Ladakh, one of the coldest regions in Jammu & Kashmir, lies dormant during the entire winter season, but once summer arrives with joyous, carefree tidings,the entire region comes to new life with various festivals and other activities. This summer I visited Ladakh to immerse myself in Ladakh’s cultural festivals.
The Dance & Music
Monasteries in Ladakh are well known for their extravagant celebration of summer festivals that draws huge crowds from all the villages around. Special tour packages also exist for travelers around the world to come and see the display of culture that has been in existence for several centuries. Of all the festivals, the Hemis Festival is very popular, which is performed by Hemis Gompa, the largest monastery in Ladakh. Every year the Hemis is performed to celebrate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava (founder of Tibet Buddhism) who helped to kill the evils to save the local community.
I arrived in the morning to the Hemis’ courtyard in the morning. Already there was a huge group of local people milling about to witness the show. I looked around and saw Chhams (monks) with vibrant clothes and overlarge masks, ready to perform their show. Some of the masks were contorted and grotesque, but after some time I got used to them. Chhams play an important role in all the Ladakh’s cultural festivals, and the Hemis is no different. I did not understand the nuances of the narration in the play, but the overall theme is always the struggle between good and evil, with the good always triumphing.
I was chatting with some local people who told about “Thanka“, a Tibetan silk painting with embroidery work. Every 12 years, the Hemis Monastery will display old Thanka, delicately crafted with and exquisite grandeur. They proudly described Thanka, emphasizing the beauty and holiness of it. For them it is the religious manifestation of their culture and tradition. Unfortunately I did not see Thanka on display during my visit there, but I did enjoy the rest of the dance and music.
They also arranged a crafts show on the courtyard to display various local crafts, arts, and paintings. Each one has its own unique way of telling a story about their local culture and tradition.
At the end of my visit I thanked my local guide who helped me to navigate the place without any problems. Before my visit to Hemis, I did not know anything about Tibet Buddhism, their culture and tradition. After my visit I was happy to know about this great culture living in the cold and harsh climate, but still is friendly to people.
Hemis is 45km to southeast of Leh which is he main city in Ladakh
Air: The nearest airport is in Leh, flights are available from New Delhi to Leh.
Land: By car, Hemis is one day trip from Leh
Where to stay
Several hotels are there in Leh and in other places for you to stay. Several tour operators have special packages for you to experience Hemis Festival.
When to go
Hemis Festival is celebrated every year either June or July, exact date varies from year to year according to the Tibetan calendar.