Location: 45-km Southeast Of Leh,
Ladakh Region, J&K
Founded: 350 Years Ago
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.
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
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
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.