It is important to make a selection of visiting Gompas. Almost all Gompas are situated on top of isolated hills and appear to be forts. The dominating sect of Buddhism in Ladakh is Vajryana or Tantric Buddhism headed by the Dalai Lama. The Gompas are institutions that own land, have a seminal political, and social standing with the common people. The Thiksey Gompa which was built about 600 years ago consists of 12 levels ascending a hillside. Right on top is a special shrine that houses chortens (stupas) that encases mummies of the head lamas whose computer photographs are placed on the stupa. The Gompa contains 10 temples and houses of monks stretch down the hill. Interestingly, the temple of the mummies remains closed and is placed over the temple of Tara a symbol of compassion and energy. On the rooftop is Lamokhang temple a Tantric shrine where only men may enter. Also on top is Thiksey library, containing numerous volumes, including Kangyur and Stangyur. A small primary and high school for young Lamas imparts Buddhist studies and follows the CBSE curriculum. Traditionally, Ladakhi families donated one son to become lamas, although this practice is gradually disappearing. Today Thiksey has modernized itself, the school invites volunteers some of them foreigners to come and teach the children. They have a shop selling curios, and restaurant and a traditional medicine shop. Other interesting Gompas include, Hemis, Stok, Alchi and Lamayuru.
The third cultural focus is the ethnic community of the Brokpas or the ‘pure Aryan tribes.’ One has to travel and do an overnight camp beside the Indus to Dahanu about 40 kms from the LOC. Special permits are needed. An organized camping facility is set up by a member of the community. Their oral history says that they arrived with Alexander’s army from Gilgit. They don’t have a script but their language is Brokpa which means from the cold land. Their total population is about5-6000 and they live in five village in India and about four in Pakistan. On the Indian side they have converted to Buddhism, while on the other side they are Muslims. The community continues to practice their indigenous religion in which a mother goddess Srimulamu and the Ibex plays an important role. A fertility festival Chopashupla is organized every three years alternately in the villages of Garkon and Dah. A gap is left for villages in Pakistan. It’s a five day festival in which men and women teach, flirt by singing and dancing. There are 22 songs related to fertility rites. On the fifth day it is believed that the Devta Saralyopa is embarrassed and disappears. The young men and women are now free to partner whomsoever they please.
These are simple, agricultural people who love to sing and dance. Both women and men wear flowers on their head. An orange flower Shokloh does not dry, it is worn and used in rituals. The women wear Bachi, a heavy goat hair collar, the men decorate their ears with buttons, silver coins on their head gear.
Before tourism was opened in Ladakh, two German girls sneaked and lived to participate in the Fertility festival in Baima village. Nobody in the village knows whether their dream to take back original Aryan seed came true. On request the camp organizes wonderful dancing around the camp fire, with the sound of drums and running Indus as accompaniment.