Inside The 10th Century Lamayuru Monastery, Ladakh

Even though five years had passed since our visit to Lamayuru Monastery, the first sight caused us to gasp. Lamayuru Monastery sits perched on an eroded crag that makes me wonder, “How did they do it?” The work that went into building anything in (and on) these stark mountains, and then the fact that people live here is amazing. Did we want to revisit Lamayuru Monastery? You bet! Dropped the suitcases at Moonland Hotel and rode over to the monastery rather than walk on a windy and cold day. Lamayuru has been destroyed and rebuilt several times but it is the view from afar rather than what’s inside the gompa itself that visitors remember. Up close, Lamayuru can be disappointing and appears to just be a jumble of buildings.

Lamayuru Monastery/Gompa is the oldest and largest monastery in Ladakh, built in the 10th century with ancient statues, books, caves (more about the caves further in this article) and crumbling stupas…View image. Legend says that a lake originally filled this valley. Indian scholar Mahasiddhacarya Naropa (956-1041 CE) then caused the lake to dry up and founded Lamayuru Monastery. Whether it is a “legend” or really occurred, it would be one explanation on how Lamayuru was built in a location unlike any other in Ladakh.

prayers on an outcrop of Lamayuru Gompa/Monastery, Ladakh, India
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one section of Lamayuru Monastery roofs, Ladakh


A Tantric monk (they wear their hair up in a tight bun…View image) was in charge of collecting entrance fees. He suddenly jumped up, dropped everything and raced after a couple who had walked right by him without paying. No one was going to get by without paying an entrance fee. The monks belong to the red-hat sect which emphasizes the Tantric side of Buddhism, ergo, the hair piled up in a bun. The number of monks presently living in Lamayuru is debatable with numbers ranging from 60 to 150. Lamayuru town itself has a population of 300 persons.

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monk at Lamayuru Monastery wearing his hair tantric style, Ladakh


Even when a person has “been there and done it” there’s always something that was missed the first time. We entered through an ornate door…View image, and past the Four Cardinal Kings…View image. (Visit and read the excellent Wikipedia article on Lamayuru for all the facts.) Neither Steve nor I remembered a back room with extremely old “stuff”…View imageView image. ‘Tis a puzzlement why the Buddha images are usually shown in threes.

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a set of ancient Buddha images inside Lamayuru Monastery, Ladakh
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a bigger set of ancient Buddha images inside Lamayuru Monastery, Ladakh


Moving through another room, the monk in charge (watching us with an eagle eye to make sure nothing was purloined) pointed to a dark case with a sign…View image. We looked and couldn’t see a thing. Erik said something in Ladakhi. The monk turned on a light and behind the glass in a hollowed out area were three more Buddha images. Aha! The legend telling how Lamayuru Monastery was built also stated that Mahasiddhacharya Naropa sat for years meditating in one of the caves. This was the cave and Naropa was the one who caused the crack in the hillside that the monastery was built on. …Ah, little grasshopper…all becomes clear…

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cave that Mahasiddhacharya Naropa meditated in, Lamayuru Monastery, Ladakh

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