Exuberating peace, tranquility and breathtaking views of the cold desert lie Likir Monastery, a Buddhist Gompa located about 56 km away from Leh in Likir village off the Srinagar to Leh highway in Ladakh region of J&K.
Likir monastery vividly sits atop a hill at a height of 3700 meters giving panoramic views of the picturesque landscape of the Himalayas. The monastery was established in the 11th century by Lama Duwang Chosje under the rule of King Lha-Chen Gyal-Po and belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
A large number of tourists visiting the Sham Valley region in Ladakh visits Likir as a part of their sightseeing day tours from Leh.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
About Likir Monastery
Likir has had a lot of history attached to it, which is preserved in the form of wall inscriptions in black ink in the monastery. In the Ladakhi chronicles, it is mentioned that the monastery was established in the 11th century by the King Lha-Chen Gyal-Po. Still, later the Lamas were converted to doctrines of Gelugpa order by Duwang Chosje, an advocate of meditation. Thus it was re-established in the 15th century by Chosje.
The word Likir literally translates to “The Naga – Encircled”, representing the Naga Rajas, Nanda, and Taksako the great serpent spirits. This is said to be belonging to the ancient Kadampa order of Tibetan Buddhism, before its conversion to Gelugpa principles.
The Gompa that stands today is not the original structure constructed in the 11th century, as it was ruined by fire once and had to be renovated in the 18th century.
The monastery houses around 120 Buddhist monks and a school that accommodates approximately 30 students. The school is run by the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies and imparts education in three languages, Hindi, English, and Sanskrit.
There are two prayer halls called Dukhang; the one on the right side is the older one, which has a seating arrangement for the monks and also a throne for the Head Lama of Likir. There are various statues of Maitreya Buddha, Boddhisattva, Amitabha, Sakyamuni, and Tsong Khapa in the prayer hall.
Brightly colored Thangka paintings hang in the verandah of the monastery depicting the Guardians of the Four Directions. The courtyard of the monastery houses a rare Jupiter tree. The monastery has innumerable manuscripts, thangka paintings and a collection of earthen pots.
Festivals of Likir Monastery
Every year the festival of Dosmochey is celebrated at the monastery from the 27th day to the 29th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar. Colorful sacred dances and votive offerings are made at the occasion.
It is the seat of the Ngari Rinpoche, the present emanation of whom is the younger brother of the Dalai Lama. Although he does not permanently reside here, he attends for the more important pujas.
The newer Dukhang is on the other side of the monastery that accommodates a giant statue of Avalokiteswara with a thousand arms and eleven heads. There are vivid murals of confessional Buddhas and Sakyamuni on either side of this Dukhang.
How to reach Likir Monastery near Leh?
No doubt Likir has emerged as one of the top things to see near Leh in recent years. It can be easily covered when you come to Leh from Kargil as well.
Leh to Likir Monastery distance is 56 km and is located west of the Leh town after crossing Nimmu & Basgo plains. You can reach it by taking a 5 km diversion road from Srinagar Leh Highway, about 9 km before Saspul bridge. It is housed in what we popularly know as Sham Valley.
By road – The easiest way to reach Likir Monastery by road is hitting the Srinagar – Leh Highway. You can reach Leh also by the Manali Leh Highway if you are traveling from the Manali side and then travel further to Likir monastery from Leh.
The state-run JKSRTC buses ply within the Ladakh region but then to visit Likir monastery from Leh you may need some hitchhike about 9 km before Saspul diversion point at Srinagar Leh Highway. You can also take your private vehicle (cars/bikes) to Likir from Leh as well.
If you travel from Leh to Kargil, after traveling west for about 51 km comes to a diversion point which is about 6 km Saspul bridge. You take a right from this point and travel further 5 km on the road to reach Likir monastery.
By air – The nearest airport is Leh Airport, which is well connected with some major airports in India, including New Delhi. From the airport, taxis can be hired to reach the hotel in Leh and then make a day trip from Leh to Likir Monastery and back the next day after acclimatization.
By train – The nearest major railway station from Leh is Jammu Tawi, at a distance of 812 km from Leh. Taxis can be hired from the railway station to reach Leh over Srinagar Leh Highway in a 3-day journey with overnight halts at Srinagar and Kargil. Some people do prefer to stay overnight at Alchi or Likir after Kargil to be more cautious about AMS issues.
Joginder Nagar railway station is just 635 KM from Leh via Manali Leh Highway but is not a major one.
Best time to visit Likir
The roads to reach Ladakh via Srinagar and Manali are closed from November to May, because of heavy snow. Therefore traveling via air is the only option to reach Leh, and further to Likir in Ladakh during wintertime.
Hence, a good time to travel to Likir monastery is the same as the best time to visit Leh Ladakh. That is, from May to September / October when the roads to Leh Ladakh are open from Srinagar and Manali side.
However, the best time visit the Likir monastery is during the celebration of the annual festival of Dosmochey, which is celebrated in the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar and involves music, ritualistic dances, food, traditional sports and so much more.
The road from Leh to Likir is also open in the winter months. So, you can surely plan a trip to Likir monastery from Leh in winter months as well after flying into Leh. Please ensure that you are willing to endure the cold weather and want to witness the white beauty of Ladakh.
The roads to reach Ladakh via Manali and Srinagar are closed from November to May, because of heavy snow, therefore traveling via air is the only option to reach Leh.
Where to stay in Likir?
There are few guesthouses and homestays in Likir village where you can stay overnight. Many people do stay overnight at Alchi or Likir for better acclimatization. You can stay at Likir after flying into Leh for sleeping at a lower altitude, or you can get better acclimatized for the altitude of Leh when traveling from Srinagar to Leh.
Apart from that, you can visit also visit Likir Monastery from Leh on the same day you are planning to explore the local places in Sham Valley which includes Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Basgo Plains, Confluence of Indus – Zanskar Rivers and Likir Monastery or nearby monasteries from Leh.
It is highly recommended to leave early morning from Leh for making a day trip to Sham Valley.
Where to eat?
If you are making a day trip to Likir, I will suggest that you have your meals at Nimmu village where there are plenty of local shops right on the road itself. Some does offer very nice and tasty local authentic Tibetan food as well as samosas. Nimmu village is on the way to Likir at a distance of about 32 km and takes about an hr drive from Nimmu to Alchi.
On the other hand, you will find food options upon reaching Likir village, as there are few guesthouses and homestays plus tea/snack shops in the village near the monastery as well.
You should always carry your own water bottle and refill it as many times as you need water. It will not only keep you hydrated always, but you will also help in saving the Himalayas from plastic garbage. Remember, every tiny step counts and your step in this direction can help save the Himalayas too !! 🙂 🙂
Other Important Tips
While you visit Likir, do remember to visit the Gokhang temple nearby. You might as well find various monks performing rituals alongside drum beats.
You can also visit the museum at the top of the monastery. It is small but well maintained, and there is an INR 20 charge per head for entry. The Likir village is situated in a very serene yet stunning atmosphere, so do not forget to explore the nearby places.
You might end up spending around 3 hours here at Likir, so plan the activities for the rest of your day accordingly.
Travelers are advised to consult their doctors before commencing this journey to Leh Ladakh because it can be tedious and demanding, and the climatic conditions can get extreme, especially in winters.
Besides being unbearably cold in the winter season in Ladakh, AMS (acute mountain sickness) is sure to hit even the most experienced travelers, as the altitude is high and vertiginous.
Plan your Stay and Food
It is important to note that there is minimal food or stay options near Likir village, so it is advised to make a day trip from Leh and return by evening. Also, better stock enough food and water before your trip to the Likir in case you do not like what is available at Nimmu village or Likir village tea shacks or homestays.
Mobile Network Connectivity
BSNL and Airtel postpaid numbers work fine in Ladakh, other networks do not get any reception. Alchi monastery may have signals of BSNL mobile services. BSNL has the widest coverage and Reliance Jio has also begun its operation starting 2018.
Although now Likir somewhat stands isolated, it once was on a very lucrative and prime trade route to Leh via Hemis. Thus, there is a lot to see around Likir, the nearby villages are extremely scenic and strong testaments of the history that prevailed here.
Likir is situated in a spectacular location and is a photographer’s paradise. Do not miss Likir on your Ladakh vacation. I hope this travel guide for visiting Likir monastery will help you plan a successful trip to this holy place in Leh Ladakh.
If you know your friends or family are planning a trip to Sham Valley and Likir, do share this article with them to help them make a memorable Leh Ladakh trip.