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 villagers
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
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 time.
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.