An 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.
A metalled 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 Maitreya's life.
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.
Road: The last bus back to Leh from Tikse leaves at 6.00 pm.
The village's Skalzang Chamba Hotel, run by the monastery, offers accommodation, and serves good food in their garden restaurant.