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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 7 of 25: Thicksey Gompa

photo by Michael

Main courtyard and Dukhang

Thicksey Gompa is huge and and is built up the side of a rock rising from the flood plain of the Indus. It has been described as one of the finest examples of Ladakhi religious architecture and one of the most beautiful. it was built about 1430 and belongs to the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) Order of Buddhism. About 100 monks live in the monastery.

The building has twelve levels which ascend the hillside with the red painted chief lama’s private residence at the top. Below, the white monastery buildings tumble down the hillside with temples and rooms where the monks live.

The side road climbs steeply up the side of the rock and ends in a small car park. Through the gate is a restaurant and gift shop. The road continues to climb to a courtyard in front of the Dukhang, where festival dances are held. This is surrounded by covered passages with wall paintings. Steep steps climb up to the yellow painted Dukhang, where morning prayers are held.  

Inside the Dukhang, the throne of the Dalai Lama with his picture faces the door, with the low benches for the monks arranged at right angles to the door. There are old wall paintings of the protector kings, Tankas hanging from the ceilings, butter sculptures and statues of Buddha and other great monks

Behind the main hall is a smaller room with a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha surrounded by smaller statues.

Try to visit Thicksey in time for the 6:30 early morning prayers (puja).

The monks sit cross legged on benches chanting from the holy books in front of them. This is quite an hypnotic experience. Young monks serve butter tea at different points in the service from large tea pots. This looks pink and tastes like hot milk. Apparently this is the best way to start trying butter tea as that made in local homes is a lot saltier. Later on a large container of tsampa (roasted barley) was taken round. Monks took a handful and mixed it into the butter tea to make a paste before eating it.

There are excellent views from the Gompa of Thicksey village far below.

The Gompa owns all the land and farmers are allowed to keep 10-12% of their produce for their own use. The rest goes to the Gompa as ‘rent’. The Gompa also provides employment for locals as drivers, cleaners, secretaries, hotel managers etc. It owns a  guest house, two restaurants, souvenir shop and a Tibetan Medicine Centre. Money taken in these is used for the upkeep of the building. The locals support the monks and give them money to buy clothes. 

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