I began this morning with an attempted run up to the Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist
temple perched on a ridge above our hotel. I use the word “attempted”, as while I ascended the steep path of some 500 steps up to the temple, I found myself panting and unable to continue running up. I think i’ll blame it on the altitude. After all, Leh
sits at around 3505 meters (11,500 feet), so that's easy enough to do. At that point my run temporarily changed into a hike, and I proceeded to walk up to the top. Upon arriving at the top of the hill but below the actual Shanti Stupa itself, I opted not to go continue walking up to the Shanti Stupa at that time. Instead I proceeded to immediately take a different trail on the back side of the Shanti Stupa back down the large hill, eventually making my way back to our hotel. A nice morning warmup!
After breakfast we hopped in a cab and road past Leh’s airport to the outskirts of the city to Spitok Monastery. Spitok Monastery
, built in the 15th century atop the ruins of another temple, is a beautiful monastery perched atop a ridge with very scenic views of the adjacent Indus Valley. We arrived at Spitok at about 8:20 this morning in order to witness a particular Buddhist
ceremony we had heard through word of mouth would be occurring: the destruction of a sand mandala
by the monks. At Spitok, rather than merely painting the mandala, the monks paint the mandala in sand. We had never seen the likes of anything similar before, so we decided it would be an interesting spectacle to observe.
We arrived at the monastery and walked around, escorted initially by a young 14 year old monk whom we had spoken with upon our arrival. When we entered the main temple at the monastic complex, we had the good fortune to meet one of the more senior monks present. He showed us the sand mandala. As photographs are not allowed in the inner sanctum of the temple, words will not do justice to describe this sand mandala. It had taken several monks multiple days to draw the design in the sand and subsequently paint the mandala’s design. The colors were bright and vivid, and the intricacy of the design was amazing. Unfortunately, however, we had arrived several days too early to witness the destruction of the mandala.
We continued chatting with the monk in the temple, and as the monks were about to have tea and their morning breakfast in the temple, the monk invited us for a cup of tea and to eat breakfast with them. Breakfast consisted of so-called Ladakh bread - which is virtually indistinguishable from the pita-type bread ubiquitous from the Balkans through much of the Middle East - and a hard-boiled egg. The monk spoke excellent English, and our nearly hour long discussion with him fascinated us. We discussed the role of Buddhism in Ladakh, the changes occurring in Ladakh with modernization and a number of related topics. Absolutely fascinating! These are the experiences I savor most when traveling.
After our visit to the Spitok Monastery, we hitched a ride back into town. After lunch and a few hours of wandering around the bazaar and Leh’s back streets, in mid-afternoon we hiked up to the Namgal Tsemo gompa
, a Buddhist monastery set atop a cliff overlooking the city and a couple of hundred meters above the former palace of Ladakh’s royal family. The main temple of the Namgal Tsemo gompa
proved to be especially interesting, as inside the main temple was a giant wooden Buddha. Given that this temple is perched atop a cliff, it must have taken quite an effort to bring the giant Buddha up the side of the cliff into the temple.
After leaving the Namgal Tsemo gompa, we walked up a nearby trail to the so-called “Peak of Victory” before we hiked down the cliff to the former palace of the royal family. A prime example of medieval Tibetan architecture, while walking around the dilapidated palace, we felt that it had not been renovated since its construction in the 16th century. While restoration work has begun on certain parts, there is still a long way to go.
We are doing a day bike excursion the day after tomorrow, and thereafter we are going to begin the Markha Valley trek. Therefore, tomorrow we will be mostly tying up loose ends as we will be out of pocket and inaccessible for more than a week while trekking in the Markha Valley.