You have heard it from many people that Ladakh is The PLACE if you are seeking for offbeat travel adventures and cultural experiences. Nestled between the Himalayas and the Kunlun mountain range, Ladakh is considered as the highest plateau (3,000 metres) of Jammu and Kashmir in India. Despite being a territory of disagreement between India and Pakistan, this secluded land of timeless beauty offers you moments of awe.
Ladakh is relatively parched, and its main source of water comes from the rivers and snow-capped mountains. You will encounter many of the gorgeous brown valleys, and arid mountains sometimes reflecting blue hues, golden trees, along with the still crystal clear lakes, not to mention the gloriously stunning Buddhist monasteries that add up to a mystical feeling.
Ladakh is evidently among the best picturesque spots that you can ever find. It is needless to talk about its dramatic and unique geological features, which are widely known by avid travellers and adventure enthusiasts.
Typically reputed for its trekking and biking thrilling adventures, this land has much more than just its exuberant landscapes. Learn more about this mystical land of gompas (monasteries), and learn the Ladakhi culture, festivals, tantalising cuisine and hand-crafted jewelleries.
HISTORY AND PEOPLE
Ladakh has been a territory of conquest by many in the past. It was mainly influenced by Muslim, Tibetan and Hinduism cultures. People living there are predominantly descendants of the Dards-Indo Aryan and Tibetan race. The Dards (Drogpas) are the descendants of the proto Rig Vedic age and can 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 most remote places on earth has made these people adapt to their harsh environment, yet they know how to appreciate life, and still be generous. Highly influenced by the Buddhist culture and spiritualism, where people learn how to be peaceful with nature and thyself.
LADAKHI CULTURE AND FESTIVALS
The best way to experience Tibetan Buddhist culture is through the many Mountain Monasteries Annual Festivals. It is known that the Ladakhis have well kept their tradition and culture over the years probably due to their remote location. Tibetan Buddhism is most prevalent and venerated through a number of ways, and one of which is the celebration of the Annual Monastery Festival in Ladakh- the Hemis Gompa Festival which is celebrated with utmost pomp and show.
Hemis Gompa Festival
The Hemis Gompa is located at Hemis, some 45 km from Leh which is the largest town of Ladakh. The grandeur of this much respected Buddhist monastery lies in its history which dates back the 11th century. Legend has it that Jesus once travelled and studied here.
The Hemis Gompa Festival is a tribute paid to Guru Rimpoche who is closely associated with the Gompa. The highlight of this festival is the Chham Dance or masked dance performed by the monks. Through this sacred dance, they showcase the tantric elements, mudras, Tibetan Folklore, and culture. You will be definitely impressed by the dramatic attire and masks that they wear. You can also hear the background music played by pipe, huge cymbals, and drums for projecting an intense feeling. This three-day festival falls roughly at the end of June or early July, every year.
The Ladakh Festival- September’s Pompous Celebration
Proudly organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Ministry of Tourism, the Ladakh Festival is a 15 day of pompous cultural festival held in Leh. This annual festival offers a series of cultural feasts, traditional sports and Buddhist processions to commemorate the richness and grandeur of the ancient culture, traditions and folk heritage.
If you are looking for an authentic ladakhi cultural experience then you should definitely assist the captivating cultural programmes presented by the locals, together with the lamas in their complete ceremonial attires. Here you will discover eclectic dance performances, musical concerts, and a wide display of gorgeous handcrafted jewelries.
In addition, get a taste of 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.
Besides, these exciting shows do not miss the lips smacking cuisine of the region to please your taste buds!
Nothing completes an authentic travel experience without the taste of the local traditional cuisine. If you have embarked on this thrilling adventure trip, then take your time to explore the sumptuous local food which is highly influenced by the Tibetan cuisine.
Here fields are generally known for their cultivation of rice, pumpkins, potatoes, beetroot, beans, apricots and some of the herbs and spices. Food is prepared from these freshly cultivated ingredients.
You can expect loads of steamed food such as the Momos which are basically dumplings accompanied by a hot soup. You can find a number of stuffed food such as minced meats, vegetables, or cheese inside the doughs which are then steamed.
Another interesting dish to try is the yummy Thukpa originating from eastern Tibet, which has spread to various neighboring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan and parts of India. Thukpa is a noodle soup which is prepared with vegetables and chicken.
While visiting Ladakh you will undoubtedly notice the magnificent and colourful jewelleries mostly worn by the local Drogpas women. Their accessories include gorgeous necklaces, bracelets, finger rings, earrings, and the impressive head-dresses called gondas (perak).
These accessories are made up of precious or semi-precious stones which predominately consist of corals and turquoise. You may also find pearls, lapis lazuli, amber, agate, and quartz crystals in most of the jewelleries.
Besides wearing them as a decoration, the Drogpas consider these jewelleries as amulets protecting them from evils. Turquoise as for instance has been used to cure illnesses in the past. It was also used to detect poison. Likewise, corals were used for protection and also to help women during their period.
Where to find? You can find these enticing jewelleries at the local markets, and shops. You can also purchase from street vendors, where you can instead find imitations of these gemstones.