Ladakh is one of those places that take your breath away with its stunning vistas and a gorgeously stark landscape. The people here are friendly and humble and if you’re lucky enough to be present during a Ladakh festival, you’ll realise that you can understand the people so much better. The colourful festivals that are celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm and energy are a testament to their love for life.
For the simple and warm-hearted Ladakhis, their festivals are an occasion to get together and enjoy the simple moments of life that are made special. Inclement weather or no, it doesn’t come in the way of their festival celebrations. While the rest of India might shiver at the thought of stepping out into the harsh winters of Ladakh, the people here are well on their way to have the time of their lives. Dancing, music programmes and masked performances are the norm which add an element of exotica to their festivals. Should you be in the region during any of these Leh Ladakh festivals, consider yourself lucky and seek their permission to join in.
Festivals are a great way to learn the culture of people. If you want to know more about the Ladakhis and their way of life, you must visit during their exuberant celebrations to see how much life and laughter they bring into their festivals. If you plan to visit Ladakh during any of the festivals, do remember to check SOTC for offers and deals related to Kashmir packages before you make your Ladakh trip plans.
One of the most popular and well-known Ladakh festivals is the Hemis festival which takes place in the Hemis Monastery. It is one of the most-awaited festivals here for its colours and vibrant masked dances that the Lamas perform. The colourful two-day festival is a grand affair for both locals and tourists. The dates for the Hemis festival vary based on the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. It is celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar month, to mark the birth anniversary of spiritual leader Padmasambhava who was the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.
Hemis festival takes place in the Hemis Gompa (monastery) which is around 40km from Leh. Built in 1630, the monastery is extremely popular. During the festival every year it sees huge gatherings of people who are here for the carnival-like atmosphere of the festival. There are entertainers who wear intricate and beautiful brocade dresses for the event, but the most important part of the event are the masked dances.
The festival gets an added boost of celebrations and energy every 12 years when an elaborate ‘thangka’ that represents Guru Padmasambhava is exhibited. The thangka is decorated with pearls and semi-precious stones and adds fervour to the festivities.
The Ladakh Festival takes place every September. It is a harvest festival where there are dance programs, music performances, colourful clothes and a celebration of life. What’s more, visitors can expect to taste a lot of delicious food during this festival as well. Processions and dances take place in the narrow lanes and people join in with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Locals dress in traditional attires and the sight is a spectacular riot of colours. This is a joyous occasion and there are some splendid dances like the yak and lion dances. During this festival, there are several craft exhibitions and a chance to taste the locally brewed barley beer called chang. The procession usually ends at the polo ground and could well go on to become a music concert. There are also archery competitions and polo matches that take place here during this time. These attract a lot of people who come to watch. This festival continues over a period of two weeks.
Losar is one of the most important festivals of Ladakh. It marks the beginning of the new year. During this festival, Buddhists in Ladakh make offerings before their deities in their gompas. There is a lot of chanting of mantras and traditional performances during this festival. The Ladakhi Buddhists follow several traditions and rituals that have been around for ages. This 15-day event is marked with staged fights to showcase the triumph of good over evil.
Be prepared for loud blaring music, ibex deer dancing, staged battles and celebratory dinners with family and friends. People prepare for this festival well in advance by rehearsing for the performances. Houses are cleaned and bright colourful decorations are put up everywhere along with offerings called ‘Lama Losar’.
On the actual day of the festival, religious offerings are made to the deities. The dates of this festival are not fixed and keep changing every year based on the Lunar calendar.
A recently constituted cultural festival, the Sindhu Darshan has been conceived to celebrate the existence of River Indus, which is the backbone of Ladakh. Celebrated on Guru Purnima every year, people converge at the banks of the River Sindhu as they believe that it unites all the different people and communities of India. While senior lamas begin the celebrations with Buddhist prayers, there are also cultural programs which add to the sheen of this festival.
Sindhu Darshan is celebrated every year in June. It takes place in Shey Manla, on the banks of the river Indus, located around 8km away from Leh. People from all over the country participate in this festival. They often bring water from their own state, in an earthenware pot, and immerse it in the Indus to remind us that we are all one. Prayers by lamas, bonfires, cultural programs and a puja round off this festival.