Key Facts :
Location : 70-km from Leh, Ladakh Region, J&K
Significance : The Du-Khang, the Sumtsek
Subtly hidden among the mountains, the Chos-khor, or "religious enclave", is one of the most celebrated and significant historical site of India. This cluster of low roofed pagoda is situated at Alchi, which is 70 kms away from Leh. These pagodas, which are almost nine centuries old, harbor an outstanding asset of wood carvings and wall paintings.
People studying arts rave about this site at Alchi, because of the wealth of historical artwork the pagodas still preserve. The artworks in these pagodas at Alchi are the living examples of great craftsmanship during the ‘Second Spreading’ of Buddhism.
During the depredation of Muslims in the 14th century only a few of the Buddhist monasteries and pagodas escaped destruction. Among these few monasteries, Alchi happens to be the most impressive one. This site is enclosed within the scenic beauty of nature and besides it the turquoise blue water of river Indus flows. The lush green surroundings of this placid monastery make it the best place to rest after a long journey from or to Ladakh.
The Choskhor at Alchi comprises of 5 separate temples, several residential buildings and a cluster of huge Chortens. All these structures are enveloped by walls made of mud and stones and tall polar trees. If someone is passionate about history, then the two oldest buildings named Sumtsek and Du-khang are worth watching. These two structures are situated in the middle of the enclosures and one needs to fetch entry tickets for viewing it. The entrance tickets are issued from a center near Likkir Gompa. Visitors are advised to carry a torchlight to have a better view of the murals. However, cameras are prohibited inside as its flash light can damage these ancient murals.
Du-Khang was founded during the 11th century by Kaldan Shesrab. He was a graduate from Nyarma Gompa situated near Tikse. The entrance of this monastery is marked with a walled courtyard which finally leads you to a hollow Chorten through a narrow path. This monastery is a significant achievement by the craftsmen of early medieval India. This square shaped structure is richly engraved with images of meditating Bodhisattvas.
The semidarkness in the interiors of the monastery makes it a little uncomfortable for the tourists at first. But within a few minutes, a tourist’s eye gets adjusted to the gloomy interiors. One can see the niche at the rear walls, which has a fascinating cluster of “Buddha Resplendent”. The main image if Buddha is flanked by four Budhdha manifestations. These Buddha manifestations are seen all over the walls of Alchi’s monasteries. These manifestations are the main for demonstration of Buddha and comes with unique colors; Akshobya ("Unshakable"; Blue), Amitabha (implies "Boundless Radiance". It is Red in color), Ratnasambhava (it means "Jewel Born" and is painted in Yellow) and Amoghasiddhi ("Unfailing Success" with Green color). The other walls of the walls of Du-Khang are adorned with 6 elaborate Mandalas, intricately designed with friezes.
The Sumtsek :
Sumtsek is situated at the left of Du-Khang and it happens to be the most celebrated temple of Alchi. Like Du-Khang the wooden carvings of this temple project, the heights Buddhist art reached during early medieval times in India. The wood carvings of this Buddhist temple are as vibrant and fresh today as it was during its construction, 900 years ago. The colors of the wood carvings represent bold red and blue which has almost no signs of fading. The guide, who is a resident and lama in the locality, leads a tourist under the delicate wooden frontage into the interior of the shrine. The walls around the shrine are a fabulous storehouse of volumes by Buddhist scholars. In the ground floor a more than life size statue of Buddha stands with its head reaching the tip of the second storey of the temple.
This grand and enormous statue of Budhdha is accompanied by two equally large Bodhisattvas. The heads of these two statues peer through the ceiling of the building. Both these figures are embellished with detailed motifs and on the dhoti that it wears. While Avalokitesvara, which is the bodhisattva of compassion, has sites for pilgrimage, court vignettes, magnificent palaces and Stupas of pre-Muslim style of architecture, Maitreya is adorned with several episodes from the incidents in the life of Gautam Buddha.
Fresco of Deities :
The Alchi houses artwork that doesn’t belong to Buddhism. There are murals that display deities. For instance, a tourist will get awestruck by looking at the curios deity of Goddess Prajnaparamita or the Perfection of wisdom. This is a six-armed deity and belongs to the Mahayana thought. The goddess is heavily decorated with ornaments and sits on a Lotus.
There are other temples in Chos-Khor that dates back to 12 and 13 centures AD. These ancient buildings will surprise you by their state of preservation since these buildings don’t bear much damage what an old building was supposed to have. Manjushri La-khang is notable solely for its "Thousand Buddha" paintings and the gilded four-faced representation of Manjushri that occupies almost the entire temple.
Lotsawa La-khang, has a central mural and image of Shakyamuni. This temple is one of the few temples devoted to Rinchen Zangpo, or the "Great Translator".
Places to Stay :
At Alchi you will get plenty of guesthouses to stay in. you can also try tourist bungalows at Saspol.