January 29, 2018

Sonamarg


While travelling from Leh to Kashmir, Sonamarg- the first town enroute offer gorgeous landscapes, a drastic change from the ice capped mountains of Ladakh and Kargil. October 2017.

January 24, 2018

Buddhist Rock Statue


On the way from Leh to Kargil lies Mulbekh which is probably the last complete Buddhist settlement on this stretch, beyond which is more of Muslim population. By the road at Mulbekh is a tiny temple with a large 9 meter statue of Maitreya carved on a rock. Maitreya is believed to be the future Buddha and as per Buddhism, the fifth Buddha would be Maitreya. Records say that the statue was carved in the first century of common era and there are similar statues near Kargil at Apati and Kaestekhar villages. These are believed to be some of the very few rock carved statues of Buddha in India.



Location:

Mulbekh is 180 Kms from Leh and 52 Kms from Kargil.

January 23, 2018

Exploring Old Mumbai


It is said that ‘Mumbai is a city, but Bombay is an emotion.’ Mumbaikars who have lived the better part of their lives in Mumbai, can easily relate to it. The city has grown immensely over the past decades, and in the race to become the next Shanghai, it has lost several aspects that made it Bombay. While the city has changed from Bombay to Mumbai, you can still experience the old-world charm in certain parts of Mumbai. While cabs in Mumbai can be one way to explore the old city of Mumbai, the best way is still to explore it on your own.

One of the best ways to start your day in Mumbai is to head to one of the Irani cafes for some chai (tea) and brun maska. The Irani cafes are a dying breed in Mumbai with only a handful of them still operational. The interior décor of Irani Cafes will instantly take you back to another time in history. Even though the café culture has evolved over the years, the Irani Cafes have managed to maintain the legacy and rich heritage. Yazdani Bakery in Fort is famous for its brun maska with a huge amount of butter, the chai, Mawa Cakes, and Khari biscuits. Similarly, the B Merwan outside Grant Road railway station, Britannia & Company in Ballard Estate, Café Military in Fort, and Café Leopold in Colaba are a few Irani cafes that connect Mumbai to Bombay.

The Fort and Colaba area of Mumbai are a testimony to the British era with the Gothic architecture buildings of the colonial era. A simple walk down these lanes will give you a glimpse of the Bombay built by the British. The structures of the Bombay High Court, CST Station, the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation etc. are a sight to behold. The Gateway of India is probably the most famous place in Mumbai and a visit there would make you realise the reason for it. The historic site has many stories to tell, from the heights of colonial raj to the end of it. Take a boat ride in the Arabian Sea to enjoy the cool breeze and gaze upon Mumbai far away from the coast. You can even head to Elephanta caves and explore the UNESCO World Heritage site.



Mumbai is a place that can show you different sides of life in a span of few minutes. If you are feeling a bit adventurous, head to the Chor Bazaar (Thieves’ market) near the Mohammed Ali Road. The place is a paradise for antique enthusiasts and collectors. You can get your hands on gramophones, old Bollywood posters, lamps, clocks, vintage cameras, and old photos. Besides, if you are looking for auto spare parts for your vintage car or bike, Chor Bazaar will not disappoint you. From there, head to Malabar Hills, the place with one of the most expensive real estate in the world. This place will make you realise why people want to make it big in Mumbai and why it is worth it. The view of Chowpatty and Marine Drive from Malabar Hill is breath-taking. Also, check out a beautiful Jain Temple and the Hanging Garden in the Malabar Hill.

No one can claim they visited Mumbai unless he or she takes a trip in the local train. So take a local train and head to the suburban region. While the suburban region has undergone a massive change in the past few decades, there are still a few places that continue to delight the Mumbaikars. You can visit the iconic Prithvi Theatres in Juhu that has served as a launch pad for several Bollywood stars. Catch a play and savour some delicious food at the famous Prithvi Theatre canteen. The Juhu Beach is close-by and should be visited in the evening. Try the famous chaat dishes or Pav Bhaji at one of the food stalls on the beach. Head further North to Sanjay Gandhi National Park located near Borivali. This is the only national park in the world located within the city limits. The history of the park dates back to the 4th century BC and the rock-cut Kanheri caves are a testimony to the prominence of the place at one point in time.

You can easily hire chauffeur driven cars in Mumbai to head back to South Mumbai region. While on the return journey, do not forget to explore the by-lanes of Bandra and take a ride on the Mumbai-Worli Sealink. As I said earlier, “Mumbai is a city, but Bombay is an emotion,” and post your trip you are also likely to feel the same. Happy Exploring!



P.S.: This is a sponsored post.

January 22, 2018

10 Must visit Buddhist Monasteries near Leh


Heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and way of life, the monasteries of Ladakh transport you to a world of red robes, prayer wheels, thangka paintings, kangyurs, mural art, tantric elements and chortens. Following Vajrayana and Mahayana form of Buddhism, the monasteries which are also referred as gompas, have numerous deities such as Sakhyamuni, Guru Padmasambhava, Avalokiteshwara, Vajrapani, Tara and many others. While it is popularly believed that Tibetan Buddhism spread from Tibet to Ladakh, it is apparently the other way round. Buddhism took root in Ladakh during the times of Ashoka and then inspired people across Tibet, but slowly declined in India. With migration from Tibet around 9th and 10th centuries, Tibetan Buddhism spread back to the regions of Ladakh. Most of the monasteries in Ladakh were built around 16th and 17th centuries.

1. Hemis Monastery

Located across river Indus, on the cleft of a mountain is the 17th century Hemis gompa, the largest monastic institution in Ladakh. The monastery follows Drukpa sect under Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and was built by Taktsang Repa, a great Drukpa master with the support of King Sengge Namgyal. With colourful entrance gates, wooden window frames and a large courtyard, the gompa has two large assembly halls which are beautifully adorned with art work. The premise also has a three storeyed tall shrine of Guru Padmasambhava.  Hemis museum near the courtyard has a huge collection of Buddhist artefacts, sculptures and various other displays. The monastery is popular for Hemis festival dedicated to Padmasambhava which takes place every year on the tenth day of the Tibetan lunar month (mostly falls either during June or July). During the celebration, locals are dressed in their traditional attire with headgears. The monks perform the Chaam, where they dance wearing sacred masks accompanied by various musical instrumrnts. Hemis monastery has more than 200 branch monasteries under it across the Himalayas which are home to more than thousand monks.

Location: 40 Kms from Leh via Leh- Manali highway.






2. Stakna Monastery

Stakna is probably the most picturesquely located monastery in Ladakh. Atop a hillock and along the Indus river, the monastery can be spotted after Karu as you ride into Leh from Manali. The 16th century monastery follows the Drukpa sect under Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and its name literally translates to Tiger’s nose. Though a small one, Stakna monastery has quiet surroundings with panoramic vistas all around. The colourful interiors has wonderful art works on its walls, a huge collection of Kangyurs and Thangka paintings.

Loaction: 24 Kms from Leh via Leh- Manali highway.







3. Thiksey Monastery

The 15th century Thiksey monastery is a fairly large one with numerous temples and is built similar to the Potala palace in Lhasa. Spread over a hillock, the monastery belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism (Yellow hat) and is home to more than 500 monks. Bright maroon colours adorn the outer walls of the structures with prayer wheels and chortens  in the courtyard. There are numerous halls here dedicated to various deities and all have well maintained mural paintings and other art work apart from ancient manuscripts.  The main assembly hall has an old charm with exquisite paintings on its walls and fragrance of incense sticks. It also has an inner chamber with shrines of Padmasambhava, Maitreya etc. Of all the temples in this monastery, shrine of the three storeyed beautiful Maitreya known as Chamkhang is undoubtedly the big attraction here. Also referred as future Buddha, Maitreya statue has wonderful works on it and is adorned with art work on the walls. Tara temple dedicated to Tara Devi has 21 forms of the goddess.The other attractions here are the Protector temple or Gonkhang which has many tantric deities, and a shrine with silver stupas. The higher floors offer nice views of the landscape.

Location: 18 Kms from Leh via Leh- Manali highway, near Shey Palace.










4. Matho Monastery

Tucked away from the hustle of Leh, Matho monastery is located across the Indus river. The brightly coloured monastery is a fairly large one and is located atop a hill. The 15th century monastery is the only one in Ladakh that follows Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It was built by a monk, Dugpa Dorje and is known for its tarnished wall paintings and 14th century thangkas. The Dukhang or the assembly hall has been recently re-built and has colourful interiors and fresh art work on its walls. Matho monastery is known for Oracle Matho Nagrang festival held here annually in the first month of the Tibetan calendar.

Location: 22 Kms from Leh via Choglamsar.





5. Lamayuru Monastery

Lamayuru gompa is one of the oldest ones in Ladakh and is believed to have been built by the monk Rinchen Zangpo and the Indian scholar Naropa in the 11th century. The cave where Naropa meditated and the oldest part of the monastery under the Dukhang are all in a dilapidated state.  The monastery has numerous buildings and shrines such as Main temple, Avalokiteshwara temple, Singay Lakhang etc. The main temple has wonderful art works on its walls, carvings on its door frame and a huge statue of Vairochan Buddha. The monastery also has numerous chortens or stupas apart from prayer wheels. Lamayuru monastery has an ancient aura to it and the weird landscape surrounding it accentuates its charm.

Location: 115 Kms via Leh- Kargil highway.







6. Alchi Choskhor

Along with Lamayuru, Alchi monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh and was built in the 11th century by Rinchen Zangpo. Located across the Indus river off the Leh- Kargil highway, Alchi Choskhor is a monastic complex with temples spread across the villages of Alchi, Mangyu and Sumda Chun, and comes under the Archaelogical survey of India. Alchi monastery probably has the most elaborate and exquisite art work amongst all monasteries in the Himalayas. The monastic complex has a few major shrines which are Dukhang, Sumtsek, Vairochana temple and Manjushri temple. Dukhang or the main assembly hall has decorated cloisters with marvelous art work on its walls. The passages of Dukhang have extensive mural art with scenes from secular life and paitings of various mandalas which has deep tantric interpretations. The three storeyed Sumtsek has beautiful wood work on its outer facade apart from a well carved entrance door. The interiors are adorned with magnificent mural art which has been well preserved over the centuries. It also houses large figures of Bodhisattvas along with Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya and Manjushri.  Also known as Jampe Lakhang, Manjushri temple has a beautifully carved entrance door with paintings on its ceiling. The complex also has numerous chortens.

Location: 66 Kms from Leh via Leh- Kargil highway, near Saspol.




7. Likir Monastery

Relatively isolated from the highway, Likir monastery was built in late 11th century by a monk, Duwang Chosje during the time of the fifith king of Ladakh, Lhachaen Gyalpo. Nestled in a picturesque location, the gompa follows Gelugpa sect of Buddhism. The main prayer hall is a colourful one with wall paintings, thangkas and kangyurs apart from statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya and a few others. The monastery also has another assembly hall which too has wonderful art work. On the way out from monastery is the huge statue 75 feet high gilded gold statue of Maitreya.

Location: 54 Kms from Leh via Leh- Kaergil highway, near Saspol.










8. Spituk Monastery

Located close to Leh airfield, Spituk monastery was one of the earliest monasteries to be built in Ladakh in the 11th century. Though it belonged to the Red hat sect (Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya), it later came under the Yellow hat sect (Gelugpa) in the 15th century. Though there are a couple of shrines here, the main attraction is the shrine of Tara Devi which has 21 manifestations of the goddess and displays excellent work of art. Next to the shrines and atop a hillock is the shrine dedicated to the tantric deity, Vajra Bhairav. Beside this shrine is the protector room. The monastery celebrates Gustor festival annually in the eleventh month of Tibetan calendar.

Location: 6 Kms from Leh, near the airport.





9. Basgo Monastery

Basgo was once the capital of the Namgyal rulers of Ladakh and the monastery stands amidst the ruined fortifications. The 16th century monastery has two shrines dedicated to Maitreya, the future Buddha- Chamba Lakhang and Serzang Chamba temple. The interior walls of the temples have magnificent frescos and large statues of the deity. While Maitreya in Chamba Lakhang is made of clay and was built in the 16th century, the other shrine has Maitreya made of copper and was completed in early 17th century.

Location: 40 Kms from Leh via Leh- Kargil highway








10. Phyang Monastery

Built in early 16th century, Phyang monastery is spread over a hill and follows Kagyu sect of Buddhism.  It is popularly believed that the monastery was founded by king Tashi Namgyal. Home to more than a hundred monks, the monastery’s old colourful prayer hall has numerous art works on its walls. The premise also has a protector room and an old museum which has a huge collection of displays.  The new monastery is under construction presently and would be open soon.  Gang Sngon Tsedup festival is held annually at Phyang monastery in the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar.

Location: 19 Kms from Leh, off Leh- Kargil highway.





Travel Tips:

  • All these monasteries can be visited from Leh and can be covered over a couple of days.
  • Some of the monasteries do provide accommodation to visitors. Do check in advance before you go.
  • Photography is prohibited inside some monasteries like the one in Alchi. Please check with the authorities before you click photographs. 
  • Most of the mural works are many centuries old, please switch off the flash of your camera and be a responsible traveller.

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