Hemis… Yet another reason to visit Ladakh

Ladakh!! The name itself brings to mind images of its windswept beauty and incredible vistas. Ladakh is in itself a “must see” destination for the traveller with even an iota, or more, of the love of nature and its wonders. Come summer, and the cold desert region of Ladakh awakes from a long and harsh winter. This is the time when tourists from far and wide arrive to trek, to climb mountains, to go river-rafting and to stare, awe-struck, at some of the most beautiful examples of Indo-Tibetan culture. And there couldn’t be a better time than June until September to visit Ladakh. Why? Because June is the month with pleasant weather and long days, perfect for sightseeing and exploring this mystical land.

And there’s more. The fascinating Hemis Festival in Ladakh also takes place in the month of June and it is held at the largest monastery of Ladakh, the Hemis Gompa, which houses around 500 monks.

The Hemis festival is one of the biggest and the most famous religious festivals of Ladakh and is an attraction for both the tourist and the local people, who greet everyone in a rather sweet way. “Julay” is what they say, which translates to “Namaskar” in the local language. The festival of Hemis is a colourful two-day affair that falls on the 10th day (called Tse-Chu in the local language) of the Tibetan lunar month. This festival is a celebration of the birth anniversary of spiritual leader Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibet Tantric Buddhism. The main venue and stage for this festival is the courtyard of Hemis Gompa-the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh.

Situated 40 km from Leh, this monastery is the principal, richest, loveliest and renowned gompa of Ladakh. Hemis was constructed in 1630 all through the rule of Sengge Namgyal, a memorable sovereign of Ladakh. It throve under the Namgyal progeny for ages as the royalty blessed the Drugpa sect, which administered the monastery. It is popular because of the major annual celebration organized here in summer. The leading Thanka in Ladakh is also present here that unfolds itself once in a period of 12 years. The head priest directs the festival. The local people are noticed being transformed and adorned in their premium conventional apparels for the function. Priests called ‘chams’ carry out impressive masquerades yet revered plays in the company of long horns, drums and cymbals played by monks. The entertainers wear detailed and peculiar vivid brocade dresses and facade and outfits and intensely tinted masks. These masks are the most fundamental component of the dance. The music is typically interposed with resonance of unwieldy trumpets, cymbals and drums.

The dance movements are slow, and the expressions grotesque. Each multihued mask represents an unusual stature of the myth that’s being exhibited. The famous Padmasambhava dance, which illustrates the subjugation of the ruta demons, incorporates Yama — the God of demise, and the black-hatted wizard, Guru Trakpo — the conqueror of all fiends.

This pulsating fiesta takes a promising turn, when the two-storey high ‘Thanka’ portraying Padmasambhava puts on a show at an interval of every 12 years in the Tibetan calendar. This celebrated ‘Thanka’, opulently embellished with pearls and semi-precious stones, was last exhibited in the revelries of the year 2004. A multicolored fair, demonstrating several stunning handiworks, is the special focal point of the celebration.

This festival falls in the 5th month of Tibetan calendar and is in the month of June or the first half of July. This year the festival of Hemis will be celebrated on July 7 & 8. The fanfare lasts for 2-3 days.

Live your dream of taking part in this vibrant festival and enjoy the local cuisine and adventure safaris on yaks and camels while there. See you in Ladakh!! Julay!

Team Veena World