Well, when it is July than you don’t need a reason to go to Ladakh. If you love adventure than your mind automatically drifts towards going to Ladakh, as the July-August season approaches. But than, those who still need a pretext to go there or to get into mood or feel inspired… there is lot for them this month. Adventure season to Ladakh starts late in June as soon as the high altitude passes from Baralacha-La to Tanlang-La are given all clear by the BRO. Its almost ritualistic for many riders to go to Leh on this route in July. Many groups plan their trips during this time. Road trip to Leh through some of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world is one of the most thrilling journeys. Adventure seekers have tried every possible vehicle on this route. They go on SUVs, cars, bikes, scooters, mopeds and ofcourse bicycles. Journey normally starts from Manali and climbs to cross Rohtang as the first high altitude pass. Next comes Gramphu, where one road on the right takes to Spiti Valley through Kunzam La. While another route on left takes you inside the Lahaul valley towards Leh through- Keylong, Sarchu and Pang. But the epitome of this route is crossing high altitude passes- Baralacha-La (5030 m), Nakee-La (4739 m), Lachulung-La (5065 m) and Tanglang-La (5328 m). Equally amazing is plateau called More plains at an altitude of 4700 metres. Many places on the way have accommodation for a night stay. There are many places to establish camps as well.
But then, those who don’t want to take the nerve-wrecking road journey always have an option to take the aerial route. Main point is to be there and this year July brings some of the best monastic festivals of Ladakh.
Fortunately first one is the most important one-Hemis Tsechu which will be celebrated on July 3-4 this year at Hemis monastery. Hemis monastery, the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. As the Hemis festival is held during the peak summer season, it attracts the largest number of people from within and outside Ladakh. The festival is a good opportunity for all the villagers and families to get together and socialise and also a good chance for travellers to interact with the local people. Hemis monastery is almost 35 kms from Leh. Actually while going from Manali side, Hemis monastery comes before Leh, across Indus river.
Besides this all important Hemis Festival, there are a few gustor festivals at various monasteries. Gustor literally stands for sacrifice of the 29th day of the 11th month of Tibetan calendar, and depicts the victory of good over evil. A unique dance performance that attracts tourists from all over world marks the commencement of the festival. In this dance, performers wear black hats showing their triumph against evil. The dancers wear different masks portraying themselves as the patron divinities of the Geluk-pa order and other Buddhist gods. The dance performance also shows the killing of Lang-dar-ma by a monk in the 9th century. The festival lasts for two days and ends with the distribution of sacrificial cake known as storma by the leader of the dance group. This activity is called Argham meaning destruction or killing of all evils.
So the first Gustor festival in July is of Shachukul monastery. Shachukul Gustor will take place on July 11-12. Located about 125km east of Leh, this monastery is on the way to the popular lake, Pangong Tso. This monastery, situated at a height of 14,000 feet in the middle of Shachukul village was constructed by Lama Choje Denma Kunga Dragpa. Around 70 lamas or monks reside in this monastery served by the reincarnation of Skyabje Toldan Rinpoche. Sacred shrines and artistic wall paintings dating back to the royal times adorn this holy place.
Next is Stongday Gustor which will take place at Stongday monastery on July 12-13. Stongday monastery in one of the most important and oldest monastery of Zanskar region. Established in 1052 by Lama Maria Lotsawa, this is second largest monastery of Zanskar region having a community of 60 Gelupka monks. This monastery has seven temples in complex. This monastery is 18 kms north of Padum on way to Zangla. Since it is located on a hilltop at an altitude of 3500 metres, one has to trek to reach to the monastery. It can be a tough 3 to 4 hours trek on a muddy trek. Padum is more than 400 kms from Leh via Kargil on Leh-Srinagar highway.
Then comes Karsh Gustor on July 21-22. This takes place at Karsha Monastery or Karsha Gompa in the same Padum Valley of the Zanskar region. The Doda River flows past the monastery from its source at the Drang Drung glacier of the Pensi La (14,500 feet or 4,400 m). The monastery, also known by the name “Karsha Chamspaling’, was founded by Phagspa Shesrab, under the Gelugpa Order or the Yellow Hat Order. This is the biggest monastery in Ladakh’s Zanskar region and is about 14km from Padum village, where you will find homestays and guest houses. The monastery also has bone relics of Dorje Rinchen and serves as the residence of approximately 100 monks.
On the same days July 21-22 is Phyang Tserup (Tsedup) of Phyang monastery. Located only about 20km west of Leh, Phyang monastery was established in the 16th century. It has several shrines and a 900-year old museum. This museum exhibits a rich collection of numerous idols and thangkas besides variety of weapons and firearms of Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian origin.This monastery belongs to Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. As a royal grace, the entire Phyang hills were once inhabited by monks preaching a Buddhist cult. Phyang Gompa is big complex accommodating a number of sacred shrines inside the monastery complex. These shrines have some exquisite wall paintings, dating back to the royal period. Tsedup is held every year from 17th day to 19th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.
The last gustor for the month is Korzok Gustor which will be celebrated on July 26-27. Located on the bank of the famous lake, Tso Moriri, Korzok is said to be the highest permanent settlement in India. The 300-year old monastery observes its annual Gustor festival through much fanfare, which is attended in large numbers by the local Chang-pa tribe. Masked dancing, and dispersal of the sacrificial cake are an important part of the two-day festival. You can camp at Tso Moriri.
If you want to take a break from the monastic festivals, then there will be also a Ladakh Polo Festival on 11-17 July. Polo originated in Persia (Iran) and was introduced to Ladakh, where it is hugely popular today, from neighbouring Baltistan around the 15th century. In Ladakh, every major village has a polo ground and the game is an integral part of the cultural fabric of the Ladakhi people where music, especially drums, accompany the scoring of each goal. It is also one of the highlights of the two week long Ladakh Festival every September. The six day Ladakh Polo Festival is held in village Chushot of Leh district. This festival is being held for the first time and is being oraganised by a local polo club of the village itself-The Indus Chushot Polo Club. The festival aims at making the tourists visiting Ladakh experience the authentic village summer life with local games like polo, archery, folk music, folk dance, traditional art, local drama and traditional cuisines all available at this festival. Chushot village comes under Leh district and is 13Km South of Leh main town. This serene village is surrounded by chains of mountain range with the village itself being located on the bank of the historically famous Indus River. Farther away from the bank, the other side of the village has vast barren lands.
But then you don’t get distracted by festivals coming between your love for adventure, then there is something for all those who love to ride on tough and testing terrain and have the passion to ride. The 14th edition of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is to be flagged off from New Delhi on 6th to 23rd July. Those who enjoy the company Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is best suited to them. This Odyssey will also have a women’s edition. This journey starts from Delhi on 8th and ends at Chandigarh on 23rd. On way back, this odyssey takes a turn to Kaza. So in 18 days you get to do both Lahaul as well as Spiti valley.
So, now you can plan a trip to Ladakh the July!!