by André Novais, 2011

Ladahk, or the land of the high passes, is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world. Placed 3000 meters above sea level, the high plateau in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a land of unspoken beauty, but also a harsh and challenging environment for those who call it home.

For historical and political reasons, Ladakh lies at the intersection of two great religious traditions, namely Buddhism and Islamism. With a few exceptions, the Buddhist population of Ladakh is mostly concentrated in the eastern Leh District, where several monasteries, or Gonpas, built as far back as the 1st century, serve the purpose of education for young monks that choose to learn about traditional Tibetan Buddhism. 

All currently active Gonpas are affiliated with large monastic universities, to where most young novice monks, or Gesnyen, from Ladakh now travel to receive a monastic education before being sent to serve in their home monastery. Traditionally monks are recruited during childhood as young as six years old. The motivation for families to have a child enter the monastic life vary from traditional reasons, reducing the financial burden of raising a child, recruitment pressures from the local monastery itself, and from the karmic benefit of sending a child to live out the Buddhist ideal. Individuals choosing to take the robes in adulthood are rare (A.W. Bridges, 2017).

At the head of every monastic estate is the figure of the Rimpoche, “precious one”, recognised as a reincarnation of their predecessor, tracing back to the roots of the original founder of a monastery.

The daily routine at a Monastery starts with the morning prayers. Monks are then sent to perform rituals at nearby villages, while others remain in the monastery to deal with daily tasks of the day, study scriptures and meditate, in their constant search for a higher spiritual elevation.


Bridges, Alex Wallace, 2017. Two monasteries in Ladak: Religiosity and the social environment in Tibetan Buddhism, PhD Thesis, Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Anthropology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.