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Shey Monastery

Shey Monastery and the palace of Shey are constructions situated on the hilltop in Shey. It is 15 kms away towards the southern part of Leh, Ladakh, on the Leh-Manali highway. In the ancient times Shey was Ladakh’s capital in summer.

The palace which is deteriorating these days was constructed first in the year 1655, close to the village of the Shey, by the Deldan Namgyal who was also called Lhachen Palgyigon, the Ruler of Ladakh.

The Monastery also was constructed in 1655 on the directions of Deldon Namgyal, to memorialize his father, Singay Namgyal who had expired, inside the palace compound. This Monastery is renowned for its huge statue of Sukyamuni Buddha gilded with copper and gold. Buddha is called as Sukyamuni because Buddha was a sage meaning ‘muni’ of the people of Sakya who lived in the foothills of Himalaya and Kapilyastu was their capital. It is believed to be the next biggest such figure in Ladakh. In Shey Monastery, many festivals are celebrated.

Two main seasonal festivals are organized every year in this Monastery. The primary festival is organized at the Shey Palace on the 1st month of Tibetan calendar from 26th to 27th day. This festival is usually known as “Shey Doo Lhoo” to start the beginning of the planting season. The two days monastic festival is started by special customs executed by many monks inside the core Monastery, additionally to numerous other religious rituals. Villagers come to the Monastery as a huge crowd in a mood of festival and optimism. In this celebration, a vision reader who comes to the Monastery on the back of a horse performs a prayer of three days and then goes away in trance. In the condition of trance, he gives prophesies.

The next festival is known as the “Shey Rupla” that starts the reaping season. On this event farmers present their first fruits of the field in the Monastery. A dance usually called “Rupla dance” is executed by two men in the costumes of tiger.


Shey is the site where the upper terrain of Ladakh had its ancient capital. On the other hand, for a time in 1842, Jammu’s Dograsu came into Ladakh and took the region in their control at the time when Namgyals had to desert the castle and run away to Stok. Afterwards, Stok became permanent home for them, across the River Indus. People from local areas say that the remains found near the Shey Monastery these days, are the result of the Dogra attack. Over the years, the Namgyal’s capital was moved to Leh, though, Shey is important because of the Namgyal kings who were chosen as the successors of the Shey Monastery.


The chief Shakyamuni Buddha idol inside the Monastery is a 12 meters high image wrapping the Monastery’s three floors. The walls on either sides of the Buddha image shows the 16 Arhats (the Nirvana achieved saints), 8 on both sides. The wall at the back of the idol has the figures of the two main followers of Buddha, Maudgalyayana and Sariputra. Almost each wall surrounding the Buddha idol is painted with either of the images. The huge Buddha seen inside the Monastery is on three stages; the lowest stage illustrates his gigantic feet and pointing upward soles and a fresco of the Shambunath, the center floor illustrates frescos of the Buddha in various poses and the upmost floor is dimmed by the stain of butter lamps that burn everlastingly at the altar.

The idol was first spread in parts, within Leh, at a site called Zanstin. The meaning of Zans is copper and tin means hammer. Copper plates applied in the idol were brought from mines of Lingshet and other villages of Zanskar area. The copper ingots plates were made by beating them on a close by rock. First it was constructed in pieces and then shifted for installation to the palace. It is around 5 kgs of gold which was used for embellishing the plates of copper of the idol in the chief Monastery.

On the upmost floor of the Monastery, numerous beautiful and exquisite wall paintings are showed. The ground floor includes a beneficial library with a huge number of carefully conserved manuscripts which is ornamented with beautiful murals of figures of the Buddha in a variety of mudras (hand motions).

Reaching There

Shey Monastery is reachable to Leh by road and it is nearly 9 kms away. Jammu railway station is the closest railway station to reach Leh by train. It is nearly 734 kms away. From Manali buses are available which is nearly 453 kms away from Leh. This route would be a good choice. But, the Manali - Leh road is not always open throughout the year. Though, buses are available in the months from June to October, when roads will be open. There is also air service which is available from Delhi to Leh and also from Srinagar, different airline companies are offering regular flight services.

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