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Thiksey

Thiksey has some of the most breath-taking vistas in the whole of India: vast wind-swept plateaus, rugged snow-capped Himalayan mountains and picturesque sun-baked Ladakhi villages dotted around fertile green squares of agricultural land.

One of the biggest and most photogenic draws to Thiksey is Thiskey Gompa -the largest monastery in Ladakh. Famed for its grand architecture, the monastery is known locally as the ‘Mini Potala’ of India as it resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa. The cube-like whitewashed buildings cling to the cliffs of the Indus valley, and preside over a sweeping view of the high-altitude desert. The ochre-capped monastery can be seen for miles in this remote and windswept terrain, and has also become a beacon for tourists wanting to experience and understand the life of the 120 Buddhist monks who live here.

Despite being built over 600 years ago, it still functions as a place of worship for its inhabitants.  Visitors often come to observe the ritualistic morning prayers at 6am, where the red-robed monks, including young boys, enter the atmospheric red-walled prayer hall, strung with Buddhist banners and script. Here they chant and pray their melodic chorus, punctuated by colliding cymbals and the deep tones of the Tibetan trumpet. These morning prayers always attract large crowds of visitors, especially during religious festivals.

Inside the 12 storey monastery are ten temples, in which is housed a huge statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha), standing at 40 feet tall, taking up two storeys of the building. This brightly coloured Buddha, made of copper, clay and gold, was built to commemorate the visit of the Dalai Lama in 1970, and took four years to construct. The roof of the monastery is one of the best places to take in the unforgettable view of the valley below, especially at dawn before prayers, when the sun emerges from behind the jagged mountain peaks, picking up colour from distant palaces, monasteries wrapped in fluttering prayer flags and shimmering barley fields.

The pristine natural beauty of the landscape around Thiksey means there are lots of low-key activities for travellers looking to enjoy the serene environment. A peaceful cycle or walk through the villages offers a glimpse of rural Ladakhi life, and perhaps a cup of yak butter tea with a local. The Indus River offers gentle rafting through settlements and whitewashed monasteries.

Nearby to Thiksey is cultural Leh, where visitors can explore Leh Palace, perched atop a hill and backed by snow-dusted mountains. The palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century and has nine storeys, some of which are in ruins, and some that bear traces of Ladakhi architecture. Leh's colourful bazaar at the end of the Shanti Stupa, has a great vantage point over Leh, with spectacular views of the stone strewn landscape.

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