Known as ‘Land of the High Passes’, Ladakh is set amid dramatic mountains with arid, barren landscapes. The climate is so harsh that for the majority of the year there is very limited access by road. However, in the summer months it’s an ideal destination for those wanting to see another side to India.
Home to monasteries perched on rocky outcrops seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it is clear that the influence from neighbouring Tibet has been strong. Visitors to Leh, after some time to acclimatise to being 3500m above sea level, are rewarded with monasteries full of rare books, golden statues and paintings of Buddha.
During the year each monastery hosts an annual festival where the lamas dress in colourful silk and brocade costumes wearing dramatic facial masks. The dances and songs they perform tell stories of Gods and Goddesses alongside tales of good battling evil. Drums, cymbals and long horns are played creating a unique and memorable beat for the dancers to move to. The festivals are big occasions and the entire town comes to watch the celebrations. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet local families and share in a special occasion.
Choose from the Hemis, Phyang or Daktok festivals. Hemis marks the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava. Sometimes known as the second Buddha, he was a holy man who is said to have been born in the petals of a lotus flower. Phyang festival features sacred dance dramas which last for hours. The dances depict the struggle between good and evil and are accompanied by monks chanting words from sacred texts. The Dak Thok festival is held in honour of Padma Sambhava – the man who founded Tibetan Buddhism. The festival is celebrated by music and dancing; both monks and local people take part. Even spectators are bestowed with religious merit by watching the festivities and are given protection from evil.
Away from the festivals, Ladakh offers far more than just cultural interest with chances to try whitewater rafting on the Indus River and plenty of gentle and not so gentle day walks. For those wanting more of a challenge, there are trekking routes galore. Whatever you decide to do here, you will get a fascinating glimpse into a remote part of India which is very different from the more visited north of the country.
Experience this unique part of India on our Little Tibet holiday. For a fuller exploration, you can add on a Kashmir extension.