I climbed the hill to Namgyal Tsemo Gompa in the scorching heat. The fort is perched on a hilltop overlooking Leh city. There were no shades between the fort and the foothills; it was just me, the sun and the heated narrow road. The Gompa and the Fort looked desolated without a soul in sight but I wasn’t surprised. Tourists in Leh came prepared for a long stay and they are not in a hurry. They would just wait for the right moment, which I’ve come to realize as I climbed up the hill- is the evening.
The Namgyal Tsemo Gompa was built in 1430 by King Tashi Namgyal, an avid Buddhist follower. He chose to build the gompa just above his palace. Most gompas and temples are built on hilltops, where it could be seen from afar.
The Namgyal Tsemo Gompa contains a three story high Buddha image and ancient manuscripts and frescoes. One particularly impressive statue of the future Buddha also called Maitreya Buddha is 3 storeys high and is kept inside the monastery. The statue is 13.7m in height and is open to public at daytime. The best chance of seeing the statue is during morning and evening, when the monks come for their rituals.
The Tsemo Fort perched precariously on a hilltop. It is difficult to imagine how such a fragile looking edifice had survived since so many centuries. A minimal amount of Rs. 30 per head entry fee has to be paid and is used for its maintenance. The fort is made of stones, sand and wood and offers one of the best views of Leh, particularly the Old City. Tourist can walk around the extended terrace mostly made of wood. Prayer flags tied to the pillars fluttered to the strong wind. The terrace offers a thrilling view but many visitors don't dare to venture as the wood seemed to be faltering and it was impossible to know how much of weight it could stand.
There is a small gompa inside the fort and it is open to visitors. The gompa is adorned by a statue of Buddha.
The view from the fort is priceless. It was worth the climb even on a hot day. Sitting there, I could see the Old City and beyond - the new buildings mushrooming out of the ruins of the unfortunate 2010 flash flood in Leh. The fort and the gompa could have easily been washed away. Some part of the city’s landscape has changed since then, but not drastically. But, Leh would never look the same without the ageless gompa and the fort overlooking the city like guardian angels.