Matho, 27-km south of
, straddles a spur at the mouth of an idyllic side valley that runs deep
into the heart of the Stok Kangri massif. Though no less interesting or
scenically situated than its neighbours, the Gompa, the only
representative in Ladakh
of the Sakyapa sect that held political power in 13th century Tibet, sees
comparatively few visitors.
Matho Nagran Oracle Festival
Despite its collection of four hundred year old Thangkas, the monastery is best known for its Oracle Festival Matho Nagran, held on the 25th and 26th day of the second Tibetan month. Two oracles, known as "Rongzam", are elected by lot every three years from among the sixty or so resident lamas. During the run up to the big days, the pair fast and meditate in readliness for the moment when they are possessed by the spirit of the deity.
Watched by crowds of rapt onlookers, they then perform all manner of death defying stunts that include leaping blindfold around the Gompa's precipitous parapets while slurping kettle full of Chang, and slashing themselves with razor sharp 'Sabres' without drawing blood. The events are rounded off with colourful Chaam dances in the monastery courtyard, and a question and answer session in which the Rongzam, still under the influence of the deity, make prophecies about the coming year.
The Colourful Festive Attires
One can check out the costumes and masks worn by the monks during the festivals in Matho's small museum, tucked away behind the Du-khang. Men are also permitted to visit the eerie Gon-khang on the roof (strictly no photography), where the oracles weapons and ritual garb are stored. The floor of the tiny temple lies under a deep layer of barley brought as harvest offerings by local villagers.
Matho is famous, at least amongst Ladakhis, because of its oracle. The 'Lhaba' of Matho is, in contrast to the oracle of Tikse, a priest and lives in the monastery. On special days the oracle runs all over the mountains near matho; he is blindfolded and 'sees' only with a painting on breast and back. The oracle speaks to the village dwellers by a small spring at the foot of the monastery mountain.
Road: Unlike Tikse, across the Indus, Matho doesn't lie on the main highway, so is less accessible by bus. Buses leave Leh daily at 8.00 am and 4.00 pm, returning at 9.30am and 5.30 pm. By car, Matho also makes an ideal half way halt on the bumpy journey along the unsurfaced left bank road between Stok and Hemis.