9 Things To Know Before You Visit A Buddhist Monastery In Ladakh!

If there is one thing that equals the mountain scape of Ladakh in terms of beauty and appeal, it is the many monasteries of the land. Serene, welcoming, yet exciting for the new visitor, any Ladakh’s Buddhist monastery has an unmissable charm about it.

Ladakh Buddhist monastery - The Thiksey Monastery

The Thiksey Monastery is a majestic sight to wake up to when you’re glamping at TUTC’s Chamba Camp

Built owing to the region’s people who are of Tibetan heritage, the monasteries are the primary keepers of Buddhist culture and religious practices. You can visit as many monasteries as possible during a Ladakh holiday, but it is important to remember that these are places of worship where a certain behavioural code is to be followed. For example, the Gon-Khang (the main prayer room) of the Matho Buddhist Monastery does not allow women inside. Here are some other etiquette rules that are expected to be followed by visitors at Ladakh’s Buddhist monasteries:

#1 Pay Heed To Photography Rules

Most Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh do not allow clicking photographs of the prayer sessions and interior areas, so abide by the rules. Taking photographs can also disturb the monks in prayer and the tranquil ambience of the place. Moreover, the flash light of cameras is often damaging to the tapestries and painting, which date back to many centuries back.

Ladakh Buddhist monastery - A religious festival underway at the Thiksey Monastery

A religious festival underway at the Thiksey Monastery

If you wish to click photographs of monks or local people outside the Buddhist monastery, make sure that you ask for their permission first. For religious ceremonies, you may need to take permission from the designated in-charge of the Buddhist monastery.

#2 Wear Appropriate Clothing

If a Buddhist monastery visit is on your itinerary, dressing properly is a must. Choose clothes that do not expose much, so refrain from skirts, shorts, or sleeveless clothes. The monks may not say anything, but you need to remember that it is a place of religious significance where prayers and meditation are the primary activities. Dressing properly indicates respect for the Gompa and their practices.
Some places may require you to take off your shoes before you enter, so make sure you know and follow the rules of the place to avoid hurting religious sentiments.

Ladakh Buddhist monastery - The ancient Matho Monastery

The ancient Matho Monastery located near the Zanskar Range poses a splendid sight.

#3 Bend Before Entering A Room

Visitors may find that doors in Ladakh are usually lower than in other part of the world, which will require people to bend while entering a room. When in a Buddhist monastery, bending and lowering your head while entering is considered as a sign of respect to the deity or the place in general. It is also courteous to greet monks in a similar manner, with your head lowered.

Ladakh Buddhist monastery - Prayer wheels

Prayer wheels are ubiquitous in most Buddhist monasteries. It is believed that touching and spinning these spread blessings and overall well-being.

#4 Pay Attention To The Sitting Hierarchy

Buddhist Monasteries have a code of sitting as per the hierarchical structure of the monks, so do not go and sit on the rows where the monks are supposed to sit. There are also tables on which tea and food are served, but refrain from sitting there. Visitors should not sit above or with a monk unless explicitly invited to do so by one of the monks. Ask your guide about the prevalent local custom to be sure of observing the right seating etiquette.

 Monks seated at tables at Ladakh Buddhist monastery

Monks seated at tables inside a Buddhist monastery take a break

#5 Mind Your Feet In A Buddhist Monastery

Most Ladakhi people prefer to sit on the floor cross-legged, and there is no harm in following suit. But most ‘outsiders’ often make the mistake of stretching their legs outwards. Ensure that your feet are not pointed toward a Buddha statue, a religious item, or a person. Directing your feet towards something or someone is considered a mark of disrespect, so be careful about how you sit inside a Buddhist monastery.

#6 Do Not Sit On Tables

The Choktse, a low table, is common in Ladakhi monasteries and houses to serve food, and its considerably low height may often be confused for being a seat. But do not sit on or walk over a Choktse, as it is considered impolite behaviour. If you have a knee problem or other health issue, ask someone for an elevated seat or a regular chair instead of deciding to sit on the table.

#7 Watch Your Step In A Buddhist Monastery

In most Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, people are sitting in rows with low tables (Choktse) spread over the place. While walking, be mindful not to step over someone’s legs or books. If it is a book of religious writings, you need to be extra careful as this may hurt someone’s religious sentiments. It is best to walk in the space behind people sitting in a row.

Ladakh Buddhist monastery - prayer.

There is something incredibly calming about watching a monk deep in prayer.

#8 Refrain From Displaying Your Affection Publicly

Public displays of affection are anyway not welcomed on the streets or other public places in Ladakh, but visitors need to avoid it completely while vising a Buddhist monastery. Kissing, hugging, etc. is looked down upon while in a place of spiritual importance and worship.
People in Ladakh are friendly and welcoming in general, so it is expected that you respect the codes of conduct here by behaving in accordance to local rules, even if they are unspoken.

#9 Always Ask For The Bathroom

Usually while camping, etc. people tend to urinate near a water body or bushes. But when in Ladakh, urinating into or near water is a strict no-no. You should anyway not do it since it pollutes the water and may even cause health problems, but the Ladakhi people have a belief that serpent spirits (lhu) live in the water.
So if you really need to go during a Buddhist monastery visit, it is always a civilized move to ask a young monk politely for directions to the nearest washroom. They are always ready to help.

Fact File:

Ladakh Buddhist monastery - TUTC's Chamba Camp at Thiksey

An evening at TUTC’s Chamba Camp at Thiksey

Location: In the state of Jammu & Kashmir in India. It is the region’s highest plateau located at a height of 9,800 feet.
How to Reach: Apart from the Leh Airport offering regular flights to Delhi, Chandigarh, and other cities, Ladakh has a number of military airports. Road connectivity is via Chandigarh, Srinagar, or Manali (via the Manali-Leh Highway). Buses and taxis are available, but most roads are usually closed in the winter. Jammu Tawi is the nearest railhead from Ladakh, at a distance of 700 km.
Official Language: Ladakhi, Tibetan, Urdu, and Balti.
Currency: INR
Time Zone: UTC+05:30
Climate: Being a high-altitude desert, Ladakh receives heavy snowfall and short, dry summers.
Food & Drink: Skyu, thukpa, and ngampe are popular local dishes. Gurgur cha (traditional tea) and chang (a fermented alcoholic drink) are the beverages to try while in Ladakh.

Words: Sarah Merchant

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1 Comment

  • comment-avatar
    s s n srichandan April 24, 2018 (12:03 pm)

    SO NICE. I want to go to ladhak with my family on piligrimage. The land of beauty and almighty.