Nestled between the Himalayas and the Kunlun mountain range, Ladakh is considered as the highest plateau (3,000 meters) of Jammu and Kashmir in India. Being a territory of disagreement between India and Pakistan, this secluded land of timeless beauty is one of the off-the-beaten travel destinations that are usually underrated.
Ladakh is relatively parched, and its main source of water comes from the rivers and snow-capped mountains. The landscape is indeed dramatic-arid mountains, sunburned trees, along with the limpid lakes, not to mention the gloriously stunning Buddhist monasteries that add up to a mystical vibe. Its unique topography is riddled with tracks for trekking and biking, where you might end up meeting some adventurous Enfield riders on your way. But this secluded land offers much more than just its exuberant landscapes…
THE LAST OF THEIR KIND…
Ladakh has been a territory of conquests throughout the past centuries, and it is no surprise that you’ll find influences of the Muslim, Tibetan and Hindu cultures. The locals are predominantly descendants of the Dards-Indo Aryan and Tibetan race. The Dards (Drogpas) are descendants from the proto Rig Vedic period and can still be found in the northern part of Pakistan, more precisely in Gilgit Baltistan (including north-west India and eastern Afghanistan). Anthropologically speaking, the Drogpas are an interesting group of people to study, since they are usually referred to as the Last of the Aryans.
Besides their origins, the Ladakhis are warm-hearted by nature. Living in one of the remotest places on earth has made these people learned how to make peace with their surroundings. They are highly influenced by the Buddhist culture and spiritualism.
POMPOUS LADAKHI FESTIVALS…
Thanks to their isolated location, the Ladakhis have been able to retain their tradition and culture over the years and made it possible for outsiders to witness some of their spectacular Monasteries Annual Festivals. These festivals carry centuries of symbolism and value of their religion. If you’re after these cultural festivals then good planning is needed before setting out to this place so you don’t have to miss some of them.
Hemis Gompa Festival
The Hemis Gompa is a much-lauded Buddhist monastery in the region-just about 45 km from Leh (the largest town of Ladakh), where it is believed that Jesus once traveled here to study. Whether this is true or not, the monastery in itself is a gem. It holds an annual festival (around June or July) called the Hemis Gompa Festival, which lasts for three days. The highlight of this cultural festival is the Chham Dance or masked dance performed by the monks who are disguised in mythical characters showcasing the Tibetan Folklore and culture. The performance gets pretty intense with the combination of their dramatic attire, and the background music played with huge cymbals and drums.
The Fun-packed Ladakh Festival
This fun-packed Ladakh Festival is celebrated over 15 days in view to promote the culture of the region. And if authentic experience is what you’re seeking for then this doesn’t get any better. Proudly organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Ministry of Tourism, this annual festival offers a series of cultural feasts and Buddhist processions.
Here you will discover eclectic dance performances, musical concerts, and a wide display of gorgeous handcrafted jewelry. And it even gets better with the traditional sports tournament such as the Ladakh Festival Cup where various polo teams from different parts of Jammu and Kashmir participate in this renowned competition. You will also get the chance to see the traditional Ladakhi archery similarly to the Mongolian archery competitions.
Nothing completes an authentic travel experience without the taste of the local cuisine which is highly influenced by the neighboring Tibetan cuisine. Being here means feasting on Momos-dumplings with hot soup, and the Thukpa that can also be found in countries such as Nepal and Bhutan. Thukpa is a noodle soup which is prepared with vegetables and chicken. What makes the Ladakhi cuisine particular though, it the fact that locals whip up seasonal dishes using cultivated ingredients such as pumpkins, potatoes, beetroot, beans, and apricots from their gardens.
One of the particularities of Ladakh is its charming gemstones and jewelry worn by the Drogpas women. Their accessories such as necklaces, bracelets and especially their head-dresses called gondas (perak) are passed from generation to generation similarly to other indigenous Chinese tribes such as the Suojia. These accessories are normally made up of precious or semi-precious stones which predominately consist of corals and turquoise. And besides for decorative purposes, the gemstones are considered as amulets which ‘protect’ them from the evils. Turquoise as for instance has been used to cure illnesses in the past. It was also used to detect poison. Corals are used to help women during their period.