The Likir Monastery is the oldest monastery in Ladakh, located around 52 km from Leh in the scenic Likir village. Belonging to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the main attraction here is a 75 feet large seated statue of Maitreya Buddha gilded in gold. There are also various paintings of guardian divinities, murals, and thangkas that adorn the walls of assembly halls. The monastery is the seat of Ngari Rinpoche, the youngest brother of Dalai Lama. â€˜Likirâ€™ means â€˜The Naga-Encircledâ€™ which represents the bodies of two great serpent spirits- Nanda and Taksako. It is believed that these serpents had guarded the monastery.
Likir Monastery was known by its original name Klu-kkhyil Gompa. The word Likir means Naga encircled. There is a belief that two serpents, Nanda and Taksako have guarded the monastery. Being the oldest and most visited monastery, Likir Gompa has numerous stories of its origin and existence. The Yellow Hat Sect or the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism is the guardian of Likir gompa and it is scripted that Tsongkhapa was the founder of this monastery in the 15th century.
To the right of the central courtyard, there is the main assembly hall or Dukhang. Both sides of the entrance are painted with the Guardians of the Four Directions. There is also a painting of a Wheel of Life mandala held by Yama. The hall has six rows of seats for the lamas and a throne for the head. It also contains statues of Bodhisattva, Amitabha, three large statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya along with Tsong Khapa, and founder of the yellow-hat sect. The walls are lined with glass bookcases containing the Kandshur (the 108 volumes of the Buddha's teachings) and the Tandshur (the 225-volume commentary on the Kandshur). In the new Dukhang, which is around 200 years old, the left wall shows different ways in which lamas wear their robes while the right wall shows how lamas should behave in a gompa. There is also an image of Avalokitesvara with 1,000 arms and eleven heads. The head lamaâ€™s room, known as Zinchun, is on the first floor of the monastery.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MONASTERY
- 75 feet statue of Maitreya Buddha
- Painting, thankas, and murals
- Hand-painted mandala (Wheel of Life)
- Gonkhang Temple
- Monastery Museum
- Dosmoche Festival
TIMING & ENTRY FEES
The timings of the monastery are from 09:00 am to 01:00 pm and from 02:00 pm to 06:00 pm. The entry fees for individuals range from INR 5 to INR 10.
- Reaching the Monastery :Â After crossing a golden-colored gate you will enter the Likir village a while later. From there, you will easily reach the monastery and can walk the rest of the distance until you enter the gate of the monastery.
- Dukhang or Assembly :Â Once you reach the main assembly hall of the monastery, you will find that the entrance is painted with guardians of the four directions on the other side of the door. To the right of the verandah, a Wheel of Life is guarded by Yama, the deity that determines a personâ€™s fate after death. There are also six rows of seats for the monks, and this is where they take their meals and perform their daily prayers. Numerous thangkas can also be seen hanging on the walls of the Dukhang, and two large chortens stand at the front of the hall. The Chorten, on the left, had a statue of Avalokitesvara, and on the right had a statue of Amitabha.
- Gonkhang Temple :Â The Gonkhang temple has numerous red pillars and colorful thangkas. The walls are painted with Buddhist deities, symbols, and the ceilings are hung with Tibetan Buddhist paintings on pieces of cloth. Moreover, a rare Jupiter tree is also placed in the courtyard of the monastery.
- Monastery Museum :Â Afterward, we headed towards the monastery museum, where some Buddhist artifacts, ancient thankas, and Buddhist literature were put on display. Meanwhile, all the lamas set out to have their lunch in the monastery kitchen, where they were served rice, dal, and mixed vegetables.
- Maitreya Buddha Statue :Â As you walk out of the monastery, you will come across the monasteryâ€™s main attraction, the statue of Maitreya Buddha. The colossal Buddha statue is seated on the roof of the monastery.
PLACES TO VISIT
- Lamayuru Monastery :Â The Lamayuru Monastery is one of the oldest and most significant monasteries in Ladakh. It is perched at a high altitude of 3,511 meters above sea level. Not only is the monastery one of the largest monasteries in all of Ladakh but, this Tibetan Buddhist monastery is also the oldest gompa in the region and is also popularly known as â€œthe place of freedomâ€ or â€œTharpa Lingâ€.
- Diskit Monastery :Â The Diskit Monastery is the oldest and the largest Buddhist monastery in Diskit, Nubra Valley of the Leh district of Ladakh. Also known as Deskit Gompa, the monastery belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, who was a disciple of Tsong Khapa, the founder of Gelugpa, in the 14th century.
- Thiksey Monastery :Â The Thiksey Monastery is situated at an altitude of 11,800 feet and houses various Buddhist artifacts, including thangkas, stupas, wall murals, sculptures, and swords. The Maitreya Temple is one of the monastery's most prominent attractions as a massive statue of Maitreya Buddha can be found inside of the temple, which spans two storeys and is 15 meters tall.
- Shyok Valley :Â Set against the backdrop of the arid Himalayan peaks, the Shyok Valley is home to some of the most breathtaking views in Ladakh. It is located at an elevation of 10,500 feet on the banks of the Shyok River.
- Padum :Â Padum is the only town in and the administrative center of the Zanskar sub-district in Ladakh. The town has been named after Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche), who is the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.
- Travelers are advised to consult their doctors before commencing this journey to Leh Ladakh because it can be tedious and demanding, and the climatic conditions can get extreme, especially in winter .
- Do visit the museum at the top of the monastery. It is small but well-maintained, and the charge per head for entry is INR 20.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit the Likir Monastery is between the months of May and October since the roads to Leh Ladakh is open from Srinagar and Manali side.
How to Reach
- By Air The nearest airport is Leh Airport, which is well connected with some major airports in India, including New Delhi. From the airport, taxis can be hired to reach the hotel in Leh and then make a day trip from Leh to Likir Monastery and back the next day after acclimatization.
- By Train - The nearest major railway station from Leh is Jammu Tawi, at a distance of 812 km from Leh. Taxis can be hired from the railway station to reach Leh over Srinagar Leh Highway in a 3-day journey with overnight halts at Srinagar and Kargil. Some people do prefer to stay overnight at Alchi or Likir after Kargil to be more cautious about AMS issues.
- By Road - There are basically two routes that you can opt for if going by road â€“ The Manali-Leh route (473 km) and the Srinagar-Leh route (434 km). The first route remains open from July to September while the other route remains open from June to October. Self-driving or hiring a taxi is the best option. Alternatively, you can hop on to local buses which run from 5:30 AM to 3:30 PM between Leh and Likir.