Shey Palace and Gompa
On a quest to see palaces of the lost Kingdom of Ladakh, we reached Shey Palace. It is about 15 Km from Leh and lies on the Leh-Manali road. The Palace locates on the top of a hillock overlooking the Shey village and a sandy trail connects the palace with the highway. There are numerous prayer wheels along the trail which suggest the existence of a monastery inside the erstwhile royal palace.
We went up; it was only a few minutes’ walk and an easy trail. We also climbed few stairs and reached the 17th century built Shey Palace! Well, the entry to the Palace was after the payment of a nominal entry fees of Rs.20/- per person.
FROM THE PAGES OF HISTORY – The village ‘Shey’ was the old capital of the upper Ladakh. The present structures or ruins are not the remains of old capital ‘Shey’ but of the new capital of Namgyal Dynasty. It was the 5th king of Ladakh, Sengge Namgyal (1616-1642), who built the Leh Palace (to read about Leh Palace click here). His son Deldan Namgyal, the 6th King of Ladakh, in the memory of his father built the Shey Palace and the Shrine in 1655. It was used as a summer palace by the royal families. However, in 1834 the royal families abandoned the Shey Palace and Leh Palace due to invasion of Ladakh by Dorga forces of General Zorawar Singh and moved to Stok Palace which locates about 13Km from Shey Palace. Presently the Palace is a historical monument and is maintained and managed by the Archeological Survey of India.
The protruding balconies of Shey Palace are magnificent to give you a feel like a King while standing there and posing for a camera shot! In the extreme right of the palace we saw white chortens which add beauty to the splendid view of Shey. The Palace has the largest Namgyal Chorten (victory stupa) in Ladakh, the top of which is made of pure gold.
We strolled around the palace. An uneven narrow path took us close to fortress most of which are now in ruins. A post of sentry still stands tall around the ruined fortress.
We came back to see the monastery of the palace which is very popular for the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. The king who built the Shey Palace also built a monastery adjacent to it, which is known as “Shey Monastery”. We entered inside the monastery. Seeing the golden image of Shakyamuni inside, we got mesmerized. The magic spell begun and I started capturing the moments in my camera.
This golden image of seated Lord Buddha, as per Archeological Survey of India, is 7.5m high and was made of copper and brass plated with gold, silver studded with gems and precious stones. Perhaps this statue of Shakyamuni Buddha is the only image of its kind in Ladakh!
Stok Palace – the home of royal family!
The last palace of the King of Ladakh, Stock Palace, became the royal residence since Ladakh lost to General Zorawar Singh of Jammu and Kashmir. The last king of Ladakh Tshepal Namgyal was dethroned by the General of Rajput ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh and exiled to Stock Palace. In 1846 Ladakh came under Dogra rule and was incorporated into the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Stok Palace is the home of King’s heirs and is open to the visitors.
The distance of Stok Palace from Leh town is 14 Km and it locates at 13 Km away from Shey Palace. As we reached there, we saw a cafeteria before the entry gate of the Palace.
A counter at the entry gate was selling ticket at Rs.50/- per person. Ticket was for entry into the Stok Palace Museum which opens for the visitor from May to October and remains open from 8hrs to 19hrs. The palace encircles two sides of the courtyard which situates at the entry point and the cafeteria occupies the other two sides. The roof top sitting place of cafeteria offers a splendid view to its visitors.
We entered into the Palace. It has another small courtyard inside. The walls of the palace are decorated with local sheep’s stuffed head.
The upper floors of the palace house museum and monastery. While in the palace, you may come across with members of royal family. I did! It was for informing that photography inside the museum is not allowed! The rooms of the palace open to the visitors are the king’s room, queen’s room, palace gompa and a room that displays a Ladakhi Kitchen. Among all, the best I found was the royal Ladakhi Kitchen. It is the traditional kitchen of royal family which displays utensils, ceramics, clay pots and clay stoves with chimney. Dining area inside the kitchen is beautifully decorated with low height tables. It’s a no photography zone! A staff of the palace was with the visitors to discourage photography inside. But there are some parts of the palace where you can take photographs.
Some of my photographs from the Palace are here:
It was my great experience to visit these royal palaces in Ladakh. By PALACE what comes primarily to our mind is a grand royal residence which is made in timeless elegance. But the palaces of Ladakh are not of such kind, yet they stand high to show their presence in the glorious past of a kingdom that lost in time!
I will come back soon with a post on some other places of interest in Leh. Till then-