Lamayuru Gompa (125 km)

Like Likir and Alchi, the monastery at Lamayuru is one of the oldest and also one of the largest gompas in Ladakh. It is accessible only after you cross the Foto -La, the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh road.

Built in the 10th century, Lamayuru gompa was once an important Bon monastery, a shrine belonging to the animistic Bon religion believed to predate Buddhism. Structures have since been added to it and the oldest temple was built by the great Tibetan scholar Rinchen Zangpo.

The monastery comprises many shrines and also has a very rich collection of thankas and magnificent wall paintings, wood carvings, statues and frescoes. It was also once an important centre of learning and housed as many as 400 monks although it now has only 50 resident monks, with the rest living in the village.

The monastery is not particularly impressive but it holds an important place in Ladakh’s history and has many legends associated with it. According to one legend, in the 16th century, the king of Ladakh Jamyang Namgyal was afflicted with leprosy and was cured by a lama or Buddhist priest. The grateful kind gave the lama the monastery and declared the area surrounding the monastery a sanctuary where no one could be arrested. That’s how Lamayuru is also called ‘Tharpa Ling’, a ‘place of freedom’.

If you visit Ladakh in July, make sure you travel to Lamayuru gompa to witness the dramatic festival known as Yuru Kabgyat. The festival is marked by mask dances by the lamas and the burning of effigies, which signifies the destruction of the ego in every individual.

There’s another reason tourists are drawn to this gompa. Like a jewel in an exquisite setting, Lamayuru monastery is surrounded by a ‘moonscape’ formed by bare, silvery grey mountains that resembles the lunar landscape. Absolutely stunning!