The Shey monastery and palace is located on a small hill 15 kilometers to the south of Leh, Ladakh. The monastery lies on the Leh-Manali highway in Shey village. The main attraction of the monastery is the colossal statue of Shakyamuni Buddha made up of copper with gilded gold.
Earlier, Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh. The original palace of Lhachen Palgyigon (King of Ladakh) was built in this village in the 10th century. In the 16th century, Mirza Muhammad Haider Dughlat (Mughal noble) stayed there during his annexation of Ladakh. The current Shey monastery and palace were built in 1655 under the direction of Deldan Namgyal in the memory of Sengge Namgyal below the palace.
The Shey monastery and palace is a must-visit place while in the town of Leh, Ladakh, as it has a lot to offer for all kinds of visitors. The giant statue of Shakyamuni Buddha and the scenic location of the monastery with the surrounding snowcapped mountains of Stok attracts a lot of tourists from all over the world. For this reason, the Shey monastery is famous not just for its architecture but also for the enticing views it offers from the point it is built at. One can witness the panoramic scenes of the Indus valley and Indus river up to the village of Stok. So, make sure to stop and visit this picturesque monastery on the way to the Thiksey monastery.
Shey Monastery Travel Guide
We have compiled a detailed travel guide in this blog post for exploring the Shey Monastery in the best possible way. It will cover all the vital information, including accommodation, transport, and all the famous attractions to see in the awe-inspiring monastery.
Our travel guide will help you plan a fabulous and memorable trip if you plan a trip to Shey Monastery. Our team of trusted specialists from Ladakh offers customized tour packages at discounted prices to all our valued customers who wish to spend a fantastic vacation in Ladakh. If you have any queries about Shey Monastery, please contact us. Get the best deals to explore Leh in our Ladakh tour packages.
Highlights of Shey Monastery
- A giant copper statue of Shakyamuni Buddha with gilded gold
- Museum on the lower floor of the monastery
- The shrine built by Sengge Namgyal
- Wall Paintings on the upper floor of the monastery
- Shey Rupla and Shey Doo Lhoo Festivals
Itinerary Guide – How to plan your Itinerary for Shey Monastery
Planning an Itinerary for Shey monastery without an expert guide is not easy. We have built an Itinerary with our trained specialists and planned a trip to Shey monastery to share our awe-inspiring experience with you. We hope this guide will help you know all about Shey monastery to plan your itinerary easily.
Preparing for Shey Monastery Trip
We hired a taxi early in the morning and headed towards the Shey monastery. Speeding on the Leh-Manali highway, we came across many whitewashed chortens that dotted the lush green fields. The wooden structures on the nearby mountains made it evident that the region used to be entirely populated.
Reaching the Monastery
Finally, we saw a signboard, and after a while, we stopped at the sight of the red attired Buddhist lamas climbing up the stairs along the mountain. We climbed up the zig-zag staircase amidst the green valley of Leh, Ladakh. Finally, we reached the main entrance of the three-storied monastery.
The Main Building of the Monastery
As we reached the first level of the monastery, we were amazed by the stunning views of the green landscape. We came across many prayer wheels, locked doors and oil lamps kept at the corners. There was also a large white stupa with a golden top which is supposed to be the most significant victory stupa of Ladakh.
Several prayer stones were placed along the whitewashed walls of the monastery. While walking in the monastery, we glanced up the hill and saw some ruins of the old Shey palace, including the old walls. The wooden monastery was beautifully built with layers of mud and stone. We could see the similarity in its construction with the Leh Palace. And then, finally, we reached the main attraction of the Shey monastery.
The Shakyamuni Buddha Statue
As we entered the room, we were welcomed by the compassionate gaze of Shakyamuni Buddha. The 12-meter statue was rested in a seated position and occupied three floors of the building. A library of old manuscripts was also built on the ground floor.
We kept on walking and reached the second floor of the monastery. The second floor of the monastery was filled with paintings of Buddha in different positions. The third floor consisted of several statues of Buddhist lamas collectively known as Arhats.
Butter Lamp Room of the Monastery
The butter lamps lit in this room have been burning for decades now. It was a surreal experience to see so many lamps of every size and shape continuously burning. It is said that these lamps are considered as prayer and a symbol of peace and prosperity for the people. The devotees offer the oil for these lamps, and the monks of the monastery make sure that these lamps never run out of oil.
Rock Engravings near the Monastery
As we walked out of the monastery, we saw engravings on a giant rock on the Leh-Manali Highway. The engravings from the life of Buddha looked quite impressive, and it was something that could be found only rarely.
The Shey monastery attracts thousands of devotees and tourists from all over the world. Visitors are welcome to visit the monastery to take in the serene atmosphere and learn about the Buddhist culture. The green meadows with the barren brown hills make a fantabulous contrast, and the snowcapped peaks in the far distance enclose the entire panorama.
So, the next time you visit Ladakh, make sure to visit the Shey palace and gompa. We hope this travel guide will help you plan an unforgettable trip with your family and friends.
Best time to visit Shey monastery
The best time to visit the Shey monastery is from May to October. The weather is most favorable for traveling during these months. However, if you want to attend the celebration of Shey festivals like “Shey Doo Lhoo” and “Shey Rhupla,” the perfect time to visit would be July and August.
The roads to Ladakh via Manali and Srinagar remain closed from November to April because of heavy rain and snowfall. Therefore traveling by air is the only option to reach Ladakh and then to Shey monastery during the winter months.
Hence, the best time to travel to Shey 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 Shey Monastery
The easiest way to reach Shey monastery is to arrive in Leh via flight and then hire a taxi or a cab to reach Shey monastery. The monastery is also well connected through local buses, so you can use other forms of public transport to reach the Shey monastery.
- Flight: Leh Airport – Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport is the nearest airport well connected with some of the major airports in India. You can hire a cab from the airport to reach your hotel in Leh and then plan a day trip from Leh to Shey monastery and some other nearby attractions.
- Cabs / Bus: The local buses and cabs function well in the Ladakh region during the summer months. You can hire a cab and take the road leading to Karu on the Leh -Manali Highway. It will take around 20-25 minutes to reach the Shey monastery from Leh.
- Train: Jammu Tawi is the nearest major railway station from Leh. You can hire a cab from the railway station to reach Leh. It is a 3-day journey if you stop overnight at Srinagar and Kargil. After reaching Leh, you can hire a cab to reach the Shey monastery, as mentioned above.
If you want to get detailed information, look at this blog post, How to Reach Ladakh.
Shey Palace Timings and Entry Fee
The opening hours of the palace and monastery are from 6 am to 1 pm and 1:30 to 6 pm every day, including national holidays and Sundays. The monastery remains closed for 15 minutes between 4 to 4:15 for a break.
The entry fee for the Shey monastery is Rs 30 per person. The fee is the same for both Indians as well as foreign nationals. Free parking lots are also available for visitors.
Accommodation at Shey Monastery
You can explore the nearby tourist places like Thiksey Monastery, Stakna Monastery, and other attractions on the same day. It is recommended to start early morning and return to your hotel in Leh by evening.
There are other stay options in Shey, such as guesthouses and hotels. So, you can either choose to stay in the Shey village or return to Leh. You can also stay at Hemis or Thiksey monastery, close to the Shey monastery.
Food Options at Shey Monastery
There are many small restaurants along the highway and near the Shey monastery. But do not forget to carry your water bottle and some snacks from Leh. You can also try eating in Punjabi Dhabas, which offer delicious local Tibetan food, including Thukpa and momos.
Shey Monastery Travel Tips
- Rest on the first day of your arrival for better acclimatization in Leh
- Apply good sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV radiation.
- You should be aware of the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness as it may affect even the most experienced travelers. Extreme climatic conditions can be challenging, so be prepared before commencing your journey.
- Do not forget to wear your sunglasses on sunny days.
- Bring some warm clothes and a down jacket if you plan to visit during the winter months. If you want to know essential items for the Leh, Ladakh trip, read our blog post Things to Carry for Ladakh Trip.
- Special permission is needed to visit the Shey monastery. But you can enjoy the surrounding areas of the palace and the scenic views of the valley from Photong.
- You should wear conservative clothes and respect the rules of the monastery.
- Photography is not permissible inside the prayer hall of the monastery. It would be best to ask before clicking a picture of any monk.
- You can find petrol pumps in Leh and Karu, which remain fully functional in the winter season as well.
- Subscribe for a BSNL, Airtel, or Jio postpaid number because other networks do not receive signals in Leh. As the monastery is situated near Leh, these networks will work fine at Shey also.
- Book your flight tickets early, as the prices would hike during the peak season in Ladakh.
- Google flights have a fantastic 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 Shey Monastery
Shey is a small village that was initially founded as the old capital of Ladakh. In 1842, the Dogras invaded Ladakh, and as a result, the Namgyals (Royal Family of Ladakh) abandoned the Shey palace and fled to Stok. They began to live on the opposite side of the Indus river and made it their permanent residence. It is said that the fort above the present palace at Shey belonged to this same period of annexation.
Later, when Leh became the capital of Ladakh, it, however, did not reduce the importance of Shey. Shey was turned into the summer capital, and it became a mandatory requirement of the Namgyal kings to father their heir apparent in Shey.
Geography of Shey monastery
The Shey monastery is located 15 kilometers south of the modern capital of Ladakh, Leh. It is situated on an average elevation of 3,415 meters (11,204 ft) and is surrounded by the Zanskar ranges and the Indus river valley.
The monastery is built in the upper Indus valley, and many stupas, rock carvings, and monasteries can be seen on the way. One can also reach the monastery by trekking 4 kilometers from Thiksey. This path has the most extensive chorten fields of Ladakh, with numerous shrines of different sizes scattered across the dry landscape.
The monastery’s inner sanctum is usually closed, and special permission is required to visit the monastery because only one lama lives here. On the opposite side of the Shey Palace, a hotel for tourists is surrounded by a beautiful garden full of flowers.
The Architecture of Shey Monastery
The main attraction of the Shey monastery is the Shakyamuni Buddha which is a 32 ft (12 meters) statue covering almost three floors of the building. It is said to be the second-largest statue of Buddha in Ladakh. As seen in the gompa, the statue of Buddha is on three levels.
- The first level shows a mural of Shambunath and enormous feet of Buddha, the soles of which are pointed upwards.
- The second level shows the murals of Buddha in different positions.
- The third level is blackened by the soot of the butter lamps that keep burning eternally at the altar.
Installation of the statue at the monastery
The giant statue of Buddha was cast in smaller parts in Leh at a place called Zanstin, meaning “copper and hammer.” The statue was made of copper collected from some villages of Zanskar valley and Lingshet mines. The plates made from the copper blocks were obtained by hammering them on the rocks.
At first, it was built in smaller parts and then transferred to the palace for easy installation. It is said that the copper plates of the statue in the monastery were gilded with 5 kilograms of gold.
Shrine nearby Shey Monastery
Another little shine is situated about 1300 ft (400 meters) from the palace. It was built by Sengge Namgyal and houses another statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in a sitting position. Several pictures and murals similar to the palace are kept in this shrine.
It is said that both the Shakyamuni Buddha statues were designed by a Nepalese sculptor, namely Sanga Zargar Wanduk. He was brought here by Gyal Khatun (Sengge’s mother) to build both the statues. Other artisans also assisted him, such as Gamani Jal Shering, Nakbiri, and Paldana Shering Gyaso. These craftsmen reportedly lived in the Chilling village and are now known for their artisanship in traditional silverware.
The shrine also depicts murals of 16 Arhats, original disciples of the Buddha, with some famous teachers like Tsong Khapa, Padmasambhava, and Atisa. Two small tantric shrines are built near this shrine.
Near this shrine, carvings are made on the rock spurs, which can be seen on the way to the palace. These rock carvings are of the Dhyani Buddhas. One of the carvings is enormous and built close to the palace, and the rest are located near a chorten. There are many chortens built in the east of the palace also.
At the edge of the valley, the official residence of the lama called photong is built, which offers panoramic views of the Indus valley. The palace is smaller than the Leh palace and looks shabby nowadays. It is situated below the discarded fort and has a golden chorten tower. However, it has gained importance due to the Buddha being glorified in the monastery.
Place of worship
Inside the shrine, several butter lamps are lit that burn constantly over an entire year and are replaced to continue the flame without interference. This practice represents the purity and divinity of the shrine.
The offerings placed for worship in front of deities in the sanctum include jewels, grains, and holy signs with mantras inscribed on them.
Festivals in Shey Monastery
Every year two seasonal festivals are celebrated in the Shey monastery.
- Shey Doo Lhoo: The “Shey Doo Lhoo” marks the beginning of the sowing season in Ladakh. It is celebrated for two days in July and August, corresponding to the 26th and 27th of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. The monks perform special rituals and religious rites in the main monastery.
On this occasion, an oracle reader visits the monastery while riding on horseback. He conducts a three-day prayer and then goes into a deep hypnotic trance. It is said that the oracle reader gives prophecies in this hypnotic state.
- Shey Rhupla: The second festival, known as “Shey Rhupla,” marks the harvesting season in Ladakh. During this festival, the farmers offer the first fruits of corn in the monastery. A special dance called “Rhupla Dance” is performed by two men in tiger costumes. It is believed that women without children offer prayers to Buddha, seeking his blessings to bear children.
A funeral ground is located close to the palace. On this ground, the dead person is carried in a sedan chair after the people at home perform the last rites. As the prayers are chanted, the sedan chair is placed in a tubular walled oven. Later, the ashes of the dead are scattered in the river.