Hemis Festival - 5 days

FROM USD $1,029

Join us at the Hemis Festival in 2015! See the richly adorned masks that the monastery lamas perform in to a cocophony of drums, cymbals and long horns as the birthday celebrations of Guru Padamasambhava get under way!

Day 1: Dehli to Leh
Delhi - Leh. Take an early morning flight today from Delhi to Leh. Flight prices do vary and when booked in advance start from USD$350. Flights can be booked through On The Go or independently. Upon arrival to Leh an arrival transfer will take you to your guesthouse where the remains of the day can be spent at leisure.

Once the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, Leh now sits in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Today the town is still dominated by the former Leh Palace, built around the same time and in similar style to Potala Palace, and was once of the home of the royal family of Ladakh. The 28,000 residents of the the city are predominantly Buddhists and as such, Leh is the very much the heart and soul of Buddhist culture in the region.

Our Accommodation: This peaceful boutique guesthouse makes for a a delightful and comfortable stay. Each guestroom offers wooden floors, en-suite facilities and simple decoration traditional to the region. Some rooms also offer an outdoor balcony. Overnight - Leh & Ladakh (L, D)
The Hemis Festival at Ladakh Monastery in Northern India - photo courtesy of Aurora 400D
Today we witness the celebrations of the Hemis Festival, which commemorates 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 was invited from India in the 8th century to conquer the dark forces and transform 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 – practised by Buddha himself, with the goal of liberation from suffering and the attainment of enlightenment.

This morning we make our way to the Hemis Monastery, the largest and richest monastery in all of Ladakh. At 9am the birthday celebrations of Guru Padamasambhava begin in the courtyard, filled with local Ladakhis and Buddhist pilgrims. A raised platform with a richly cushioned seat and 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 enjoy a guided sightseeing tour of the town, whose skyline is dominated by Royal Palace. Constructed in the 17th century, this imposing nine story stone palace is one of the most captivating architectural ruins of the region. Situated in the foothills of the barren landscape, the palace was built as a residence for the King and to mark the reunifying Upper and Lower Ladakh. Above the Royal Palace, on Namgyal Tsemo (Victory Peak), are the ruins of Leh’s earliest royal residence, a fortress type structure built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century.

There will also be a stop at Sankar Gompa to view the image of Avalokitesvara, inset with turquoise and shown with a thousand heads, arms and feet and one hundred thousand eyes. Next up is Shanti Stupa, which was built to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism and inaugurated by his holiness the Dalai Lama in 1985 and Stok Palace - a museum where the Sengge Namgyal family heirlooms and relics can be seen on display. Overnight - Leh & Ladakh (B, L, D)
Hemis Festival - 5 days Go Guide : :Check out the go guide for details of the tour, info on visas, climate, money, what to bring and more!
The snow capped mountains of the Himalaya's and northern India
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.

If staying in town for the day, head to the Leh Bazaar where you'll find Jokhang – a Buddhist temple built in the 1980s by the Ladakh Buddhist association, and an imposing 17th century mosque – which reflects a mixture of Islamic and Tibetan architecture and accommodates more than 500 worshippers, that sit opposite each other. Overnight - Leh & Ladakh (B, L, D)
King Gompa in Leh at sinrise
Day 4: Monasteries & Palaces
Enjoy guided touring today of the Shey and Thiksey monasteries, plus the Stok Palace. Situated on a hilltop outside of Leh, the Shey Monastery was once the summer palace of the royal family and it is believed that the Kings of Leh were born here. The monastery is also home to an impressive two-story high-seated image of Buddha cast from copper and covered with gold leaf.

Thiksey monastery is also located on a hilltop and the views of the green Indus valley from its rooftop are splendid. This monastery has a number of colourful murals in its courtyard and chambers full of statues and stupas. In many respects this imposing structure is a replica of Potala Palace in Lhasa. Stok Palace now operates as a museum where in the Sengge Namgyal family heirlooms and relics can be seen on display. Overnight - Leh & Ladakh (B, L, D)
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.

Opt to extend your stay and explore the sites of Delhi. Additional tour accommodation is available in Delhi should you require it. (B)
Tour Details
  • Starts in: Delhi / Ends in: Delhi
  • Departs: Thursday 25 June 2015
  • No local payment required
  • Breakfast:4, Lunch: 4, Dinner: 4
  • Hotel Rating: Boutique guesthouse
  • Tour Guide: Local guide during scheduled sightseeing
Special Offers
The On The Go Theatre
See a bit of Incredible India on film! Highlights of our India group tours