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Hemis Monastery / Gompa in Ladakh (©Willem Daffue)

The Hemis Monastery: Home of the Legends of Jesus and the Phantoms of the Himalayas

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Mysterious, majestic and elusive, the phantoms of the Himalayas are so shy that many of the local people living in the Himalayas have never seen them. They know about these phantoms only because of the stories and legends told by their ancestors.  The snow leopard gave rise to the legend of phantoms that roamed the Himalayas. In the past, few ever saw the snow leopard due to its wariness, but today sightings are so rare because their numbers have dwindled dramatically. The snow leopard is in danger to became extinct.

Phantom of the Himalayas –This male snow leopard was injured in his eye in a fight (Image: © Willem Daffue)

Phantom of the Himalayas –This male snow leopard was injured in his eye in a fight (Image: © Willem Daffue)

Hemis Monastery and Himalayan Buddhism

The Hemis National Park is located in Ladakh and is globally famous for its snow leopards, as it is believed to have the highest density of these cats in any protected area in the world. This park is named after the Hemis monastery that existed since before the 11th century. The yogi, Naropa, is considered the founding father of the Kagyu-lineage of Himalayan Buddhism.  Because Naropa is connected with this monastery the Hemis monastery or gompa is today the main seat of the Kagyu-lineage of Buddhism.

Stupas at the Hemis Monastery (Image: © Willem Daffue)

Stupas at the Hemis Monastery (Image: © Willem Daffue)

The best time to find the snow leopards is in winter. The Himalayan mountains are covered in snow and the rivers are frozen solid. The local people and their livestock are all down in the villages living off food and supplies that were stockpiled during summer. The Hemis monastery is an eerie place in winter, surrounded by age-old stupas and prayer walls.  Old, black, leafless trees frame the banks of the frozen river near the monastery. The monotonous landscape of blacks and whites is only broken by the red and yellow painted monastery and the red spice-colored robes of the monks moving from their rooms to the prayer halls.

Snow leopard leaving tracks in the snow (Image: © Willem Daffue)

Snow leopard leaving tracks in the snow (Image: © Willem Daffue)

Enter Nicolas Notovitch

In the winter of 1887 this was the scene of an incident that originated another of the legends of the Himalayas. A lone traveler was brought to the Hemis monastery with a broken leg. He had fallen from his horse while traveling to Leh, the capital of Ladakh. He told the monks that he was a Russian journalist searching for tales from the Himalayas.


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Top Image: Hemis Monastery / Gompa in Ladakh (©Willem Daffue)

By  Willem Daffue

Willem Daffue's picture

Willem Daffue

As a qualified veterinarian from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, Willem Daffue is an adventurer, explorer and conservationist, who works for the Himalaya Wildlife Project, tracks bears in the Karakoram Mountains, documents and photographs endangered species on a global... Read More

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