OF JAMMU & KASHMIR
The gompa's steps climb past the monk's quarters
to the first of a group of temples. Local legend has it that a Mongol
demon, a sworn enemy of Buddhism, was slain nearby, but his lifeless
body kept returning to the gompa. What are reputed to be his wrinkled
head and hand, grey and ageless, are now clasped by a pot-bellied
protector deity in the spooky Gon-khang, a dark and claustrophobic
temple, packed with fierce gods and goddesses.
The tiny Lachung temple, higher up, is the oldest here. Soot-soiled
murals face a huge Tsong-kha-pa statue, topped with a Gelug-pa yellow
hat. In the heart of the gompa, the Du-khang's remarkable mural,
filling a raised cupola above the hall depicts Tibet's Tashihunpo
Gompa, where the Panchen Lama is receiving a long stram of visitors
approaching on camels, horses and carts. Finally, the Kangyu Lang
and Tsangyu Lang temples act as storerooms for hundreds of Mongolian
and Tibetan texts, pressed between wooden slats and wrapped in red
and yellow silk. Buses return to Leh from Diskit. There's a bus
to Sumur and Panamic.
The locals dressed in their finest traditional
garb celebrate the festival with great pomp and festivity. Large
crowds flock to have a glimpse of the colorful two-day festival.
The vibrant mask and chaam dances, which are performed with great
enthusiasm, are special features of delight for the spectators.
Accompanied by cymbal crashes, drum rolls and periodic groans from
the temple trumpets, the lamas dressed in opulently brocaded silk
costumes and ghoulish masks, mime episodes from Buddhist mythology.
The show culminates on the second day with a frenzied dismemberment
of a dummy, symbolizing the destruction of human ego, and thus the
triumph of Buddhism over ignorance and evil. The dramas are also
a form of popular entertainment eagerly anticipated by the Ladakhi
In central Ladakh. The monastery, a small under-gompa
of Spitok, is staffed by twenty monks, and is the official residence
of the Kushok Bakul, Laddakh's head of the Gelug-pa ("yellow hat")
sect. Appropriate for such a high-ranking rinpoche, his glass-fronted
penthouse enjoys pride of place on top of the main building, crowned
with golden spire and a dharma chakra flanked by two deer (symbolizing
the Buddha's first sermon in Sarnath). A flight of steps leads from
the courtyard to the Du-khang (main prayer hall).
Beyond the Lords of the Four Quarters and Wheel of Life mandala
that adorn the verandah, you enter a high-ceilinged hall whose walls
write with lustrous multicolored murals. Those on either side of
the doorway are most amazing: many armed pot-bellied bovine monsters
drink blood from skull cups, while the copulating yab-yum couples
to the right are garlanded with severed heads and engulfed in swirling
red and yellow flames.
Above the Du-khang stands the gompa's principal; deity, Tara, in
her triumphant, 1000-armed form as Dukkar, or "Lady of the White
Parasol", presiding over a light ,airy shrine room whose walls are
adorned with a Tibetan calendar and tableaux depicting "dos and
don'ts" for monks. Another flights of steps leads to the gompa library
and, eventually, a roof terrace with fine views towards the north
side of Namgyal Tsemo hill and the valley to the south.
Visible in the distance, at the top of a huge moraine
of pebbles swept down from the mountains, the elegant four-storey
Stok Palace stands above barley terraces studded with threshing
circles and whitewashed farmhouses. Built early in the nineteenth
century by the last ruler of independent Ladakh, it has been the
official residence of the Ladakhi royal family since they were ousted
from Leh and Shey two hundred years ago.
A former member of parliament, still lives here during the summer.
One of the room is converted into Museum. The fascinating collection
comprises some of the family's most precious heirlooms, including
antique ritual objects, ceremonial tea paraphernalia, and exquisite
sixteenth-century thangkas illuminated with paint made from crushed
rubies, emeralds and sapphires. The pieces de resistance, however,
are the Gyalmo's peraks.
Still worn on important occasions, the ancient headdresses, thought
to have originated in Tibet, are encrusted with slabs of flawless
turquoise, polished coral, lapis lazuli and nuggets of pure gold.
Also of interest are a couple of swords whose blades were allegedly
tied in knots as a demonstration of strength by king Tashi Namgyal,
and several sacred dzi stones -"pearls of pure happiness", said
to have fallen from heaven, and worn to ward off evil spirits.
Every hour bus leaves from the town bus stand of
Leh. Tikse's reincarnation as a major tourist attraction has brought
it mixed blessings: the income generated has enabled the monks to
invest in major refurbishments, among them the spanking new Maitreya
temple immediately above the main courtyard. Inaugurated in 1980
by the Dalai Lama, the spacious shrine is built around a gigantic
gold-faced Buddha-to-come, seated not on a throne as is normally
the case, but in the lotus position. The bright murals on the wall
behind, painted by monks from Lingshet gompa in Zanskar, depicts
scenes from Maitreya's life.
The key-keeper will show you around the tiny chapels behind the
head lama's throne, pointing out the ancient cloth-bound manuscripts
stacked in wooden racks against the side walls. Before you leave
the Du-khang, check out the enormous thangkas stored on the shelf
opposite the main doorway. They are unrolled once each year during
the annual chaam dance festival, Tikse Gustor. For most foreign
visitors, the highlight of a trip to Tikse is the view from its
lofty roof terrace. A patchwork of barley fields stretches across
the floor of the valley, fringed by rippling snow-flecked desert
mountains and a string of Tolkien-esque monasteries, palaces, and
Ladakhi villages. Tibetan trumpets - played on the rooftop at puja
The spacious roof tops of the monastery command fabulous views. Paldan Lumo chapel perched on
a high ridge above is more fascinating than the complex, which is a typical mixture of dusty, dimly lit prayer halls and vivid modern shrines. Another interesting shrine is the one dedicated to Vajra Bhairavi, a tantric guardian deity of the Gelug-pa order. This chamber is distinctly spooky and houses a row of veiled ferocious faces, which are unveiled, only once a year. After waving incense smoke before them and muttering some mantras (prayers), the key-keeper lama will pass around handfuls of sweets newly infused with protective power. The highlights of this place are the paintings on the rear wall of the chapel, which date back 600 years and are Spitok's oldest building.