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Hemis

Location: 45-km Southeast Of Leh, Ladakh Region, J&K
Founded: 350 Years Ago
Founded By:
Monastic Festivity: Hemis Setchu Festival

The Hemis Festival

Thanks to the Hemis Setchu festival - one of the few held in summer, when the passes are open - Hemis, 45-km southeast of Leh , is the most famous Gompa in Ladakh . Every year in mid-July hundreds of foreign visitors join the huge crowds of locals, dressed up in their finest traditional garb, that flock to watch the colourful two-day pageant.
Hems Monastray

An Enormous Thangka

Once every twelve years, the Hemis festival also hosts the ritual unrolling of a giant Thangka. The Gompa's prize possession, which covers the entire fašade of the building, was embroidered by women whose hands are now revered as holy relics. Decorated with pearls and precious stones, it will not now be on show again until 2004. Among the treasures on permanent display is an exquisite Buddha Shakyamuni, also inlaid with jewels. The serene faced colossus sits in the Cho-khang chamber at the far end of the courtyard, along with a couple of richly inlaid silver Chortens.

Hemis Gompa

Hemis Gompa is the largest and one of the most important in Ladakh quite apart from its annual festival. It was founded about 350 years ago by Stagtshang Rinchen, who was invited to Ladakh by king Singe (also spelt as Sengge) Namgyal.

One can gain an impression of the extent of the monastery area on the climb to the so called "Eyrie", a hermitage reached by a one hour, 3-km climb to 3,900 metres, 1,000 metres higher than Hemis. The 13th century monastery predates the Hemis Gompa and was built by Syalwa Gotsang-pa, who meditated in a cave nearby. A small shrine has been built around the cave, where one can see his foot and hand print in the rock.

Trek Towards The Gompa

There are about a dozen monks living there the small Gompa serves as a retreat for many of the lamas from Hemis and it also services many of the monasteries in Ladakh by printing religious texts using carved wooden blocks, yak oil and lamp black, and rice paper imported from Burma (also known as Myanmar). The climb is quite strenuous because of the altitude; one should not undertake it lightly. While the Ladakhis, who are used to the scarcity of oxygen, will virtually sprint up the mountainside, a visitor will need to take quite a few rest breaks.

The thousand square metre courtyard of the Hemis Gmopa is entered from the northeast. The two prayer flags, in front of the first steps up to the Du-khang, form the middle point during the festival. A few places are reserved for guests but it is sometimes possible to buy 'admission tickets' to the gallery from business minded monks! The day before the two-day festival is devoted to demonstrations.

The Celebrations & Performances

On the first day of the festival the part, which foreigners can watch, begins at 10.00 am with ceremonies in the courtyard. After prayers in the Dukhang the Rimpoche climbs the steps up to the courtyard, accompanied by musician monks, crosses it and takes his place underneath the gallery.

The Tranquil Ambience

If one visits the Gompa outside the festival time one will be impressed by the stillness of the valley. One will also have the opportunity to see the various chapels, the opportunity to see the various chapels.

Dukhang & Lakhang

Near the Dukhang is the Lakhang, which is the first one after a small set of steps from the yard. The doors are placed inwards so that the front room stands behind, its roof supported with four poles. The sidewalls of this front room are covered with partially damaged frescoes of the watchers of the heavenly directions. In the Dukhang, the general assembly room, the throne of the Rimpoche dominates the sitting places of the monks.

In the Lakhang there is a large gilded statue of the Buddha Sakyamuni with blue hair, surrounded by several silver Chortens, which, as in Spitok Gompa, are decorated with semi precious stones. There are also beautiful frescoes in the Lakhang Nyingpa, which is otherwise practically empty. The hands of the artists who prepared the Gompa's giant Tanka are revered as holy relics, but Hemis also has many lesser, but still interesting, Tankas. Hemis also has an excellent library, particularly well-preserved wall paintings and good Buddha figures.


HOW TO GET THERE

Road: By car, Hemis is an easy day trip from Leh . By bus, services are only frequent during the festival; at other times a single daily service leaves at 9.00 am and returns at 12.30 pm, leaving no time to have a good look round.

 

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