This morning the streets of Leh come to life in a blazing hue of colour, dance and the rhythm beating of drums as the celebrations of the Ladakh Festival begin. Gathering at approximately 8am, we take our places to watch the inauguration procession of village people as they make their way down the mountain passes to the city adorned in their finest gold and silver ornaments and exquisite turquoise headdress.
In tow with the procession we make our way to the main market area of the city where the celebrations continues on a grand scale. Here various cultural troupes and village contingents dress in full ceremonial costumes or traditional Ladakhi garb and sing songs and perform various dances to the tune of village folk music.
As the parade arrives at the Polo ground participants break into a variety of folk and popular dances, presenting the best samples of the region’s performing arts and sporting events including archery and polo. Here there will also be the chance to witness traditional mask dances performed by monastery lamas wearing their ritual regalia dancing in slow languorous movements to the music of cymbals, flutes and trumpets. It may also be possible to watch a polo match of the ‘Ladakh Festival Cup’ as various polo teams in the region battle it out (subject to festival scheduling). Here in the western Himalayas the game is played in its original form with fewer rules and frenzied crowd involvement.
This afternoon enjoy a guided sightseeing tour of the town, whose skyline is dominated by Royal Palace. Sengge Namgyal, a Buddhist and the King of Ladakh from 1616 until his death in 1642, commissioned the building and many more grand monasteries, palaces and shrines during his reign. 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. Today it is an excellent example of the medieval Tibetan architecture, with its colossal inclined buttressed walls and protruding wooden balconies.
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. Back in town the main sites to visit are the 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.
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)