A Piece of Lost Time: The Shangrong Monastery of Ladakh

The little-known Shangrong Monastery is a 13th century monument, in the village of Alchi, in Ladakh, India.

While people do know about the beautiful and awe-inspiring Alchi Monastery of Ladakh, the Shangrong Monastery gets ignored. Am I thankful for this? A little. Little tourist attention means less exploitation of the area, but it also means that a piece of our past remains ignored….forgotten, and abandoned.

Not much is known about the Shangrong Monastery. But that doesn’t keep it from leaving the visitor awestruck. What is left of it is a long row of stupas (chortens in the local language), and a set of dilapidated buildings.

Ladakh has many many hidden treasures, and this is one of them. As a researcher working in the region, and on the history of Ladakh, I consider it a responsibility to spread more knowledge about this breathtaking region, with beautiful and kind people, and a spiritual core so deep, that it penetrates every human, every thing that steps into and leaves Ladakh.

The many many chortens, monasteries, prayer wheels everywhere you go, is a testimony to the spiritual abode that Ladakh is, even today, when modernisation has started to rear its ugly face.

Chortens at Shangrong

Chortens at Shangrong


God: An illusion, a delusion or a reality?

Stephen Hawking’s new book ‘The Grand Design’ reminds us once again of the wonders of science. At the same time, it yet again raises the question of whether God exists. Hawking’s book compels us to think about when and in what way did the universe initiate? Exactly why are we here? Why is there some thing instead of nothing? What’s the design of reality? Why are the laws and regulations of nature extremely carefully tuned as to permit the presence of creatures such as ourselves? And also, ultimately, is the obvious “grand design” of our universe proof of a benevolent architect who arranged items in action—or can scientific disciplines provide a different story?

Richard Dawkins’ book ‘The God Delusion’ too discusses the whether anything like God or a superior power which commands everything on the Earth exists at all. Wikipedia states “In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig’s statement in Lila that “when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.”[4]”

I, personally believe that Some higher power,  some kind of  force that looks over everything that is happening, and everything that will happen does, in fact, seems to exist. No, that does not mean that I am religious and I believe that so-and-so God/Allah/mesiah suddenly one day decided to create the earth and man. But someway, everything was just meant to be. I dont think, man has the ultimate power of controlling his or others’ lives. Something- be it destiny, karma, or simply ‘the consequences of one’s actions’ does exist. Yes, even though man has created the Large Hadron Collider and is nearly ready to re-create The Big Bang….but still, in my mind, a question mark does remain over the power of man and his science. Whether it will surpass that higher power and be the ultimate controller of all.

Is there something called The Ultimate Truth? I dont know. What discplines like Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism describe as the Ultimate truth, is not what I  comprehend. To me, there is no greater ‘God’ than conscience. Even when I stick to my rigidest beliefs, my conscience always pokes me somewhere at the back of my mind, telling me if I am right or wrong, telling me if I am ‘on the right path’.

I keep using apostrophes  in my words because the true meaning of them is yet quite unclear. There is no universal understanding of the meaning of the right path. Every religion, every society, every individual has his own interpretation of the essence of this phrase. This is another reason why I dont call myself religious. Religion, in my opinion, should be just one’s own belief. Not an institutionalized set of rules. The moment a certain set of beliefs is institutionalized, the purity, the essence of the ideas simply vanish into thin air. Rules, punishments create a fear which is and should not be a part of one’s own conviction, otherwise it is no conviction at all. It is  law.

But at the same time, while debunking religiosity, I do support the reading and close study of the world’s religions and spiritual societies. Every faction has its own deep understanding of the world and God and the ‘higher being’ which should be read and understood. It is not neccesary to follow, support or even be opposed to any belief. The study is merely to get a close scrutiny and then make your own opinions. That way, as the mind gets clearer, conviction will become stronger and finding the ‘right path’ in life becomes a notch easier.

The great thing about the modern day world is the system of questioning. In India, there has been a strong guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) relationship since time immemorial where the word of the teacher was the word of God himself. While my respect for the tradition has not waivered, the idea of taking the guru’s words at face value is not agreeable to me. Questioning and counter-arguing is as important as introspection in the process of enlightenment, both of the student, as well as the teacher. When questioning stops, knowledge becomes stagnant. The mind becomes stale and the art of living in this changing world becomes a struggle, a battle which is bound to end in failure.

And thus, even though I put all these beliefs in front of you, I am constantly reading and re-reading and questioning my own thoughts. I hope I dont make my mind up about God. If I do, I will too become rigid in my belief, close myself to the wonderful world of science and stop all progress of the mind and soul. I will, however continue to believe, for a long time to come that even if the idea of God is ambiguous, the idea of destiny and some higher power which oversees all things and people is there. That is what my conscience tells me.