Hemis Gompa (49 km)‘Largest’, ‘wealthiest’ and ‘most influential’ are words associated with Hemis Gompa located just outside the north-eastern boundary of the national park named after the monastery. This monastery, whose name is derived from the shape of the valley formed in the shape of the Tibetan letter ‘he’, stands tall and proud on a hill slope on the bank of the Indus River.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this gompa belongs to the Drukpa (Red Hat) sect and was founded by a religious leader in 1630. It was re-established by King Sengge Namgyal in 1672. But the gompa’s history predates that. In the 13th century, a Buddhist sage is believed to have chosen a lofty and secluded location amid the towering mountains behind the present monastery and meditated in a cave here. Many believe this was the original Hemis Gompa.
The richly painted monastery complex is large and takes several hours to fully explore. It has beautiful thankas, a copper-gilt statue of Buddha, stupas made of gold and silver and many auspicious objects. The museum in the complex has a splendid collection of ancient artefacts including some interesting masks. Thankfully, information on these is displayed, so that visitors can appreciate various aspects of Buddhist religion and culture. One of the most prized possessions at the monastery is the largest thanka or cloth ‘painting’ (12 mt long) in all of Ladakh. But the thanka is displayed only once in 12 years.
Hemis is also noted for its colourful festival celebrated annually in June or July and attracts tourists from across the world. Many time their Ladakh tour to coincide with this festival. During this time, monks dressed in colourful traditional dress with fearsome masks on their faces dance and put on a grand show.