The essence of the experience
Travel to the ancient Alchi Gompa Monastery, situated on the south bank of the Indus River, approximately 60km (37mi) 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 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 European Baroque.
The heart of the monastery complex is the Dukhang, where 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. An elegant veranda is lined by frescoes of a thousand Buddhas and the walls are decorated with a multitude of colourful paintings of the Buddha, as well as 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 were created by the finest Kashmiri artists. Statues of goddess decorate the sanctum on the ground floor and 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, who establish the timeline of the building. The entire temple complex is lined with decorative chortens, or gateways, adorned with ancient paintings.