Thikse Gompa (19 km)

Thikse is one of the largest and architecturally most impressive gompas in Ladakh. Modern pilgrims, aka tourists, have reported a ‘transformational experience' after visiting this monastery, which is 12 storeys high and built on a mountaintop. The starkness of the landscape surrounding the gompa coupled with its amazing views of the surroundings sets the stage for what can only be described by a spiritual tour inside.

Situated at an altitude of 3,600 mt, Thikse monastery was built in the mid-15th century and belongs to the Gelugpa or Buddhist Yellow-hat sect. Located near the Leh-Manali Highway, it offers fabulous views of the east and west plains of the Indus, the Royal Palace of Stok across the Indus and Shey Palace.

In terms of prominence, Thikse Gompa is second only to Hemis and administers several others spread across Ladakh. But this was not the monastery’s original location. According to an intriguing legend, a disciple of the founder of the Gelugpa sect was sent out to spread the teachings of the faith, far and wide. He first chose a site in nearby Stagmo village and set up a monastery there. Keen to spread the faith even further, he decided to build a larger gompa and its location was chosen according to a prediction he had made.

The disciple predicted that his teachings would be better embraced on the right bank of the Indus River. When his prediction came true, he built the Thikse Monastery at its present location, and was it grand! The sprawling monastery has many shrines, stupas, chambers, all of them decorated with delicate silk paintings or thankas, murals and traditional paintings. The assortment of shrines depicts the life of Buddha.

The main assembly hall is large, and, spending a few quiet minutes inside can be very calming. Visitors are allowed to attend the main prayer session in the morning, where rows of monks flank the main aisle that leads up to a beautiful statue of Buddha. The rhythmic chanting, sound of cymbals occasionally clashing and drum beats is a rare and moving experience.

This monastery also houses a nunnery. This is significant as Thikse Gompa played an important role in elevating the status of female monks from a role of servitude to spiritual practice.