Mulbekh monastery and Chamba Statue of Ladakh: Secrets revealed

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Last Updated on January 4, 2022 by asoulwindow

About Chamba Statue or Maitreyi Buddha Statue

The Chamba Statue of Maitreyi Buddha and Mulbekh monastery is the best kept secret of Ladakh. As we wheeled our way to the Leh city, we stopped at this offbeat place I had no idea about. A colossal rock cut statue of standing Maitreya Buddha peeped from behind the monastery and trees. I knew it is the best kept secret of Ladakh. This sightseeing places near Leh Ladakh is still unexplored and away from the crowds.

Since we were driving towards Leh, the Mulbekh monastery fell on our right side. The Mulbekh Chamba is a major stop for many bikers who take the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh route or National Highway 1. This lesser-known historic place in Ladakh is a must visit.

I entered the Mulbekh monastery to have a better view of Chamba Statue of Maitreyi Buddha. I craned my neck to admire the beauty of the ancient statue in its entirety, even as it dwarfed me with its sheer height.

I notice several unequal holes which surrounded the Chamba Statue. It indicated that the sculptors must have made these holes in order to hold the scaffolding while they were carving out the fine details on the beatific face of Lord Buddha or better still the future Buddha.

A new small temple was constructed here as recently as the year 1975 which obstructed my view of the lower part of the Chamba Statue. I would have loved to see how it looked originally. If only!

There are many such colossal Buddhist statues from the ancient times located at different places in Ladakh. In fact, some of the ancient Buddhist relics found in this region may even predate the era of Tibetan Buddhism.

This landmark rock statue of Maitreyi Buddha is a hidden gem in the rich and vast history of Ladakh. Maitreyi Buddha is the future Buddha or the Buddha to come!

Chamba Statue of Maitreyi Buddha and Mulbekh monastery

Mudra of Chamba Statue or Maitreyi Buddha

The future Buddha of Mulbekh monastery must be studied in detail. I spent lot of time noticing the details, gestures and the hidden meaning behind it. The neatly knotted hair of Future Buddha fell gently on his shoulders as well.

I now notice his left hand which carried a Kamandal or pot of water. It reminded me of my Nanaji or maternal grandfather who always carried a Kamandal till his last breath. He called it Kamandal as well. One hand of Buddha held the prayer beads while another hand of Buddha pointed towards the Earth. This makes the depiction have a striking resemblance with the statue of Buddha at the nearby Khartse Khar.

I also saw many symbols which reminded me of Hinduism or the ancient Sanatan Dharm. Before I was embarking upon the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra in Tibet, a friend of mine asked me to get a Rudraksh which is associated with Shiv Bhagwan and is considered sacred by Hindus all over the world.  

I was therefore surprised to see a Rudraksha Mala or prayer beads deftly carved around the arms and wrist of the giant statue of Future Buddha. Buddhism after all was influenced by ancient Hinduism.

I noticed 4 hands of Maitreyi Buddha, much like the Gods and Goddesses from the Hindu pantheon. I even noticed a Karadhani or waist chain and a Janeu which is a sacred thread worn by devout Hindus as well.

Soul Window Observations

The Chamba Statue made me think of the tall Buddha Statue of Bamiyan which was destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. We must therefore celebrate and preserve the very few existing ancient Buddhist statues for our posterity.

I try to raise awareness about such lesser-known places in my travel blog A Soul Window. I have been listed as the Top Travel Blogger of India and No.1 travel blog of India several times.

About Mulbekh Monastery

A recently constructed small Buddhist Gompa sits at the feet of the statue of Chamba. Built as recently as the year 1975, the Mulbekh Monastery is a must visit place near Kargil. What makes it a top place to see in Ladakh is the fact that it is off the beaten track. Few people know about it and fewer visit this place.

I strolled around the Mulbekh Monastery and soaked in the ambiance of the place. Located in the middle of nowhere, this small monastery was still being celebrated by the maroon robed Buddhist Monks in their own little ways.

A bunch of fragrant incense sticks here. Fluttering Buddhist flags there. It is a quiet place whose sanctity must be maintained by tourists. Despite being off the beaten track, it is one of the best places to visit in Ladakh.

Where is Chamba Statue of Buddha located in Mulbekh?

The Mulbekh monastery and the Chamba Statue is located on the Srinagar Leh highway that passes through iconic places such as Lamayuru monastery via the Namika La Pass and Fotu la Pass.

When was the Chamba Statue of Buddha at Mulbekh carved?

As per a signboard, the Buddha Statue at Mulbekh was carved out of a rock probably in 1st century B.C.E. during the glorious Kushan period. The present-day scholars date the Maitreyi Buddha statue from the 8th century C.E.

What is the height of Chamba Statue of Maitreyi Buddha?

The statue of Maitreyi Buddha or the Chamba statue is pretty tall. It is visible from a distance and is yet easy to miss as you wheel away on the smooth highway. The total height of Chamba Statue of Maitreyi Buddha is 29.5 feet or 9 meters, which is roughly 5 times my height. I am 6 feet 1 inch tall.

Are there ancient inscriptions at Mulbekh Monastery?

Yes, there are some inscriptions, most probably in the ancient Kharosthi script aka Khirosty script on the back of the rock. Presently the inscription lies buried.

Ban of Goat sacrifice Tradition at Mulbekh Monastery

In ancient times, when people were not much civilised, once or twice a year, the heart of the living sacrificial goat used to be pulled out as a part of cruel ritual. This sacrificial ceremony used to take place near the main altar of the monastery. However, sense prevailed and King Lde intervened.

Soul Window Thoughts

I am amazed to observe that a powerful King noticed the plight of a mere goat and banned the sacrificial practice. Till date, we can see an ancient edict issued by King Lde which discourages the local people from sacrificing live goats in such cruel manner.

It reminds me of the edicts of Ashoka the great – the powerful Mauryan emperor of ancient India. Ashoka had woken up to the unnecessary killing of animals in the royal kitchen and started to promote vegetarianism after he had a change of heart.

The life of Ashoka has always attracted me as a historical character. I visited places like Nalanda, Rajgir, Vaishali in Bihar and Sanchi Stupa and Shravanbelagola in Karnataka to understand Ashoka and Chandragupta Maurya better.

King Lde of ancient Ladakh ruled over much of Western Ladakh during 1400 C.E. while Dragspa, his younger brother reigned over rest of Ladakh.

Quote of edict of King Lde

“Oh Lama (Tsongkapa [1378-1441 CE]), take notice of this!

The king of faith, Bum lde, having seen the fruits of works in the future life, gives orders to the men of Mulbe to abolish, above all, the living sacrifices, and greets the Lama.

The living sacrifices are abolished.”

However, another edict nearby shows the dissatisfaction from the local people of Ladakh who were not supportive of the abolishment of goat sacrifice.

To quote this edict:

“For what would the local deity say, if the goat were withheld from him?”

These ancient inscriptions give us so many insights of life and times in ancient and medieval history of Ladakh.

Old Silk Trade Route

The Mulbekh Monastery is located at a very interesting junction. The old silk trade route between many Ladakhi communities used to pass through where Mulbekh Monastery stands today.

I shudder to think how people used to travel in such harsh terrains in those days. There were no baby bottom smooth highways, neither were there any fast-moving insulated vehicles in old times.

Today, as we easily drive over the smooth-as-glass highways of Ladakh, I wish to travel back in time and see for myself how hard it was back then.

Who is Maitreya Buddha?

As per Buddhist beliefs, the Fifth Buddha to roam Earth will be Maitreya Buddha in the series of one thousand Buddhas who will visit this world.

I saw many big and small statues of Maitreya Buddha across Ladakh whether it is the modern 108 feet tall statue of Maitreya Buddha near Diskit Gompa and Nubra Valley or rock sculpture of statues of Maitreya Buddha in Suru Valley or the Maitreya Buddha statue in Thiksey monastery near the imposing Leh Palace.

As per a board in front of the Buddha Statue in Mulbekh Monastery:

Maitreya is an embodiment of the ‘Great Love/Loving Kindness’ (Mahamaitri) of all the Buddhas (The Fully Enlightened Mind) as visualized in the form of a meditational deity. Maitreya therefore presents the perfected state of the faculty of love/loving kindness inherent within each individual’s mental continuum.

In addition, there is also an eminent historical figure known by the name of Maitreya, a Bodhisattva who is included among the eight principal Bodhisattva disciples of the Buddha Shakyammni. It is to him that the five scriptures of Maitreya are attributed.

According to the classical sutra literature it is the Bodhisattva Maitreya who is the coming Buddha, fifth in the line of the thousand Buddhas (Buddha Shakyamuni being the fourth!), who will descend to this world during the aeon of illumination and good auspices. Currently he is said to be residing in the Deva realm of Tushita.

Issued By:

Management Mulbek Chamba

Executive Agency: Tourism Development Authority – Kargil

Another signboard elucidates about the Maitreya Buddha or the Future Buddha:

“I am not the First Buddha to come up on this Earth nor shall I be the last. Previously there were many Buddhas who appeared in this world. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this world.

Within this world cycle a holy one,

a supremely enlightened one,

endowed with wisdom,

in conduct auspicious,

knowing the Universe,

an incomparable leader of men,

a master of devas and men, will reveal to you the same eternal truths which I have taught you people.

He will be known as Maitreya Buddha which means Kindness or Friendliness.

Gautama Sakyamuni Buddha (In Maha Parinibbana Suttra W.B.B.

Rules at Mulbek Temple

This is a very holy Buddhist temple where daily prayers (puja) are performed. It is requested the visitors to respect this holy shrine and not treat it as a picnic spot.

  • Please remove your shoes outside
  • Please remain silent
  • Please behave respectfully
  • Please do not sit on the monk’s seat, not even for the pictures
  • Please do not touch the ritual instruments such as drums, bells and holy texts etc.
  • Please do not use flash of camera as they damage the centuries old sacred painting.  
  • Please do not take photographs posing with the Maitreya Buddha Statue
  • Please do not urinate near by the Mulbek Temple (Sad that I have to mention it)
  • Please do not litter and keep the Mulbek Monastery clean.

Ancient Buddha Statues in Ladakh

  • Chamba Statue at Mulbekh Monastery: We have already talked about it in great details.
  • Buddha statue at Khartse Khar: It is located near Sankoo Town. Sankoo is 40 kilometres away from Kargil in Suru Valley. The statue of Buddha here measures 7 meters or 23 feet. With his right hand, the Buddha forms Abhya Mudra which indicates fearlessness.
  • Apati Chamba: It is the shortest of all the statues of Buddha in Ladakh as mentioned above. This weather-beaten Buddha statue is not as ornate as the statues in the above mentioned Khartse Khar and Mulbekh Monasteries are.It is still a must-see place when visiting Kargil or Ladakh.The Buddha statue at Apati Chamba is alsoembellished with a Rudraksha Mala and holds a Kamandal.

Soul Window Facts

Did you know that the old name of Kargil was Purig? Even in old times the pathways of Ladakh were always teeming with travellers who were mostly traders unlike the modern bikers.  

Places between Mulbek Monastery and Leh

We were on an epic road trip across Ladakh and we visited many interesting places between Mulbek Monastery and Leh.

Namika La Pass of Ladakh

Namika La Pass

It took us exactly 30 minutes to reach the famous Namika La Pass which is located at a high altitude of 12198 feet.

Fotula Pass

Perched at a height of 13, 479 feet above sea level, Fotu la pass is another famous high-altitude pass of Ladakh. In fact, Fotula Pass is the highest point in the Srinagar-Leh Road. As the name suggested, we must stop here for fotu….err….photo! It took us 1 hour 20 minutes to reach Fotula pass from Namika La Pass. There is also an Indian Army base located here.

We left Fotula pass aka Fotula Top and chased a truck which declared that

“I am alone but happy. True Love is blood cancer”.

Lamayuru Monastery

I went agape mouth when I had the first view of the Lamayuru Monastery as we approached it through a winding road. Lamayuru monastery is one of the most important Buddhist monasteries of India as it is one of the oldest and largest monasteries of Ladakh region of India.

It was also the foremost Bon monastery of Ladakh. I had met Bon people for the first-time during the epic Kailash Mansarovar Parikrama in Tibet. Much like Hindus and Buddhists, the Bon people consider Kailash Parbat a sacred mountain as well.

It took us 1 hour to reach Lamayuru monastery from Fotula pass. We had our ‘expensive’ lunch here.

Just 10 minutes after leaving the Lamayuru monastery, we stopped to visit the famous Moonland of Lamayuru.

Leh: It took us just 30 minutes to reach the famous Sangam valley of Leh from the moonland. It is the confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers.

Leh Ladakh Route

Our complete road trip route from New Delhi to Jammu to Leh to Manali is as below:

  • New Delhi
  • Gurgaon
  • Jammu
  • Ramban
  • Sonamarg
  • Zoji La pass
  • Kargil
  • Mulbek monastery and Buddha Statue
  • Namika La Pass
  • Fotula Pass
  • Lamayuru monastery
  • Zhanskar Confluence
  • Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
  • Magnetic Hills
  • Leh City
  • Khardung La Pass
  • Diskit
  • Hundar
  • Nubra Valley
  • Pangong Tso
  • Tso Morori
  • Keylong
  • Tso Kar
  • Rohtang Pass
  • Manali
  • Gurgaon
  • New Delhi

Conclusion: Why visit Mulbekh Monastery and Chamba Statue

Mulbekh Monastery and Chamba Statue are some of the best offbeat destinations of Ladakh. It is inevitable to not cross Mulbekh Monastery and Chamba Statue of Buddha if you are on a road trip from Srinagar to Leh Ladakh via Sonamarg and high-altitude mountain passes such as Namika La and Fotu La.

The view from my Soul Window is a window to the past!

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