Date: 08 July - 20 July, 2013
Lecturer: Alex Koller
Cost: £2790 • Course Code: LADK-13
At the very tip of northern India in the shadow of the Himalayas, lies one of the highest, driest places on earth: Ladakh. Strung across the Indus Valley on the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, Ladakh’s rugged desert and wild valleys are peppered with ancient gompas, abandoned palaces and hill-top forts.
A dramatic flight over the Himalayas – with mesmerising views of Nun, Kun and K2 – will take us to Leh, the principal town of Ladakh and once an important hub on the Silk Road through central Asia. Our first taste of Ladakhi architecture will be Leh Palace, built by King Senge Namgyal more than four centuries ago. Sprawling below the palace is Leh Old Town, a stunning example of an intact historic Tibeto-Himalayan urban settlement, and atop a crag in the distance sits the mud-brick Namgyal Tsemo Gompa. This monastery is an age-old repository of ancient manuscripts, vivid frescoes and home to a monumental ‘laughing Buddha’.
Straddling a craggy peak south of Leh, its 12 storeys stretching towards the sky, Thiksey Gompa is one of Ladakh’s most imposing monasteries. Painted red, ochre and white, the gompa gives shelter to over 120 resident monks, 10 temples, dozens of stupas, and a 15 metre high statue of Maitreya (future) Buddha.
Lamayuru, set in a unique moonscape of high mountain desert, is a thriving cliff-top monastery served by 150 monks. Originally founded in the 11th century, the complex includes a superb dukhang (assembly hall) and richly furnished caves hewn from the face of the mountain.
Whereas the majority of Ladakh’s monasteries reflect the region’s Buddhist inheritance, the five temples of the colourful Alchi Monastery recall the traditions of ancient Kashmir. The subjects depicted in the nearby Tsatsapuri early 13th century wall paintings include a seldom seen, eight-armed form of “Green Tara” while in the Alchi’s Sumtsek (three tiered temple) we see a voluptuous six-armed “Green Tara” seated upon a lotus base.
Accommodation in Ladakh, whilst clean and comfortable, is far from luxurious. In Lamayuru, where we stay next to one of the most spectacularly located of all the Himalayan monasteries, the rooms are simple and spacious but lacking in private facilities. We spend one night in a fixed camp in Sarchu, where the landscape – a wide valley near a confluence of two rivers – is stunning. Our tents will have very basic facilities (including camp beds) and our meals will be taken in a dining tent.
Ladakh, once an independent Tibetan kingdom, has clung tenaciously to its Buddhist traditions – perhaps even more so than Tibet itself. The smallest village claims its own Buddhist monastery, known as a gompa, often crowning a lofty mountain-side or tucked into a deep valley. As well as being working monasteries, the gompas traditionally house myriad art treasures.
This tour will be led by Alex Koller, PhD (Cantab), an expert in art history and architecture. Alex has travelled extensively in Ladakh and provides exclusive insights into this north Indian region through lectures and guided visits.
With altitudes ranging from 2720m to over 7600m, Ladakh can justifiably claim to be the ‘roof of the world’; consequently, a journey through this part of India is not suitable for the faint of heart. Altitude sickness affects people regardless of age or fitness levels. For further details speak with your GP.
No special walking equipment is necessary for this tour but a torch is indispensible and a silk sleeping bag is recommended for hygiene reasons. Please note that power for electrical appliances is available only sporadically and foreign mobile phones do not work in Ladakh.
Travel includes some lengthy coach journeys (occasionally up to nine hours, with regular breaks).
Day 1Depart Heathrow 2045 on Jet Airways for Delhi.
Day 2Arrive 0945. Orientation tour of Delhi then transfer to Shangri-la’s Eros Hotel for overnight stay. Free afternoon.
Day 3Early morning departure by air to Leh (Kashmir) then transfer to Kang Lha Chen Hotel for four nights. Free afternoon followed by introductory evening lecture.
Day 4Morning lecture followed by visits in Leh (major Buddhist centre since 3rd century BC), 15th century Namgyal Tsemo Gompa followed by Shanti Stupa (inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 1980s), 11th century Tisuru Stupa, Zorawar Fort, Sankar Gompa (ancient murals, gold statuettes).
Day 5Morning lecture followed by whole-day excursion to Shey (former Ladakhi capital): palace temple (giant Maitreya) and Shey Fortress then continue to Thiksey Gompa and Stok Palace (home of former queen of Ladakh, palace museum).
Day 6Morning: Trak Thok (cave monastery), Chemrey Gompa. Continue to Hemis for 17th century Hemis Gompa on banks of Indus (one of Ladakh’s largest, wealthiest monasteries), Stakna Monastery (community of 30 monks).
Day 7Depart for western areas of Ladakh (four-five hours’ drive). Late morning: Spituk (11th century monastery, superb thangkas and collection of ancient masks). Cross the Indus River for Alchi. Afternoon: Alchi complex (uniquely preserved architecture, 13th century wall paintings), Mangyu and Tsatsapuri Temple. Overnight stay at Alchi Resort.
Day 8Depart Alchi for Lamayuru via 19th century Rizong Gompa (situated on gorge in Indus Valley), Tingmosgang (fortress and palace). Afternoon: Lamayuru Gompa (one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh, thangkas, wood-carvings, statues). Explore the small town at the foot of the monastery to see the ancient entrance chortens (stupas). Overnight stay at Niranjana Hotel.
Day 9Depart for Leh (four-five hours’ drive). En route visit the fortress at Basgo, the monastery at Phiyang and Likir Gompa (built in 1065). Overnight stay at Kang Lha Chen Hotel.
Day 10Depart for Sarchu on the border between Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh (six-seven hours’ drive). Cross over Tanglang La, the second highest motorable pass in the world (5,325m) and Lachung La. Overnight stay at fixed camp in Sarchu.
Day 11Early morning departure over Baralacha La into the deep Lahaul Valley (impressive views of glaciers). Continue up Rohtang La towards Manali (approximately nine hours’ drive). If time permits visit 16th century Hadimba Temple in Manali. Transfer to Naggar for overnight stay at Hotel Naggar Delight.
Day 12Naggar: Hindu temples and museum devoted to Nikolai Roerikh (early 20th century Russian writer and painter who first popularised Ladakh). Continue to Chandigarh (five-six hours drive). Depart Chandigarh 1823 on the Shatabdi Express train arriving Delhi 2155 (air-conditioned carriage with first class seats and dinner on board). Overnight stay at Leela Kempinski Gurgaon Hotel.
Day 13Depart Delhi 1255 for Heathrow, arriving 1755.