Many monasteries in Ladakh were plundered by invaders over the centuries. The one at Chemde, or Chemrey stayed safe. How? A tale worth telling.
Seems the Mongols laid siege on Chemde in the late 17th century. He was outnumbered but that didn’t stop the head lama from outsmarting the outsiders. From afar, he shot the Mongol king’s tea cup with a rifle. Stunned, the king thought Goddess Kali ruled over the gompa and he made peace with the monks. A temple to Kali stands at the base of the hill on which Chemde nestles.
[Click on the image for a larger view]
Stagsang Respa founded this impressive gompa, Hemis’ most important branch. King Sengye Namgyal asked him to make gompas at Leh, Basgo and Chemde after Hemis but he refused to make one at Basgo (already had one) or Leh (too crowded, too noisy). Gompas are places of solitude, of meditational retreats, and Chemde was suitable.
While at the gompa, don’t miss its museum. On display are dresses worn by Mongol and Ladakhi rulers, weapons their armies used, cooking utensils, holy symbols, seals, money, storage bags and texts belonging to royalty and monks. It is one of the rare monastery museums where you can take photographs. This might change soon though.
Read more such anecdotes and experiences from Ladakh in Ajay Jain’s new book, Postcards from Ladakh.