Hemis Monastery is the most popular monastery and tourist attraction in Ladakh. Situated some 45 kms from Leh City, Hemis is tucked on a mountain on the west bank of the serene River Indus. The monastery belongs to Dugpa Kargyutpa order or Red Sect of Buddhism and is said to be enriched with a large number of Thangkas or paintings, which are exhibited during the one of the famous festivals in Ladakh, Hemis Festival. During the Hemis Tsechu held in the year of the Monkey of the Tibetan Calendar, one can see the sacred applique work along with tapestry wrought with pearls depicting the image of Guru Padmasambhava.
In 1630 the monastery was founded by the first incarnation of Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso who was invited to Ladakh by the King Singay Namgyal and was give estate throughout the region. Inside the monastery, a copper gilded statue of Lord Buddha can be see along with various stupas that are said to be made of precious metal like gold and silver. Some 3 km away, on the side of the mountain above the monastery is a sacred hermitage which is reckoned to have been founded by the great Gyalwa Kotsang can be seen. In this hermitage/cave, one can witness his footprint and handprint on the rock.
It is said that the hermitage was found several years prior to Hemis Monastery. There is also a museum in the premises of the monastery, where several ancient religious and historical paintings (Thangkas), weapons, carriers, and even a stuffed vulture pup is exhibited. However, the photography is prohibited inside the museum.
The only way to reach Hemis is by a cab or hired bullet/bike from Leh. The distance is about 45 kms.
Hemis Monastery has a beautiful architecture, which is quite interesting to witness. One can pay homage to the two large statues of Lord Buddha and Guru Rimpoche. Also, there is a museum that exhibits a large collection of Buddhist relics and several ancient items that suggest there existed a rich culture here. On the occasion of Hemis Festival, one can enjoy the Cham Dance or Masked Dance here for two days.
The best time to visit Hemis is during the two-day Hemis Festival, which is held annually in the month of June or July. One can see the famed Cham Dance during the festival and the display of age old Thangkas.