Though most of us visit Leh for its sheer natural beauty and sight seeing or maybe some adventure activities too. But if we are talking about cultural extravaganza, Leh would probably not be the first one in the list. Honestly that is not true. It’s just that either the festivals that Leh celebrates are underrated or people hesitate to explore something new.
Leh offers so much when it comes to cultural celebrations. All their festivals are very colourful. The whole atmosphere changes overnight. And you can literally see the difference. There are many festivals celebrated in Ladakh. 12 of them are notable and celebrated between the month of June to February. You can plan your visit so that you can be a part of these traditional celebrations.
We scheduled our dates in accordance with Dosmoche festival of Ladakh. It is the last festival of new year celebration. During our visit to Leh it fell on 2nd and 3rd of Feb. The day we returned from our Chadar Trek. The other festival welcoming the new year is Losar, celebrated in the month of December. We have’nt visited that yet but yes definitely in future.
Anyways, Dosmoche is a festival started by the royals of Leh and is celebrated in the Leh palace. It is also celebrated in Likir and Diskit monasteries. Leh palace is at the other end of the main market of Leh. This two-day festival is a gazetted holiday for Leh district. Dosmoche is also known as the “Festival of Scapegoat”.
Sacred mask dances which are known as Cham dance are carried out in the courtyard of the old chapel of the palace.
Lamas from different monasteries from across Ladakh visit the palace for this festival. High pitched sound of gyaling (a musical instrument) with the periodic sound of the cymbals (a musical instrument) echo off the rocky slopes with the rhythmic beats of the drum.
Monks wear a full attire of multicoloured robes and various masks which represent the forms of various deities including Buddha. They perform sacred dance to the beats of the drums with colorful fluttering surge to ward off evil and welcome universal peace and happiness. The mask dance is an essential part of Tantric tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. It ensures the safety and well-being of people living there.
On the note of safety I remember seeing people sit on the cliffs to watch the dance in the royal courtyard from high up. They were climbing up the cliff in a casual manner ,holding even their kids. Quite an interesting sight. But given the fact that the courtyard was pretty small – not like Greek amphitheatre, people were struggling to find place to even stand. So cliffs around were their best bet and yes they super crowded too.
At a kilometre stretch from Moti-Market to the other end of Leh Bazaar hundreds of stalls can be seen during this two-day festival celebration. Thousands of people in colourful dresses got together at Leh bazaar. It was a sight to see with excitement all around. The same market where there were only a few souls just a day before , was crowded enough to even step in. We had to push your way forward to move ahead.
Not only that, games like tambola and lotteries were being enjoyed by the people along with shopping and eating. We even went to one of the handicrafts shop on the first floor to take picture of the same market – to compare the the street before and after the festival 🙂
There was charisma in the air that day. But if you are planning to visit Leh during one of these festivals, make sure to check the dates, because the festival dates are announced as per the Tibetan calendar and it varies each year. For us Dosmoche festival was celebrated on 2nd and 3rd of Feb, but this year(2020) it fell on 21st and 22nd of Feb. Though it is super-crowded in the festival time, but the whole fun of celebration lies in the crowd and the festivities.
Do attend the festivals not just of Leh, but of any other place you are visiting, to catch a glimpse of its cultural aspects. Not only will it make your trip a mix of all but also add colour to your whole journey. While we are still talking about the festivals, let’s explore the Leh palace. We visited it on the day of festival itself.
Leh Palace is a former royal palace overlooking the town of Leh. Palace was abandoned when Dogra forces took control of Ladakh in the mid-19th century and forced the royal family to move to Stok Palace. Much of the palace is in deteriorated condition now, and little survives of its interior decorations. Unlike other palaces in India, this does not offer many intricate designs or the grandeur or even stories around it but it does hold a special place in the history of Leh.
These is an entry ticket of 15 INR for Indians and 100 INR for foreigners. To reach the Palace, one has to meander through the small uphill alleys – only available for walking. It is a 5-7 min walk from market to the palace. Palace is nine storeys high; in the earlier days upper floors accommodated the royal family, while the lower floors held stables and store rooms. Most of it is in ruins now.
Palace also has a Museum which looks more like a temple. It holds a rich collection of jewellery, ornaments, ceremonial dresses crowns and Thangka paintings, which are more than 450 years old. Intricate designs still retain the bright colours derived from crushed and powdered gems and stones.
The palace is being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. And just like other places in Leh, this palace also offers stunning panoramic views.
After this colorful venture, we headed back to the market where we spent rest of the day eating and shopping. Honestly we are not big time foodies, but we do make sure to try out any local cuisines #vegetarian, wherever we go. The local cuisine of Ladakh includes dishes like Sku and Thukpa (made out of wheat flour), Pava (made from sattu) as well as Khambir (local Ladakhi bread). Out of these we tried Sku and Thukpa.
Most of the famous eateries are located on Changspa road, but in winters, the roads are empty with most of the eateries and shops closed. So the only refuge to satiate our hunger was the main market. Though we tried 2-3 restaurants there, but Sorriso Pizza & Meal Mastiyaan were good to taste and decent to pocket. They offered Indian cuisine as well and good in taste.
Amongst the 2 of us, Ankur is a big time shopper as compared to me. It’s practically impossible to drag him out of a shop if he likes one.Especially handicrafts. And Leh offers them big time. Most of the handicrafts offered in Leh are collectibles and Clothing. While clothing covers the winter wear and pashmina, along with beautiful Kashmiri embroidered accessories like wallets and purses for ladies.
When you look for collectibles, you will find beautiful Thangka and Newari paintings on cloth as well as on paper. There are many items adorned with turqoise stone including metal idols and frames. You will also find beautiful wooden Tibetan masks.
Also during the festival, we saw many stalls of Wooden carved furniture. Holy cow, they were so beautifully carved. And one more collectible that we loved were the antique door knobs. If you just roam a bit more, you will also find beautiful embroidered carpets woven in Leh.
Leh is a true paradise for a shopper. You can go on the shopping spree there. It offers many beautiful crafts that are very seldom found elsewhere.
And while we are talking about Leh handicrafts, we met with a few artisans there. With their collaboration and efforts, we trying to source the beautiful crafts of Leh on our e-commerce platform : nomadic Crafts. You can visit the website – nomadiccrafts.com to find more about us.
Just to tell a brief about it – we at nomadic crafts envision to uplift the artisans of the world by getting their crafts available on one platform. It’s at a nascent stage, but in case if you are a collectible lover looking for a decor artefact or an artisan working on any of the contemporary craft, do contact us and we will be more than happy to serve you.