I had been quite unlucky with Alchi Monastery till now. Every time I went there, it used to be closed! This time too, it was closed due to covid, but thankfully I could go in and get bedazzled with the magnificent art there!
Alchi is near Likir monastery and is on the way to Lamayuru. You just have to take a little detour from the highway. Lamayuru became popular because of the moonscapes there, But it was Alchi, that hypnotized me completely. Alchi is one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh. Probably the oldest. Unlike many other monasteries, this one has Not been renovated in quite some time. Perhaps a thousand years now it is as it is. At least some of the buildings for sure, are very old. As I went there, I walked into some temples and there were some amazing paintings on the walls inside. Now, most monasteries' main temple buildings do have frescos on the walls. But the paintings in Alchi are precious as they are around 1000 years old!! And the fascinating part is that, most of these paintings are quite intact. One can't imagine what kind of colours they must have used back then !! One doesn't find many such 1000 year old paintings everywhere. With all the wars and invasions and demolising of temples and monasteries by invadors, it is a miracles that these paintings are still intact! As I was wandering around wondering about the paintings, a pleasant monk came up to me. He seemed to be quite enthusiastic about talking. He took me everywhere and gave me some interesting information about the paintings. There are 3 main buildings there and out of that 2 buildings have quite intact paintings. Other has paintings but some of those have slightly damaged, mainly because the wall has got damaged. For several years he was at Likir. Now he is at Alchi. Alchi is under Likir. He lives upstairs in a cozy building and has a pet cat. Sonam he has named her. He asked me to wait for a minute, went upstairs and got a plate of milk for her. I followed him inside. Actually we both followed the cattess - Sonam. She took us to her usual place and there were 4 kittens of hers. Two were sleeping and two were playing with each other. Sonam immediately started drinking the milk. I tried to click pictures of them, but the monk told me she doesn't like it! I smiled. The Buddhist monk, who has invested his life in detachment, finally was defeated by a cattess and her four lovely kittens - In the most loving way !!! I told him the story of my novel. The main theme of my novel is Buddhist Paintings and at some point the hero and heroine spend some time in Alchi in search of something. The monk was quite interested in the story. He heard it with great attention and at the end he told me, "I haven't heard anything like this in our history. Some parts of your story are correct, but I haven't heard the story as such." I said to him, "Obviously as it is a fiction!" I then went around some other smaller temples. The paintings mainly depict different episodes from the life of Buddha. In one temple there are very tall - about 14-15 feet tall idols of different deities. Surrounding those also are magnificent paintings. Now, you are not allowed to photograph inside the temples, but they sell a book of photographs with lots of excellent photographs of the paintings.