There are quite a few stories of how this gompa came into being. One is a story that where Lamayuru is located was a lake. There was a sage by the name of Arhat Nyimagong who made a crack at the side of the lake basin which then drained the lake. He planted corn at the site and when it ripened it was the shape of a swastika. (Swastikas were originally known as a symbol hundreds of years ago in the Buddhist religion and not for the symbol we all equate it with from WWII).
There are between 150 to 200 monks and also a school for the young noice monks at Lamayuru, so it is a good size gompa.
Lamayuru has a festival called Yuru Kabgyat where the monks do chams (dance dramas) of good over evil and various stories of Buddhism. The costumes are very elaborate. Most dances include the wearing of masks that depict the deity that the dancer is representing. The dances a bit long since a story needs to be told. There is background music provided by other monks which include some types of drums, cymbols and various horn type instruments.
During lunch, we went to the dining room (note no table or chairs to sit on, just cement floor) where the monks provided us with a lunch of rice and dal. We also took lunchtime to tour around the gompa. I'm walking with difficulty up some of these steep trails to the buildings above and older nuns and monks are just about jogging by. These folks are in such great condition living and walking among such a vertical environment.
On the second day of Yuru Kabgyat, our Homestay host, Stanzin was able to join us. Since she knew some of the monks there, we were invited in for tea upon our arrival. (Salted butter tea). We then went to watch the dances and while watching them, it started to hail.
During our long lunch, our driver and his father, Mantog and Stanzin thought it would be good to drive up to Atisay gompa, which is said to be over 900 years old. There was also a second car of some friends of Stanzins who also came along in their vehicle. On our way up, there were about 8 young monks hitching a ride up to Atisay. So 4 got into our car and 4 into the other. So the vehicles now had about 8 people crammed into them and on we contiued to Atisay.
After lunch, we returned to the Yuru Kabgyat. Mantog went for a little bathroom break and then came and said I should go get blessed by head lama of Lamayuru, Toldan Rinpoche. She provided me with the white scarf and gave me directions on what to do. So I went in as instructed, handed him the white scarf in my prayerful hands which he then took and placed around my neck. He also game me a red chord which was to be tied loosely around my neck. He asked where I was from, and then mentioned he had only been to New York. He did not know where Idaho was located. He then told all the other lamas in the room that I was from America.
There was another group of 3 from Singapore staying at the Homestay the night before and their guide, Tsetan. Tsetan had a brother who was a monk at the monastery so we got invited up to his room to see how a monk lives and again to get more tea. (milk tea this time, thank goodness). I have to say they have quite an impressive view from their bedroom window. Hearing chanting, we rushed back down to where the dances were continuing. It was the afternoon of the second day, so time for the storma dance.
Start of cham
More photos of the dances.
There was a group of monk clowns whose jobs it was to collect donations. They got those donations by embarassing the spectators and especially the tourists. They were pretty funny and I didn't know monks had such a sense of humor. Note what the guy in the back is holding as a prop.
There are murals covering the walls of the Dukhang. Here is one of the fierce guardian deity, Mahakala. He is of Hindu origin but has been carried over into the Tibetian Buddhism religion.
Prayer wheels come in many sizes.
Basgo used to be the seat of power of this part of Ladakh until the 16th century. You can see ruins of the old palace around the gompa complex.
More prayer wheels.
This 3 story seated Maitreya is huge. You can only see the head if you get up close and look up. It resides in the Chamba Lhakhang, the largest temple in the Basgo complex. He has the mudra (hand gestures) of turning the Wheel of Law.
The oldest sections of the gompa were built around 1630. It is hidden behind tall rock valley until you are almost upon it. The site was originally found by an ascetic in the 12th century who found a cave there to meditate. Later, the cave was also used by Stag-tsang Raspa. Now all of the rinchopes of the gompa were incarnates of Stag-tsang Raspa. I have read that currently there is no head lama as he is in Tibet and the Chinese government will not let him return to Hemis.
Currently, there are around 200 monks at Hemis even though in the past there have been up to 500 monks in residence.
Lighted candles and oil.
The horns start the beginning of the dances and call the monks. Below are also a couple of the dancers.
As mentioned, this gompa is well known, especially with tourists. There were also quite a few tour companies which provided both the Kalachakra and the Hemis festival as part of their itinerary. Thus it was hard to get a place to watch the dances as the companies had all the seats taken. The only thing left was the ground or standing.
Here it seems like "Buddhist monks meet Disneyland" with all the tourists behind the seated dancers.
Parting shot of Hemis Monastery.
The main attraction of this monastery is the Maitreya Buddha in Thikse's Chakhang. This is a sculpture of clay and painted with gold is dominant as you enter the Chamkhang and are only at face level with the Buddha with the rest of the body below the floor level.