45km from Leh is the scenic town of Hemis, famous
for its Buddhist Monastery – Hemis Gompa – built by the Ladakhi King Sengge
Namgyal. The significance of this monastery extends to its inclusion in the
seven wonders of India and a World Heritage Site in India.
A major tourist attraction, it is known for its
scenic mountain view by the banks of the river Indus and the incredible
mountain range around it.
With copper, gold and silver statues of Lord
Buddha, Hemis Monastery stands to be one of the wealthiest monasteries in the
country. You can visit and admire the vibrant Buddhist kaalchakra paintings on
its walls. It also has thangkas – painting of Buddhist deities on cotton or
silk – and murals on display. Hemis belongs to the Drukpa Lineage or Red Hat Sect
of Tibetan Buddhism. The Buddhist flags don all sides of the monastery, sending
out prayers and wishes to Lord Buddha. You can also learn Tantric Vajrayana at
The home of the Buddhist nuns, Chomoling, is
located just below the Hemis Gompa. This place too is home to magnificent
scenic valley beauty. Every year a 2-day festival is celebrated in June/July
that attracts tourists and locals alike. It is of major interest to both
Buddhist spiritual followers and travellers. The festival is dedicated to Lord
Padmasambhav, a preacher of peace and spirituality. The highlight of the Hemis
festival is the Chham Dance that depicts the win of good over evil.
The monastery is said to have existed before the
11th century. Hemis is of immense significance for the Kagyu lineage of
Buddhism due to the arrival of their founding father, Naropa, after the sacking
of Nalanda by Turkish and Muslim forces in the 11th century. Naropa, with his
teacher, Tilopa, settled in Hemis and established the Hemis Gompa. And after
his founding of the Kagyu Lineage, Hemis became the center of the sect.
Manuscripts of Naropa’s biography were found in
the monastery, some contents of which state Naropa’s meeting with his tantric
teacher, Tilopa, who ordered 12 tasks to be done by Naropa that would bring him
For several centuries, the monastery was
forgotten until 1630 when Satgsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso founded it again to have
it re-established by Ladakhi King Sengge Namgyal in 1672.
With His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa as the
supreme spiritual head of the sect, the Hemis Gompa is owned by the Drukpa
Lineage, also known as the Dragon Order of Mahayana Buddhism.
The rich history of the Hemis Gompa has legends
lurking in every period of time. One of them is related to a Christain gospel
discovered at the Hemis Gompa in the 19th century. The gospel, stating Jesus
Christ’s stay in India to study to become a rabbi, was later declared a hoax.
Nevertheless, a few believers of the gospel still remain.
of Hemis Monastery
The Hemis monastery is located on a huge rocky
hill with a view of the river Indus and the majestic Himalayan ranges. The
architecture is inspired by Tibetan culture with vibrant hues and detailed art.
You can experience the lush landscapes around the monastery, mixed with a few
man-made structures. The monastery is divided into two maze-like parts – the
assembly hall and the main temple, Dukhang and Tshogkhang, respectively.
When you enter through the main big gate, you are
welcomed by the rectangular courtyard. This is where all the events take place.
The walls are painted serene white and the ambience is spectacular as ever.
With two raised platforms and a sacred pole in the centre, the place is open
for a large space that can be occupied for functions. A dais with soft
cushioning and a Tibetan table for ceremonial purposes can also be found. Items
like incense sticks, holy water and uncooked rice are placed on the table.
Decorated gold statues can also be found in the
monastery with paintings of religious figures. The statues are decorated with
precious stones and are of immense religious value. A special collection of
paintings, known as thankas, is only surfaced once every 11 years during the
Hemis festival. The staircase leads to the north side of the monastery where
the two assembly halls are present. The wheel of life and guardian deities is
also present where the library of religious books can be found.
The Hemis Festival is a celebration of Guru
Rinpoche, better known as the Buddhist Lord Padmasambhava. He holds high ranks
in the hierarchy of Buddhist leadership. Said to have been born on the 10th day
of the fifth month of the monkey year, his life’s mission was to spread
spiritualism. He aimed to introduce all living beings to the powers
spiritualism. The Hemis Festival is dedicated to celebrating his life’s work
and continuing to spread his mission of spiritualism amongst the masses.
Spiritualism, therefore, is believed to be a source of strength and good
Every year in June/July, for two days, the Hemis
Festival takes place in the vast courtyard of the Hemis Monastery.
The cultural event in incomplete without the
traditional local music. A special place for the Lamas to sit is organised. It
is an event of masks. People like to dress up wearing masks at this festival.
The eminent thankas have previously been showcased in 1980, 1991, 2002 and
2013. 2024 will see the next showcase.
The locals dress up in traditional Tibetan
clothes with head-dresses and masks at the festival. The jewellery and clothes
are elegant and vibrant. The Chaam Dance is the highlight of the event that is
performed with drums, horns and cymbals. It is also performed by the Lamas. The
Chaam Dance is considered sacred and of immense importance in the tantric
tradition. The festival attracts a lot of tourists for different places.
The road to Hemis in itself is an adventure. It
if filled with picturesque views and vast valleys all around that make the trek
all the more worthwhile. Be sure to also visit the sacred hermitage of the
great Gyalwa Kotsang that was established years before the monastery. This
place too offers a scenic view that you can enjoy. But the view isn’t the only
great thing about Hemis, the Hemis National Park near the monastery is also
very famous. It holds the record for the highest National Park in the country
and is best known for its snow leopards.
to Visit Hemis Monastery
The months from May to September are the most
favoured for a trek and tour trip to Hemis. The weather is not very cold and is
rather pleasant. The snowfall from November to April shuts down the trekking
You can take your pick from luxury and budget
hotels for staying near the Hemis Monastery. The Monastery itself also provides
overnight accommodation that you can opt for. If you choose to stay at the
Monastery, you will also be provided with food options.
Near Hemis Monastery
Both Indian and Tibetan cuisine restaurants can
be found near the Monastery. In addition, you can also opt for the food options
available at the Monastery, if you choose to stay there.
Visiting Hemis Monastery
You can click beautiful and
vibrant Monastery pictures from the inside since it is allowed.
A bike ride to the monastery is
recommended more than the bus/car options. Since you get a better experience of
the town that way.
Plan your trip in a way that it coincides
with the Hemis Festival, even though it stay open from May to September.
Be sure to taste the local
speciality, butter tea, available outside the monastery.
Leave your footwear in the vehicle
as they are not allowed inside the monastery.
Attend the enchanting morning
prayers if you opt for the monastery stay.
Reach Hemis Monastery
You can choose from either the bus or the private
cars/jeeps options available for travel. The travel routes available to Hemis
Monastery are the Srinagar-Leh highway or the Manali-Leh highway. The monastery
is located at an hour’s drive from Leh.
Bike rides are recommended for your travel to the