It’s that time of the year when this barren landscape also known as ‘little Tibet’ comes alive with a riot of colours and welcomes its tourists! Come summers and Ladakh magically transforms into one of India’s most exquisite destinations, one that’s known for its awesome trekking routes, mountain climbing, river rafting or as the poet advised ‘just to stand and stare’  at all the beauty around!

Making your trip to this exquisite land covered in mystery, more memorable, is the 2 days Hemis Festival which falls on the 10th day (Tse-Chu) of the Tibetan lunar month, and is held at the largest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh – the Hemis Gompa. The monastery is home to over 500 monks who are more than enthusiastic to welcome tourists and devotees visiting this spiritual destination. The Lamas called ‘Chhams’ are all set to amaze tourists with their masked dance performances.

A cultural extravaganza, it is a mixture of art and culture set against the magnificent backdrop of the Himalayas, commemorating the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, known by many as the second Buddha who was responsible for spreading Buddhism in the Tibetan world.

According to legends as Guru Padmasambhava fought fiends for the well being of the locals, this festival is associated with the triumph of good over evil and is replicated in the various cultural programmes held during the festival.

From plays to colourful masked dance performances accompanied to the beating of drums, long horns and cymbals, this festival organized by the head lama, is also an occasion for prayers and the display of the religious painting, the aged-old thangka,  which is just one of the most treasured items housed at the Gompa. Exquisitely embroidered with pearls and semi-precious stones, this two-storey high ‘Tangka’ depicting a portrait of Guru Padmasambhava, is displayed to the public once every twelve years and one has to be lucky to catch a glimpse of the same.

At the end of the festival, an idol made of dough is destroyed and the pieces scattered in all four directions by the leader of the black hat dancers. This gala occasion calls for locals to come dressed in their finest attire. Adding to the entertainment is the colourful fair where tourists can pick up some exquisite handicrafts exclusive to this region.

Besides the Hemis Monastary founded in the 17th century by Stagsang Raschegn, known to house many valuable monuments, other interesting monasteries here include the Thiksey monastery, a monastery that consists of nearly 12 levels alongside a hill. Besides housing a 15 meters tall statue of the Buddha, one can also find some sacred Kangyur and Stangyur texts here.

The Spituk monastery founded in the 11th century is another must visit and is known for its Spituk festival held annually. Founded in 15th century, the Phyang Monastary is also called Tashi Chosang, and is known for the festival of Gang-Sgnon Tsedub.

Known as Klu-Kkhjil (water spirits), the Lekir monastery, a 14th century monastery was founded by Lama Dhwang Chosje a great champion of meditation. Like other monasteries here, this monastery too is known for its Lekir festival.

Other monasteries attracting tourists include the Lamayuru monastery the oldest monastery here founded in the 10th century, the Alchi Choskor the only monastery in Ladakh to be situated on flat ground and the Rizong Monastery.

A place where every occasion is celebrated with great pomp with monks whole heartedly participating in the same, some festivals worth mentioning here apart from the Hemis Festival are the Thiksey, Spituk, Karsha and the Dosmochey festival celebrated at the beginning and ending of the Tibetan New Year in Leh (Leh Palace), Liker (Lower Ladakh) and Deskit (Nubra valley) monasteries to celebrate the victory over evil. Another festival involving mask dances performances is the Stok Gruru Tsechu celebrated by the monks of Stok and Spituk monasteries.

While this year the Hemis festival falls in July, other festivals that are also celebrated around the same time (July / August) include the Phyang Tsedup, the Yuru Kabgyat.

Following The Losar (New Year) celebrations, is Galdan Namchot, the birth anniversary of Tsogkha pa who started the Gelukpa School of order. This celebration lasts for over a month, and locals enthusiastically participate by decorating their houses, and images of Ibex are made as auspicious symbols.

What makes the Matho Nagrang unique is the emergence of the two prophets after a month long meditation in total isolation. Not only do they participate in the festivities and dances but also predict the future of people and events.

While most of the festivals here include driving out evils, the Ladakh festival that takes place in September annually also adds a bit of adventure to the festival with games such as Archery and Polo.

A destination where festivals are enthusiastically participated by locals, also worth mentioning are the festivals of Lamayuru, which takes place in July, Phiyang takes place in July-August, Sindhu Darshan (Visit Indus) Festival, and the Tak-thok festival.

While festivals are a main attraction here and one will come across plenty of them, other activities include rafting down the mighty Indus River, mountaineering, paragliding, trekking, archery and even skiing. For those who have adventure and sports in mind and are on the lookout for a perfect getaway Ladakh might just be what you need!

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