Nyarma University- Ladakh’s Lost Treasure

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I am a solo traveler but this time bunch of my friends accompanied me to the land of high passes, Ladakh. Not that I was bored of my solace but it was the infection which I had spread in their mind after I told the tales of my Spiti valley trip. They were eager to break the backdrop of their usual lives and I just helped them out. So while we visited Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa and other legendary spots of the largest town of Ladakh, Leh, a wonder waited for all of us. What was that wonder, I will tell you later in this post but what inspired me to write this blogpost is the marvel of the bygone era. Nyarma University, Ladakh’s lost treasure, which if not perished would have changed the present Ladakh.

Nyarma University - Ladakh’s lost treasure - Leh Ladakh - The Backpackers Group - Cover
Though not explicit, Monks are the icons of Ladakh and so was Nyarma University in its heydays – Image Source

It was during the first week of October that we touched Ladakh. I felt remorseful as the urgent project of one of the client (Almighty of Corporate) had delayed my trip by a week and we missed the zestful Ladakh Festival. Ironically, we Indians have the best statement for angoor khatte hain situations, “Whatever happens is for good only.” On that note we were blessed that almost all the tourist had bid adieu to Ladakh with the happy season of Ladakh. We got accommodation on discounted rates. (As if, we went Ladakh to stay in hotels!)

The forgotten University, Nyarma

Landing in Leh, right when the sun was opening its eyelids was kind of an instant shock for all of us. It was like, we willingly jumped into some blast freezer. But the adrenaline was high and so were our spirit. And what better than to find the colours of ancient history and muse about the long forgotten university in this cold white desert. Nyarma University was around 25 kilometres away from our hotel and irony was that even the locals didn’t know about it. Maybe this is the reason that there is not much written or documented about the splendid history of this Buddhist University. Off we were, after finally finding a driver who knew the way.

Nyarma University - Ladakh’s lost treasure - Leh Ladakh University - The Backpackers Group
What is their in these ruins to see? I say a reminder of Golden Era – Image Source
History – Nyarma University

It is said that Mahaguru Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo, who is looked upon as an incarnation of Buddha started Nyarma University in 11th century. The legend says that while this monastery was built, the protective deity Palden Lhamo was present and thus this site is also called Nyar ma rdo rje chen mo. (I know that’s difficult to pronounce and please don’t ask for meaning).  The archaeological and architectural findings hint that Nyarma Univeristy must have covered around 2 kilometers in length. This huge site is believed to have eight temple halls of varied sizes along with the Gtsug Lhakhang, the main temple. The university even had a massive statue of 24th Buddha Dīpankara Buddha and had statues of other divine beings as well.  And as you would expect from this colossal monastery, students from distant places came here to learn mathematician, Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhism.

Nyarma University - Ladakh’s lost treasure - University Sight - Leh Ladakh - The Backpackers Group.
Imagine what would be like studying in this beautiful panorama! Image Source
From Past to Present

But please don’t assume that you would see all this now. A University of 1000-1500 students once, has a very different picture now. As we moved towards the site, the high-speed cold winds whispered the prevue of desolation. And there stood the thick walls from whom even the roofs had been looted off. It was hard to see that the walls which once were embellished with beautiful murals and teachings, now only had their basics, soil and bricks. But they still stood high awaiting their fate!

Whenever a Lama dies a stupa is made in their memory securing their belongings inside it. And you would see many of them here. However, who knew back then, that the stupa we saw in Nyarma University would become the only existent thing along with the walls.

Nothing is eternal even if it seems

The downfall of Nyarma University is hard even to think of, right? But it happened. Some experts suspect that maybe it was because of a natural catastrophe in the early 15th century that this Buddhist monastery collapsed. And after that, the ligneous remains of the temples were further eroded to use them in Kongka Temple by the villagers. The disaster continued with the blows of nature and vandalism by the locals due to lack of knowledge about the historical importance of Nyarma University. But the other speculation says the start of the destruction of Nyarma University was not by nature. (Yes, you guessed it right) There is hearsay that it was after the invasion of Muslim Dogras that the downfall of Nyarma University started. Whatever it was but it was a great loss for Buddhism.

Nyarma University - Ladakh’s lost treasure - Leh Ladakh Stupa - The Backpackers Group
While we wrapped ourselves with uncountable clothes, seeing these monks with just a cloth seemed like magic! Image Source
On the way to Pangong Lake

The mystics of the land were calling us and with Spiti Valley in mind we booked a cab and set out for Pangong Lake, the highest saltwater lake of the world. We crossed small villages Shey and Gya and then Changla pass where our driver pointed out the crazy stream which they called Pagal Naala. Who could have thought that even the tranquillity of Ladakh, corporatism would meet us in this way? (The weirdest connect ever!) I am not sure what was more beautiful the way with traces of snow or the dreamy Pangong Tso Lake. The water was ice cold yet it had not frozen completely. This could be the best geography one can opt for, the lake, the silvery dazzling mountains and the reposeful nature.

Nyarma University - Ladakh’s lost treasure - Pangong Lake - Leh Ladakh - The Backpackers Group.
The Lake we share with China – Pangong Lake Image Source
The tale of Magnetic Hill

I have already told you how hypnotic is the confluence of Zanskar and Indus river in my previous post. So it would be more intriguing if I tell you about our experience on Magnetic Hill. Yes, we experienced the mysterious phenomenon. While we were ascending up, our driver killed the engine and to amaze us all, our car climbed on itself. You must be thinking that there must be some logic behind and I am sure it is but our driver told a tale. He said this path was once led straight to heaven. And just like the exam system we have, the hill judged by itself and deserving were pulled up automatically. And don’t ask me what happened to the undeserving one, you can guess it right!

Ladakh was a journey that had many wonders and I leave it to you to decide what would be subliminal for you. But I think wonders can be many but marvel like Nyarma University is unique. Maybe its reverence is unsung now and waiting to fade away in past but the ruins still resound the legendary saga of glory which needs to be heard of.

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