If one sight could be said to sum up
, it would have to be Lamayuru Gompa, 130-km west of
. Hemmed in by a moonscape of scree covered mountains, the white washed
medieval monastery towers above a scruffy cluster of tumbledown mud brick
houses from the top of a near vertical, weirdly eroded cliff.
According to an old legend there was, the valley of Lamayuru, in the time of the Sakyamuni Buddha, a crystal clear lake where the Nagas lived. Arahat Madhyantaka prophesied that in later times a monastery would be built there and through a supernatural force he emptied the lake. In the 10th century Naropa, one of the 80 wise men, visited the valley of Lamayuru and spent many years meditating in a hut.
The First Monastery Of Lamayuru
The first Lamayuru monastery was built under Rinchen Zangbo at the end of the 10th century, under orders from the king of Ladakh , who altogether had 108 Gompas built in west Tibet. It was built on the broken mountain in the valley and consisted of five buildings, of which only the central building stands today. One can still see some remains of the four corner buildings to the west.
The Gompa has an impressive 11-headed, 1,000-eyed image of Chenrezig. In its heyday up to 400 monks lived in the monastery but today there are only 20 to 30 who belong to the yellow hat sect. Many Lamas from Lamayuru now go out to other parts of Ladakh as teachers.
A Place For All
In the 16th century the monastery was declared a holy site in which even criminals could seek sanctuary. For that reason even today it is known to Ladakhis as 'Tharpa Ling', 'Place of freedom'.
Considered A Prime Attraction Since Primitive Times
A major landmark on the old silk route, the Gompa numbers among the 108 (a spiritually significant number, probably legendary) founded by the Rinchen Zangpo in the 10th and 11th centuries. However, its craggy seat, believed to have sheltered Milarepa during his religious odyssey across the Himalayas, was probably sacred long before the advent of Buddhism, when local people followed the Shamanical 'Bon' cult.
Passage To Zanskar
The main reason visitors make the short detour from the nearby Srinagar -Leh road is to photograph the Gompa from the valley floor, or to pick up the trail to the Prikiti-la pass - gateway to Zanskar, which begins here.
The footpath from the highway brings one near the main entrance to the monastery, where one should be able to find the Lama responsible for issuing entrance tickets and unlocking the door to the Du-khang. Lamayuru's newly renovated prayer hall houses little of note other than a cave where Naropa, Milarepa's teacher, is said to have meditated, and a rancid collection of Yak-butter sculptures. If one is lucky, one will be shown through the tangle of narrow lanes below the Gompa to a tiny chapel, whose badly damaged murals of Mandalas and the Tathagata Buddhas are contemporary with those at Alchi.
Road: Lamayuru lies too far from either Leh or Kargil, 107-km west, to be visited in a day trip, so one either has to call in en route between the two, or else spend the night at the monastery itself. The regular bus service to Leh departs at 10.00 am and the one to Kargil at noon.