12 Best Festivals of Ladakh

Ladakh is a region blessed abundantly with the most scenic vistas of the rolling hills, barren landscape and colourful Buddhist prayer flags fluttering along the roadside, therefore offering the best festivals of Ladakh. The region experiences the best climate of cold winters with snow all around forming a picturesque white desert and a pristine summer making it ideal to roam about freely in warmer temperatures to even get a view of the beautiful Buddhist region and Indus Valley from high up in the passes. Also known as ‘Mini Tibet’, Ladakh is an abode for the Buddhist culture and way of life in India and has a number of monasteries to testify to this. 

These monasteries perched atop, with large and intricately built Buddha statues and ancient scriptures a sight to see from even far away. The rich cultural heritage here along with the pompously celebrated monastic festivals of Ladakh attract visitors from all over the globe to come to experience these unique and joyous celebrations. The festivals of Ladakh are a living testament to the enclosed and solitary life of the monks, but when they celebrate the whole village and region is decorated and set up to welcome the festivities. Monks and priests perform the sacred masked dances and offer prayers up to the deities, sometimes even sacrifices and food offerings are presented to the Gods.

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A distinct tradition of these monastic festivals are the oracles who are young monks or local people chosen to live a while in solitude and deep meditation after which they are possessed by the spirit of the Gods. The Ladakhi people firmly believe in their power of predictions against any natural calamity or event to take place in the near future. With dance performances by the priests and even local people, a lot of sports event also takes place during this time. Sports like Archery and Polo are organised for the men and they participate in it with great zeal and fervour to win the cup. The women take part in dancing and traditional folklore songs to keep the event lively and entertaining, dressed in vibrant colours and heavy silver jewellery. 

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These festivals take place according to the Tibetan Calendar and are a great way to understand the culture of Buddhism in India. So when you plan your visit to Ladakh make sure to attend the famous festivities of the monastic culture as they are a great learning ground and will give you an enriching experience of a different way of life in India. We have listed below the best festivals in Ladakh that will give you a better insight into this awe-inspiring and deep Buddhist culture.

Here are some of the best festivals to enjoy in Ladakh:

01

Hemis Festival

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Hemis Festival

The Hemis Gompa being the largest and richest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh hosts its annual Hemis festival on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month. Celebrated to commemorate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. 

During the festival, the locals and monks dress up in traditional clothes, where men wear cummerbunds and women wear vibrant headgears and ample jewellery. During the monkey year, which comes in a cycle of 12 years, the four-storey thangka of Guru Padmasambhava is hung in the courtyard with other precious thangkas out on display.

The Lamas perform the sacred masked dance known as Chaam while being accompanied by musical drums, longhorns and cymbals. The mystic mask dances performed here to form an important part of the Tantric tradition. Synchronisation of the dances with traditional instruments in the background makes the festival a lively and entertaining affair attracting tourists and Buddhism believers from all over the world, even in harsh and cold conditions.

When is it celebrated: It is a 3-day festival that is celebrated from the 9th - 11th June.

Where is it celebrated: It is celebrated in the Hemis Gompa or Monastery located 45 km towards the south-east of the main city of Leh.
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02

Losar Festival

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Losar Festival

The Losar festival goes on for a month during which the Gods, deities, ancestors and even animals are fed scrumptiously prepared food. It is celebrated as the New Year two months ahead of the Tibetan New Year. In the early 17th century, King Jamyang Namgyal decided to lead an expedition against the Baltistan forces in winter; therefore he decided to celebrate the festival two months before. 

Later it became a tradition and being celebrated in the eleventh month. People illuminate their houses and offer sacrifices and offerings during these celebrations. The pictures of an Ibex are put up as an auspicious symbol with walls of the kitchens being dotted which are believed to bring prosperity in the coming year. 

Then a procession of fire or Metho is organised with people chanting slogans to chase away ghosts and evil spirits. Some villages also keep up the tradition of making snowmen, which lasts for a week. People of all ages celebrate this festival with family members getting together and the tradition of drinking a cup of tea with their name on it, these cups are made even for members who are absent and that makes it one of the best things to include in the package during planning tour Ladakh tour.

This festival is very entertaining and sees the enactment of a lot of ancient rituals like stage fights between good & evil, the dance of the Ibex deer, dramatic battles between the Kind and his ministers. Sees the re-enactment of a lot of ancient rituals as a part of the celebrations like the stage fights between good & evil, a dance of the Ibex deer, dramatic battles between the King & his ministers etc.

When is it celebrated: The Losar festival is celebrated in the eleventh month of Tibetan calendar, two months ahead of Tibetan New Year, either in the month of December or January.

Where is it celebrated: It is celebrated in all of Ladakh.


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03

Sindhu Darshan

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Sindhu Darshan

Sindhu Darshan is a three-day festival organised on a full moon night in the month of June to commemorate the river Indus as a symbol of communal harmony and unity in India. Whilst promoting tourism in Ladakh, it is also revered as a proud salute to the brave soldiers who have been fighting bravely for our safety. When you are on your Ladakh road trip expedition this festival is must attend. 

Local artists from all over the country perform unique dance performances and people from different religions, castes and religions become a part of this festival.

The most distinct part is that people bring water from their own state in a pot and immerse it in the Sindhu River. On the first day of the festival, a reception for all the participants takes place, organized on the banks of river Sindhu at Shey. 

Prayers are also offered on the banks of the rivers by the 50 senior lamas who reside here. A bonfire also takes place at night. On the second day, a cultural program and sightseeing trip is organized, which is further followed by a Puja. The third day remains jam-packed with many tourists as some grand celebration takes place on this day.

When is it celebrated: Sindhu Darshan is a three-day festival held from 1st to 3rd June, in Shey Manila around 8 km.

Where is it celebrated: It is celebrated on the banks of River Sindhu.
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04

Phyang Tsedup Festival

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Phyang Tsedup Festival

The Phyang Tsedup Festival happens on the 2nd and 3rd day of the 6th month of the Tibetan Calendar which usually falls in the months of July or August and these months are ideal for Leh Ladakh bike trip tour. During the Phyang Tsedup festival celebrations, you’ll see monks wearing colourful brocade robes and masks to perform traditional dances with rich costumes to venerate and worship their deity. 

The festival is especially marked for the enthusiasm, energy and their constant smiling faces of the monks throughout the festival which uplifts the air and aura of the place. A huge Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, or silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala also known as a Thanka of Skyoba Jigten Gombo, founder of the Degungpa way of teaching and the Dringumpa Monastic Dynasty, is hung in the courtyard during the festival. 

This Thanks to the Jigten Gombo is worshipped which marks the triumph of good over evil. Ritual offerings are also burnt and sacrificed on the second day and the Stroma is also burnt to conclude the procession. People from all different parts of India and abroad throng the grounds to celebrate the Phyang Festival with great pomp.

When is it celebrated: The Phyang Tsedup Festival is held on the 2nd and 3rd day of the 6th month of Tibetan Calendar which usually falls in July-August.

Where is it celebrated: It is celebrated in Phyang Monastery in Ladakh (19.1 km from Leh)
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05

Dosmoche Festival

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Dosmoche Festival

The Dosmoche Festival is an annual two-day event that is celebrated as the last festival of the Tibetan New Year celebrations, initially started by the royal families in Ladakh to eradicate evil around them. It is celebrated in the Leh, Likir and Diskit Monasteries, however, the Leh Dosmoche festivals of Ladakh is the most well known. 

Monks from different monasteries take part in this celebration by performing Chams or the sacred dance every year in turns. These traditional dance performances take place in the chapel below the Leh Palace where traditional offerings are burnt.

The monks of the Takthok monastery prepare offerings of thread crosses that are believed to ward off all evil and guard the place against any natural disaster. Senior monks who have the expertise and skill in tantric practices make the intricate thread crosses to trap evil spirits, hungry ghosts and demonic forces. 

Generally, this festival falls between November and March. And the main highlights are the decorations of the Leh Palace, the alluring music of the drums, a masked dance that shows drama and the unique rituals performed by the lamas.

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Where is it celebrated: It is celebrated in Likir (lower Ladakh), Leh (Leh Palace) and Nubra Valley’s Diskit monastery, but the Leh Palace celebration is the grandest and best of all.

When is it celebrated:  It is celebrated on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th Tibetan month i.e., mid of February which marks the beginning of the Dosmoche Festival.
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06

Saka Dawa Festival

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Saka Dawa Festival

The important and famous festivals of Ladakh is noted to be one of the holiest Buddhist holidays. It is celebrated on the fourth month in the Tibetan calendar which comes in June, it is said to be the month when Buddha was born and received spiritual awakening or Nirvana. Attending this festival is amongst the best things to do in Leh.

The word ska means month and data means star which is strongly associated with the full moon of the fourth lunar month. On this very day, every year, the lamas of nearby monasteries change the Tarboche flagpole, that is located in the South of the mountain, Kailash Kora. It is believed that if after the pole is changed, it does not stand erect, it is not auspicious by Tibetans.

The people refrain from doing certain things on during this festival like the killing of animals, instead, they set them free for the day. You will even notice lamas chanting the mantras 'Om Mani Padme Hum’ which means hail to the jewel and the lotus. 

During this festival of Ladakh, they follow Dharma practices like reciting mantras, performing sadhanas, offering mandalas, taking precepts and saving animals to commemorate the prestigious enlightenment of Sakyamuni.

When is it celebrated: Saka Dawa is celebrated on the fourth month in the Tibetan calendar which is held during the month of June, on a full moon night.

Where is it celebrated: It is celebrated in all of Ladakh.

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07

Tak Tok Festival

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Tak Tok Festival

The Tak Tok Festival is celebrated at a cave of the Tak Thok Gompa and is among the major festivals of Ladakh. The festival is celebrated with great pomp and fanfare and locals as well as tourists from far-flung areas storm the place on this occasion. 

It is celebrated on the 10th day of the 5th and 10th month of the Tibetan Calendar which the birth anniversary of  Padmasambhava, founder of Tibetan Buddhism and the patron saint of Tibet. This festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm by the locals and visitors to the city, and being in the month of May, sees a large majority attending the celebrations.

This Tak Tok festival is held in the Gompa situated at Tak-Tok. It is commemorated by the dances of lamas, the mask dance and the religious offerings that are made to the Lord. Prayers are offered in the early morning hours.

A lot of cultural programs are organized throughout the day and as the day ends with, a feast is organized for all. Visitors to this city are treated as the guests at the festival. You can also take part if the festivity by wearing ethnic clothes and make your Manali to Leh trip more exciting. This festival is celebrated with lots of devotion and fun.

Where is it celebrated: The festival is celebrated and organised in the Tak Tok Gompa in Leh.

When is it celebrated: It is celebrated on the 10th day of the 5th & the 10th month of the Tibetan Calendar which also marks the birth anniversary of Padmasambhava, founder of Tibetan Buddhism and the patron saint of Tibet.
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08

Matho Nagrang Festival

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Matho Nagrang Festival

The Matho Nagrang Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan Calendar, which is a 2-day event. This monastery is the only gompa in Ladakh that belongs to the Sakya Sect or School of Tibetan Buddhism. During this festival masked danced performances are put up by the monks of the monastery wearing colourful silk brocaded robes and masks in the form of different Gods and Goddesses.

The main highlight of this festival is the presence of two oracles who attend the festival after completion of one month in solitude and deep meditation. The two oracles appear in the courtyard accompanying the masked dancers and have the power to predict future events that would befall the place or people.

Locals even from faraway places come here so that they can get a piece of advice regarding rituals that need to be performed to warding off disasters.

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When is it celebrated: This festival of Ladakh is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, the Matho Nagrang festival is a 2-day event.

Where is it celebrated: It is celebrated at Matho Nagrang Monastery which is situated on the banks of the Indus River about 20 km south of Leh.
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09

Ladakh Festival

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Ladakh Festival
The Ladakh festival is a blend of various cultures of Central Asian, Tibetan and Northern India, which are all found in Ladakh. Held from the 1st to 15th  September in the town of Leh, this a large scale celebration where the locals showcase their zeal and enthusiasm.

The Ladakh festival brings you the festive ambience of sports and cultural ambience full of immense warmth and joy, where hundreds of visitors from across the globe come here to witness the grand procession. The procession sees a large number of cultural troupes from different parts of Ladakh as they pass through the markets and streets singing and dancing to traditional tunes.

The procession includes local leaders, school kids and dancers who perform assorted dances on the conventional tunes played by the orchestra. While the local lads and women wear breathtaking outfits to divert your attention and walk in a line to give you a complete carnival-like feel.

The highlight of the fest includes wild lion and yak dancing to music presentations and craft exhibitions to yummy dining and tasting intoxicating barley beer called Chang. Finally, the procession ends at the polo ground where interesting folk songs and dance performances are staged like non-stop musical concerts, lama dances and folklore ceremonies. The best part of this festival of Ladakh is the Archery and Polo competitions held which are fun and interesting to watch. This is what makes it a must-attend festival for adventurers who are on their Manali to Leh bike expedition.

When is it celebrated: The Ladakh Festival is held for a duration of 15 days from the 1st to 15th of September.

Where is it celebrated: This festival in Ladakh is held in the town of Leh and its various villages.

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10

Stok Guru Festival

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Stok Guru Festival

Beginning on the 9th and 10th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, the Stok Guru is annual festival hosted in Stok Village, the present seat of the Ladakhi Royal Family. The Buddhist monks show immense faith and zeal in this festival in Ladakh, as they perform sacred masked dances mainly featuring priests from the Spituk monastery.

The festival also sees the presence of oracles who are laymen trained by priests to receive the spirit of the deities and the predictions made by these oracles are firmly believed by the local people of this region.

A lot of exhibitions and fiestas are also organised during this time and the Ladakhi people take pride in all the celebrations as they joyously come to watch and be part of each event.

So plan your Manali to Leh jeep safari and attend this festival to make your time in Leh memorable.

When is it celebrated: This Ladakh Stok Guru festival is celebrated in the 9th and 10th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar every year.

Where is it celebrated: The Stok Guru Tsechu is celebrated in a small monastery called Gurphug, about 20 km south of Leh a subsidiary of the Spituk Monastery.

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11

Yuru Kabgyat Festival

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Yuru Kabgyat Festival

In the month of July or August, the Lamayuru monastery or also known as Yuru Gompa hosts an annual two day festival of celebration and devotion. The Yuru Kabgyat festival of Ladakh is a wonderful opportunity to see a wonderful and ancient place beaming with a lively environment and celebrations.

During the festival, the monks perform mask dances, prayers and rituals in order to ward off any kind of disaster and to bring peace to the world. 

Going by the holy scriptures, the mask dance dates back to 8th century and is performed to protect the people from natural calamities, and epidemics. Lamas dance in a circle formation on the beats of the drum, with long pipes and cymbals. The festival is of cultural importance not only in India but also for people in China, Japan and Bhutan who participate in it. This festival hosts many travellers who are on their Manali Leh Srinagar biking trip.

When is it celebrated: This festival in Ladakh takes place in July or August annually. It is a 2-day festival celebrated with great pomp by the local people and 200 lamas residing in the monastery.

Where is it celebrated: The Lamayuru monastery hosts the Yuru Kabgyat festival around 125 km from the city of Leh.


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12

Ladakh Harvest Festival

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Ladakh Harvest Festival

The Ladakh harvest Festival is a major event organised in Leh by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department, from 1st September and lasts until September 15th. It is a colourful celebration of the rich and cultural diversity of the Ladakhi people. 

Week-long festivities are held all over the region where various cultural troupes and villages participate in this extravaganza of ceremonial costumes, skilful dances and traditional songs. You can also enjoy the entertaining polo and archery competitions held for the local people to participate in. 

Archery competitions only allow the entry of males while there are various dance opportunities and competitions for the women. A polo tournament by the name of "Ladakh Festival Cup" is also hosted, and a Central Asian trade mart is held in Leh Bazaar. The monks perform the masked dance and the festival concludes with a final carnival parade passing through the streets of Ladakh.

You can also be part of and watch various theatrical performances and wedding ceremonies being blessed the traditional way with great pride and celebration during this auspicious time.

There are many trekking trails in Ladakh making it the favourite region for adventure seekers. 

When is it celebrated: This festival of Ladakh generally starts from 1st September and continues till 15th September and thus, it lasts for 15 days.

Where is it celebrated: It is organised and set up mainly in Leh where it sees a strong influx of tourists and hordes of locals attending the festivities.

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