Hemis Festival – 5 days Tour of Leh Ladakh India
Dressed in colorful, vibrant brocades with brightly decorated and richly adorned paper-mache masks the monastery lamas perform to a cacophony of drums, cymbals and long horns at the birthday celebrations of Guru Padamasambhava. Join us in Leh, the capital of the former Kingdom of Lakakh to discover, Buddhist gompas and monasteries perched on soaring hilltops, ruinous ancient palaces, snow peaked Himalayan landscapes and the local culture and ancient traditions of the annual Hemis festival.
Dates : 8 July – 15 July 2019
Hemis Festival Tour Plan:
Day 1: Flight from Dehli to Leh
Monday. Delhi – Leh. Early morning flight from Delhi to Leh. Flights can be booked with us or independently. Upon arrival to Leh onward transfer to your guesthouse where the remains of the day can be spent at leisure.
Leh is the capital of former Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh that now sits in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The region is a vast highland desert sitting at 3524 metres above sea level, lying between the Karakoram and the Himalayan ranges characterised by a desolate moonlike landscape and snowy peaks. The town is still dominated by the now ruined Leh Palace, former mansion of the royal family of Ladakh, built in the same style and about the same time as the Potala Palace. The 28 000 residents of the the city are predominantly Buddhists and accordingly, Leh is the very much the heart and soul of Buddhist culture in the region. Overnight – Leh & Ladakh
Day 2: The Hemis Festival & city sightseeing tour
Hemis Gompa, is the biggest monastery in Ladakh and the site of the annual festival commemorating the birth of Guru Padamasambhava, who is said to have brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet. Revered throughout the Himalayan ranges and considered the second Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava, the Lotus-born (popularly known as Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Master) was invited from India in the 8th century to conquer the dark and hostile forces transforming them into guardians and protectors of the pure dharma. In the process the guru brought Vajrayana Buddhism – a revelation of the complete and perfect path to awakening.
Followers believe that their path is the purest form of Buddhism with the goal of liberation from suffering and attainment of enlightenment. It is believed to be the path actually practiced by Buddha with the teaching indelible, even still today within the entire Himalayan region.
This morning we make our way to the Hemis monastery (1.5 hrs drive), the largest and richest monastery in all of Ladakh. In the courtyard filled to capacity with local Ladakhis and pilgrims (at 9am) Guru Padamasambhava birthday celebrations will commence.
A raised dais with a richly cushioned seat with a finely painted small Tibetan table is placed with the ceremonial items – cups full of holy water, uncooked rice, tormas made of dough and butter and incense sticks. A number of musicians play the traditional music with four pairs of cymbals, large-pan drums, small trumpets and large size wind instruments. Next to them a small space is assigned for the lamas to sit.
The festival highlight is the gathering of the lamas around the central flagpole performing the mystic mask dances (Chams) and sacred plays. Chams are essentially a part of Tantric tradition, performed only in the gompas that follow the Tantric Vajrayana teachings and where the monks perform tantric worship.
Dressed in colourful bright brocades with vibrantly decorated and richly adorned paper-mache masks (some extending over 1 metre in height) the masked dancers simulate combat between good spirits and evil demons to the cacophony of drums, cymbals and long horns. The crowd unites in uproarious song and dance when the dough idol of evil is destroyed by the leader of black hat dancers signifying that good has prevailed.
This afternoon offers a guided sightseeing tour of the town, dominated by Sengge Namgyal’s, nine storey palace. The colossal stone structure is one of the most captivating architectural ruins of the region. Built in traditional Tibetan style it sits on the foothills of the barren landscape. Constructed in the 17th century as the residential palace for the King to mark the reunifying Upper and Lower Ladakh.
Above Leh Palace, on Namgyal Tsemo (Victory Peak) overlooking the town, are the ruins of the earliest royal residence at Leh a fortress type structure built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century.
Visits will also be made to Sankar Gompa to view the image of Avalokitesvara, inset with turquoise and shown with 1000 heads, arms and feet and 100,000 eyes, Shanti Stupa – built to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism and inaugurated by his holiness the Dalai Lama in 1985. Overnight – Leh & Ladakh
Day 3: Time to Explore
Today offers free time for you to independently explore the area. You may wish to return to the Hemis Grompa today as the festival continues (on a smaller scale) with a program of music, song, dance and drama. Transportation to the monastery can be arranged locally should you require.
If staying in town for the day considering visiting the Leh bazaar. The main sites to visit are the Jokhang, the new main Buddhist temple built in the 1980s by the Ladakh Buddhist association and an imposing mosque reflecting a mixture of Islamic and Tibetan architecture that accommodating more than 500 worshippers dating from the late 17th century situated opposite each other. Overnight – Leh & Ladakh
Day 4: Shey and Thiksey Monestories, Stok Palace
Today offers guided tours of Shey and Thiksey monasteries and Stok Palace.
Shey monastery situated on a hilltop, 15km from Leh, was the summer palace of the royal family of the region. The monastery houses a two storey high-seated image of Buddha cast from copper and covered with gold leaf. It is also beleived that Kings of Leh were born here, in the monastery.
Thiksey monastery is situated on a hilltop and the views of the green Indus valley from its rooftop are splendid. This monastery has a number of chambers full of statues and stupas. Courtyard murals are bright and this imposing structure is in many respects a replica of Potala Palace in Lhasa.
Stok Palace now operates as a museum where in the Sengge Namgyal family heirlooms and relics are displayed. Overnight – Leh & Ladakh
Day 5: Leh to Delhi by flight
Friday. Leh – Delhi. Early this morning (dictated by flight times) we transfer to the airport for our flight (booked independently and in addition to our tour cost) to Delhi arriving at approximately 8:30am. Later today you will be transferred to the airport for your onward international flight.
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