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Ladakh Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage Zanskar, LadakhNumber of Buddhist Gompas and monasteries signify the reigning religion of Ladakh as Buddhism. The monastic festivals at Phiyang monastery, Hemis monastery and Chemrey monastery are quite popular. All these monasteries belong to Namghyal dynasty. Tibetan Buddhism heavily influences Ladakh and central Ladakh sports many of the monasteries of the reformist group such as the famous Thikse monastery, Likkir monastery, Rhidzong monastery and Spituk monastery. Leh and Choglamsar have Buddhist study centers and in summers. Most of the Ladakhis are Buddhists and it is believed that Buddhist saints have meditated in caves of the mountains of the region for many years to attain knowledge and enlightenment. Zanska is a famous cultural satellite of Ladakh.

The erstwhile capital of Zanskar, Padum is situated at 3505 m above sea level. It is the only area in Ladakh where half the population is Muslim. Besides being the administrative headquarters and the most populous town of Zanskar, Padum is a major trekking base and a well-known tourist destination. The 8th century monument with ancient rock carving below the old township testifies the heavy influence of North Indian Buddhism in the region since those times. Above the old town, is the Starrimo Monastery situated on a ridge covered by trees. About 30 monks live there. A beautiful monastery atop the hill in the nearby village of Pibiting offers excellent panoramic views and is exemplary in Stupa architecture.

Situated 18 km to the north of Padum, the old Stongdey monastery is associated with Marpa, the Tibetan Yogi. Now, it is Zanslar's second largest monastic establishment. About 60 Gelukpa monks live there. Each of the shrines of this enormous temple complex houses a wealth of region's rich monastic legacy in itself. The breathtaking views of the valley available from the monastery are worth all the pains of ascending the rocky terrain.

35 km north of Padum, is the erstwhile kingdom of Zangla. Among the ruins of the old castle, is the small chapel on the hilltop providing panoramic views of the desert valley below. The old Nunnery nearby is noteworthy for the austere life style of nuns living here. Other notable place worth visiting is the old monastery of Tsazar, the nearby village. It has lovely frescos. Zangla is also the nodal point of the round trip covering major cultural sites of Zanskar such as Padum, Strongdey, Zangla and Karsha. The old rope suspension bridge (out of use now) here is an evidence of the folk engineering of the region.

6 km west of Padum, is the palatial monastery of Sani. Typical in its own right, it is built at the ground level unlike others, which can be usually be seen mounting the hill tops or solitary cliffs. It was founded with the establishment of the Kanika stupa, now in the backyard of the monastery. There is a huge multi-columned prayer hall in the center adorned with a number of statues of Buddhist deities and Drugpa saints. The neglected chapel in its back, however, has most beautiful frescoes and stucco murals on the walls depicting scenes from the life of Padma-sambhava. In late July, an annual festival is held at the Kanika stupa to commemorate the meditation of the renowned Indian yogi, Naropa featuring masked dances of monks from Bardan monastery as a ritual offering.

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