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Report 1932: Ladakh Takes Your Breath Away

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2011

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Page 10 of 25: Shey Palace and Gompa

photo by Michael

View from Shey Palace

Shey is a short drive south east of Leh. It was the summer capital and seat of power of the first king of Ladakh, Lhachen Spalgigon, who built the Palace in 1645 below the remains of an earlier Palace. Some believe this was the power base of the Tibetan kings in the 11thC. Now it is a ruin, as the royal family was forced to abandon it by the Dogras midway through the last century. It is being restored with government money using local labour.

A side road climbs steeply towards the Palace with the final bit done on foot, up many steps. There is a large chorten and near by local women were busy cleaning butter lamps. This is a labour of love.

In the middle of the Palace complex is the main Assembly Hall, the Dukhang, which is kept locked apart from Auspicious Days. It contains a 7.5m copper statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, which stretches up through the three floors of the Lhakhang. Only the upper Lhakhang is open where the head and top of the body of Buddha, covered with yellow robes, can be seen. The walls are covered with 17thC wall paintings.

There are good views from the ruined Palace, which towers above the village with a lake beneath. Feeding the fish is a popular pastime.

On a bend in the main road beneath the Palace there is an 8thC carving of five Tathagata Buddhas.

To the east of the palace is Ladakh’s biggest chorten field with hundreds of whitewashed shrines of varying sizes scattered across the desert landscape. The chortens are 15thC and many are now very eroded. They were built by the King of Shey and his prisoners taken in battle as an atonement for their sins.

Shey Village House

We spent one night in Shey Village House, which is one of the houses used by Shakti Himalaya.

This was reached along a narrow road between high walls. The road had been washed out by the 2010 floods and was very rough. It is unlikely money will be available to repair it. In the fields were huge deposits of silt from the floods.

The house is entered through a small gateway from the road into a yard. The building is thought to be about 200 years old and is huge. We climbed the steep steps into a dark hall with a huge mirror on the opposite wall and kitchen area off. More steps lead to the first floor with a large patio area with table and chairs where we ate breakfast and lunch. There were views down onto the garden with small fields waiting to be cultivated and brick cow shed with two cows. There is a ladder up to the roof which is used to store fodder.

The rooms are arranged round this open area. There is a small lounge with chairs and floor cushions and bedroom with three large windows. The family shrine is up three steps and has a decorative painted doorway with wall paintings on either side and a small container for the butter lamps.

A second bedroom is at the end of a long corridor. This is a huge room with tremendous character. There are two wooden pillars and a wood burning stove. The two small windows make it quite dark. On one wall is a large mirror propped against wall. The huge bed has white muslin drapes with gold edges. It is very high and we needed the footstools provided to climb in. There is a hanging rail for clothes and a beautiful old painted cupboard.

There is a big bathroom off with basin, toilet, shower and good towels. There was a good range of locally produced toiletries. The hand cream and lip salve were particularly effective. It is a long run from the outside wood fired boiler, so it can take a long time for the water to run hot.

Dinner was in the big old kitchen and was cooked on a couple of gas fired burners. It was an excellent meal.

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