Stok Kangri Expedition 2018 – Day 2 – Alchi Monastery

Prayer wheels at Alchi MonasteryWe drove for hours across a dusty and barren landscape which makes up the Indus Valley. We were headed for Alchi Monastery a few hours up stream and deeper into the countryside. Alchi Monastery is a Buddhist monastery, a collection of monastic temples dating from between 958 and 1055.

According to local tradition the complex was founded by a guru named Rinchen Zangpo who was a famous translator of Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan and seems to have been quite revered back in the day. It is therefore both a very old and a very important monastery and we were here as part of our acclimatisation and cultural discovery programme in Ladakh.

Walking stick of Rinchen ZangpoEvidently the tree outside the monastery is of a kind not native to the land and according to folklore it grew as a result of Rinchen Zangpo having an epiphany that he had found the right spot to build a monastery and so he proceeded to plant his walking stick firmly in the ground from which the tree we now see grew. Great story, highly improbable but I’d still buy into it if I had been around in the 11th century.

Alchi MonasteryThe monastery today has three major shrines: the Dukhang (Assembly hall), the Sumtsek and the Temple of Manjushri, all dating from between the early 12th and early 13th centuries. Chortens also litter the complex but appear to have seen better days. 

Tara in ManjushriFor us it was a chance to get away from the confines of our hotel in Leh and see a bit of the countryside. The monastery although interesting was easily seen within the hour so the thought of a two and a half hour road trip back along the potholed and dusty roads of Ladakh was not too appealing so soon after having just made it to there.

Luckily lunch had been arranged for us and so we ate in the monastery gardens before embarking on our weary journey back to Leh.

Follow along with the expedition updates being posted over the coming weeks.

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268 steps to enlightenment…!

It takes 268 steps to reach the Tian Tan Buddha, the largest outdoor Buddha in the world, and I was about to climb every single one of them. The 85ft high Buddha sits on a hilltop overlooking the Po Lin Monastery seated atop a beautiful throne of lotus leaves. Enshrined within the image is a sacred relic of the real Buddha, (a tooth in a crystal container).

But before all that you have to embark on a 4 mile cable car ride up into the mountains of Lantau island. This ride dangles you over the South China Sea before providing you with sweeping views across the country park on Lantau island and then further still into the distance beyond and the outlying islands of the archipelago. Real lunatics can trek up from sea-level to the Ngong Ping Village and then embark on the leg burning ascent to the Buddha perched up high beyond, but that was a one loony step too far for us in the 90 degree plus heat of a sweltering South Asian noon.

The Po Lin Monastery gateway.

Having swung precariously for a good 20 minutes in the cable car we disembarked at the “specially themed cultural village” which is tacky beyond belief and somewhat spoils an otherwise exciting journey up. Always one to avoid such tacky tourist traps we headed directly for the great seated Buddha. Continue reading “268 steps to enlightenment…!”