Driving past on the nearby Srinagar–Leh highway, you’d never guess that the spectacular sweep of wine-coloured scree 3km across the Indus from Saspol conceals one of the most significant historical sites in Asia. Yet the low pagoda-roofed Chos-khor, or “religious enclave”, at Alchi, 70km west of Leh, harbours an extraordinary wealth of ancient wall paintings and wood sculpture, miraculously preserved for more than nine centuries inside five tiny mud-walled temples. The site’s earliest murals are regarded as the finest surviving examples of a style that flourished in Kashmir during the “Second Spreading”. Barely a handful of the monasteries founded during this era escaped the Muslim depredations of the fourteenth century; Alchi is the most impressive of them all, the least remote and the only one you don’t need a special permit to visit.

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