Spitok Gompa : was built about 550 years ago by Gyalpo Bumlde, although one temple, dedicated to Mahakala was built about 900 years ago. Spitok gompa contains both old temples and those built in the 1970s. Ancient thankhas are preserved here, some having been taken from the Potala Palace and Lhasa after the Chinese invaded. The gompa also has a statue of Kali whose face is covered all year but displayed to the public for one day during Spitok's festival.
Some 125 yellow-hat sect lamas are considered Spitok lamas, but at least half of them live and pray at Spitok's dependent gompas at Sankar, Stok and Sabu. All the lamas gather at Spitok in mid-winter, on the 28th and 29th days of the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar for a major festival - the Spitok Gurstor, - when masked dances take place, ending with the sacrificial destruction of a cake. The festival is known as the Spitok Festival of the Sacrifice of the 29th Day.
The name Spitok is probably derived from the Central Tibetan language and means "Effective as an Example", referring to the fact that this was the Tibetans' first monastery in Ladakh. The head lama of Spitok is also the head Lama for Ladakh and represents Ladakh as a member of Parliament, spending much of his time in Delhi.
After ascending and descending several flights of stairs, one is in the main courtyard. It is here that Spitok's main festival takes place. Steep steps leading from the main courtyard approach the Dukhang or main temple. The walls both inside and outside the entryway have pictures of fierce protecting deities. Inside the Dukhang are five rows of low seats for the lamas and a high throne at the far end, reserved for the Dalai Lama, although he has only made one visit here since leaving Tibet in 1959. Behind the throne are manifestations of Lord Buddha. On both side walls of the Dukhang are the Buddhist canonical texts.
Beside the central throne doors lead to a low dark chapel behind. In a central position are images of Tsong-kha-pa, founder of the yellow-hat sect of Buddhism and his two chief disciples as well as an image of the Buddha. On the left is an image of Tara the Saviouress and consort of Avalokitesvara, and on the right are statues of previous head lamas.
From the main courtyard, one can reach another smaller courtyard which is in front of the Chikhang temple, another assembly hall similar to the Dukhang. This temple was built around 1960 and contains beautiful murals on all the walls. The room is dominated by a statue of Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha. To the right of the Buddha is a statue of the Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara, the "Lord of All He Surveys" and analogous to the Hindu god Shiva. A small room behind the Buddha statue is dedicated to a guardian divinity whose image remains covered all year, except for one day during the winter festival.
The new Chokhang temple is several levels above the Dukhang courtyard. It is here that funeral ceremonies take place. The central large statue in this temple is of Sakyamuni. To the left of the Buddha is a statue of Padme Sambhava, an 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar who translated the Buddhist texts into Tibetan from their original languages of Pali and Sanskrit. To the right is the goddess Tara. The temple also contains many thankhas, some quite new.
Diagonally opposite the Chokhang and on the same level is a small temple called Dolma Lokhang which is devoted to Tara (Dolma in Ladakhi). It has 21 beautiful statues of Tara, representing her different forms. The gilded clay figure on a horse represents the King of Ladakh, Shukdan. Next to temple is the head lama's private apartment.
The largest temple, standing above the other temples near the crest of the rocks, is called the Gonkhang. Although another name for this temple is Kali Mater, the temple is not dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali, but rather to Mahakala, the fiercest Buddhist guardian divinity. Together with the image of Mahakala are the images of other fierce guardians: the "Six-Armed One" (a form of Mahakala), the "White Guardian", "the Brother and Sister", Khyitra on his dog and the Goddess on her horse. The last one is derived from the Hindu goddess Kali who entered the Buddhist pantheon of gods in a minor capacity. The images of Mahakala and the Six-Armed form of Mahakala are carved from black stone and are very old. In order to clearly see the images in this dimly lit temple, it is necessary to bring a very strong flashlight.