Ladakh is one of the most enthralling tourist destinations. It is blessed with breathtaking scenery, snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear lakes, an expanse of white sand, festival Ladakh and many Buddhist monasteries. Its culture is unique and mesmerising. And to celebrate the culture, there are numerous festivals of Ladakh.
Situated at an altitude of 11,480 feet from sea level, Ladakh is known as the “Land of High Passes”. And this title is for its steep mountains and valleys that host some of the highest motorable roads in the world.
Ladakh is surely one of the most serene and adventurous places in the world. Most travellers visit here as an adventure trip, but only a few know of the enticing festivals celebrated here throughout the year. Here is a comprehensive guide to learn about the festivals of Ladakh, so you plan your trip accordingly and be a part of the traditional festivals to make your visit even more eventful.
16 Best Festivals of Ladakh
Here is a list of major festivals, places where they are celebrated with fervour, and their dates:
|Festival Names||Location||Dates (2022)|
|Losar Festival||All over Ladakh||24th December|
|Sindhu Darshan||Shey Village||June, October|
|Hemis Festival||Hemis Monastery||9th-10th July|
|Yuru Kabgyat||Lamayuru Monastery||26th-27th June|
|Phyang Tsedup||Phyang Monastery||26th-27th July|
|Thiksey Gustor||Thiksey Monastery||11th-12th November|
|Dosmoche||Leh, Likir, Diskit||28th February-1st March|
|Tak Tok Festival||Gompa Cave, Tak Tok Monastery||7th-8th August|
|Saka Dawa Festival||All over Ladakh||14th June|
|Matho Nagrang||Matho Monastery||17th-18th March|
|Stok Guru Tsechu||Stok Palace||11th-12th March|
|Shey Doo Lhoo||Shey Monastery||1st April|
|Korzok Gustor||Korzok Monastery||31st July-1st August|
|Chemrey Wangchok||Chemrey Monastery||21st-22nd November|
|Galdan Namchat||All over Ladakh||18th December|
Let us know each of these festivals in detail.
1. Losar Festival (Best Festival Of Ladakh)
Losar is one of the most famous and important festivals in Ladakh. It is celebrated every year to welcome the Tibetan new year, which usually falls in the month of February according to the Tibetan Calendar. The celebrations continue for 15 days.
Importance: A typical Losar Festival Ladakh comprises folk dance, musical performances, cultural events, chanting of mantras, and gathering of thousands of people from all across the world at the sacred places and monasteries of Ladakh. Although the festival is 15-day long, the main events take place during the first three days. The festival coincides with the Chinese and the Mongolian new year.
Delicacies: During this festival, people in Ladakh prepare special food items such as Khapse, which are fried twists. They also make a special drink called Chang, which is barley beer and served warm during the festival.
Customs and Entertainment: The festival consists of a couple of customary decorations, such as a sheep’s head made of colourful butter and a Phyemar. Phyemar translates to a ‘five-grain bucket’ and symbolizes a good harvest in the Ladakh region. During the festival, people pray for their deceased relatives. Don’t miss out on one of the most famous and awaited festivals of Ladakh.
2. Sindhu Darshan (Most Liked Ladakh Festival)
As the name suggests, Sindhu Darshan is the festival celebrating the existence of the holy River Indus. It is a three-day festival celebrated on Guru Purnima every year in the month of June. It is also celebrated in October. Many devotees come to take the holy waters during this time from across India.
Importance: The people of Ladakh celebrate this festival to pay homage to the Indus river. The river is believed to play an integral role in maintaining harmony and peace in the world. During this festival, devotees gather at the banks of the Indus and worship the river. Other than locals, a large number of foreign tourists take part in the celebrations.
Special Features: People from different places take part in this festival. They carry earthen pots filled with water from the rivers of their hometowns and immerse them in the Indus river. On the first day of the festival, a reception ceremony is organised on the banks of the river. The ritual commences with the prayers of 50 senior lamas. Various cultural programs follow.
Delicacies: During this festival, people usually eat local food items like momos, tingmo, butter tea, thukpa, chhurpe, etc. All of that is easily found at the local eateries.
Customs and Entertainment: After the rituals, people organise sightseeing tours. A bonfire night marks the end of the festivities of the first day. Tourists from all over the world come to witness this culturally rich festival in Ladakh.
3. Hemis Festival (Most Vibrant Festival Ladakh)
The Hemis Festival is another important event observed for two days. It is generally held in the month of July in honour of Lord Padmasambhava.
Importance: The festival is celebrated to mark the reincarnation of Lord Buddha in the form of his representative Lord Padmasambhava. The festivities are believed to strengthen the spirituality and the good health of the people. The Hemis festival takes place in the Hemis Gompa monastery, where the door remains open for everyone during the celebrations. A three-feet high square platform with a sacred pole in the centre is raised where all the ceremonies take place.
Special Features: The festival commences with an early morning ritual on the top of the Gompa. A portrait of Lord Padmasambhava or ‘Dadmokarpo’ is put on display for people to give offerings and worship. The primary attraction of this festival is the mask dance, which is also known as Chams performance. The monks wear colourful masks and silk costumes for the performance to represent the guardian divinities of the Hemis monastery. Each dance move portrays magical feats of Padmasambhava in casting away evils and enemies of Buddhism.
Delicacies: The Hemis Festival is incomplete without the drink ‘Chang’. Chang is a Tibetan wine usually prepared from rice water. Apart from this, you can always find the local food items almost anywhere in the region to experience the extravagant festival with some lip-smacking Tibetan delicacies.
Customs and Entertainment: The primary attraction and entertainment of the festival are the masked dances performed by the masked lamas. Colourful handicraft items are also showcased during the festival. You can groove to the tunes of cymbals, drums, and longhorns along with the locals.
4. Ladakh Festival (Most Visited Festival Of Ladakh)
Ladakh Festival is one of the most awaited festivals in Ladakh. It underlines the cultural diversity of the region. People come from different parts of the country to participate in this festival. It is usually organised in the month of September. The celebrations take place for two weeks.
Importance: The Ladakh Festival is a celebration of the rich culture and traditions of Ladakh. Many cultural troupes from different parts of the region take part in the festivities. This is a grand celebration where the locals showcase their talent with great zest and enthusiasm.
Special Features: The Ladakh Festival is a mesmerizing amalgamation of art, culture, and food. The celebrations begin with a parade in Leh featuring masked dances, folk singing, and many other kinds of performances by the tribes in Ladakh. Different colours of clothing represent different tribes such as the Turtuk, Drokpas, and other inhabitants of Ladakh.
People wear floral headgear, silver and turquoise jewellery, multi-coloured robes, etc. People from the monasteries and local villages also participate in the celebrations that typically include dance performances, drama, musical performances, and parades.
Delicacies: During the Ladakh Festival, you can munch on some delicious chhurpi, khambir, butter tea, Ladakhi pilaf, mokthuk, paba, and much more.
Customs and Entertainment: The Ladakh Festival is an amalgamation of cultural extravaganza and endless entertainment. The primary attractions during the festival are the polo and archery competitions. Once you enjoy the thrilling polo performance during this festival in Ladakh, you may not like polo elsewhere ever again. Along with that, during this festival, you can also see assorted dances performed by the locals. You may also find lions and yaks dancing to the tunes of the orchestra, craft exhibitions, beer (Chang) tasting events, etc.
5. Yuru Kabgyat
The Yuru Kabgyat festival is held at the Lamayuru Monastery every year in the month of July. The festival is dedicated to Yama and Padmasambhava, the lord of death and the reincarnation of Buddha, respectively.
Importance: Lord Padmasambhava is also considered the god of wealth. The festival preaches the teachings of Buddha and provides opportunities to get insights into Buddhism. Prayer wheels are a major attraction of the Yuru Kabgyat festivities. The festival ends with sacrificial offerings and some holy rituals. This festival has been carried out to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
Special Features: The primary highlights include lamas coming from various places for the celebrations and dressing up in the festive spirits. Monks perform masked dances to the sound of cymbals, gigantic pipes, and beats of drums.
Customs and Entertainment: Colourfully dressed lamas participate in the dance drama performance and perform the famous Cham dances. You can also explore the famous fairs and stalls during the festival.
6. Phyang Tsedup
Phyang Tsedup is celebrated in the month of July every year, at the Phyang Monastery in Ladakh. It is a two-day long festival that falls on the second and third day of the 6th month of the Tibetan Calendar.
Importance: This festival is celebrated as a tribute to Jigten Gombo, the founder of the Dringumpa Monastic dynasty. Inhabitants, along with tourists from across the world, can witness lamas in bright costumes, depicting various characters of traditional dance dramas. The celebrations mark the triumph of good over evil and are believed to bring good fortune.
Special Features: The dances are the primary attraction of this festival. Monks come together to perform Chham and worship various Buddhist gods and goddesses. The carnival displays multiple messages of Buddha and exhibits Buddhist artefacts. On the second and last day of the festival, some of the ritual offerings are made. Storma is destroyed to mark the end of the celebrations.
7. Thiksey Gustor
Thiksey Gustor is a 2-day festival observed between the 17th and 19th day of the Tibetan Calendar in the month that coincides with October/November.
Importance: The word Gustor loosely translates to ‘sacrificing the 29th date’. The festival is celebrated to abolish the evil spirits with the belief that all bad things come to an end. This festival is held in different monasteries in Ladakh such as Thiksey, Spituk, Nanzkar, and Karsha.
Special Features: The celebrations for Thiksey Gustor begin with morning prayers followed by the distribution of the sacrificial cake. The locals of the region perform an enactment of the assassination of Tibet’s king Lang Darma. The second day of the festival comprises a sacred ritual by the ‘Black Hat Dancers’ followed by a dough cutting ceremony where they cut another sacrificial cake in order to conclude the festivities. Thiksey Gustor is widely celebrated in Ladakh to keep away all the negativity and evil spirits.
Dosmoche festival is another popular festival in Ladakh. The Royals of Ladakh started this festival during the reign of King Lhachen Gongdup. The festival falls in between the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth days of the twelfth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.
Importance: The festivities are carried out each year to celebrate virtue and ensure the well-being of Ladakh inhabitants. This festival is celebrated with the high-pitched sound of gyaling and cymbals along with the rhythmic drum beats. They perform the famous Chham dance to chase away evil and welcome good luck, prosperity, and peace.
Special Features: The monks wear multi-hued attire and masks in order to represent the Buddhist deities, including Buddha himself. The famous Chham dance is a popular ritual in Tantric practice. The lamas, experts in astrology, make thread crosses as an offering. It is believed to keep away the evil and demonic forces from their land.
Customs and Entertainment: During the festival, small stalls are set up along a one-kilometre stretch from Moti Market to Leh Bazaar. Hundreds of people gather at Leh Bazaar, stop at the stalls to play games like Tambola, lottery, etc., and purchase local collectables. The lamas come and participate in this festival from across different monasteries in Ladakh on a rotation basis for the Dosmoche festival.
9. Tak Tok Festival
Tak Tok festival is one of the essential festivals of Ladakh, which is celebrated in the Gompa cave of Tak Tok. This festival is observed on the 10th day of the 5th Tibetan lunar calendar. The festival is generally held during the months of July-August, which is considered the best time to travel to Ladakh.
Importance: The festival is celebrated to preach the teachings of Buddha. The Gompa cave is decked up with colourful decor items, which elevates the beauty and the atmosphere of the place.
Special Features: The festivities include a handful of cultural programs, from Chham dance by the lamas to religious offerings made to the Buddhist deities. The celebrations are carried out with great enthusiasm and energy, in which both the monks and the locals participate.
Customs and Entertainment: The highlight of this festival is the Chham dance, in which the artists portray different deities. It is also believed that the participants of the festival are bestowed with good fortune and prosperity through the teachings of Buddha. During the festival, people put on their best clothes and jewellery and add to the enticing colours of this grand festival.
10. Saka Dawa Festival
Saka Dawa is considered the holiest day in Buddhist traditions. It is observed every year during the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.
Importance: The fourth month of the Tibetan calendar coincides with the month of June. Buddha was born in this month, and he also attained Nirvana in the same month. On the full moon night, lamas of the local monasteries change the Tarboche flagpole, located in the Kailash Kora mountain. It is essential for the pole to stand straight after it is changed, for it is believed to be inauspicious if it does not.
Special Features: During the festival, people recite mantras, engage in sadhanas, and protect animals by setting them free for a day for the enlightenment of Sakyamuni. Dharma practices are rigorously followed during this festival where they make offerings of Mandala, chant mantras, refrain from killing animals, and so on. The chanting of holy verses and the Chham dance create an ethereal ambience in Ladakh. A large number of people, including the tourists, gather in Leh’s Polo ground to hear the religious speeches and witness the beautiful celebrations of Saka Dawa.
11. Matho Nagrang
The Matho Nagrang is a two-day festival that falls on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. The festival takes place in a monastery which is the only Gompa belonging to the Tibetan School of Buddhism.
Importance: The primary highlight of this festival is the return of two oracles who spent a month in solitude and meditation. The oracles appear with the masked dancers and predict the future of the place and its inhabitants.
Special Features: During this festival, the monks put up dance performances wearing masks and silk robes. They represent various Ladakhi deities. Locals and tourists come to learn about their future during this festival. It is celebrated every year to honour the prophecy of the oracles. The locals also consult the oracles for various problems.
12. Stok Guru Tsechu
Stok Guru Tsechu is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in Ladakh. It takes place in the month of February, just a week before the Matho Nagrang festival. The Stok guru is observed on the 9th and 10th day of the first month of the Tibetan Calendar.
Importance: It has almost the same rituals as the Matho Nagrang festival. The festivities also involve oracles, who are ordinary people trained by priests. They represent the Buddhist deities and make prophecies about the place and its people. The predictions of the oracles are widely believed by the inhabitants.
Special Features: Exhibitions are organised and carried out by thousands of Ladakhi residents who take pride in witnessing and being a part of the grand festivities. The monks display immense enthusiasm as they perform the Chham dance during the Stok Guru Tsechu festival.
13. Shey Doo Lhoo
Shey Doo Lhoo is a festival that is celebrated to mark the beginning of the sowing season. The festival falls during the 29th and 30th days of the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar. The festival is celebrated at the Shey monastery with great vigour. People from all across the region including tourists gather at Shey monastery and prepare some of the local delicacies.
Importance: During the festival, the villagers receive blessings from the monks and pray for a bountiful harvest. According to the legend, there are seven brother oracles scattered across various monasteries of the region.
Special Features: The ceremony is incomplete without a blend of diverse cultures and people who gather for the festival from across the country. The festival is an outstanding celebration of colours, customs, people, cultures, food, handicrafts, traditions, and so on. Shey village is located in the Leh tehsil, about 15 kilometres from Leh towards Hemis. The festival represents the truest essence of Ladakh and everyone from locals to travellers can be seen enjoying the festivities with immense passion and enthusiasm.
Delicacies: You can enjoy lip-smacking local food such as thukpa, skyu, chutagi, tingmo, butter tea, etc. during this festival.
14. Korzok Gustor (Most Unique Festival Ladakh)
The Korzok Gustor festival is one of the most anticipated festivals celebrated at one of the most popular monasteries in the Changthang region. The festivities begin early in the morning with the lamas performing elaborate rituals. It is a two-day festival, which falls on the 3rd and 4th day of the sixth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.
Importance: The festival takes place at the Korzok monastery which is located on the banks of the lake Tso Moriri in the Changthang region. Korzok village is considered to be the native place of Changpa nomads. The nomads gather and participate in the celebrations to gain blessings. This ritual marks the end of the festival and symbolizes waiving off the evil that is believed to have accumulated during the past year.
Special Features: The festivities include the Black Hat dance and the Chham dance accompanied by the sound of bells and drums. On the second day, a few animals are brought to the monastery as per the rituals. Then, the animals are worshipped and thanked for the hard work that they do to help the villagers. Masked lamas perform another round of Chham dance at the end of the festival. The Ladakhis conclude the day with a small procession towards the Tso Moriri lake. They gather and burn the masks that were worn by the lamas during their dance.
15. Chemrey Wangchok
Chemrey Wangchok festival is another popular festival in the region. It is celebrated at the Chemrey Monastery, 44 kilometres from Leh. The festival falls on the 28th and 29th days of the ninth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.
Importance: It is a two-day festival that is celebrated with great enthusiasm by the Drukpa sect of the Tibetan Buddhists in Ladakh. The festival is celebrated to invoke a sense of togetherness among the participants.
Special Features: The main attraction of the monastery is the unveiling of a two-storeyed statue of Lord Padmasambhava. The festivities of Chemrey Wangchok include the famous masked dance after a week-long meditation. The celebration also comprises various types of worship and Mandal Pooja on the second day of this festival.
16. Galdan Namchot
Galdan Namchot is one of the most beautiful festivals celebrated in Ladakh. It is called “the festival of lights”. The festival marks the birth, death, and enlightenment of Je Tsongkhapa who was the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Importance: Just like the Losar Festival in Ladakh, Galdan Namchot is also celebrated to mark the beginning of the new year celebrations. This festival falls on the 25th day of the 10th month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.
Special Features: Similar to Diwali, on the day of Galdan Namchot, all the public places, monasteries, and residential buildings are lit with butter lamps to symbolize the extermination of darkness and evil. The entire town looks mesmerizing from afar, wearing the warm glow of the lamps. The Ladakhis prepare and distribute traditional food items such as Thukpa, momo, butter tea, etc and gift a traditional scarf named Khatak to their loved ones as a ritual.
Customs, Culture, and Traditions of the People of Ladakh
Are you travelling to Ladakh for the first time and want to soak in the essence of the region in its entirety? This brief will help you get an idea and understand the diverse culture and lifestyle of the people of Ladakh.
Ladakhis are calm yet jovial people who love to celebrate their rich and diverse culture and traditions. Most of the people are involved in farming and a fair section of people depend on tourism for their income. Ladakhi people are extremely close with each other and they welcome travellers with open arms.
You will notice celebrations going on in Ladakh all year long as the people love to cherish their customs in the form of festivals and grand celebrations. They celebrate each one of the festivals in their unique, old-fashioned way. The celebrations include various types of games such as archery, polo, cricket, football, etc.
Most of the festivals are either celebrated to commemorate the Buddhist deities or to celebrate the great harvest of the region. The masked dances by the monks are one of the most significant traditions of the Ladakhi festivals that you cannot miss if you happen to be there during the festivals.
During the festivals, you can find some of the traditional food items like butter tea, Paba, Tangtur, etc. Other than these, you can find popular delicacies such as thukpa, thenthuk, sku, momos, etc. very easily.
Common Greetings to Know About
When you are visiting Ladakh, it is important to know the common greetings used by the locals, especially if you plan to participate in the festivals. Nato Deleks, Thu-chi che, Ta-shi-de-Leh are some of the greetings in the local Ladakhi language that mean good morning, thank you, and hello respectively.
Dressing Customs in Ladakh
If you wish to mingle with the local crowd during the festivals in Ladakh, you may dress up in their traditional clothing. The men usually wear long woollen robes called Goucha and the women too wear robes that look a bit different than that of the men. The robes that women wear are called Kuntop and the Bok. You can get the traditional attires in the local stores at various fairs during the festivals.
Things to Buy
You can purchase some of the traditional artworks and keep them as souvenirs on your way back home. There is a famous art form in Ladakh named Thangka that is done on fine silk or cotton applique. The art generally depicts Buddhist deities or a scene or a Mandala design. Pashmina is native to Leh and a must-buy for all travellers who can afford it.
Nearby Places to Visit in Leh Ladakh
When you are in Ladakh for the festivals, you might also want to visit the nearby places to enrich your overall travel experience. You can refer to the list below to find out places to visit during your stay in Ladakh.
- Pangong Tso Lake– You can visit this serene lake and stay a night for lakeside camping.
- Hemis National Park– After experiencing the Hemis Festival in Ladakh, you can head towards Hemis National Park and see the endangered species that still live there.
- Hemis Monastery– You can go about exploring the beautiful monastery and know about the culture and history behind the festival as well as the place.
- Thiksey Gompa– Thiksey Gompa is the venue for the famous Thiksey Gustor festival. You can explore the monastery and know about its cultural significance while enjoying the festivities.
- Stok Palace– It is one of the primary attractions of Ladakh. The Stok Tsechu festival takes place here every year. The palace is known as the home of the Royals.
- Khardung La Pass– If you are an adventure seeker, then this place would be ideal for you.
- Nubra Valley– You cannot miss this if you are in Ladakh.
- Ladakh Market– You ought to take some souvenirs on your way back home. Shop all your favorites from Ladakh Market and you can find some traditional, handcrafted items here as well.
- Chadar Trek– If you are looking for some unforgettable adventure, then you must experience the Chadar Trek journey on the ethereal frozen lake near the Zanskar River.
- Tso Moriri Lake– You can pay a visit to the beautiful Tso Moriri lake after the Korzok Gustor festival. It makes for the perfect star gazing destination at night.
Bottom line – Festivals of Ladakh
The festivals of Ladakh are an explosion of colours, tradition, music, performances, rituals, and lip-smacking food. Your visit to Ladakh is incomplete without witnessing at least one of the festivals. The festivals comprise vibrant costume-clad locals and monks, long processions including men, women, and children dressed up in traditional attire.
You cannot sit still during the grand celebrations, Chham dances, musical performances, etc. You can find locally handcrafted items during the festivals. Additionally, there are wild lion and yak dances that you can experience and find various stalls selling traditional Tibetan and Ladakhi food items that you can enjoy while witnessing the grand celebrations. So, come and be a part of the colourful and extravagant celebrations of Ladakh.
The beauty of Ladakh cannot be expressed through a few lines. Just like the picturesque and tranquil beauty of the place, the festivals also attract thousands of travellers every year. The festivals add to the traditional Buddhist charm of Ladakh and enhance its beauty with colours, diversity, and vibrance. If you are in search of a destination that accommodates both the cultural and the adventurous aspects of a place, then Ladakh is undoubtedly the best place to be.
So, pack your bags and get ready to explore one of the most fascinating and mesmerizing places on earth to make memories of a lifetime at Ladakh. If you plan to visit Ladakh during the festivals, don’t forget to check out our website and catch up with a bunch of travel enthusiasts who want to share the unforgettable experience with fellow travellers.
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