We 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.
Evidently 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.
The 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.
For 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.