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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 6 of 25: Leh Sights

photo by Michael

Leh Palace rising above the Old Town

Leh Palace

Everyone begins with Leh Palace, which can be reached by walking up through the old town or else by road which winds round the edge of the town and climbs up through desert scenery to the Palace. There are splendid views down on Leh from the Palace. The Palace is surrounded by small Lkakhangs and the newly restored Government Ministerís House.

The Palace towers nine stories high and dominates Leh. It was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the early 17th century. The upper floors accommodated the royal family, with stables and store rooms on the lower floors. It was abandoned in the mid 19th century when Dogra forces took control of Ladakh and the royal family moved to Stok.

The massive walls taper inwards slightly to improve stability. The lower part of the walls are built of dressed stone blocks with horizontal beams of poplar to give strength. Upper walls are made of sun dried mud bricks.

Over the years the Palace has become ruinous but the Archaeological Survey of India has begun to restore parts of the Palace and put in new window frames. Local labour is used and there were women carrying three heavy stone slabs on their backs up the steps and ramps to where needed.

Inside is a rabbit warren of passageways, stairs and rooms. It would be very easy to get lost. It is very dark with little light and dust everywhere. We went into the central Lhakhang with a statue of the Buddha of Compassion, old festival masks, sacred books and wall hangings. We climbed up to the main assembly hall where the King would meet with his ministers. This is a large room with clerestory window. There are the remains of the original wall paintings which are in poor condition. Unfortunately many have graffiti scrawled over them. There is an exhibition in the room showing before and after pictures of restoration work done by the the Archaeological Survey of India.

Sankar Gompa

Sankar Gompa is situated in the suburbs of Leh and is unusual because it is not built on a hill. This is a quiet and peaceful spot. It is a small Gompa with about 25 monks and gets few visitors. Guide books give opening times of morning and evening. We visited at midday and found a monk to let us in through the big metal doors and to open the Dukhang (Main Assembly Hall) for us. Inside the walls is a small garden surrounded by a covered walkway and the Dukhang on one side. The pathway from the gateway had the eight lucky signs painted on it.

The Dukhang is a simple, whitewashed building, with steps up to the temple. Inside the walls are covered with paintings. The throne of the head monk is facing the doorway with the benches for the monks at right angles to it.

Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa is a massive white structure built on top of a hill by the Japanese in 1983 to promote world peace and prosperity and to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism.

This is a short drive from Leh, past an army camp and up a steep hill. It has panoramic views across the fields to Leh, the desert and surrounding mountains.

Below the Stupa is a small Japanese temple which has three monks and a caretaker. A short staircase with a large Dhama wheel at the top, leads to the first floor walkway of the Stupa, with a painted frieze. There is another staircase to the second floor walkway which has four large painted statues of Bhudda and decorative frieze with smaller pictures of Bhudda.

We enjoyed this more than expected.

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