The Hemis Monastery is a Buddhist monastery located 45 kilometers from Leh city, Ladakh, India. It belongs to the Red Hat Sect or Drukpa lineage of Buddhism. The monastery was first established in the 11th century and later reestablished in the 17th century by the Ladakhi King Sengge Namgyal. It is also famous for its 2-day religious ceremony known as the Hemis Festival.
The Hemis monastery is ranked as one of the wealthiest monasteries in Ladakh. Situated at an elevation of approximately 12,000 ft, the Hemis monastery is one of the most visited monasteries in India. It houses a vast collection of Thankas, gold statues, Tibetan books, chortens embedded with valuable stones, carriers, weapons, and a stuffed vulture pup. The ancient monastery is enriched with a great deal of history and attracts thousands of tourists every year.
Hemis Monastery Travel Guide
We have shared a comprehensive travel guide in this blog post for exploring the Hemis Monastery in the best way possible. It will include all the required details, including transport, accommodation, and all the popular nearby attractions to see while visiting the breathtaking monastery.
Our travel guide will help you plan an incredible trip if you plan a trip to Hemis Monastery. Our team of trustworthy experts from Ladakh offers customized tour packages at discounted prices to all our customers who wish to spend an unforgettable holiday in Ladakh. If you have any queries related to Hemis Monastery, feel free to contact us.
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Highlights of Hemis Monastery
- Dukhang Chenmo or Main Prayer Hall
- Sakyamuni statue in Dukhang Barpa
- Guru Padmasambhava statue in Guru Lhakhang
- Nyingma Lhakhang (The oldest part of the monastery)
- Monastery Museum
- Visitors’ Gallery
- Hemis Festival or Hemis Teschu
Itinerary Guide – How to plan your Itinerary for Hemis Monastery
Planning an Itinerary for the Hemis monastery without an experienced guide is not easy. We have built an Itinerary with our experts and planned a trip to Hemis monastery to share our fabulous experience with you. It would be best if you read it to know all about Hemis monastery to plan your itinerary accordingly.
Preparing for Hemis Monastery Trip
We packed our bags with all the necessary items and started our journey towards the Hemis monastery. While traveling on the Leh-Manali Highway towards Karu, we reached a junction where the left road led to Pangong Lake and the right led to the Hemis monastery.
Patches of vegetation just appeared to interrupt the dry yet artistic landscape. There was a certain beauty in those barren mountains that we were bound to gasp over. Crossing over the Indus River, we drove about 7 kilometers from Karu and finally reached the monastery.
Reaching the Monastery
The monastery was set in the breathtaking landscape of the Stok mountain on the banks of the Indus River, away from the central city. The experience of the visit to this magnificent monastery was indeed a mix of bliss and beauty. The first sight of the monastery stole our hearts, and there were plenty of quests that awaited us.
The monastery was surrounded by yellow mustard fields that added color to the otherwise dry mountains. Perched atop the hill, the monastery’s buildings covered almost every inch of the hilltop. Every single structure seemed perfectly balanced above the other.
Entering the Monastery
Finally, we reached the base of the monastery. As we started climbing the steep stairs of the monastery, the vibrant hues of its interiors revealed themselves like magic. Blue, red, green, and yellow-painted statues poped against the whitewashed walls. The main gate was flanked by numerous prayer stones and colorful prayer flags that fluttered vigorously in the air.
As we walked further, we reached the central courtyard of the monastery. We were fascinated by the spectacular views of the mountains and the surrounding landscapes. The courtyard was quite spacious, and there were several buildings surrounding it.
Prayer Hall of the Monastery
The prayer hall had an extensive collection of Thankas, a Tibetan painting on silk cloth depicting a Buddhist deity or mandala. One of the Thankas was the largest one in the monastery and was displayed only once every 12 years.
As we entered this hall, we found a statue of the Gyalpo (Fierce Protector), who is believed to protect the Hemis Monastery. The statue represents the highest and most potent form of Tantric Buddhism. After a while, we headed towards another hall called Dukhang Barpa. There were several paintings on the walls and a golden statue of Buddha.
The museum had an extensive collection of manuscripts, Buddhist thankas, artifacts, carriers, and different weapons. It showcased various treasures of the monastery, and the best part was that it was very well illustrated. On the ground floor of the museum, there was a small shop, where souvenirs such as t-shirts, books, etc., were sold. Photography was not allowed inside the museum, so we bought some souvenirs for our friends and walked out of the monastery museum.
As we climbed the upper floor stairs, we reached the Guru Lhakhang, where we caught sight of the giant statue of Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava. The twelve aspects of Guru Rinpoche were painted beautifully on a canvas with wooden frames. Afterward, we walked out of the hall and climbed up to the monastery’s roof, which offered amazing views of the surrounding landscapes.
About 3 kilometers from the monastery complex, there was a sacred hermitage founded by Gyalwa Kotsang. The cave was decorated with colorful Buddhist flags, which beautifully contrasted with the rocky mountains. As we entered the cave, we saw the handprints and footprints of Gyalwa Kotsang on the rocks of the cave.
Although Ladakh is famous for its breathtaking monasteries, desert landscape, and splendid lakes, a trip to Ladakh is incomplete until you have visited some prominent monasteries. The Hemis monastery is one of the largest and culturally rich monasteries in Ladakh. Built on rugged geography, the monastery symbolizes humans living in peace with nature, even in the harshest forms. The lamas in the monastery live solitary lives, preserving the ancient culture of their ancestors. A visit to this stunning monastery is a must-do in Ladakh, and most visitors feel a renewed sense of peace on visiting this place.
So, the next time you plan a holiday in Ladakh, make sure to include the Hemis Monastery in your itinerary. We hope this detailed travel guide will help you plan an excellent trip with your family and friends.
Best time to visit Hemis Monastery
The best time to visit the Hemis monastery is from May to October. If you are interested in Buddhist culture, you can visit the monastery during the Hemis festival, held in June/July. During these months, the roads to Ladakh via Srinagar and Manali are open. Hence, it is the most suitable time for traveling.
The roads to Ladakh via Manali and Srinagar remain closed from November to April because of heavy rain and snowfall. So, you can only travel by air to reach Ladakh and then travel to Hemis monastery.
The road to Hemis monastery from Leh city remains open even during winters. You can plan a trip to the monastery in winter also if you are willing to endure the harsh climate of Ladakh.
Hence, the best time to travel to the Hemis monastery is the best time to visit Ladakh. You can read the Best time to visit Ladakh for detailed information on this topic.
How to reach Hemis Monastery
The Hemis monastery is around 45 kilometers from Leh. It is surrounded by the rocky mountains of the Hemis National Park and is situated south-east of Leh town, off the Indus River road. The easiest way to reach the Hemis monastery is to arrive in Leh by air and then book a taxi or rent a bike to reach the Hemis monastery.
- Flight: Leh Airport – Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport is the nearest airport linked with some of the major airports in India. You can hire a taxi from the airport to reach your hotel in Leh and then plan a day trip from Leh to Hemis monastery and other nearby attractions.
- Cabs / Bus: The local cabs or buses ply within the Ladakh region, and you can also drive your private vehicle/bike to Hemis. You can take the Leh Srinagar highway to reach the monastery if you are traveling from Srinagar.
- Train: The closest railway station from Leh is Jammu Tawi, 812 km from Leh town. You can hire a taxi from the railway station to Leh. It is a 3-day journey if you stay overnight at Srinagar and Kargil. After reaching Leh, you can hire a taxi to travel to Hemis monastery, as mentioned above.
To get detailed knowledge about this topic, look at this blog post, How to Reach Ladakh.
Hemis Monastery Timings and Entry Fee
The opening hours of the Hemis monastery for visitors are from 8 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 6 pm. The monastery remains open every day and also on all national holidays.
The entry fee for Hemis monastery is 50 rupees per person.
Accommodation options in Hemis
If you are interested in wildlife and want to explore the Hemis National Park during your visit to the monastery, you can stay in the guesthouses or homestays in the nearby village.
Some people prefer to visit the Hemis monastery during their Sham Valley trip, including Lamayuru Monastery, Magnetic Hill, Uleytokpo, and other tourist places. If you plan a day trip to the monastery, you can return to Leh in the evening, where you can find many accommodation options.
Food options at Hemis
You can find a few food joints near the Hemis monastery where you can buy some snacks or have your meal. But it is advised that you carry your food/water with you as it’s a long day tour including the nearby tourist attractions. In the monastery, you can have some coffee/tea, which the monks of the monastery serve for free.
Hemis Monastery Travel Tips
- Rest as much as possible on the first day of your arrival to acclimatize to the harsh climate of Ladakh.
- Apply good sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
- Wear your sunglasses on sunny days.
- You should be mindful of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms as they may affect even the most experienced travelers. Harsh climatic conditions in Ladakh can be challenging for you, so be prepared before starting your journey.
- Bring some warm clothes and a down jacket if you plan to visit during the winter. If you want to know essential items for the Leh, Ladakh trip, read our blog post Things to Carry for Ladakh Trip.
- No Inner Line Permits are needed to visit the monastery. You need to buy a ticket and enter the monastery.
- You should wear conservative clothes and respect the rules of the monastery.
- You can find lockers in the monastery to deposit your mobile phones and camera while visiting the monastery museum.
- You can take photos of the scenic views from the gompa. However, it would be best to ask before clicking a picture of any monk in the monastery.
- You can find petrol pumps in Leh and Karu near Hemis. These petrol pumps remain fully functional during winters as well.
- Subscribe for a BSNL, Jio, or Airtel postpaid number because other networks do not function well in Ladakh.
- Book your flight tickets in advance, as the prices would hike during the peak season in Leh, Ladakh.
- Google flights have a remarkable feature of the flight price alert system. So, search for your flight on google flights and then subscribe for the alert.
Please read the World health organization’s travel advice before traveling anywhere.
Read Indian Government travel guidelines.
History of Hemis Monastery
The history of Hemis monastery states that Naropa, the teacher of the translator Marpa and student of Yogi Tilopa, has laid the foundation of the Hemis monastery. He is also considered the founder of the Kagyu lineage of Himalayan Buddhism and therefore is the main seat of the Kagyu lineage of Buddhism.
The biography of Naropa contains the history of the Hemis monastery, and it was later translated into different languages. It gives a detailed account of how Naropa met the tantric master Tilopa and the duties assigned by Tilopa to Naropa to attain enlightenment.
Naropa is regarded as the “Abbott of Nalanda,” the famous university in Bihar. This university prospered in its full glory until it was attacked by the Afghan invaders, due to which Naropa traveled to the North and ultimately met Tilopa in Hemis. It was then Tilopa and Naropa both traveled to the kingdom of Magadha in Bihar, which is no longer in existence.
Seige of Hemis Monastery
In the 19th century, the Hemis Monastery was under siege by General Zorawar Singh. But the head lama handled the situation skillfully and thus saved the monastery from the invasion. It is also believed that the Hemis monastery is the only Gompa in Ladakh that has never been sacked. In 1956, the head lama of the monastery disappeared mysteriously and was never found or seen by anyone. After this event, a 12-year-old boy from Dalhousie was appointed the head lama of the Hemis monastery.
The Hemis monastery is the headquarters of the Drukpa order, and all the other monasteries are administered from here. It has been under the guardianship of the Royal Family of Ladakh since its re-establishment in the 17th century. The monastery also trains young monks for the royal gompas of Shey, Leh, and Basgo.
Hemis Monastery and Jesus Christ
There is another controversial story related to the Hemis monastery, which is now considered a hoax. In 1894, Nicolas Notovitch, a Russian journalist, claimed Hemis as the origin of an unknown gospel of Christianity. In the gospel, Jesus is said to have traveled to India during his lost years.
According to Notovitch, the work has been preserved in the Hemis library, and the monks showed it to him while he was recovering from a fracture in his leg. However, this story was reexamined by the historians and Notovitch in his later life admitted to having fabricated the evidence.
Architecture of Hemis Monastery
The structure of the Hemis monastery is similar to the Tibetan architectural vocabulary. The sacred landscape of the monastery is marked with numerous chortens and quarters of monks built on the nearby slope. The main door leads to the courtyard, which is surrounded by impressive structures. Every component of the monastery facing the courtyard has been renovated to accommodate the growing number of visitors and continue its responsibility as the religious and spiritual center of the Drukpa Kagyu order.
It is the oldest part of the monastery and is situated at the back of the central courtyard. One can access the Nyingma Lhakhang through the courtyard in front of the temple’s main entrance. The courtyard has a beautiful water spring and a wood store that contains willow stumps. The kitchen and other ancillary structures are attached to the Nyingma Lhakhang.
Inside the Nyingma Lhakhang, there are two sculptures of Tara and Stagsan Raspa. The hall also contains some delicate murals, images, and paintings that depict the life of Buddha. Some paintings in the Nyingma Lhakhang were ruined due to water seepage and, therefore, were painted again by the local artists in 2015.
The Dukhang Barpa is the middle prayer hall. One can access the hall from the courtyard through a staircase leading to the porch. The porch has four pillars and balconies with wooden pillars. Inside the hall, the roof is built at three levels held by slender wooden pillars.
The Dukhang Barpa is used for special events. It is used as a waiting and dressing room for the dancers during the Hemis Festival. The hall also has numerous stupas, a giant Shakyamuni sculpture, and statues in remembrance of Gyalras Rinpoche and Stagsan Raspa. Many original paintings that were damaged due to water seepage were repainted in 2012.
The Dukhang Chenmo is the prayer hall which seats the Stagsan Raspa and Drukchen. The paintings in this hall are quite different from those in the Nyingma Lhakhang. They possibly represent the individual style of Ladakhi artists.
The Dukhang Chenmo also contains sculptures of lineage masters and different deities. It is one of the most prominent areas in the monastery. Sacred rituals and prayers are performed here, dedicated to the Drukchen and Stagsan and other deities and masters.
The Guru Lhakhang was constructed in 1985 at the suggestion of Drukchen. It was built in place of a destroyed temple, the ceiling of which was partially collapsed. One can access the hall from the courtyard leading to the porch, from where a staircase leads to the Guru Lhakhang. The Guru Lhakhang houses a colossal statue of Guru Padmasambhava built by Nawang Tsering and pictures painted by Tsering Wangdus.
The visitor’s gallery was rebuilt in 1996 because it had suffered damage in some parts due to water seepage. However, the dimensions of the gallery were modified to accommodate more visitors. The gallery contains some of the most iconic paintings series and relief paintings that were brought from a hermitage called Gotsang.
The gallery also contained sculptures, woodblocks, manuscripts, metal objects, and decorated textiles, which have now been moved to the museum situated at the end of the visitors’ gallery.
The Hemis festival was introduced by Gyalsras Rinpoche Mipham Tsewang in the 18th century. It is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava and is celebrated on the 10th and 11th days of the 5th Lunar calendar. It is also believed that his mission was to enhance the spiritual condition of living beings. The birthday of Guru Rinpoche falls on the 10th day of the Tibetan calendar and comes once every 12 years. Hence it is celebrated with great enthusiasm and festivity.
The Hemis festival takes place in the courtyard in front of the monastery’s main entrance. The sacred rituals performed during the festival are believed to give good health and spiritual strength. A raised stage with an amply cushioned seat and a finely painted Tibetan table is placed with ceremonial items such as uncooked rice, cups filled with holy water, and tormas (figures) made of butter, dough, and incense sticks. A group of musicians plays traditional music with tiny trumpets, large pan drums, four pairs of cymbals, and large-sized wind instruments. A small place next to them is assigned for the monks to sit.
The festival begins with an early morning ritual on the top of the monastery where people can hear the sound of cymbals, drums, and pipes. Then the portrait of “Rygyalsras Rinpoche” or “Dadmokarpo” is customarily displayed for all to worship and admire. The main attraction of the Hemis festival is the mystical masked dance, also referred to as the Cham dance performance. The monks perform this traditional dance part of the Tantric culture and perform in the gompas, which follow the Tantric Vajrayana teachings. One can also see the monks performing tantric worship during the festival.
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|Shey Monastery||28 km||40 min|
|Thiksey Monastery||25 km||36 min|
|Leh Palace||35 km||53 min|
|Zorawar Fort||37 km||56 min|
|Hall of Fame||39 km||59 min|
|Jama Masjid||37 km||58 min|
|Central Asian Museum||38 km||59 min|
|Sankar Monastery||39 km||1 hr|
|Shanti Stupa||40 km||1 hr|
|Namgyal Tsemo||40 km||1 hr 5 min|
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