Majestic Ladakh : Royal Palaces in Leh

There was a time when the Kingdom of Ladakh was divided in lower and upper Ladakh.  Lower Ladakh was ruled from Basgo which lies on the Srinagar-Leh highway. We saw the ruined Basgo Palace on our journey to Leh from Kargil. The upper Ladakh was ruled by a different King from Leh and Shey. But later, like it happened in the history of any other Kingdom, the Basgo king Lhachen Bhagan had overthrown the King of Leh and reunited Ladakh. Being victorious the king took the surname Namgyal (meaning victorious) and founded the Namgyal Dynasty which survives still today.  Kings in different reign had established palaces, fortress and gompas in and around Leh which are now maintained and managed by the Archeological Survey of India and are great places to visit.

Leh Palace

Leh Palace

Like every other travelers in Ladakh, we too spent our second day in Leh. It is advisable to spend a day or two in Leh for acclimatization before going to any places of higher altitude like Khardung La or Pangong Lake. Leh has many great places to offer to its visitors including stunning landscape views, palaces, monasteries, stupas, war memorials and river Indus at Sindhu Ghat. We decided to visit the palaces and gompas on our second day in Leh and first to visit by us was the Leh Palace and Namgyal Tsemo Gompa.

Leh Palace of Namgyal Dynasty

The erstwhile royal residence of Leh locates around 2 Km from the main market place. Though the Palace locates on a hill top overlooking the Leh town it can be reached by car. As we reached the Palace we saw wandering young monks on bike!

Wandering Monks at Leh Palace!

Wandering Monks at Leh Palace!

The opening hour of the Palace is from sunrise to sunset and the fees for entry to it is @Rs.5/- per person (the fee is Rs.100/- for foreign national other than travelers from SAARC countries). The entrance of Leh Palace is decorated beautifully by wood carvings.

Wood Carvings at the Entrance of Leh Palace

Wood Carvings at the Entrance of Leh Palace

We bought the entry ticket and entered into the nine storey palace. The roof of the Palace is made of mud and thick clusters of woods. We walked through the corridors which turned out to be an exhibition place displaying paintings and photographs. It took us to a larger hall which also displayed old paintings and photographs.

Corridor of Leh Palace

Corridor of Leh Palace

Exhibition Hall in Leh Palace

Exhibition Hall in Leh Palace

As per Archeological survey of India, the palace was constructed using stone, mud bricks, poplar woods, mud mortar and wooden rafter. The walls were finished by mud plaster. The door heights are very low and we had to duck while entering into the rooms in the Palace. Rooms inside the Palace are dark and no royal belongings can be expected to see inside!

Chapel inside the Leh Palace

Chapel inside the Leh Palace

The palace houses a Chapel with the statue of Buddha, Mahakala (a protector deity) and a stucco figure of Du-Kar, a form of Prajnaparamita which means ‘Perfection of  Wisdom’ (personified as goddess). Religious texts are also well preserved inside the Chapel.

Mahakala, a protector deity in the chapel

Mahakala, a protector deity in the chapel

Lord Buddha

Lord Buddha

Du-Kar

Du-Kar

Religious Texts

Religious Texts

Leh Palace was built as the royal residence by King Sengge Namgyal (reign 1616-1642) in the 17th century. It was the home of the royal family until they abandoned it and moved to Stok Palace in 1834 due to invasion of Ladakh by Dogra forces of General Zorawar Singh of Maharaja Gulab Sigh, Jammu.

Roof of Leh Palace

Roof of Leh Palace

I went to the roof which provides panoramic views of the town and the surrounding areas. From the protruding balcony of the palace I could see the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa which locates on the top of Tsemo Hill above the Leh palace.

Balcony at Leh Palace

Balcony at Leh Palace

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
Namgyal Tsemo Gompa

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa

We followed a young monk who was climbing the hill to Namgyal Tsemo Gompa. The path was steep and dusty. For us it was a steep walk of 15 minutes and we reached the monastery.

On his way to Tsemo Gompa

On his way to Tsemo Gompa

Entry to Tsemo Gompa

Entry to Tsemo Gompa

Tsemo Gompa

Tsemo Gompa

Built in 1430 A.D. by the King Tashi Namgyal, the Gompa consists of two buildings. In one temple we saw a huge statue of almost three storey high Maitreya Buddha (Future Buddha).

The 8m tall Maitreya Buddha

The 8m tall Maitreya Buddha

The impressive image of Maitreya Buddha can be seen only from the ground floor as there is no access to go up. I sat there for a while in tranquil and sought blessings of the Lord.

One can see this much of the Statue at eye level

One can see this much of the Statue at eye level

Maitreya Buddha, a close up

Maitreya Buddha, a close up

The other shrine is a Gonkhang of protecting deities. Inside of it the image of Lord Budhha was surrounded by the protector deities whose faces were covered by cloths.

Gonkhang

Gonkhang

Protecting Deities

Protecting Deities

Walls inside the Gonkhang were decorated with beautiful mural painting of Buddhist Deities of which the mural of Deity Green Tara was prominent.

Mural Painting of Deity Green Tara

Mural Painting of Deity Green Tara

The old Namgyal Tsemo is situated further above and one has to walk on narrow rocky path to reach there.

Way to Old Tsemo Gompa

Way to Old Tsemo Gompa

Rocky Path to Old Gompa

Rocky Path to Old Gompa

I entered into the old Gompa and saw a beautiful chorten (stupa) on the middle, a tall idol of Avalokiteshvara on the left side and an idol of Manjushri on the right.

Inside the old gompa

Inside the old gompa

Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara

Idol of Manjushri

Idol of Manjushri

My visit to the Leh Palace and Namgyal Tsemo Monastery made altogether a great experience. The climb to the Tsemo Gompa may be tiring, but the views it offer of Leh town and the surrounding places is rewarding.

View of Leh Town from the Gompa

View of Leh Town from the Gompa

My visit to other Palaces and Gompas in and around Leh continued about which I will write in my next post. Till then-

Julley!

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Ladakh

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namgyal_dynasty_of_Ladakh#List_of_kings_and_period_of_reign

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sengge_Namgyal

 

15 Comments

  • Uday Baxi says:

    Dear Anupam

    An excellent write-up this time with exquisite photographs. It was good to read about the Leh Palace and Tsemo Gompa. I liked the way you have included words from local dialect to describe the idols or gompas. The picture of the cabinet containing old religious scriptures was the best. How old will they be? and how would they preserve those pictures in the cold and misty climate?

    Anyway, waiting for the next post..

    Regards

    • Dear Uday,

      Thank you very much for appreciating the post. Actually, before going to Ladakh I gathered some basic knowledge about Tibetan Buddhism and tried to understand them. In Ladakh I realised that all those monasteries are there to tell you a unique thing and hardly there was any guide. There is every possibility to loose interest in visiting these centuries old monasteries if we not know some basic about Buddhist deities and monasteries. Due to its tough terrain only a few visit Ladakh comparing to any other touristy places in India. Many adventurous travelers go there to experience the high passes, lakes and spectacular landscape views. But if you start taking interest in these monasteries, they will really take you to an another era and you will start seeing a lost kingdom! I tried my best to write something which may help those who wish to travel on the road to a lost Kingdom !

      Thanks once again, Uday!

  • SilentSoul says:

    beautiful updates Anupam

  • SilentSoul says:

    have you tried joining two fotos of Buddha to make one full one ?

  • Arun says:

    Khoob Bhalo Dada.

  • Dr Prabhat Tandon says:

    Excellent coverage Anupam !! Many 2 metta !!

  • Indrani says:

    Amazing place. Your write up strengthens my urge to visit the place.
    Lovely colorful captures.

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Dear Anupam,
    Excellent work! All your logs are so precisely elaborated that it needs a re-reading. I have now realised how foolishly I escaped Leh with just a night halt, during my road journey. Through your logs you have done a wonderful job by giving Leh-Ladhak its due recognition. Photos are tempting too.

    Keep traveling
    Ajay

    • Dear Ajay Ji,

      Thank you very much for your kind words. What I believe is that Ladakh is not enough for once. So it is always a next time, and I believe this time you will explore Ladakh to its maximum.

      Thanks once again.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Enough has been written so let me simply say this that you were draped in a matching outfit :-).

    Details about Buddhism along with splendid photos is a treat for anyone reading this.

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