The village of Alchi in lower Ladakh is to be considered one of the most important cultural sites throughout the Himalayas. Consisting of four separate hamlets, the village contains numerous historic monuments of different ages and in various states of repair, the oldest and most famous of which is a monastic complex or Choskhor (ཆོས་འཁོར་), which today is under the jurisdiction of Likir Monastery and the Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I). It is this complex, which accommodates some of the most fascinating Buddhist monuments in the Himalayas, that is commonly referred to by the term 'Alchi monastery'.

Besides this major complex there are temples and chörten throughout the village, among them the almost ruined 13th century chörten in a field near Alchi Shangrong, the poorly preserved Shangrong temple, and the Tsatsapuri temple complex.


The monastic complex or Choskhor at Alchi contains three temples and two chörten attributable to the earliest phase of the complex; the Main Temple, the Three-Storeyed Temple or Sumtsek, the Mañjuśrī Temple, the Great Chörten and the Small Chörten. These latter decorated gateway chörten (Kakani Chörten, ཀ་ཀ་ཎི་མཆོད་རྟེན་) are of a type unique to Alchi and closely related monuments. In addition the tower-like structures flanking the Main Temple belong to an early phase of the monastery as well as its courtyard. Somewhat later additions are the Translator's Temple (ལོ་ཙ་བ་ལྷ་ཁང་) and the so-called New Temple (ལྷ་ཁང་སོ་མ་) as well as other chörten.

The Production of “Knowledge” on Alchi

This short text assesses Peter van Ham's book Alchi. Treasure of the Himalayas. Ladakh’s Buddhist Masterpiece, published in cooperation with Amy Heller, and explains its absence from the selected literature list below.

The Pearl Garland Composition

This page presents a new edition of the inscription in the Palden Drepung Chörten, previously referred to as the Great Stūpa, in Tibetan script. A full study of the inscription including a translation is currently in press.

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Traditionally the foundation of Alchi Monastery is attributed to the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (Rin chen bzang po; 958–1055). However, the oldest monuments preserved are to be dated to the period from the end of the 12th century to c. 1230.

Practically no historical background is known for the Alchi temples. While upper Ladakh down to Shey or even Leh was at least temporarily under Guge control, lower Ladakh was probably partly independent. Alchi was part of a small kingdom ruled by members of the Dro ('Bro)-clan, a clan of Central Tibetan origin. This kingdom defined itself as part of Tibet in general and West Tibet (mNga' ris) in particular. The founders of the two temples were monks of the Dro-clan who were educated at Nyarma (a site of an extensive ruin near Tikse monastery).

The Three-Storeyed Temple or Sumtsek, can be dated to ca. 1220 on the basis of both, the inscription inside the Great Chörten (The Pearl Garland Composition) as well as a lineage of identified teachers on the entrance wall of the third floor. The founder of the Drigung ('Bri gung) school, called Drigungpa ('Bri gung pa; i.e. 'Jig rten mgon po, 1143–1217) in the caption accompanying the depiction, is the last person of the lineage. The Great Chörten inscription implies that the Sumtsek was associated with a shrine dedicted to Drigungpa.

Selected Literature
  • Luczanits, Christian. “From Tabo to Alchi: Revisiting Early Western Himalayan Art.” Orientations 51, no. 5 (2020): 36-47.
  • Luczanits, Christian. “Prajnaparamita, Alchi and Kashmir - on the Cultural Background of a Unique Bronze.” In An Exceptional and Magnificent Bronze Alloy Figure of Prajnaparamita, edited by Luo Wenhua, no page numbers (24 pages). Beijing: Poly Auction, 2016.
  • Takeuchi, Tsuguhito. “Old Tibetan Rock Inscriptions Near Alchi.” Journal of Research Institute: Historical Development of the Tibetan Languages 49, (2013): 29-69.
  • Luczanits, Christian, and Holger Neuwirth. “The Development of the Alchi Temple Complex. An Interdisciplinary Approach.” In Heritage Conservation and Research in India. 60 Years of Indo-Austrian Collaboration, edited by Gabriela Krist, and Tatjana Bayerová, 6, 79-84. Wien, Weimar: Böhlau, 2010.
  • Tropper, Kurt. “The Caityapradakṣiṇagāthā Inscription in Alchi. A Valuable Witness for Kanjur Studies. With an Appendix By Gudrun Melzer.” Berliner Indologische Studien 19, (2010): 15-70.
  • Luczanits, Christian. “Alchi and the Drigungpa School of Tibetan Buddhism: The Teacher Depiction in the Small Chörten At Alchi.” In Mei Shou Wan Nian - Long Life Without End. Festschrift in Honor of Roger Goepper, edited by Jeong-hee Lee-Kalisch, Antje Papist-Matsuo, and Willibald Veit, 181-196. Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang, 2006.
  • Luczanits, Christian. Buddhist Sculpture in Clay: Early Western Himalayan Art, Late 10th to Early 13th Centuries. Chicago: Serindia, 2004.
  • Goepper, Roger. “More Evidence for Dating the Sumtsek in Alchi and Its Relations With Kashmir.” In Dating Tibetan Art. Essays on the Possibilities and Impossibilities of Chronology From the Lempertz Symposium, Cologne, edited by Ingrid Kreide-Damani, 15-24. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2003.
  • Linrothe, Rob. “Group Portrait: Mahāsiddhas in the Alchi Sumtsek.” In Embodying Wisdom. Art, Text and Interpretation in the History of Esoteric Buddhism, edited by Rob Linrothe, and Henrik H. Sørensen, 6, 185-208. Copenhagen: The Seminar for Buddhist Studies, 2001.
  • Luczanits, Christian. “The Life of the Buddha in the Sumtsek.” Orientations 30, no. 1 (1999): 30-39.
  • Allinger, Eva. “The Green Tara as Saviouress From the Eight Dangers in the Sumtseg At Alchi.” Orientations 30, no. 1 (1999): 40-44.
  • Linrothe, Robert N. “Talisman, Reliquary and Instrument of Enlightenment: The Alchi Sumtsek as a Mandalic Site.” Orientations 30, no. 1 (1999): 22-29.
  • Goepper, Roger. “Akshobhya and His Paradise: Murals in the Dukhang of Alchi.” Orientations 30, no. 1 (1999): 16-21.
  • Tropper, Kurt. “Die Akṣobhyayūhasūtra-Inschrift in Alchi. Ein Beitrag Zur Kanjurforschung.” Magister MA (Diplomarbeit), Universität Wien, 1996.
  • Goepper, Roger, and Jaroslav Poncar. Alchi. Ladakh’s Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary. The Sumtsek. London: Serindia, 1996.
  • Goepper, Roger. “The ‘Great Stūpa’ At Alchi.” Artibus Asiae 53, no. 1/2 (1993): 111-143.
  • Goepper, Roger. “Clues for a Dating of the Three-Storeyed Temple (Sumtsek) in Alchi, Ladakh.” Asiatische Studien: Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Asienkunde / Études Asiatiques: Revue de la Société Suisse d’Études Asiatiques 44, no. 2 (1990): 159-175.
  • Goepper, Roger, Barbara Poncar-Lutterbeck, and Jaroslav Poncar. Alchi - Buddhas / Goddesses / Mandalas: Murals in a Monastery of the Western Himalaya. Köln: DuMont, 1984.
  • Pal, Pratapaditya, and Lionel Fournier. A Buddhist Paradise: The Murals of Alchi - Western Himalayas. Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publ., 1982.
  • Snellgrove, David L., and Tadeusz Skorupski. The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh, 2. Zangskar and the Cave Temples of Ladakh. Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1980.
  • Snellgrove, David L., and Tadeusz Skorupski. The Cultural Heritage of Ladakh, 1. Central Ladakh. Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1977.