Among the diverse landscapes of India,the boulder terrains of Ladakh may not look so lustrous like Kerala backwaters for many of us. But still there is something majestic in the bronze tone of its bare rocks that continues to attract tourists in droves. With the fading of the harsh winters, the valley comes to life once again with the bustles of tourists looking to conquer its rugged routes and mountains while enjoying the vroom sound of their petrol engines. The onset of summer marks the arrival of tourists and Ladakh is buzzing with activity, but the tranquility of the place maintained by the magnificent gompas which refuses to get swallowed by outside world. It is also that time of the year when you can best experience the rhythmic mood of Ladakh amid the serene Indo-Tibetan cultural ambience of Hemis Monastery. The Hemis Festival held during this time is also a major destination among tourists and this time also, the Hemis Festival 2018 is once again going to help Ladakh shed the deserted look of the region.
This two-day celebration is one of the most popular festivals in Ladakh, offering an insight into the cultural panorama of the region. Talking about the past, the festival will take you to the bygone years of the Hemis Monastery’s foundation, i.e. 300 years ago. Like most of our traditional festivals, this cultural event also symbolizes victory of good over evil. It also marks the birth anniversary of Buddhist Lord Padmasambhava, who brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Central Asia, China and Himalayan regions.
The central courtyard of Hemis Monastery sets the stage for the occasion while the 10th day (Tse-Chu) of the lunar month in Tibetan calendar is declared by the Lama Head as the auspicious day for the festive. Hemis Festival 2018 will be held on June 23 and 24.
The beats of drums and trumpets and the sounds of cymbals and wind instruments commence the celebration of the festival with an early morning ceremony in which thousands of Buddhist followers and Ladakhi nomads take blessings from a portrait of Lord Padmasambhava. Uncooked rice, incense sticks, Tomas (made of butter and dough) and cups full of holy water are the main ceremonial items placed on a small yet finely painted table while the musicians play some traditional music.
However, the key attraction of Hemis Festival is the masked dance performance by the Lamas around the central flagpole in the courtyard. The mystic mask dance (known as Cham in local dialect), is a major part of the celebration and is performed only in monasteries that follow Tantric Vajrayana teachings and where monks perform tantric rituals.
Adorned in brightly coloured brocades and paper-mache masks, the Lamas bring the world to a halt with their uproarious and dramatic dance moves depicting war between good and evil. The warends with the destruction of a dough effigy by the leading dancer of the Black Hat group. The synchronization of musical instruments makes the event more lively and enchanting. Adding to this cultural extravagance is the fair where visitors can buy a wide range of Tibetan handicrafts and other items.
What makes Hemis Festival so appealing is the sights of local mass dressed up in their bright traditional attires and giving a distinct hue to the landscape of Ladakh.
Hemis Gompa is the richest and largest monastery in Ladakh and belongs to Dragon Order of Mahayana Buddhism, a fact that adds to the allure of the festival. Hemis Monastery, situated near the bank of river Indus, is well connected and is a 45 km journey from Leh. Crossing the river by a cantilever overpass towards Karu village followed by a green oasis dotted with poplar and willow trees comes as a respite in the wide stillness of the craggy mountains and deserted plainscapes. And as you move further close to the adjoining hills, the view of Gompa, jutting out of the mountaintop, is a stunning site and will fill you with anticipation. Another interesting part of Hemis Monastery, apart from its rich summer carnival, is its magnificent Tibetan style architecture and the statue of Buddha positioned atop a mound overlooking the monastery.
While you plan your itinerary to attend Hemis Festival 2018, which is on July 3 and 4, do remember to include an extra day or two to explore many other attractions around Hemis Monastery. An adventure-filled trip to these well-known treasure troves gives you a rare glimpse of its rich heritage while satisfying the traveler inside you.
Home to a number of species including several endangered ones like snow leopard, Tibetan wolf, Dhole and Eurasian brown bear, Hemis National Park is spread over 4,400 sq km in the eastern Ladakh region. It covers the trans-Himalayan range and is India’s only national park that lies north of the Himalaya. The park is also residence to a number of Tibetan gompas and holy chhortens, and some 1,600 people live inside the park.
It is a former royal palace which is now transformed into a museum and exhibits ornaments, ceremonial royal dresses, crowns and historical Chinese Thangka (a type of painting). Despite its historical significance, the palace is more renowned for the panoramic views it provides of Leh and its surrounding areas, especially the Stok Kangri mountain of Zangskar mountain range.
A drive of around 15 km south of Leh will take you to this wondrous destination. Shey Monastery, along with Shey Palace (much in ruined condition now) is situated atop a hillock. The monastery is mainly noted for having a giant metal statue, second largest of its kind in the region, of Buddha in Shakyamuni form.
Noted for its similarity with Potala Palace of Lhasa in Tibet, Thiksey Monatsery is the largest Buddhist site in central Ladakh. Located on a hilltop, the gompa is a magnificent white structure comprising of 12-storeys, located around 19 km east of the capital town of Leh. Thiksey monastery is a follower of Yellow Hat sect and houses several objects related to Buddhist art like wall paintings, stupas, thangkas and statues as well as a 15-meters high figurine of Maitreya (future) Buddha.
Everything about Spituk Monastery is as fascinating as its rich natural beauty. This Buddhist gompa has more than 100 monks and is the site of two annual cultural festivals of Ladakh, namely, Spitok Festival and Gustor Festival. Along with these, this Yellow Hat sect also features a huge figurine of Goddess Kali.
Travel about 16 km from Leh in the west direction and you will find another great historical gompa in the Ladakh region. Built in 1515, Phyang Monastery is one among the only two monasteries in Ladakh that belongs to the Drikung Kagyu sect, one of the 8 schools derived from Phakmadrupa Dorje Gyelpo’s teachings. Along with multiple sacred shrines, situated within the premises of the monastery, Phyang gompa also has a museum, about 900 years old, that exhibits collections of thangkas, Kashmiri bronze idols and weapons and firearms of Tibet, China and Mongolia.
A perfect example depicting the beautiful blend of traditional and modern styles of architecture, Stok Palace is the royal residence of Ladakh’s royal family. It is a 4-storey structure in which the lower floors are now transformed into an interesting museum that displays fine collections of royal ornaments, crowns, apparels and pieces of rare centuries-old royal jewellery as well as objects of Buddhist art, coins, customary antique objects and seals. It acts as an entry pointto Markha Valley and Stok Kangri trekking expeditions.
In addition to these popular destinations in and around Hemis Monastery, you can even plan a trip to Namgyal Palace, a beautiful architectural-rich yet ruined stone structure built by King Sengee Namgyal; Sankar Gompa, noted for the statue of Avalokitesvara; and Shanti Stupa, an iconic landmark signifying the 2500 years establishment mark of Buddhism.
Hemis Monastery is around 45 km from Leh, one of the main cities of Ladakh. The most convenient way to reach the gompa is through road as jeeps and taxis are easily available. Whether you are travelling from Srinagar or Manali, there are cheap and convenient travelling options that you can choose from.. From Srinagar, it is an18 hours drive to reach Leh while from Manali it will take about 16 hours.
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