Location: 27-km South of Leh,
Ladakh Region, J&K
Main Attrcation: Matho Gompa
Monastic Festivity: Matho Nagran Festival
Matho, 27-km south of Leh , straddles a spur at the mouth of an
idyllic side valley that runs deep into the heart of the Stok
Kangri massif. Though no less interesting or scenically
situated than its neighbours, the Gompa, the only representative
in Ladakh of the Sakyapa sect that held political power in 13th
century Tibet, sees comparatively few visitors.
Matho Nagran Oracle Festival
Despite its collection of four hundred year old Thangkas, the
monastery is best known for its Oracle Festival Matho Nagran,
held on the 25th and 26th day of the second Tibetan month. Two
oracles, known as "Rongzam", are elected by lot every three
years from among the sixty or so resident lamas. During the run
up to the big days, the pair fast and meditate in readliness for
the moment when they are possessed by the spirit of the deity.
Watched by crowds of rapt onlookers, they then perform all
manner of death defying stunts that include leaping blindfold
around the Gompa's precipitous parapets while slurping kettle
full of Chang, and slashing themselves with razor sharp 'Sabres'
without drawing blood. The events are rounded off with colourful
Chaam dances in the monastery courtyard, and a question and
answer session in which the Rongzam, still under the influence
of the deity, make prophecies about the coming year.
The Colourful Festive Attires
One can check out the costumes and masks worn by the monks
during the festivals in Matho's small museum, tucked away behind
the Du-khang. Men are also permitted to visit the eerie
Gon-khang on the roof (strictly no photography), where the
oracles weapons and ritual garb are stored. The floor of the
tiny temple lies under a deep layer of barley brought as harvest
offerings by local villagers.
Matho is famous, at least amongst Ladakhis, because of its
oracle. The 'Lhaba' of Matho is, in contrast to the oracle of
Tikse, a priest and lives in the monastery. On special days the
oracle runs all over the mountains near matho; he is blindfolded
and 'sees' only with a painting on breast and back. The oracle
speaks to the village dwellers by a small spring at the foot of
the monastery mountain.
HOW TO GET THERE
Road: Unlike Tikse, across the Indus, Matho doesn't lie on the
main highway, so is less accessible by bus. Buses leave Leh
daily at 8.00 am and 4.00 pm, returning at 9.30am and 5.30 pm.
By car, Matho also makes an ideal half way halt on the bumpy
journey along the unsurfaced left bank road between Stok and