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 that held political power in 13th century Tibet, sees
comparatively few visitors.
Matho Nagran Oracle Festival
Despite its collection of four hundred year old Thangkas, the
monastery is best known for its Oracle Festival Matho Nagran, held
on the 25th and 26th day of the second Tibetan month. Two oracles,
known as "Rongzam", 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 readliness 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 full of Chang,
and slashing themselves with razor sharp 'Sabres' without drawing
blood. The events are rounded off with colourful Chaam dances in the
monastery courtyard, and a question and answer session in which the
Rongzam, still under the influence of the deity, make prophecies
about the coming year.
The Colourful Festive Attires
One can check out the costumes and masks 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-khang 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.
Matho is famous, at least amongst Ladakhis, because of its oracle.
The 'Lhaba' of Matho is, in contrast to the oracle of Tikse, a
priest and lives in the monastery. On special days the oracle runs
all over the mountains near matho; he is blindfolded and 'sees' only
with a painting on breast and back. The oracle speaks to the village
dwellers by a small spring at the foot of the monastery mountain.
HOW TO GET
Unlike Tikse, across the Indus, Matho doesn't lie on the main
highway, so is less accessible by bus. Buses leave Leh daily at 8.00
am and 4.00 pm, returning at 9.30am and 5.30 pm. By car, Matho also
makes an ideal half way halt on the bumpy journey along the
unsurfaced left bank road between Stok and Hemis.