The mud-brick fortress of Basgo Gompa is perched high in the hills of Ladakh, between the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges in northern India. The citadel and the three temples located within its rammed earth walls were built by Tibetan king Grags-pa-‘bum and his descendants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries A.D. The Chamchung, Chamba Lakhang, and Serzang temples, located on a man-made mound in the center of the complex, are dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha—the fifth incarnation of Sakyamuni. The temple façades are brightly painted and their interior walls are covered with murals depicting vignettes from the life of Buddha and portraits of the temples’ benefactors. The largest of the three structures holds a 14-meter-high, gilded statue of the Maitreya Buddha. The surrounding population, including the occupants of the nearby Hemis monastery, continues to use the temples for ceremonies and holidays. Despite regular repairs made by the community, the temples faced significant structural challenges by the end of the twentieth century.
2000 World Monuments Watch
Basgo Gompa (Maitreya temples) was included on the 2000 World Monuments Watch to draw attention to the conservation needs of the complex. Water had infiltrated the main temple through cracks in its roof, causing damage to the statues, murals, and floor. The local community was fiercely committed to the preservation of the site, but lacked the financial means to address the problems. Although small donations subsidized emergency stabilization measures, more funding and technical assistance was required for a complete restoration. The temples were included again on the World Monuments Watch in 2002 and secured funds to address the conservation and training issues at the site. With additional help from the New Delhi-based Namgyal Institute for Research of Ladakhi Art and Culture, conservation began in earnest at Basgo Gompa. By the end of 2004, the two smaller shrines had been completely preserved and were functional once more. The roof of the main temple was repaired, its murals were consolidated and restored, and a proper retaining wall was erected around the perimeter.
Though much of Basgo Gompa fortress has deteriorated over the last four centuries since its construction, the three temples it protects have withstood the test of time. The Maitreya temples at Basgo Gompa are the oldest surviving religious structures of their kind, dedicated to the Buddha of the future. Although they exist in the stark, barren landscape of the Himalayas, they are still actively used and loved by the surrounding population. The nearby monastic community and the local lay people are equally dedicated to the repair and long-term preservation of these sixteenth- and seventeenth-century buildings. Today, the temples continue to perform their religious function with the improved conditions of their foundations, façades, and interior decoration.