Spituk Gompa

Buddhist Monastery in Leh

Founded in the late 14th century as See-Thub (‘Exemplary’) Monastery, impressive Spituk Gompa surveys the Indus Valley with multiple mudbrick buildings tumbling merrily down a steep hillock towards Spituk village. For fine views, it's worth climbing the exterior stairway to the three-tiered latho (spirit shrine) and gonkhang, which holds the monastery's guardian deities.

Once small and mysterious, it's now undergoing considerable expansion.

Inside the main monastery complex, the most eye-catching structure is the Skudung Lhakhang, with vaguely Chinese-looking up-turned corners to its gilt roof. The colourful old dukhang (Tibetan prayer hall) contains a distinctively yellow-hatted statue of Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), the propagator of Gelukpa Buddhism. In the same room is a Buddha statue that supposedly incorporates a very odd relic: Tsongkhapa’s nosebleed. The new dukhang's north wall mural depicts all the historical Dalai Lamas, but without making the slightest attempt at actual physical likenesses: the present (14th) Dalai Lama is apparently the central, bigger figure.

Overlooking the car park is a tiny canteen serving tea and, unusually, Ladakhi paba (pea-and-barley meal).

The monastery is around 5km from central Leh, incongruously perched overlooking the airport runway. Around 400m before the access turning you can view the Spituk complex through the blades of an Mi8 helicopter that's been turned into a public roadside monument, though oddly you're not allowed to photograph the scene.