floods.

The settlement of mud built houses is at the base of the hill, with the palace and gompa towering above.

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The hillside had become very eroded. Locals were concerned the ruins would be lost and they began an initiative to stablise and preserve the Palace and Gompa. They built a large mud brick restraining wall beneath the Chamba Lhakhang, using a human chain to pass the bricks up to the work face. The area has now been extensively restored with money from the World Monument fund.

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There are good views of the valley and down onto the settlement from the Palace and Gompa

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There is little left of Basgo Palace which was built in the C11th. There are the remains of walls, including a long lower wall with the remains of pens for animals and ruined towers. There is no written history and little is known about the building.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Basgo Gompa continued...Chamba Llakhang

Chamba Llakhang is the whitewashed building at the top of the hill and neart the Palace and dominates temple building at the top of the hill and dominates the site.

It is reached by a steep set of stairs and there are excellent views of the rest of the site and Basgo village from here.

Chamba Llakhang is the most important and largest temple and is thought to be C15/16th. It still has its original wall paintings, which run Alchi a close second. Every available space on the pillars and ceilings are covered with paintings. This is an excellent reason to visit, especially as photography is allowed and it is a photographers delight.

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There was a huge gold and copper statue of Maitreya Buddha on a raised dais, with two smaller Bodhisattvas.

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There are large paintings on the walls of the founder of the Red Hat Sect, Arhats and Buddhas. These are surrounded by small circles containing images of the different Bodhisattvas.

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Along the bottom of the wall was a frieze showing the different stages in life of Buddha including his early life. It was a beautiful painting with lots of detail.

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Around the top of the walls is another frieze representing the heavens with sun and moon and animal heads holding up yellow material which represents the umbrella with protector gods underneath.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Basgo Gompa continued...Serzing and Chamchung Temples

The Serzing Lhakhank is lower down the hillside and is slightly older and smaller than the Chamba Lahakhang. It is next to the palace ruin and was for exclusive use of the royal family.

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It is very dark inside. It contains a huge statue of Buddha which was so big the head was hidden by the upper storey of the temple. The side walls were painted but hidden by glass fronted cabinets containing Holy Books.

The tiny Chamchung Temple is at the bottom of the site and is built at the end of a promontory with views down to Basgo and is the best place for taking pictures of the village and fields. It was originally built as an Islamic shrine by the Muslim Baltistani wife of a local king and looks very different to other Ladakhi temples. It is surrounded by a veranda.

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The inside is dwarfed by huge statue of Buddha with pictures of the protector gods on the walls, each in intricate detail. Below is a row of Mahasiddhas with Bodhisattvas below. On top surrounding the gods are images of the peaceful poets (listener and translator) who help spread Buddhism. Above the doorway is the image of a protector Buddha surrounded by three of his manifestations and a protector god in bottom left hand corner. There are images of the cardinal kings on either side of. The main colours used are dark blues and reds with some yellows and white, so it is fairly dark inside.

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This is a delightful place to visit. It is not on the tourist tick list and receives few visitors, who rush past on their way to Alchi and Lamayuru. This is a shame as the paintings in Chamba Lhakhang are among the best in Ladakh.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Zanskar Gorge and Chilling Village

The Zanskar river is a tributary of the Indus and its lower section flows through a gorge up to 600m deep in places. The scenery is dramatic and the river is popular with the adrenaline junkies and the mountains offer serious challenges to mountaineers. We however, went for the ride and to visit the village of Chilling which is renouned for its metal workers.

There is a reasonable road up the Zanskar gorge from the confluence with the Indus as far as Chilling. It is a superb drive along a very narrow road cut out on a ledge above river. There was plenty of brown muddy water coming down from the snow melt with whirls and rapids. This section is popular with rafters but can be quite dangerous. The sides of the gorge rose steeply to jagged mountain tops. The rocks in the lower part of the gorge were dark with purple and green rocks. Further up the rocks become paler and much dustier. There is very little vegetation.

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The road crosses the river on a bailey bridge.

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A new road is being built up the opposite side of the valley to several small summer farms which are currently reached by a narrow footpath along the side of the gorge. They are found on small patches of arable land on the flatter areas above the gorge. Traditionally the women and children moved out of the villages from May to September taking the animals to the higher pastures to graze. They make butter and cheese and grow basic crops. Now only the old folk go, as younger members of family go to Leh in the summer months to work in tourism.

Mountain slopes are and there are many mud slides.

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The road skirts a small settlement of two or three houses where a side valley joins the Zanskar and there is some flat land suitable for cultivation. One was advertising a restaurant and another a homestay.

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Chilling lies just off the main river and there is enough flat land to support a small community here. The road skirts the edge of Chilling and the village is hidden by walls and trees. The valley

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Zanskar Gorge and Chilling Village continued.... Chilling

A rough track marked ‘Chilling Walk’ leads off the road and climbs up along the side of a wall above the houses. It is flanked by a mani wall. In June there were lots of rose bushes covered in pink flowers.

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The path continues through the village with its chortans and traditional houses, barns, cowsheds, pens with zho (a cross between a yak and a cow).

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Many of these still had the traditional windows covered with plaited willow.

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Big new farms are surrounded by fields of mustard and orchards.

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The path followed irrigation channels with stones controlling the direction of flow and water driven waterwheels. Weeds grow along the irrigation channels and pink rose bushes on the scree slopes.

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The path dropped down past the medical centre back to the road. Doctors don’t want to work in the villages but get posted by the government for the first two years after they qualify. Many only visit once a week.

Chilling is a delightful place. Foreign tourists rarfely get this far and we were the only visitors that day,

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Zanskar Gorge and Chilling Village continued.... The Metal Workers

Chilling is home to a community of metal workers said to be descendants of the artisans brought from Nepal in the mid-l7th century to build one of the gigantic Buddha statues at Shey but never returned home. They work in silver, brass and copper, producing items for domestic and religious use: tea and chang pots, mugs, ladles, bowls, cooking pots, horns for temples…. They are famous for producing some of the best metal work in Ladakh.

We were taken to see a father and son working from a small tent in an orchard with a small fire and hand bellows. The father was beating copper to make bowls. The son was making decorations for traditional horns. We were ‘given’ a small spoon each and invited into their home to see examples of work by made by the father.

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We were ‘given’ a small spoon each and invited into their home to see examples of work by made by the father. We were taken into a traditional kitchen with brown painted wooden shelves displaying cooking pots, plates, mugs, bowls, decorative jugs with long spouts used to serve local beer (chang), tea pots with decorated spouts handles and lids with samovar type base which would contain heated embers to keep the tea hot. (A set takes about 21 days to make and would retail at about 21000r - £300). In the centre of the room was a huge old oven made of clay and heated by wood. There were cushions around the walls for sitting.

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