A paradise on Earth, Ladakh is a mystical place with many adventures like climbing, jeep tours, rafting and high-altitude trekking all at this one place. Ladakh, being a land of picturesque landscapes and breathtaking culture, consists mainly of deep valleys and high plains. It is a land juxtaposed between the rough terrains and the vibrantly calming monasteries. It is a land woven in cultural spirituality and tranquil nature.
What Is The Ladakh Festival?
Predominantly, Ladakh has a blend of various cultures from Central Asia, Tibet and Northern India. In order to experience this esoteric land in all its glory, every year the Ladakh Festival is hosted for tourists and travelers across the globe. It is a harvest festival which spans for 15 days where you can witness a culmination of events such as arts and crafts exhibitions, games and contests, conventional music and dance presentations.
With the help of the local communities and villagers, a gala for four days is arranged by the Department of Jammu & Kashmir Tourism. The aim of this annual festival is to serve as a medium in showcasing the heritage, delectable cuisine and attract tourists from all around the world. While the objective is to promote the destination, the festival serves as an enticing way to experience the intriguing Ladakhi culture.
Day 1 Of The Gala
The first day is dedicated to the inauguration of the festival in Leh. You will find all the locals, the young and the old, in colorful attires and masks. This presents a carnivalesque impression for the travelers. The villagers and dance troupes, from various parts of Ladakh, thoroughfares across town performing various cultural programs throughout the day.
Day 2 Of The Gala
The second day of the festival begins with the mask dance or the Cham from the monasteries. You will notice the performers dancing to the rhythm of traditional instrumental music and wearing handcrafted masks designed to represent the local mythological characters. This is accompanied by the opening ceremony of Thangka Exhibition, for arts and crafts, by numerous artists.
The Art and Craft Exhibition is held in the afternoon where both famous and budding artists participate to showcase their craftsmanship. You can choose from a huge display of handcrafts and collectibles from this haven. The exhibition is followed by a list of mouth-watering local food which consists of various breads, broth and soups, yak cheese, apricot jam (made from the locally grown apricots), and the crowd favourite, momos. There are many drinks to look forward to as well, among which includes the famous local barley beer, Chang. Noticeably, the art and food fairs are the most visited stall of the events, and with a palate ranging so wide it is no wonder why.
You can also notice the inauguration of the archery contest on the second day. It is held near Leh town at the sports stadium in Skara. The participation for the competition is open until the next day.
Day 3-4 Of The Gala
The opening ceremony of the polo games is convened at the Leh Polo grounds. It is accommodated right after the participation for the archery contest has been closed. The games end the next day sometime around the afternoon.
You can also enjoy the musical concerts arranged during the evenings of the second and third day. Renowned musicians from every part of the world are invited to perform on stage to bring an end to the magical nights.
At the end of four long magnificent days, the gala is concluded by a grand closing ceremony with lama dances and folklore ceremonies. As the curtain falls to the event, the locals bid farewell in expectant of the next year’s festivities.
When Is The Ladakh Festival Held?
Generally, this spectacle of indegineous traditions, arts and sports is held, from 25th September to 28th September, in the season of Autumn. The dates may vary each year due to unforeseeable reasons. It is best advised to reconfirm the dates before planning your trip. However, if you are a destination photographer and videographer (or just like to spend more time in the locality and see things coming together), try to spend at least two to three days prior to the gala in order to cover the preparations made by the locals.
How To Attend The Ladakh Festival?
The inauguration of the festival begins from a street known as Karzu, in the town of Leh. The procession then proceeds to the Leh Market called Lokol – Ladakh, which then concludes at the Polo Grounds. In order to enjoy and take part in the procession, you can either visit Karzu where the fun begins at around 9am, or join them halfway through the Leh Market.
The market is filled with few men playing the Daman (traditional Ladakhi Drums) and some others playing the Surna (an Oboe). You come across the locals wearing the conventional Ladakhi attires. Men there also adorn elegant brown hat, where a small skit is played among two groups of men, performing a type of stand-off, with rifles and swords as their props. It is nothing but a treat for your eyes. And as part of the event, the honorary guests and tourists are also invited to perform.
How To Reach The Place Of The Event?
You can attend the phenomenal Ladakh Festival by various modes of transportation. If you choose to travel by air, the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh is affixed to numerous international airports such as Jammu, Srinagar, Chandigarh and Delhi. Simply hop into a cab from the airport to the event or your hotel.
In case you wish to travel by bus, the daily ongoing private and government buses from Manali and Srinagar take the similar route. Plan ahead to choose which bus route to take according to the month of the festivities.
Travel by train, although long, is also applicable. The closest railway station to the event includes Pathankot, Jammu Tawi and Chandigarh. Although it takes a few days from Chandigarh by train, you will then have to hire a cab from the railway station to reach Ladakh.
By any chance if you wish to travel by road, it is on the costlier end. You will first need to take a cab from the closest railway station to reach the event. It might be a little inconvenient, but not impossible (if you can afford it then go for it).
Do not forget to keep your documents (both hard and soft copy) like your tickets, identity proof and some cash. You can choose to take part in it or just be an audience in the dancing, singing and the games that are conducted in the gala. It is best advised to rest after landing in Ladakh before attending the event. Although you might feel ‘normal’, you can soon get dizzy and nauseated due to altitude change and a drop in the oxygen level.
What Makes The Ladakh Festival Special?
Probably one of the most awaited festivals, not only by the Indians but also by the travellers across the world, is the Ladakh Festival. The amicable folks of Ladakh, wait and prepare every year for this harvest festival to receive people from all around the world, to share the warmth and their vibrant culture. People from near and far come to celebrate the colourful festival that has this beautiful blend of Tibetan, Central Asian and Northern Indian cultures. Ladakh Festival is the zest of happiness, colours, dance, music and a long list of scrumptious delicacies.
As the dance troupes pass through markets and narrow lanes of Leh, it is quite difficult not to sway along with them. You can witness many old performers taking part in the procession, doing they’re bit to keep their culture thriving and then passing it along to the younger generations (it is quite the sight to behold). From wild lions and yak dances to folk music and masked performances, it is hard to miss the deep-rooted cultural essence behind them.
Artists from every corner gather to display their handicrafts to participate in the fairs. The masked dance performances from the sacred monasteries are claimed to be the highlight by many visitors. They are often described to be entrancing and having an aura of mystery, putting the travellers in a trance like state.
Ladakh Festival is the perfect concoction of rich culture, ancient customs and celebration of life in the form of dance, music and feasting. Next time when you plan a trip to visit Ladakh, do not forget to plan it according to the Ladakh Festival and enjoy what culture and cuisine of Ladakh has best to offer.