With the Himalayan wonder, Ladakh, becoming more accessible to visitors from across the country, it is a great opportunity to get an intimate view of the unique festivals of the region.
One of the most exciting cultural extravaganzas, the Ladakh Festival, is celebrated between every 1st to 15th September. Great weather and fewer tourists make this a great time to enjoy the region’s heritage, depicted in dances, music and local food.
About the Festival
The Ladakh festival was the brainchild of the state tourism ministry and local communities to bring forth the rich cultural heritage of the region for everyone to enjoy. Leh, Kargil and the farway Zanskar valley participate in this festival.
The festival starts with parades of local dance and music troupes which slowly go past the main Leh market to finally end in the Polo Ground. The most important part of the Ladakh Festival is the polo match. The winners are conferred with the Ladakh Festival Cup. This was introduced to take forward the lineage of this traditional sport of the Western Himalayas. Some of the other events include archery, singing contests and dance competitions.
The most exhilarating performance is that of the Lamas, who dance to haunting tunes in traditional colourful masks. These monks are chosen from a handful of monasteries and their performance is one of the highlights of the festival.
Local food stalls line up at the venues so dig into some Tibetan food like Thukpa and Tsampa. Skyu is also something worth a try. This is a pasta dish with vegetables. Apart from the local food, you can also find local versions of other cuisines.
The festival marks the end of the pleasant weather as soon after the festival, the weather gets chilly and the in a month’s time, the high passes close due to snow. The Ladakh Festival leaves visitors and locals with colourful memories before the cold takes over the region.
How and When to get there
Leh, the capital city where the festival is held, is accessible by both road (via Manali or Srinagar) and air. The road trip itself is magnificent, but if you are planning on arriving on the opening day, you should keep 2 days for road travel. You can also fly in from Delhi, but arrive at least a day or two early to acclimatise to the altitude. With much walking, participation and following the parades, it can get very exhausting.
Tips for Visitors
- Get local help beforehand to get seats in the Polo Ground if you want to watch the entire procession. Alternatively, a great vantage point from atop a building also makes a good viewing point.
- With prior permission from the Tourism office, you can also get close access to the parade to get brilliant photo-opportunities.
- If you can arrange to meet some of the troupes before or after the parade, more up-close pictures can be obtained.
- This is also a good time for shopping for handicrafts as locals bring out their best wares and the variety is incredible. Although be prepared to bargain as visitors can be over charged a little. Local help will come in handy to get a decent bargain. Silver jewellery, mementos, prayer flags and more elaborate souvenirs like shawls and rugs are in plenty.
Thanks to the photographers who shared their images under Creative Commons licence. All images link back to the original source by way of credit.
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