All Attractions

Ambran

Far away from the idyllic mountains of Ladakh which reverberate with Buddhist chants, Nirvana-seekers can now hear the sacred hymns in the city of temples as Jammu will soon get its first Buddhist temple-cum-cultural centre, adding another landmark to the city where thousands of students from the coldest region of the state come for studies. Although work on the cultural centre at Channi Rama was started in 2006-07, so far, only a two-storey building has been completed for which land was provided by the government.  The work got stalled due to shortage of funds arranged by the All Ladakh Gompa Association which has decided to complete the building. When contacted, All Ladakh Gompa Association president Shedup Chamba said the remaining work on the centre would be started soon. “The delay was mainly because of fund shortage. It is a huge building and needs crores of rupees. All the funds are being collected through donations. We want to make it a living relic of a unique Tibetan Buddhist culture being followed in Ladakh region,” said Chamba.  Apart from a ‘gompa’ (Buddhist temple), the centre will have a conference hall, rooms for visitors and an information desk to give people a glimpse of life and religious ceremonies. It will also have a meditation room-cum-library.The building has been given a typical Buddhist prayer hall shape which sets it apart from other structures in the vicinity close to the Jammu-Pathankot national highway.  “For years, our students pursuing studies in Jammu have no place where they can assemble. They had to hire or rent costly hotels or auditoriums in the university to host social events,” said Sonum Dawa, member of the Ladakh Hill Development Council.  Jammu has a centuries-old connection with Buddhism. Around 30 km from the city centre, there is a place called Ambran on the banks of the Chenab river in Akhnoor where archaeologists found ruins of the Kushan period which ruled the state in the eighth century. A gompa and living quarters of monks was found at the site. Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama had visited the ancient Buddhist ruins in December 2012, highlighting its importance.

Dzongkhul

Dzongkhul Monastery or Zongkhul Gompa is located in the Stod Valley of  Zanskar in Jammu and Kashmir in northern India. Like the Sani Monastery, it belongs to the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.  Dzongkhul has traditionally been home to famous yogins. It is sited near the foot of a wide valley which leads to the pass known as the Umasi-la which joins Zanskar and Kishtwar.Its foundation is attributed to Naropa (956-1041 CE), who was a celebrated Indian Buddhist yogi, mystic and monk from the renowned Vikramshila University in Bihar. He is said to have meditated in one of the two caves around which the gompa is built and the monastery is dedicated to him. His footprint can be seen in the rock near the entrance to the lower cave.   The gompa contains images and thankas of famous Drukpa lamas.  Zhadpa Dorje, a famous painter and scholar created some of the frescoes on the cave walls almost 300 years ago. Impressions of Naropa's ceremonial dagger and staff are also said to be in the rocks in his meditation cave[6] which attracts many pilgrims. Until about the 1960s there were some 20 resident monks, but the numbers have dropped sharply in more recent times. It also contains a rich collection of precious artifacts, such as an ivory image of Samvara, a crystal stupa, and texts containing spiritual songs and biographies. Dzongkhul became a flourishing Kagyu meditation centre under the Zanskari yogi Ngawang Tsering (1717-1794).Dzongkhul is in a south-western side valley of the Bardur River. It is built directly on a rock wall with two caves behind. In front are about 10 stone houses which tend to blend in with the surrounding rocks from a distance. About 10 minutes' walk from the gompa is a high viewing spot similar to the one at Hemis Monastery with a beautiful view from the terrace.

Hemis Monastery

Hemis is situated around 45 kms to the south of Leh on the western banks of the Indus River. The Hemis Monastery is the biggest and very richly endowed monastery of Ladakh. It was built in 1630. Impressive and intriguing, Hemis is different from the other important monasteries of Ladakh. The monastery is decorated on all four sides by colourful prayer flags which flutter in the breeze and send prayers to Lord Buddha.The main building has white walls. The entrance to the complex is through a big gate that reaches a large courtyard. The stones of the walls are decorated and painted with religious figures. On the northern side are two assembly halls, and as in most of the monasteries one can also see the guardian deities and the Wheel of Life here. The Hemis Monastery also has an important library of Tibetan books and a very impressive and valuable collection of Thangkas, gold statues and Stupas embedded with precious stones.One of the largest Thangkas is displayed every 12 years during the Hemis Festival, held for two days in June-July. The annual festival, commemorating the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava brings alive the courtyard of the monastery. The festival, where good triumphs over evil in a colourful pageant, also holds the annual 'bazaar' where Ladakhis from remote areas buy and sell wares. During the festival, various rituals and mask dances are performed in this courtyard. Hemis is about 40 km from Leh and can be visited comfortably in one day if one is traveling by car or jeep.

Ladakh

Buddhism in Ladakh is ancient and widespread and a popular theme for cultural tours in Ladakh. The population of Ladakh is predominantly Buddhist and Ladakh has been deeply influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, which follows the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools. In these forms of Buddhism, Buddha is worshipped a deity who has attained Nirvana (freedom from the cycle of birth and death). Various incarnations of Buddha, known as Bodhisattvas, are also worshipped in monasteries. Many tourists undertake trip to Ladakh to explore, understand and learn from the ancient Buddhism which is practiced here. The mythology of Tibetan Buddhism has many tales of various spirits and demons. These representations of both good and evil qualities are depicted in the form of masks and their stories are enacted as masked dances during the annual festivals of various Gompas in Ladakh.Dalai Lama: The Buddhists of Ladakh regard His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as their supreme spiritual leader and as living incarnation of Buddha. The present Dalai Lama, who is the 14 Dalai Lama was originally known as Tenzin Gyatso. As a child he was recognized as an incarnation of the previous Dalai Lama, who had passed away in 1933. Tenzing Gyatso was brought to Lhasa and proclaimed the new spiritual leader of the Tibetan people on Feb 22nd 1940.Due his resistance to the Chinese occupation Tibet, the Dalai Lama became an icon of political as well as spiritual leadership for the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama left Tibet and came to India in March, 1959. Ever since, he has led an international campaign against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989 for his leadership of the struggle for the peaceful liberation of Tibet.Some Common Buddhist Terms are: Gompas: A Gompa is a spiritual community where monks or nuns live and practice their religion. Gompas in Ladakh are also educational institutions and play a central role in the life and economy of the local community. Gompas are more than just monasteries and many have museums where tourists can view collections of Buddhist art. The annual festivals in Ladakh are celebration at the Gompas which is a colorful sight with masked dances and religious ceremonies drawing both pilgrims and tourists in large numbers. Chortens and Stupas: Chortens and stupas are dome shaped structures built over a square base. They are usually built in memory of a Buddhist monk or religious teacher. Some stupas may contain relics of holy men. Chortens are often decorated with Buddhist prayer flags and offerings such as oil lamps or flowers etc may be placed around them. Thangka: Thangkas are Buddhist religious paintings that depict episodes from the life of Buddha or various Boddhisatvas. Rich in symbolism and Buddhist imagery, Thangkas are religious artifacts and the art of learning to paint a Thangka is a discipline that requires extensive training. Mandala: A Mandala is a symbolic representation of the Universe according to Buddhist iconography. A colorful design made from sand on the floor of a monastery or painted on a wall or screen, a mandala is believed to have mystical powers that aid in meditation concentration and prayer. Mandalas often depict a palace with four gates, which open to the four principal directions of the Earth. Mandalas are used in the rituals of a monks initiation and are called the 'Architecture of Enlightenment' Mandalas made of sand are usually swept away after a prayer ceremony to symbolize the impermanence of life. The designs of the Mandala follow an ancient tradition and consist of concentric circles and intersecting lines. The process of learning to create a Mandala is part of the training of every Tibetan monk.Central Institute of Buddhist Studies: The Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in Ladakh is the premier for the study of Buddhism in Ladakh. Established in 1959, the institute was created by the combined effort of ten important Gompas of Ladakh. Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, extended the support of the Indian Government to this institute of learning. The Institute currently offers courses from primary education to Doctoral Degrees and has 29 Gompas and nunneries affiliated to it. The Central Institute of Buddhist Studies is located in Choglamsar, about 8 kilometers from Leh.