At an altitude of 12000 feet, Hemis Monastery is the largest Tibetan monastery in the Ladakh region. It is one of the most visited monasteries by tourists on a trip to Leh Ladakh. It sits on a mountain on the west side of the Indus River, only 45 km away from the town of Leh and is one of the prime attractions of the Ladakh trip.
It was built in 1630. Impressive and intriguing, Hemis is different from the other important monasteries of Ladakh. The monastery is decorated on all four sides by colorful prayer flags that flutter in the breeze and send prayers to Lord Buddha.
The history of Hemis Monastery is contained as a transcript of a biography of the pupil of yogi Tilopa – Naropa. This biography was found in the Hemis Monastery and was translated later in various languages. It talks about how Naropa met Tilopa, a tantric master and the tasks that Tilopa assigned to Naropa to achieve enlightenment.
One of the largest Thangkas is displayed every 12 years during the Hemis Festival, held for two days in June-July. The annual festival, commemorating the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava brings alive the courtyard of the monastery. The festival, where good triumphs over evil in a colorful pageant, also holds the annual ‘bazaar’ where Ladakhis from remote areas buy and sell wares. During the festival, various rituals and mask dances are performed in this courtyard. Hemis is about 40 km from Leh and can be visited comfortably in one day if one is traveling by car or jeep.