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.