Shey Palace & Monastery (14 km)

Amazingly, Shey Palace houses a three-storey-high (39 mt) statue of Buddha plated in copper and gold and it is worth visiting even if only to gaze at this marvel. Located 16 km south of Leh on the way to the Thiksey Monastery, the palace is the old capital of Ladakh built by King Deldan Namgyal in 1655.

The monastery in the palace complex is both architecturally and culturally rich and almost every wall si covered with beautiful paintings and murals. But the defining feature is definitely the massive statue of Buddha. The copper and gold used to plate the figure were mined and carted all the way from the Zanskar region in Ladakh and the master craftsman was brought to Shey from neighbouring Nepal to sculpt the statue. The figure was so large that it had to be cast in parts and then welded together in the monastery. Arugably, descendants of the sculptor still reside in Chilling village and are silversmiths by profession.

The story of Shey doesn’t end – or begin – here. The palace is a relatively modern structure predated by a fort built above it. The fort, whose ruins are still visible, is believed to have been built by King Nyima Gon in the 10th century, and rock carvings in the vicinity lend credence to this belief.

The palace takes it name from the village nearby. It was then called ‘Shel’, which means ‘glass’ or ‘reflection’, as the fort cast a beautiful reflection in the lake below. However, there is no evidence that this lake actually existed and may be a mythological creation. There’s more.

Here’s a tidbit for Bollywood buffs. Movie-goers who have watched the film 3 Idiots will recognise the Druk Padma Karpo Institute in Shey village as it was depicted as the school run by actor Aamir Khan’s character Rancho in the movie. In movie-mad India, it’s no surprise that the school has been fondly dubbed Rancho’s school’.