Hemis Monastery, tucked in a hidden valley 40 km from Leh, is the most renowned and biggest monastery of Ladakh. Its popularity stems from the major annual festival held here every summer, in honour of Guru Padmasambhava's birth anniversary. Guru Padmasambhava is the 8th century Indian guru revered for spreading Buddhism throughout the Himalayas. Hemis has the largest silk embroidered brocade in Ladakh, which is unfurled, once in 12 years, in the year of the Monkey. Built in 1630 during the reign of King Sengey Namgyal, by Taktsang Repa, a student of the 5th Gyalwang Drukpa and the 1st Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche, Hemis flourished under the Namgyal dynasty, whose kings and people became the patrons of the Drukpa Order
Ladakh is one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the world. Ladakh’s history can be traced back to the Neolithic era and appears in early historic accounts via Herodutus and Ptolemy. The region hosts ancient trade routes connecting trade from as far west as Damascus to the far east reaches of Guangzhou and connecting the Nothern Caspian Sea to Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Its unique geographic location and its historic celebration of diversity of culture, makes it one of the earliest examples of an international hub. Initially part of the Kushan empire in the first century CE, Buddhism spread through the region via the ancient trade routes. To this day, Ladakh is guardian to ancient artwork with Buddhist subject depicted in a Roman-Greco style with Byzantine influences.
In 842 AD, Ladakh was an independent dynastic where its culture and traditions flourished. This Ladakhi dynasty spearheaded the “Second Spreading of Buddhism drawing masters from northwest India and claiming its place in history as one of the most scared lands in Central Asia. In subsequent centuries, Ladakhi kings extended the territory to the realm of Purang and Mustang (present day Nepal). Since ancient times, Ladakh has hosted great masters, meditators, seekers and explorers. The monumental mountainous terrain coupled with its deep spiritual history makes it one of the most profound regions for reflection, retreat and spiritual quests.
The Drukpa Lineage and the Ladakhi region are greatly intertwined. Many historic and current Drukpa masters have made Ladakh their home and beneficiary of many miracles. Known in Buddhist history as the “Two Greats”, Gyalwa Lorepa (1188-1250 CE) and Gyalwa Gotsangpa planted their roots in Ladakh and left their footprints and handprints – signs of accomplishments to devout Buddhists. In the 17th century, the great yogi Taktsang Repa (1573-1651 CE) who was a disciple of the fifth Gyalwang Drukpa and the first Drukpa Yongdzin Rinpoche (the chief disciple of the fourth Gyalwang Drukpa) were instrumental in nurturing the growth of Buddhism in Ladakh. Many of their meditative caves are sprinkled through Ladakh and it is believed that merely visiting the region, blessings are bestowed upon the visitor.
Today, Drukpa monasteries and humanitarian projects permeate through Ladakhi society. The heritage of Ladakh is deeply seeped in Drukpa traditions and philosophy.