Leh Stupas

View of the East stupa gate after repair. East stupa gate at the beginning of the restoration. Mason Tashi Mutup,Yutaka and Dolkar discussing repair with Pimpim making the photo. East Stupa gate

Shar Kagan Chorten, the East Stupa gate, is located in the north-east corner of Leh Old Town. This is the biggest of the four stupa gateways, the former entrances to the fortified town. This gate in particular was the main approach to Leh Palace. Despite the many changes in the old town today, it is still possible to trace the remains of the city walls, mostly found near the stupa gates. Some older people still remember the town gates that opened at dawn and closed at dusk. The stupa is believed by the community to protect the palace and the town from evil and negative forces. It is believed that the East Stupa gate design was inspired by the shape of Lama Taktsang Repa in his meditation posture. The kings of Ladakh, the Namgyel dynasty, has been the patron of the lama’s lineage, so the stupa has been considered the protector of the royal residence. It is an important monument, not just as a spiritual symbol but also as an important landmark in the history.
The community asked THF/LOTI for help to repair the structure and clean the historic paintings inside of the Stupa.

In 2018, we began the restoration of the East Stupa gate. We started the preparation work with help from the community. We removed the Mani-stones from around the Stupa and temporary piled them on the side. We set up a scaffolding to the top of the stupa, approximately 12 metres high from the ground level, and removed the thick layer of old whitewash and mud plaster to recover the original shape of the Stupa.
Restoration work started from the top; the thirteen rings Chokhor Juksum, which represent the thirteen stages of Buddha’s path to the enlightenment. These parts were made with moulded baked bricks with Sanskrit scripts. We studied the scripts and found that it was the mantra of Avalokitesvara. We recreated all the missing scripts and filled broken parts with clay-based mortar. The surface was treated with oxidized red color mixed with varnish, which improved waterproof performance. Meanwhile, the metal ornaments of moon and sun, were repaired and painted in a gold colour. The ornaments were then placed back in their original position.

Masons prepared thin slate stone and fixed the steps of the Stupa, creating an overhang, which will protect the plaster from rainwater. Similarly, we set up a wooden overhang structure around the Stupa platform and placed slates on it to create adequate protection from rainwater. Our mason finalized the plastering of the Stupa, and the local community organized whitewashing. The local community also prepared a Buddha statue dedicated to the Stupa, and a monk was invited for the consecration ceremony.

In 2019, we conserved the historic wall paintings located on the ceiling of the stupa passage. The wall paintings were of Buddhist deities. A team consisting of two Czech conservators and Yangchen Dolma our Ladakhi conservator, they worked on stabilize and clean the wall paintings.

Project supported by Prof. Wolf Kahlen, Ralv and Beatrice Fust and Upper Stalam community.

The team is working in the stupa.
Yutaka finalizing the Korlo Juksum.
East stupa gate painted by Thai artist for THF.

Stagophilok Kagan stupa after repair in 2019. The team first removed the cement and recover as much as the original shape of the stupa. Tsering Bloo and Yanchen working on repairing the decorative elements of the stupa. Stagophilok Stupa gate

Stagophilok Kagan Chorten is one of the old Leh’s four gate stupas, the access to the old town from the south-east side. Stagophilok means literally “outside the horse gate” and originally marked the town boundary. But as the town expanded, the stupa became surrounded by houses. The stupa gate led to the great Mani-wall in the south and to Stalam street, the main access to the Leh royal palace in the north. Today it is still a popular gateway to the old town for both locals and visitors.

In September 2019, when we learned that some people were working on the Stagophilok stupa, we went there and saw few seasonal workers plastering the stupa with cement, destroying the elaborated patterns and even the original shape of the stupa. The repairs were undertaken by the Skyangos-Goksum Community. We contacted them and discussed other ways to repair the stupa. Since the cement was still fresh it could be easily removed, and the original stupas’ shape would still be possible to save. Explaining all the disadvantages of using cement which would lead to the loss of stupas’ historical value, the community leaders agreed to stop the use of cement and invited us to continue the repairing of the stupa.
The cement layers were removed and the original shape of the stupa came out. Sadly, the elaborate patterns and the Sanskrit prayers had been removed before applying the cement and were lost. Fortunately, THF had earlier photographs of the stupa and we could trace the original patterns and colour information. The damaged pieces on the floor revealed also the original colours of these patterns, and we could recover similar motives. After the cement was removed, a soil/clay mixture was applied to the damaged areas and slate stones were fixed into the areas with more propensity for water infiltration. The copper decoration of the sun and moon on the top of the stupa was also repaired and repainted with gold colour. The missing decorative motives were recreated with a soil/clay mortar based on the original photos of the stupa. Finally, the stupa was painted white and the decorative patterns recovered the original colours.

This project was supported by the Skyangos-Goksum Community in Leh old town.

Carpenter Dadul repairs the the sun and moon decoration that goes on top of the stupa.
To finalise, the stupa was whitewashed and wooden elements painted with a natural red colour.
After finish, incense and prayers were made. Yutaka volunteers to go to the top with incenses.

West Stupa Gate

Nub Kagan Chorten is the name of the western stupa gate, one of the four entrance gateways to Leh old town, Ladakh. This gate was built along the fortification wall on the west side of the old town and used to be opened at dawn and closed at sunset. Today, the stupa is an important landmark of the original town boundary. The stupa is about 3.6 meters high and stands over the gateway. There are two ancient stone carved Buddhas and many mani-stones (stones inscribed with mantras or images of deities) are placed around the stupa, which are equally important to preserve.

In 2020, we consolidated the foundation, stabilized the structure and recreated the missing parts. After recreating the missing parts, we used slates and stones to cover the more exposed areas to prevent water infiltration, this is one of the main problems found in mud buildings that are not maintained. We finalized the body of the stupa by applying mud plaster and polishing the surface with smooth river stones. Our carpenter Dadul made the tsokshing (life force pillar) from juniper wood. A rainbow parasol made of cloth, symbolizing protection from all evils and the metal ornament of the stupa were installed above the tsokshing on the last day of the month (namgang) in the lunar calendar, an auspicious day for Ladakhi people.
On the middle part of the stupa is the ‘sengthri’ (lion throne), on the west side a snowlion and other motives, part of the decorations of the throne remain, but on the other sides they are missing. In 2021 we consolidated and repaired the loose decorative reliefs of the stupa throne and prepared the supporting ground for the missing lions and decorative patterns. We then invited local artists (Lha zo – god makers) to make the lions and other missing decorations. After that the stupa will be whitewashed.
This project was sponsored by David Cheung and the community.

Rigsum Gonpo Shrine

Rigsum Gonpo is a shrine consisting of three stupas, these represent the bodhisattvas of wisdom (Manjusri), compassion (Avalokitesvara) and fulfillment (Vajrapani).The Rigsum Gonpo shrine located on the ridge of Leh palace hill was built at the same time as the royal palace to protect the settlement from evil, and plays a significant role in the daily life and worship of the local community. The roof of the shrine was damaged and in need of repair, as well as minor damage of the wall. In 2021 we restored the Rigsum Gonpo’s wall, the wooden structure, roof and also completed minor repairs to the three stupas. Electric lights and a place to burn butter/oil lamps were also added for the daily religious practices of the community. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic everyone is facing many challenges worldwide, the restoration of the Rigsum Gonpo shrine was completed with the wish to bring joy and hope to the community in Leh and everyone in the world.

This project was supported by Paola Vanzo.

Copyright, Tibet Heritage Fund