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HEMIS GOMPA

 
Ladakh's biggest monastery, Hemis gompa is 49 km from Leh on the Leh-Manali road. The special feature of the Hemis Gompa is the ceremonial Hemis Setchu festival, which is celebrated in late June or early July when the passes are open. This is one of the largest and most spectacular of the gompa festivals. The festival is in honour of Guru Padma Sambhav's birth anniversary.

Once every twelve years, the Hemis festival also hosts the ritual unrolling of a giant thangka, the gompa's prized possession, which covers the entire facade of the building. It is decorated with pearls, precious stones and embroidered by women, whose hands are now revered as holy relics.

Among the treasures on display is an exquisite Buddha Shakyamuni, also inlaid with jewels. The serene faced colossus sits in the Cho-khang at the far end of the courtyard along with a couple of richly inlaid chortens.

Hemis was built in 1630 during the reign of Sengge Namgyal, an illustrious ruler of Ladakh. It flourished under the Namgyal dynasty for the royalty favoured the Druk-pa Sect which managed the monastery. It is divided into two, the Assembly Hall on the right and the main temple on the left. The Hall, Dukhang, is also used as a 'green room' by the dancers during the festival. The temple is known as Tshogkhang. The verandahs have a surfeit of frescoes, among them the Buddhist 'Wheel of life' (Kalachakra) and the 'Lords of the Four Quarters,' besides rows of prayer wheels.