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Day 42: Ladakh

Shey, India 
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At Shey, once the home of the Kings of Leh, ruins of the fort and palace ride the crest of a hill, and, in foreground, a field of chorten (burial monuments) stand out from the arid slopes like half-melted snowmen.
Michael Palin - HimalayaThe last part of the climb to the monastery is up a long stone staircase. By the time I reach the top my breathing is shallow and my legs feel like lead, but the dramatic entrance makes me glad I persevered.

Despite the narrow site, the courtyard that opens out beyond the main gateway gives a heady sense of space. High stone walls rise on three sides while the fourth is open to the bare rock slopes beyond. The walls are covered in paintings and a line of prayer wheels runs along one side. Another mighty flight of steps leads to the prayer hall, whose entrance is flanked by wooden pillars with carved figure-heads and richly coloured paintings of dragons and gods. A wooden gallery runs around the walls and an arcade below has what look like very ancient wall paintings of the Buddha. Among the treasures of Hemis is a thangka so precious and huge that it is only displayed in public every 12 years. 2004 is the next time it will be exhibited. We've missed it by a matter of months.

We drive on as far as Chemrey Gompa, another monastery topping a carefully selected crag. Can't help but marvel at the careful painting of these monastery walls and the way the white, brown and maroon, and the timber and stone construction, harmonize so elegantly with the dry and tawny landscape around.

By now, all of us are feeling the press of altitude and by the time we've returned to Leh and eaten momos (Tibetan stuffed dumplings) and noodles, none of us has much energy left. There only remains one thing to do before bed and that's to raise a glass of beer to Roger and Nigel, who were both with me exactly 15 years ago today, filming my departure from the Reform Club and the start of Around the World in Eighty Days.
Hemis, India 
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Murals of Buddha’s life at Hemis gompa (monastery).
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 42: Ladakh
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Leh
  • Book page no: 97

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  • Booze
  • Day 1 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 5 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 2 
  • Pole to Pole