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Kashmir heaven on earth is a many faced diamond, changing character with the
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Driving past on the nearby Srinagar Leh highway you;d never guess that the culuster of low pagoda roofed cubes 3 km across the Indus from Saspol, dwarfed by a spectacular sweep of wine coloured scree, is one of the most significant historical sites in Asia, Yet the Chos Khor or religious enclave at Alchi 70 km west of Leh harbours an extraordinary wealth of ancient wall paintings and wood sculputre miraculously preserved for over nine centures insides five tiny mud walled temples, The site's earliest murals are regarded as the finest surviving examples of a style that flourished in Kashmir during the "second Spreading" Barely a handful of the monasteries founded during this era escaped the Muslim depredations of the fourteenth century.

Alchi is the most impressive of them all the least remote and the only one you don't need a special permit to visit nestled beside a bend in the milky blue Rive Indus amid some dramatic scenery

The Du-Khang:
An inscription records that Alchi's oldest structure, the Du-Khang, was erected late in the 11th century. Its centrepiece is a image of Vairocana, the Buddha Resplendent flanked by the four main Buddha manifestations that appear all over Alchi's temple walls always presented in their associated colours.

Once one's eyes adjust to the gloom inside, check out the niche in the rear wall where Vairocana, the "Buddha Resplendent", is flanked by the four main Buddha manifestations that appear all over Alchi's temple walls, always presented in their associated colours: Akshobya ("Unshakable"; Blue), Ratnasambhava (""Jewel Born"; Yellow), Amitabha ("Boundless Radiance"; Red) and Amoghasiddhi ("Unfailing Success"; Green). The other walls are decorated with six elaborate Mandalas, interspersed with intricate friezes.

The Sumtsek:
Standing to the left of the Du-khang, the Sumtsek is Alchi's most celebrated temple, and the highest achievement of early medieval Indian Buddhist art. Its woodcarvings and paintings, dominated by rich reds and blues, are almost as fresh and vibrant today as they were 900 years ago, when the squat triple storeyed structure was built. The resident lama leads visitors under a delicate wooden façade to the interior of the shrine, shrouded in a womb like darkness broken only by flickering butter lamps. Scan the walls with a flashlight and you'll see why scholars have filled volumes on this chamber alone. Surrounded by a swirling mass of 'Mandalas', Buddhas, Demi Gods and sundry other celestials, a colossal statue of Maitreya, the Buddha-to-come, fills a niche on the ground floor, his head shielded from sight high in the second storey.

Accompanying him are two equally grand Bodhisattvas, their heads peering heads peering serenely down through gaps in the ceiling. Each of these stucco statues wears a figure clinging Dhoti, adorned with different, meticulously detailed motifs. Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, has pilgrimage sites, court vignettes, palaces and pre-Muslim style Stupas on his robe, while that of Maitreya is decorated with episodes from the life of Gautama Buddha. The robe of Manjushri, destroyer of falsehood, to the right, shows the 84 masters of Tantra, the Mahasiddhas, adopting complex yogic poses in a maze of bold square patterns.


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