Pilgrimage & Culture Journeys
With its abundance of ancient monasteries, Ladakh
is ideal ground for pilgrimage journeys to these age-old pillars
of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also a region where ancient trade caravans
once passed through on their way to the teeming markets of Central
Asia. Numerous monasteries lie within easy driving distance from
Leh while others are more remote and require a few days to reach.
Each region and almost each village in Ladakh has its own monastery.
Home to student monks and nuns many of these edifices stand on
rugged mountain sides high above the valley floor and provide
religious sustenance to the local populace strengthening their
beliefs and traditions. All our pilgrimage journeys are undertaken
by Jeeps that provide easy access even to remote areas. We offer
four selective pilgrimage journeys that very much take in the
major accessible monasteries and the villages that once hosted
traders of the fabled silk route.
In a larger pilgrimage group we offer the services
of a highly trained 'yogi' to teach and perform prayers on different
occasions during the tour.
Leh - Nubra Valley: 3-4 Days. Includes a
days Camel Safari.
Maximum altitude: 18,380ft/5602m (Khardung La)
The enchanting Nubra valley lies between the Ladakh and Karakorum
mountain ranges north of Leh town over the second highest motorable
road in the world. The first sight of this fertile valley is unforgettable
as you sight the wide river basin of the Shyok river.
This fascinating journey takes you over the 5602m / 18,380ft high
Khardung La into the fertile Nubra Valley. Once a humming trading
post during the days of the merchandise laden caravans traversing
the fabled silk route enroute to the bazaars of Central Asia,
it now attracts visitors from all over the world. The ancient
Diskit Gompa presents you with a 180 degree view from its prayer
flag adorned terrace. Ahead sprawl the extraordinary sand dunes
on the banks of the Shyok. We also visit the most important Gompa
in the valley - the Samstem Ling monastery high above the relaxed
Sumur village. Nubra incidentally lies on the route to one of
the largest glaciers in Asia - Siachen. Presenting a rich green
panorama of barley, millet and buckwheat fields and fruit orchards
around quaint villages, Nubra is also home to the double humped
Bactrian camel a reminiscent of the heydays of the silk route.
Leh -Zanskar: 8 Days
Maximum altitude: 14,440ft / 4400m (Pensi La)
South west of Leh, stretches the stark and isolated territory
of Zanskar which means white copper in the local dialect. It is
a vast land covering over 7000 Sq.Kms. of desolate barren mountains,
deep river valleys and deep blue skies. Lying sprawled between
the Zanskar and Great Himalayan mountain ranges, Zanskar plays
host to two important rivers- the Stod and Tasrup lifelines for
this agrarian community. Here stand ancient monasteries high up
on craggy barren mountain sides. We take you visiting in the ancient
monasteries of Zangla, Rangdum Karsha, Bardan and Stongde all
rich in intricate Thanka paintings, enormous gilded statues of
the Buddha and his incarnations and tomes of ancient valuable
scriptures. Zanskar which lies open for visitors for only four
months a year offers the visitor spectacular views of the rugged
landscape and a land immersed in monastic traditions that seems
to have resisted time.
Leh -Drokpa Tribal Da Hanu & Biama Villages
Tour: 3 Days
Maximum altitude: 13,450ft / 4100m (Fatu La)
An enlightening Jeep Safari into the villages of the Drokpa tribals
a visibly different tiny ethnic community that live in the area
north of Kargil town. With their angular Aryan features, they
stand out among the other Ladakhi people with their unusual costumes
and fancy head gear. They subsist on agriculture and are a lively
community who still believe in animism. We visit two villages
and get to see this vibrant and racially different community in
their homes and share a traditional meal with them.
The Leh Monastic Tours
Numerous monasteries stand close to Leh. Most of
them are ancient and over 500 years old and house a wealth of
statues, fine Thankas and tomes of scriptures. The older monasteries
lie sheltered in and around the Zanskar valley some distance away
from Leh. Golden Peak Adventures takes you on leisurely visits
to these living heritage sites with each day tour taking in three
to four monasteries while the ones further away involve a nights
About twenty minutes south east of Leh stands Shey, the erstwhile
capital of Ladakh which was abandoned only after the Dogra invasion.
Strategically located it still has remains of some ancient fortifications
falling victim to the vagaries of the weather. You will notice
a number of Chortens around the village unlike other Gompas and
also an engraving on a rock that show five Buddhas on lotuses
in meditation on animal vehicles. The main temple itself bears
a gigantic image of Sakhyamuni with numerous butter lamps burning
before it while intricate paintings adorn the walls though these
are now filmed over with a greyish layer of soot emitted from
the lamps over the years. The other temple too has a huge statue
of Sakhyamuni said to have been built by Nepalese craftsmen specially
brought here. The walls have fine paintings which are brighter
here having been done more recently representing the sixteen disciples
Further east of Shey a short drive away is the imposing Thikse
monastery built in the mid-fifteenth century, rising up in tiers
on a craggy hillside resembling a sized down version of the Potala
Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Before entering the complex there is a
new temple housing a large statue of the Maitreya Buddha sitting
in a lotus position with beautiful bright murals behind depicting
his life. Climbing up a steep stairway, the original main temple
is gloomy with ancient wall paintings portraying the darker deities
while further on another chamber has a large image of the Sakhyamuni.
There is also a large library with ancient scriptures. Once on
the terrace you are afforded with fantastic views of the fertile
green fields stretching to a horizon of towering snow clad mountains.
This is the largest and richest monastery in Ladakh known for
its gigantic Thanka painting that is unveiled only once every
12 years - the last one was in 2004 - and its dramatic masked
dances during its annual two day festival. This is the time when
you get to see the resident Lamas dressed up in ornate gowns slowly
dance around the flagpole in the centre of the temple's courtyard
to the sounds of enormous trumpets, horns, cymbals and drums.
This festival dedicated to Padmasambhava is clearly focused on
the victory of good spirits over evil. Nestling in a craggy mountainside
after a grove of green willow and polar, the monastery is said
to have been built in 1630. The main temple has a ferocious looking
partly veiled deity and quite a few murals now in disrepair. On
the left of this main temple stands an exquisite silver Chorten
adorned with turquoise and other semi-precious stones while other
Chortens around the temples are also elaborately designed.
Above Thikse Gompa in a spectacular setting stands the Stakna
monastery rising above the flat plains of the Indus. Said to be
older that Hemis, it appears like a solitary edifice rising up
from a vast plain and can be easily distinguished from a distance.
Outside the main temple, in the courtyard is a finely designed
silver Chorten decorated with bright turquoise while inside are
beautiful murals and paintings that seem to have been done when
the monastery was built. A torch is essential to catch glimpses
of these finer artworks.
Once the royal seat of the Namgyal dynasty which ruled Ladakh,
it is still home to the descendants of the royal family. A fascinating
museum houses the royal heirlooms, ancient relics and religious
artefacts of a splendorous era gone by. Finely painted thankas
depict the life of the Sakhyamuni dating back to the mid 16th
century and seem to have been painted just recently. There are
two tiny temples with gold and bronze images of the Buddha. There
are also interesting displays of armoury and weaponry besides
seals and coins of the royal family. One particular item of interest
is a sword with a violently twisted blade. Other household items
used by the royal family include finely crafted silver and copper
vessels and delicate porcelain and jade cups and bowls. Also on
display are some the Queen's jewellery and ornaments made up of
turquoise, other semi-precious stones and fine pearls.
This ancient edifice is both a palace and a monastery. Containing
three temples within the complex, Basgo was once the capital of
Ladakh before the Balti conquest around the 15th century. Inside
the temple are some of the most beautiful murals painted in the
dedicated to Maitreya, the temples are ornately decorated with
figures of Tibetan Buddhism including deities, and other divinities.
Numerous scriptures are stored in wall racks and there is an exquisitely
carved door leading to a chamber where a huge image of Maitreya
The paintings are quite imaginative some portraying a seas with
people bathing, and Buddhas amidst cityscapes with buildings and
palaces. Second in fine artwork only to the Alchi Gompa Basgo
is well worth a visit.
Further west of Basgo, stands the famous Alchi Gompa known for
some of the finest art and religious paintings and statues in
the Western Himalayas. Set amidst a green oasis surrounded by
a stark barren landscape, with its five temples, Alchi seems to
have been a revered centre of Buddhism. Inscriptions within the
temple date its construction to the 11th century. It was also
a place from where the second spread of Buddhism in Tibet germinated.
The monks who serve here belong to the Ge-lugs pa sect many of
them from the nearby Likir monastery. The painting style here
is entirely different than those found in other Gompas of the
region and they all appear to be in an excellent state of preservation,
rich in colour and detail. Here you'll find a fine painting of
Rinchen zangpo the great translator, images of Sakhyamuni, Avalokiteswara
and other superb art forms. A torch is an essential item as all
of the temples and chambers in Alchi do not have any light save
for that filtering in from windows or doors. Replete with sculptures,
images, statutes and paintings Alchi is an art lovers treasure
trove. The design of the main temple or du-khang is unique being
unlike any other Gompa structure in the Himalayas. Housing superb
wood carvings, and the images of three Bodhisattvas attired in
unusual costumes painted with different buddhist images, the monastery
of Alchi has astounded many by its incredible state of preservation
over the years especially with its location in such a remote site.
One of the most dramatically located monasteries in central Ladakh,
Lamayuru stands clinging to a cliffside overlooking a deep canyon.
Some structures resemble Alchi but do not have the fine detail.
Said to be the oldest monastery in central Ladakh, the main temple
stands outside a cave in which the ancient sage - Marpa is said
to have meditated. There are some old thangkas but surprisingly
no paintings. With its spectacular location, Lamayuru does not
have so many ancient artefacts or statutes as one might think
but is still used for worship being looked after by monks of the
Dri- gung-pa sect.
The Zanskar Gompas are all imposingly located
and contain a wealth of ancient images, delicate wall paintings
and intricate thangkas besides tomes and tomes of scriptures.
Rangdum Gompa is one of the well know ones standing on a rock
overlooking an extensive flood plain. Belonging to the Ge-lugs-pa
sect, Rangdum has a number of beautiful murals dating back to
the 18th century. The other Gompas in Zanskar include Bardan,
Sani, Karsha, Stongde and the awesome Phuktal cave monastery.
Some of these Gompas are not approachable by road and require
walking a day or two.
Golden Peak Adventures arranges special tours of these remote
yet fascinating Gompas on request.
For further details or Itineraries email us