Travel to the ancient Alchi Gompa monastery, situated on the south bank of the Indus River, approximately 60 km (37 miles) from Leh. Established in 1000 AD by Rinchen Zangpo, the monastery is rumoured to have taken 33 sculptors and wood carvers from Kashmir to complete. The monastery’s two main temples are the Dukhang, or Assembly Hall and the three-storied Sumtseg, or Main Temple, both of which reflect the Kashmiri style of architecture.
Both temples are famous for the murals that adorn their walls and that are estimated to be among the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also boasts huge statues of the Buddha and elaborate wood carvings in a style similar to the European baroque.
The heart of the monastery complex is the Dukhang, where the monks worship and perform their ceremonies. This large and ancient structure is entered by means of a massive wooden doorframe, which has been meticulously preserved for centuries. It reached by means of an elegant veranda, lined by frescoes of a thousand Buddhas. The walls of the temples are decorated with a multitude of colourful paints of the Buddha, as well as a host of gods and goddesses.
The three-story tall Sumtseg is one of the most outstanding structures of its kind, with an unassuming exterior made of loam and stone that belies the luxurious woodwork, elaborate columns and facades, clay images and painting of the interior, created by the finest Kashmiri artists. Beautifully preserved, the statues of goddess are situated in the sanctum on the ground floor. The second floor features the images of three deities, draped with magnificent textiles depicting the life of Buddha. The temple’s top floor is inscribed with the names of priests, helping to establish the timeline of the building.
The entire temple complex is lined with decorative chortens, or gateways, many of which boast ancient paintings.