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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 9 of 25: Hemis Gompa

photo by Michael

Hemis Monastery

This is the biggest, wealthiest and most important monastic institution in Ladakh. It is on the west bank of the Indus and built on a green hillside, hidden deep in a side valley surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery.


It is reached by a side road from Karu. It is a superb drive up the valley surrounded by tall, jagged mountains with very marked strata running at an angle down the sides of the slopes. Snow covered peaks can be seen at the head of the valley. 


Gradually the village comes into view with chortens and mani walls. The village is on the other side of the river with mud brick houses with brown wooden window frames and flat roofs. The houses are surrounded by beautifully made terraced fields with stone walls supporting the terracing. In June, there were wild rose bushes, covered with pink flowers growing along the side of the road. The road goes round a bend and there is Hemis Gompa, set against a dramatic background of mountains. 


Hemis Gompa dates back to 1630 and was founded by the first incarnation of Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso, who enjoyed the patronage of the royal family. The lamas of Hemis were prosperous, owning much land and and supervising many smaller scattered Gompas. It is the headquarters of the Drukpa order (Red Hat) of Bhuddhism and trains Lamas for the Gompas at Leh, Shey and Bazgo. Most of the monks live at the subsidiary Gompas.


There is a parking area at the base of the Gompa with a steep climb to the main door. This takes you into the courtyard where the mask dance is held during the annual festival. When we visited, three monks were practising dances for festival next month to the accompaniment of drum and cymbals.


There is a covered walkway with old wall paintings in panels on two sides with the Museum building at the far end. To the right are two large temples up small flights of stone steps with a wooden verandah running along the front of them. The temple on the left is the Tshogs-khang (main temple) which was shut (June 2011) for restoration work.

On the right is the Dukhang (used for ceremonies) which has the throne of the Rimpoche and seating areas for the lamas. It is a big room with tall wooden pillars and wall hangings. Natural light is from a square cupola with windows.


There is a statue of Giyalwa Stagtsang Raspa who founded monastery and, to his right, a statue of the protector god Giyalpo Pehar. The walls have paintings of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) with blue hair, paintings of the 84 Mahasiddhas who have received enlightenment and whose job it is to take Buddhism to the people and the 16 Arhats.
 
Above the doorway is a huge rolled up Tanka. This is displayed once every 12 years during the festival, with the next showing in 2016. 



Guru Lhakhang is reached by steps to the right of the Dukhang. This  is the newest temple and has a big statue of Guru Padmasambhava who is the head of the Tantric sect. Beneath him is a statue of Miyu Thung Giuanlongpoche, looking very fierce. He was a local king and a supporter of Guru Padmasambhava. He is represented carrying him to show his respect to the power of Guru Padmasambhava. On the walls are paintings of the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava.


Hemis is Ladakh’s wealthiest Gompa as it was endowed by the kings and nobles. Being situated in a remote valley and regarded as being relatively secure, other Gompas brought their treasures to Hemis for safe keeping.  



A selection of these treasures is displayed in the museum. There is a large entrance hall with ticket office and shop selling a good range of post cards, books and gifts. The museum is down a flight of stairs and has display cases arranged round the walls of several large rooms. No photos are allowed. The display consists of statues, mantra paintings, religious objects, weapons, musical instruments, the King’s throne...

Lighting is not very good and labeling very basic. It is worth visiting with a knowledgeable guide.

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