Hemis Gompa is a world heritage listed Hemis monastery located in the Himalayas. The Hemis Gompa has remained relatively untouched by ravages of modern life due to its high altitude – it is around 12,000 feet above sea level. This makes it one of the highest settlements in use by humans in the world. It predates the 1700’s and many of the buildings are in their original structural form. It is decorated with various murals painted in gold and naturally occurring pigments and compounds that have been manufactured using ingredients found in the immediate vicinity of the Hemis Gompa. The Hemis Gompa hosts an annual festival (known as the Hemis Festival) designed at bringing people in the vicinity of the monastery together and celebrating the birth of Guru Padmasambhava.
The Hemis festival is essentially a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and it is apparent that it takes its cues from Tibetan Buddhist traditions rather than Indian. During the festival monks adorn themselves with brightly coloured clothing and wear their formal monk wear. Men and woman also wear fairly ornate and intricate clothing for the duration of the festival. Families who make their way to the festival usually carry a variety of traditional meals and ingredients localised to the area. It is not unusual to see families hauling pots of yak-butter tea and tsampa. The Hemis festival is celebratory in nature and upbeat.
Celebrations include dancing and traditional brass instruments. Monks perform as devils, evil spirits and re-enact battles that depict good versus evil. The Lamas play an integral role in the celebratory performances and are dressed in finery that compliments the festivals nature. Although many of the dances performed are quite controversial and open to interpretation. The Hemis Gompa is actually decorated quite extravagantly – it is considered to be the richest monastery in Ladakh and its wealth is apparent in the various gold, silver and copper adornments that are on show.
The Hemis Gompa is actually quite a large establishment situated on the banks of the Indus River. It was founded by Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso (first incarnation). The Hemis Gompa is now owned and maintained by a group of Tibetan monks known as the Dugpa Order. The Dugpa Order is responsible for the safeguarding and maintenance of the many valuable relics that are kept at the Hemis Gompa. This is no small task as (stated earlier) the Hemis Gompa is home to a massive wealth of artefacts – some of which predate the Hemis Gompa.