Most Ladakhi monasteries, or ‘gompas’, crown the tops of low, craggy hills on the floor of the Indus Valley, their slanting walled prayer halls rising from a beehive of little monk’s cells. More than a dozen gompas can be easily reached from Leh. In practice, five or six will probably suffice in the course of a typical week’s stay.
Start with Tikse Gompa, the largest and richest in the area: your guide will try to time your visit to coincide with the moment monks announce morning prayers with blasts from giant trumpets on the roof terrace. Tikse can be visited en route to Hemis, further down the valley and the venue for the region’s main summer festival, in which a giant thangka painting is unfurled and masked dances are performed in the monastery courtyard.
Heading in the other direction, Alchi holds Ladakh’s oldest temples, dating from the First Spreading of Buddhism, which originally came here from Kashmir before it reached Tibet. Further west still, the defining landmark has to be the view of Lamayuru Gompa, framed by its hinterland of spiky peaks and eroded mountainsides.