Hemis festival is one of the most popular festivals in Ladakh. With its mountainous ambience and simple living, Leh-Ladakh is a dream destination for all travel enthusiasts. Situated close to Leh is the Hemis Ladakh Monastery, where an important festival is celebrated yearly. Travellers flock to the Hemis Festival to experience this spectacle and enjoy the festivities. If you plan to experience it first-hand, here’s everything you need to know.
What is the Hemis Festival, and why is it celebrated?
Hemis in Ladakh is a famous monastery located 45 kilometres from Leh and is one of the most important gompas in Ladakh. Hemis Gompa Fair is also renowned around the world. Built-in 1630 under the reign of Sengge Namgyal, the monastery flourished under the dynasty for ages. It is also famous for being the central place for the annual celebration attracting tourists worldwide.
The Hemis festival in Ladakh is celebrated on the occasion of the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The central theme of the celebration is the victory of good over evil as their Guru fought evil to protect his people. During the days of the celebration, the people cleanse themselves and their surroundings of all evil influences for prosperity and spiritual guidance.
Going by the Tibetian calendar, the festival is on the tenth day of the lunar month, and celebration dates are decided by the head Lama. The two-day celebration will see locals dressed in bright traditional attire and the Lamas perform the Chaam, a sacred dance wearing masks to the tune of drums, cymbals, and horns. The Hemis festival for 2021 is from June 20th to June 21st.
Highlights of the Hemis festival
- On the day of the festival, the 300-year-old Hemis Monastery comes to life with the sound of drums, cymbals, and trumpets, along with colourfully dressed performers and hundreds of people gathered to enjoy the celebration. The festival begins with all the followers seeking blessings from the Guru’s portrait and the commencement of performances.
- Chaam, one of the festival's main events, is a dance performed by the Lamas wearing grotesque masks representing the evils of existence and characters out of the mythological stories. There is even a Padmasambhava dance which depicts the Guru subduing the Ruta demons. The dance starts with slow music, which eventually builds in tempo and intensity and reaches its peak when the leader strikes down the devil’s idol, made of clay.
- Every 12 years, there is a unique addition to the celebration where a giant two-storey tall ‘Thanka’ which portrays the Guru Padmasambhava, is added to the event. The Thanka is beautifully embellished with semi-precious stones, pearls, and other gems, demonstrating the locals' incredible handiwork, making it the celebration's highlight. This was last unveiled in 2016, and the next time will be in 2028, making it the most visited year of the festival.
- The souvenirs are a significant part of the event, as the stalls are full of little idols, trinkets, Ladakh handicrafts and unique pieces of indigenous artwork you can take back with you. You can also find some fantastic shawls, hand-woven rugs in traditional bright colours, and wall hangings for the house. Other things include pottery, bags, wicker baskets, postcards, books and more.
- Like all celebrations, the Tibetans have their drink for festivals called Chang. This drink made out of highland barley is a low-alcohol beverage that is a must-try for all visitors; think of it like Tibetan beer! There’s also a fun drinking ritual where you take three sips out of the cup, which is immediately refilled and then down the whole cup in one shot.
The most common way to get to Hemis Monastery is by hiring a cab from pickup locations, such as Leh or the airport. You can reach Leh by flight and take a taxi to the monastery, 35km from the airport. If you take a train, you will have to get off at Jammu Tawi Railway Station and hire a cab to get to the town of Hemis. It’s also possible to get here by Bus. All you need to do is take a bus from any starting point, such as Srinagar or Manali and rent a cab from Leh to the monastery.
A trip to Leh- Ladakh is an experience out of this world and something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. However, when planning for it, it is worth visiting the Hemis Monastery Ladakh during the festival and enjoying the spiritual side of the destination. To make your journey all the more memorable, you can take a bus trip to Leh and enjoy the stunning scenery on the way. With redBus as your partner, you can be assured of finding bus tickets online at great prices and having a comfortable journey.