Likir Gompa (52 km)

Likir monastery stands on a hillock in the middle of a fertile valley of the Indus River. The most noticeable feature is a massive gilded statue of the Buddha sitting atop the roof. At 75 feet, this impressive statue is a beacon for the gompa and can be spotted from a distance like beacon.

This gompa is among the oldest monasteries in Ladakh. The original structure was built way back in 1065 AD but was fortified with peripheral walls in the 15th century. This was a period characterised by a power struggle between different Buddhist sects and Likir, as did many other gompas, added fortifications around its sacred space. A fire in the monastery complex in the 18th century required extensive renovations, which is why the gompa doesn’t exactly look as old as it really is.

Likir monastery is large and has two central halls. It is noted for its beautiful murals, paintings, thangkas, clay statues, earthen pots and stupas. Another attraction is a giant juniper tree in the courtyard, one of the last survivors of its species in the region. The gompa is an important centre of education, and the monks here receive their education under the aegis of the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies.

The monastery is headed by the younger brother of the Dalai Lama. However, he married against the rules of the sect and does not live in the gompa but visits on important religious and festive occasions. Although more than 50 km from Leh, Likir the gompa is situated just off the Srinagar-Leh Highway and is easily accessible. Worth visiting but can be skipped if you’re on a tight schedule.