Lamayuru gompa, with its medieval village seemingly growing out of the rocky hillside, below it lies 15 km east of the Fatu La on the Srinagar-Leh Highway. Lamayuru belongs to the red-hat sect of Buddhism. In the past, the gompa housed up to 400 lamas, but presently only 30 to 50 lamas live here, although about 150 lamas belong to the gompa. The other lamas stay and teach at Lamayuru;s daughter gompas located in outlying villages. Twice a year, all the lamas gather for prayers, accompanied by three days of masked dancing. These gatherings occur in the second and fifth months of the Tibetan calendar (corresponding usually to March and July). Ancient legends say that at the time of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha, Lamayuru's valley was a clear lake where nags (holy serpents) lived. The Bodhisattva Madhyantaka foretold that the lake would be emptied and a monastery built there. The legend continues by saying Naropa, an 11th century Indian Buddhist scholar, came to Lamayuru and spent many years meditating in a cave, which can still be seen in the Dukhang.
Naropa then caused a split in the surrounding hillside and the lake emptied through this opening. After the lake emptied, Naropa found a dead lion covered by the waters of the lake. On this spot, Naropa built the first temple, the Singhe Ghang (Lion Mound). Other historical accounts relate that in the 10th century the King of Ladakh ordered the building of Lamayuru and placed it under the supervision of Rinchen Zangbo. The original gompa was composed of five buildings although only the central one still stands. The 16th century, Ladakh's King Jamyang Namgyal was cured of leprosy by a lama from Tibet. In gratitude, the King gave the gompa to this lama and also bestowed other privileges - no taxes were collected and the area surrounding the gompa was declared a sanctuary where none could be arrested. For this reason, Ladakh's still refer to Lamayuru as Tharpa Ling, the "Place of Freedom". Walk to the large building next to a tall prayer flag pole. Go in the doorway, up a flight of steps to the main courtyard. The Dukhang is on the right side of the courtyard. The entrance verandah has been recently painted with a colourful depiction of the Guardians of the Four Directions. The mural on the left wall depicts the proper way for a lama to live. The Dukhang was redecorated in 1970 with new column paintings. In the wall on the right side of the Dukhang is a small cave known as Naropa's cave, where he is supposed to have meditated for several years. This cave contains a sttue of Naropa as well as statues of Marpa (Naropa's student who became a translator of religious texts and famous poet) and Mila Ras-pa (Marpa's student and a spiritual head of the red-hat sect of Buddhism, famous for his asceticism).
The right side of the Dukhang has three complete sets of the Kandshur the 108 volumes of Buddha's teachings) in lovely glass-fronted bookcases. These cases were made in 1977 and have elaborate painted decorations above and below the shelves holding the books. The statue near the middle of the right side wall is Sakyamuni although not with his usual blue hair. Opposite the Dukhang's entrance, on the left side are five statues of various red-hat lamas. In front of these are statues of Amitabha (the Boundless Light Buddha), Padme Sambhava (an 8th century Indian Buddhist translator of Buddhist texts into Tibetan) and Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha). In the center is a throne seat reserved for Lamayuru's head lama, who is also the head lama of Phyang gompa (both Lamayuru and Phyang belong to the same sub-sect of the red-hat sect of Buddhism). To the right of the head lama's seat is a chorten of no particular significance and statues of Padme Sambhava and Tungdup Tshogs-gyal, a previous head lama of Lamayuru. In the background are thankas depicting Buddha's incarnations. Behind the main Dukhang is a Gonkhang, a temple devoted to guardian divinities. In the temple's new glass-fronted cases are various images. Starting from the left there is a case of lovely sculptures made of butter mixed with barley flour for Lamayuru's festivals; Mahakala the fiercest guardian divinity, Apshi, a guardian of the gompa; Radha Shree, a founder of the religious sect to which Lamayuru belongs; three guardian divinities and another Apshi riding a horse. In front of the cases is Tara, reflecting her twenty-one manifestations (Tara is the consort of Avalokitesvara and known as the Saviouress).
After leaving the main Dukhang, take the steps on the left up one flight. Go to the right and immediately on the left is another Gonkhang devoted to the guardian divinities depicted on the temple's side walls. During the gompa's festival (usually in March), the masked dancers impersonate the guardians depicted in this temple. There are three chortens in the front, the larger central one being decorated with turquoise and coral. The chorten on the right contains the relics of a previous head lama. This temple has statues of various lamas, as well as murals of the lamas on the wall behind the statues. Separate from the large building containing the Dukhang is an old, small temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara. In the alcove opposite the entrance is a very old eight foot high image of Avalokitesvara with 1,000 arms and eyes in each hand (symbolizing his enormous strength) and eleven heads (nie Bodhisattva heads, one head angry at the suffering in the world and a Buddha head on top), Avalokitesvara's name means "Lord of All He Surveys" and he is velieved to be reincarnated in the Dalai Lama. In the alcove with this image is a collection of smaller images of Avalokitesvara, Padme Sambhava in the center front and smaller of the statues of 8 Bodhisattvas. On the wall to the right of the alcove is a recent but very well painted Avalokitesvara, again with 1,000 arms and eleven heads. On the right side wall is a mural of all the various divinities a Buddhist will see after death. The left side wall and the entrance wall depict Buddha's incarnations.
Go through a maze of buildings to Singhe Ghang temple, which may be original to the time of the monastery's founding as its wall murals and images are similar to those found at Alchi and dated to the 10th century. The main image is a large Vairocana (the Teaching Buddha) seated on a lion throne with a garuda (mythical bird) and sea monsters surrounding his head. Stucco images of the Buddhas of the Four Directions are on the back wall. The left side wall has a mural of an 11-headed Avalokitesvara and also a mandala painting of Vairocana. The right side wall murals have been almost totally obliterated by water damage. The wooden pillars and beams are all from the Zanskar Valley.