Known to be a paradise for meditation, the Rizong Monastery overlooks the Indus Valley. The monastery holds special significance for Tibetan Buddhists as it is believed Guru Padmasambhava had meditated in the caves around Rizong. Located 73 km from Leh in Ladakh district in Jammu and Kashmir, the monastery belongs to Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as the Yellow Hat sect. The monastery was founded by Lama Tsultim Nima in 1831. According to popular belief, Guru Padmasambhava meditated in the caves around Rizong. It is also believed that lamas used to meditate in the caves around Rizong in isolation, surviving on one meal a day and avoiding any contact with the outside world. Before the construction of the monastery, Lama Tsultim Nima started a hermitage at the site to teach monks about Buddhism.
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Lama Tsultim Nima also codified rules for adherence by monks called ‘Vinaya Rules’. Under the rules, monks can’t leave till completion of education, have to shun all material comforts and forsake all material possessions. So strict are the rules that the monks are even forbidden to light fire in their cells and can’t touch anything which has been handled by women. With the passage of time and as the number of monks started increasing, Lama Tsultim Nima decided to construct a monastery in place of the hermitage. However, the strict rules governing the monks continued. Even today, a whiff of rumour about lamas’ transgressions can invite rustication.
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The monastery has three main chambers; two chambers have statues of Buddha and the third one has stupas. In addition, there are several shrines in the monastery complex. Dukhang, the assembly hall, has statues of Shakyamuni Buddha and other Buddhist deities. Paintings, murals and thangkas are other major relics of the monastery are a must watch. There are paintings block about the founder of the monastery which tells his whole biography. The monastery is distinct from other monasteries due to two incarnate Lamas.
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The monastery also oversees the functioning of a nunnery located about two km away. The Julichen nunnery houses 26 nuns who take full participation in the economic activity of the monastery. The nuns spend their lives spinning wool, milking, extracting oils from the seeds and helping in harvest of agricultural produce. The way the nuns work and contribute in economic activities of the monastery has attracted many scholars and media and made them subject of research. Rizong is the only monastery in Ladakh where mask or cham dances are not performed as per the Vinaya rules. It also has the distinction of having two lama incarnates.
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There are no hotels, lodges or homestays near Rizong monastery. Monks at times allow tourists to stay overnight at the monastery. However, the options to stay are limited and it would be advisable to make reservations at Leh. There are no options to eat at the monastery. Monks at the monastery do provide food to visitors but it is simple meal and depends on the time of the day and the occassion. It would be advisable to carry some ready to eat food. The best time to visit Rizong monastery is between June and September, as routes remain closed after November due to heavy snowfall.
Photograph courtesy: Hceebee/Creative Commons
BEST TIME TO VISIT LADAKH
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