Of all the monasteries we visited in Ladakh, the Thiksay Monastery seemed, by far, the most impressive. Perched atop a hill with buildings layering its slopes, it was difficult to miss even from afar.
We drove up to the monastery instead of using the steep pedestrian access, and found beautiful stupas on one side of the arched entrance to the complex. Colourful prayer flags gaily fluttering in the breeze added to the sense of serenity about the place.
A signboard welcomed us into the monastery, also informing visitors like us about basic rules. A staircase led us up to a huge prayer wheel behind which we found a wall painting depicting Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism or the Yellow Hat sect, to which the Thiksay Monastery belongs.
Climbing higher, we passed another stupa and some more, albeit smaller prayer wheels, before entering a courtyard with temples on either side.
The courtyard is rich with colourful murals painted on its walls. These are said to depict Tsongkhapa and the Buddha, among others.
We visited the Maitreya Temple first. A 15m high statue of Maitreya (Future Buddha) bearing a benevolent expression in the centre of the prayer hall was a huge surprise – pun intended! This is said to be the largest statue of the Buddha in all of Ladakh.
Opposite this temple lies another, dedicated to goddess Tara. The goddess and 21 more images of her are displayed in beautiful cabinets. Unlike the other temples in the monastery, the Tara temple was flooded with natural light.
The entrance to the main prayer hall is through a small vestibule, the walls of which are covered with interesting murals.
The main prayer hall itself was poorly illuminated, filled with various articles of Buddhist faith. The inner sanctum behind the prayer hall housed the statue of a seated Buddha, flanked by the Bodhisattvas, Manjushri and Maitreya on each side.
The next temple we visited within the complex was the Gonkhang – the Temple of the Protectors.
This one was positively eerie. Small, dark and claustrophobic, with skull-bearing, many-armed gigantic figures occupying the tiny space, this temple didn’t demand time from us like the others.
The paintings on the walls were equally eerie.
Walking up the stairs beyond the Temple of the Protectors, we came to an open terrace. The sweeping views of the surrounding landscapes were simply phenomenal!
The top floor houses a library, but we didn’t explore it. We made our way down the stairs, and decided to pop into the gift shop attached to the monastery to have a look.
On our way out, we met this kind monk who was happy to pose for a picture with my kid.