Matho Monastery

Matho is 27km south of Leh, straddles a spur at the mouth of an idyllic side-valley that runs deep into the heart of the Stok-Kangri massif. Though no less interesting or scenically situated than its neighbours, the gompa¸the only representative in Ladakh of the Sakyapa sect (which held political power in thirteen-century Tibet), sees comparatively few visitors. As it’s relatively isolated from the main highway, buses aren’t all that frequent. By car, Matho also makes an ideal halfway halt on the journey along the little-used left-bank road between Stok and Hemis.

Despite its collection of four-hundred-year-old thangkas, the monastery is best know for its oracle festival, Matho Nagran, held on the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth day of the second Tibetan month (around Feb./March). Two oracles, known as rongzan, are elected by lot every three years from among the sixty or so resident lamas. During the run-up to the big days, the pair fast and meditate in readiness for the moment when they are possessed by the spirit of the deity. Watched by crowds of rapt onlookers, they then perform all manner of death-defying stunts that include leaping blindfold around the gompa’s precipitous parapets while slurping kettle-fulls of chang’s and slashing themselves with razor-sharp sabers without drawing blood. The events are rounded off with colorful chaam dances in the monastery courtyard, and a question-and answer session in which the rongzan, still under the influence of the deity, make prophecies about the coming year.

You can admire the costumes and makes worn by the monks during the festivals in Matho’s small museum, tucked away behind the Du-khang. Men are also permitted to visit the eerie Gon-khng on the roof (strictly no photography), where the oracles’ weapons and ritual garb are stored. The floor of the tiny temple lies under a deep layer of barley brought as harvest offerings by local villagers.

Zanskar

Walled in by the Great Himalayan Divide, Zanskar, literally ” Land of White Copper” has for decades exrted the allure of Shangri La on visitours to Ladakh.

Zangla

Zangla is the nodal point on the popular Padum Strongdey Zangla Karsha Padum round trip, which covers most of the cultural sites of Zanskar.

Zongkhul

Zongkhul falls on the Padum-Kishtwar trekking trail, just before the ascent of Omasi-la Pass begins

The Suru Valley

Diving two of the world’s most formidable mountain ranges, the Suru Valley winds south from Kargil to the desolate Pensi La the main entry point for Zanskar.

North of Leh : Nubra Valley

Until 1994, the lands north of Leh were off limits to tourists and had been unexplored by outsiders since the nineteenth century.

Drass Valley

Drass (3230 m), 60 km west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar, is a small township lying in the centre of the valley of the same name .

Shyok Valley

The Shyok River receives the waters of the Nubra and Changchenmo rivers. It rises from the Khumdang glacier, which can be approached from Shyok.

Salt Valley

The Salt Lake Valley is one of the widest open areas in Rupshu. It can be approached from Leh across the Tanglang La pass.

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