Matho Gompa : lies about 20 km south of Leh and offers spectacular views of the Ladakh Mountain Range from its perch on top of a ridge. Matho gompa was first established in the 16th century by Tungpa Dorje after he had travelled extensively in Tibet. Matho is the only representative monastery in Ladakh of the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism. This is a particular religious order, centered on the Sa-skya Monastery in Tibet, which was founded in 1075 AD. Today the gompa has about 60 lamas and 30 novices from the larger monasteries.
Entering the gompa's central courtyard one sees a tall flag pole in the centre and another one at the far end. On the same side of the courtyard as the entrance and up a few steps is the Lha-khang Soma or New Temple, built in 1974. The entrance verandah has mural paintings of the Guardians of the Four Directions and an elaborately decorated doorway. Inside the Lha-khang all the wall murals were painted in 1977 and are very colourfully done. The left wall next to the entrance portrays Matho's founder, Tungpa Dorje, with representations of Matho's two oracles below him. Next to him is an idealized portrait of the present head lama of the Sakya sect. The right entrance wall shows a white Mahakala (a particularly fierce protecting deity) and to the left of this is a painting of the Four-Headed Sarvavid (the omniscient or guardian aspect of Vairocana, the Teaching Buddha).
The wall murals on the left side of the Lha-khang depict various lamas of the Sakya sect while theright wall shows the various manifestations of Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha. The central panel of the right wall depicts Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa and Mila Ras-pa, all historical personages associated with the early doctrines of the Sakya sect.
The front of the Lha-khang is dominated by the throne seat reserved for the Sakya sect's head lama who now resides in Dehra Dun. The central statue behind the throne is Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha. Next to this statue on either side are the red decorated hats worn by Matho's oracles. Surrounding the statue on either side are numerous small Buddha statues flanked by canonical texts of Buddhism.
After leaving the Lha-khang, the entrance to the Dukhang or main assembly hall is visible on the right side of the courtyard. The verandah is again painted with the Guardians of the Four Directions but the murals are old and not in very good condition. Inside the Dukhang are two rows of seats for the lamas and a throne seat reserved for the Rimpoche or head lama of Matho. The four statues behind the throne seat are, from the left, the thousand-armed form of Avalokitesvara (a Buddhist deity analogous to the Hindu god Shiva and believed to be reincarnated in the Dalai Lama), Maitreya (the Future Buddha of Compassion), Sakyamuni and a blessing Buddha. The wall on the left side of the Dukhang shows various Sakya lamas and the Four-Headed Sarvavid. The right wall depicts (starting from the entrance side) the four-armed manifestation of Avalokitesvara, a blue Sakyamuni and two Sakya lamas. The entrance wall on the left shows Mahakala the fiercest Buddhist guardian divinity and on the right various other protecting deities.
Upon leaving the Dukhang, climb the steps on the right for one flight and then walk through the enclosed passageway towards the left until you reach a wooden ladder. Climb the ladder and at the top go through the door immediately in front and enter a small courtyard. Go through the door at the opposite end of the courtyard and there are two rooms to be seen: the Gonkhang on the left and the gompa museum on the right.
Women are not allowed in the Gonkhang and photography is prohibited here. The Gonkhang, inwhich meditation takes place, is ascribed great spiritual power as it is the room in which Matho's oracle prays and enters into a trance. The oracle's special clothing is hung in this room and the Gonkhang also contains old weapons and thankhas, masks and statues. Directly opposite the entrance is the seat of the head lama and in front of that is a table for maize and oil lamps. According to an old custom, a representative of every family from Matho village brings a small bowl of maize grain from the first harvest to this room. This practice is not accompanied by any special ceremony. One lama, changed every three years, is responsible for the Gonkhang.
The museum, opposite the Gonkhang, contains, among other things, numerous thankhas, a stuffed yak, a poorly stuffed and preserved snow leopard, masks, stucco statuettes, phurbas (ceremonial daggers) and ritual objects.
Leaving this area of the gompa and returning to the small outer courtyard, on the right is the Lamdre, a shrine in honour of the Lamdre lineage of lamas. Lamdre is a special teaching associated with the Sakya sect. Photography is not permitted in this room, which contains numerous statues of various Sakya lamas, old thankhas and a few small Buddha and Mahakala statues on the right side.