Once one is
acclimatized to the altitude, the stiff early morning hike up to
Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, the monastery perched precariously on the
shaly crag behind Leh palace, is a great way to start the day.
Two trails lead up to "the Peak of Victory", whose twin peaks are
connected by giant strings of multicoloured prayer flags; the
first and most popular path zigzags across it south side from the
palace road, while a second scales the more gentle northern slope
via the village of Chubi, which is also the route followed by the
Lama from Sankar Gompa who tends to the shrine each morning and
evening. Alternatively, one can drive there along the dirt track
that turns left off the main Khardung-la highway, 2-km north of
the bus stand.
Approaching the Gompa from the south, the first building one comes
to is the red-painted Maitreya temple. Thought to date from the
14th century, the shrine houses a giant Buddha statue flanked by
Bodhisattvas. However, its wall paintings are modern and of less
interest than those in the "Gon Khang", or the temple of protector
deities, up the hill.
Most famous of these, on the left of the door as one enters, is
the honorary portrait of Tashi Namgyal, the temple's founder and
prolific builder. In the gloomy interior, one can just make out
murals of "Shakyamuni" (the historical Buddha) and Tsongkha-pa,
founder of the Gelug-pa sect. The veiled central deity itself
sports a shiny phallus, believed to cure infertility in women.