The Hemis Festival – Celebrating Ancient Tantric Traditions In The Richest Monastery Of Ladakh

A chill in the wild of the cold desert was palpable. The red and brown mountains smoldered with the rays of the run. Hooves of an army of raging horses stirred up a storm of dust. Men clad in dark clothes and shining steel armor were mounted on them. They raced their sturdy horses up the treacherous slopes of the barren mountains, plundering, looting, marauding as they went surging ahead in the glory of their victory. Jumping their horses from one broken edge to another, they went past a steep gorge, completely oblivious to hymns and chants between its walls. No, this isn’t a scene from a magnum opus period film. It is a scene from a page in history. This is how the Hemis monastery stood fast for centuries against several invaders, plunderers and warriors. Hidden between a gorge, close to the hill where Lord Padmanasambhava or Rimpoche had once meditated. This monastery stayed unscathed through several wars and conquests. While all the other monasteries were plundered and looted, this monastery, owning to its hidden location and the generosity of reigning Buddhist rulers, became so rich that it is believed that “it now owns half of the land in Ladakh.” Today, the Hemis Monastery is Ladakh’s biggest, richest, and most powerful monastery. Its grandeur, steeped in rich history, heritage and mythology or Tantric Buddhism, attracts many tourists from various corners of the globe. The mysticism associated with the monastery claims that “Jesus, during his 12 missing years, which some belief were lived in India, spent meditating with the monks”.
Since its re-establishment, the Hemis Monastery celebrates its annual festival, the Hemis Tse Chu! During this festival, the ancient Tantric traditions blossom in all their opulence and glory. The vibrant colors burst out among the flock of lamas, nuns and tourists in the monastery. The elaborate costumes, colorful masks and dramatic dances captivate and entrust the audience. The entire aura of the monastery during this time is so unique that it attracts travelers from around the world to get blessed by the prayer flags fluttering in the wind.
Watch Monks Dancing In Perfect Coordination At Ladakh Hemis Festival 2016..!!
Set up away from city life in the picturesque landscape of Stock Range, the experience is a mix of beauty and bliss. The monastery has a peaceful aura, surrounded by mustard fields that add a cooler to the barren landscape of the Hemis high altitude national park, i.e., the home to the endangered snow leopard.

A brief history and introduction: The Hemis Monastery Hemis is a Buddhist monastery of the Tibetan Drupka lineage. Located in the Hemis village of Ladakh district, 45 KM from Leh city. Nestled between the Himalayan gorges, this monastery has stood still against medical invasions. Hemis is one of the largest and oldest monasteries in the Ladakh region. The name translates to “the Lone Place of the compassionate person.” Established before the 11th century and perished Re-established in 1672 by The Royal Prince of Ladakh Sengge Namgyal. The annual festival honors Lord Padmasambhava Its sacred silk painting is known as the Thangka, unfurled and set on public display after 12 years. Hemis monastery houses the largest Thangka (12m). The monastery houses several statues and stupas with semi-precious and precious gems.

Celebrating Ladakh’s Biggest Festival: The Hemis Tsechu The festival celebrates the birthday of Lord Padmasambhava, also called Guru Rimpoche. Guru Padmasambhava got Vajrayana Buddhism to India and Tibet to defeat the evil forces by the fundamental principle of Dharma. The festival is celebrated on the tenth day of the Lunar calendar of Tibetan month. The day celebrates the victory of good over evil. Beautifully crafted masks and colorful costumes are worn by Lamas while performing Cham dances. The ritual is believed to bring good health and spiritual strength. The Hemis festival attracts travelers from all over the world. It becomes a congregation of adventurers, photographers and writers. The carnival outside the monastery sees visitors from several remote villages of Ladakh, from children to elderly who have never been to the city before, participate with unbound enthusiasm. The festival is the best opportunity to see the local ladakhi culture. Foreign tourists often indulge themselves in clicking pictures of rehearsing monks.

The Masked Dance Performances – The Story Tellers of Dharma

The Drupka’s followed the Mahayana traditions and believed in enlightenment and the benefit of others. Lamas perform the Cham dances in the gompa after the tantric Vajrayana teachings and rituals. The Cham Dances are an integral part of the Buddhist tantric culture. The dancers wear elaborate, colorful masks, portraying a different expressions. The most exciting of all the dances is the compact show depicting the fight between good and evil. The good prevails over all at the show’s end, and the evil is finished. A seat adorned with gems and silk cloth is created. A cup of Tormas made of dough and uncooked rice with butter and incense sticks is placed next to it. The seat is surrounded by Lamas, who then play traditional instruments, including large-size trumpets. Thus, the Hemis festival conveys a message: “One must overcome all desires and human emotions to attain nirvana, and the soul must endure these characteristics.”

For a Totally Memorable Trip – Must do at the Monastery

  1. Indulge in the gastronomy of Ladakh at the pretty little Tibetan cafe right outside the main entrance, which serves lip-smacking food.
  2. The museum shop sells postcards, books, prayer flags and other souvenirs. You can buy many of them from your friends back home.
  3. Go around the explore, do not restrict yourself to the main courtyard only.
  4. Chat up with a local (guards, monks etc.). They will help you understand the monastery’s history, and if you can make a good impression, they will be happy to show you around.

We at Inescape Travel & Living organize a special Hemis Trip in June-July for those who wish to witness this colorful extravaganza.

How To Reach Hemis Monastery

  1. By Road: Located 40 km from Leh, it has easy access through local buses, taxis or private transport. Ensure you speak to a few taxi operators and check the current rates before finalizing one. Carry a road map with you if you take your own vehicle. The roads get confusing at times. Check for the local bus timings at the bus stand in Leh City, do not miss your bus!
  2. By Foot: For hiking and trekking lovers, there are many routes to reach the monastery. You can take the main highway to the monastery or choose one of the few treks that will end or pass through the monastery. To name a few, Indus Valley Trek, Hemis National Park Trek, Baralacha La to Hemis.

Things to remember for Hemis Festival

  1. Plan your trip around the Hemis festival, when the Tibetan and Buddhist culture is at its best! You wouldn’t want to turn up a day later and realize that all the fun has ended.
  2. Reach the monastery a little early to grab the front seats and see the dancers and lamas prepare for their day ahead. You will get to know what happens behind the scenes!
  3. Photographers should grab a good place and set up their cameras. Getting closer to the stage should be your priority.
  4. Interact with Lamans and local monks to learn more about the festival, the celebrations and the associated legends.
  5. The monastery is closed from 12PM to 2PM, so make sure you don’t land at the wrong time.
  6. The monastery also has its own schools of spiritual and meditative learning. Enthusiasts from all over the world travel to learn the fundamental basics of Buddhism and live the lives of the monks. It is one of a kind experience altogether.

Hemis festival is definitely the most happening festival amongst the festivities that take place in Ladakh. There would be no better way than travel to the mountain kingdom of ladakh and witness the awesomeness of the Hemis Festival! One gets an enriching experience of the Buddhist culture and how monks celebrate their lives. You will see so much action in an otherwise quite and peaceful atmosphere, happiness surrounds all, and they are ready to begin a new phase of the year. The festival is so important that the government announces a two-day holiday. Moreover, every 12 years, when the Thangka is displayed, the amount of tourists visiting the city expands vastly, and the locals are more than happy to have you aboard!

It is difficult to check the veracity of the legends and myths associated with this mysterious monastery. This perhaps imparts a unique mysticism to this ancient hub of Tantric Buddhism. The claim that the stories and rituals of the most fascinating branch of Buddhism have the strength to arrest the imagination of every single mind is vindicated by everyone who attends the Hemis Festival. Still don’t believe us?

Why don’t you check it all by being a part of the Ladakh Hemis Festival..!! Read more about Ladakh here. Share your experiences of Ladakh with us in the comments section below.

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