Impressive Buddhist Landmark
Ladakh's most photographed and architecturally impressive Gompa is
at Tikse, 19-km southeast of Leh . Founded in the 15th century, its
whitewashed Chortens and cubic monks quarters rise in ranks up the
sides of a craggy sun bleached bluff, crowned by an imposing ochre
and red painted temple complex whose gleaming golden finials are
visible for miles in every direction.
road cuts up the empty west side of the hill from the main highway
to the monastery's small car park. If one arrives by a minibus from
Leh, then move across the waste ground below the Gompa and follow
the footpath up through its lower buildings to the main entrance,
where monks issue tickets.
Inaugurated in 1980 by the dalai lama, the spacious shrine of
Maitreya Temple is built around a gigantic 14m high gold faced
Buddha to come, seated not on a throne as is normally the case, but
in the lotus position. The bright murals on the wall behind, painted
by monks from Lingshet Gompa in Zanskar, depict scenes from
Tikse's garish modern temple may have had hours of work lavished
upon it, but its dingy Du-khang, at the far end of the courtyard up
a steep flight of steps, hasn't seen a lick of paint in centuries.
Faded murals of ghoulish Tantric deities peer out of the gloom of
the old prayer hall, which contrary to appearances is still in
everyday use. The key keeper will show one around the tiny chapels
behind the head lama's throne, pointing out the ancient cloth bound
manuscripts stacked in wooden racks against the sidewalls. Before
one leaves the Du-khang, check out the enormous Thangkas stored on
the shelf opposite the main doorway. These are unrolled once a year
during the annual autumn Chaam dance festival, Tikse Gustor.
View From The Roof Top
For most foreign visitors, however, the highlight of a trip to Tikse
is the view from its lofty roof terrace. A patchwork of barley
fields stretches across the floor of the valley, fringed by rippling
snow flecked desert mountains and string of Tolkien-esque
monasteries, palaces, and Ladakhi villages: Shey and Stok to the
northwest, Matho on the far side of the Indus, and Stakna crowning a
knoll to the south. Come here early enough in the morning, and
you'll be able to enjoy this impressive panorama accompanied by
primeval groans from the Gompa's gargantuan Tibetan trumpets -
played on the rooftop at Puja time.
Tikse has an important festival with mask dances, the Tikse Gostor,
on the 18th and 19th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar.
The Tikse oracle is the most important oracle in Ladakh. An old man
in the village is supposed to have supernatural powers. In a trance
this layman, for he is not a Lama, is possessed by a spirit and
speaks Tibetan, a language that he cannot normally understand. He is
said to be able to perform miraculous cures on beasts and men. With
the help of a small tube he can 'suck' diseases from the bodies of
the ill. He also givens advice for healing and can predict the
future. In 1975 a new oracle appeared, the young wife of a Leh
carpenter. Even in her youth there were special indications of her
status as an oracle.
Tikse Gompas possesses a rich and beautiful library with many hand
written or painted books. Recent editions are produced by block
printing, as in old Tibet. This procedure is also used today for the
printing of the holy books Kandshur, Tibetan gka-hgyur, 'the
translated work' of Buddha and Tandshur, 'the translated teachings'
of the Lamaist religious teachers Bu-Ston (1290-1364 AD). The latter
consists of a 225 volumes commentary on the Kandshur!
Wooden printing plates are made up for each page and pressed by
hand. The many hundred volumes indicate how much space the printing
plates must take up in the monastery. Older and more highly regarded
editions are often printed not black on white but painted with gold
ink on black lacquered paper. These are decorated with Buddha
figures. The individual pages are not bound up but kept as
collections of loose sheets, wrapped in cloth between two wooden
boards, tied up with a strap and stored on the shelves. Tikse Gompa
also has the most beautiful library.
HOW TO GET
The last bus back to Leh from Tikse leaves at 6.00 pm.
Skalzang Chamba Hotel, run by the monastery, offers accommodation,
and serves good food in their garden restaurant.