Fairs and Festivals of Ladakh in 2021 – COMPLETE List

by Vargis.Khan

Fairs and Festivals of Ladakh

In this article, I will provide a complete list of fairs and festivals of Ladakh celebrated in the entire year throughout the region. If you were planning a trip in near future and also wanted to attend a local festival, the list below can help you plan the itinerary accordingly.

Festivals are the times when the entire Ladakh transforms into a focal point of culture, color, festivity, musicals, dance performances, and recitals performed by various tribes.  Being here at the time of any of the festivals is a great opportunity to witness the celebration that is bound to leave you mesmerized.

Open courtyards of the monasteries become the venue of these festivals where recitals, prayers, masked dances, folk songs are performed by monks in vibrant and colorful silk garments. This is the time when spirituality, entertainment, enjoyment become the very aura of Ladakh.

Also Read: How to Plan a trip to Leh Ladakh – A Complete Travel Guide

It also presents a perfect opportunity to learn more about the rich Buddhist culture here; the glory of which I believe is prominent in all of the fairs and festivals of Ladakh.

Fairs and Festivals of Ladakh

Festivals in Ladakh are organized on basis of occasions such as birth, marriage, the commemoration of head lamas (who found ed the monasteries), harvesting, flowering, and Losar or New Year.  To begin the post, I will first provide the list of the fairs and festivals of Ladakh with dates that they are to be celebrated in the coming after.

After the dates, I will provide a detailed description of the festivals.

Fairs and Festivals of Ladakh

Ladakh Festival Dates 2021, 2022 , 2023

Below is the Ladakh festival calendar for the year 2021, 2022, and 2023. 

 

Fairs and Festivals of Ladakh Monastery / Location Month 2021 2022 2023
Spituk Gustor Festival Spituk January 11 – 12 Jan 30 – 31 Jan 19 – 20 Jan
Dosmoche Festival Leh, Likir, Diskit February 9 – 10 Feb 28 Feb – 1 Mar 18 – 19 Feb
Yargon Tungshak Festival Yarma (Nubra Valley) February 15 – 16 Feb 6 – 7 Mar 23 – 24 Feb
Stok Guru Tseschu Festival Stok February 21 – 22 Feb 11 – 12 Mar 28 Feb – 1 Mar
Matho Nagrang Festival Matho February 26 – 27 Feb 17 – 18 Mar 6 – 7 Mar
Ladakh Monlam Chenmo Festival Leh May 2 – 6 May 21–25 May 11 – 14 May
Buddha Jayanti (Vaisakha Purnima) Leh May 26 May 16 May 5 May
Saga Dawa Duchen Festival (Jipe Chonga) All over Ladakh May 26 May 14 Jun 4 Jun
Yuru Kabgyat Festival Lamayuru June 7 – 8 June 25 – 26 June 15 – 16 June
Silk Route Festival Sumoor (Nubra Valley) June 23 – 24 June June 23 – 24  23 – 24 June
Sindhu Darshan Festival Sindhu Ghat June      
Sand Dune Festival Hunder (Nubra Valley) July 1 – 2 July July 1 – 2   1 – 2 July
Dalai Lama’s Birthday Choglamsar July 6 Jul Jul 6  6 Jul
Hemis Tseschu Festival Hemis June 20 – 21 June 9 – 10 July 28 – 29 June
Shachukul Kabgyat Festival Shachukul (Durbuk) June 26 – 27 June July 15 – 16  5 – 6 July
Stongdey Gustor Festival Stongdey (Zanskar) June 27 – 28 June 16 – 17 July 6 – 7 July
Ladakh Polo Festival Chushot July 11 – 17 July July 11 – 17  11 – 17 July
Karsha Gustor Festival Karsha (Zanskar) July 7 – 8 July 26 – 27 July 15 – 16 July
Phyang Tsedup Festival Phyang July 7 – 8 July 26 – 27 July 15 – 16 July
Korzok Gustor Festival Korzok (Tsomoriri) July July 13 – 14 31 Jul – 1 Aug 20 – 21 July
Takthok Tsechu Festival Takthok July July 19 – 20 7 – 8 Aug 28 – 29 July
Sani Naro Nasjal Festival Sani (Zanskar) July July 23 – 24 11 – 12 Aug Jul 31 – Aug 1
Ladakh Festival Leh September 1 – 15 Sep Sep 1 – 15  1 – 15 Sep
Diskit Gustor Festival Diskit (Nubra Valley) October 4 – 5 Oct 23 – 24 Oct 12 – 13 Oct
Thiksey Gustor Festival Thiksey November 22 – 23 Nov 11 – 12 Nov 31 Oct – 1 Nov
Chemrey Angchok Festival Chemrey December 2 – 3 Dec 21 – 22 Nov 11 – 12 Nov
Galdan Namchot Festival All over Ladakh December 29 Dec 18 Dec 7 Dec
Ladakhi Losar (New year) All over Ladakh January 3 Jan 24 Dec 13 Dec

 

Fairs and Festivals of Ladakh

Let us now take a detailed look at the different fairs and festivals celebrated in Leh Ladakh.

1. Dosmoche Festival

It is a 2-day long festival held in the month of February. It is celebrated in almost all the monasteries in the region but mainly in Leh, Likir, and Diskit. The name literally translates to the ‘Festival of Scapegoat’. Prayers are offered for the well-being, safety, and prosperity of Ladakhi people by performing sacred mask dances.

In Leh, performances are held in Old Chapel near Leh Palace. This festival was started by the Royal family of Ladakh to eradicate evil. Now it is one of the two major festivals in Ladakh, the other one being the  Losar.  The two days when the festival is celebrated are gazetted holidays for Leh district and Zanskar.

During the Dosmoche festival, Idols made of dough are burnt to ward off the evil spirits of the previous year. This is done to ensure the well-being of people in the new year. The key highlights of this festival are the decoration of Leh palace, Cham Dance, religious music performances, and the rituals.

2. Yargon Tungshak Festival

This festival is held either in the month of February or early March in Nubra Valley. It is noted for its Mask Dance in colorful attires and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Dances are performed on beats of drums and long horns bringing the sleepy valley of Nubra to life. The festival lasts for 2 days. On both the days, the afternoon meals are arranged for the local people on behalf of the Monastery. Some local foods like Gurgur Cha, Skyu, and Thupka are served.

celebration in aryan villages of ladakh

3. Stok Guru Tsechu Festival

This festival is held in the month of February or March in Stok and Spituk Monastery, a week before Matho Nagrang festival. It is hosted by the Stok monastery and hence the name. Mask dances, music performances, and celebrations are a part of this festival too.

But what really sets it apart is that the rituals during this festival are performed by common people. The festival is a 2 days affair. For the rituals, two common men from the villages of Stok and Spituk are chosen by the Lamas to be properly cleansed and receive the spirit of the deities. Once chosen, these men are known as Oracles.

The oracles then visit the monasteries, perform the rituals, deliver messages from the god, and make forecasts. People of the village strongly believe in the forecasts made by these oracles.

Also Read: 11 Things you must NOT do in Ladakh

4. Matho Nagrang Festival

Matho Nagrang is very similar to Stok Guru Tsechu festival in the way it is celebrated and falls a week after. It is also known as ‘The festival of the oracles’ and is celebrated in the first half of March.

It is held in Matho monastery near Leh and the celebration lasts for 2 days. Monks dressed like Ladakhi God and Goddesses perform sacred dances and rituals. This festival is very popular among locals and they gather in thousands at the Monastery. Two monks are chosen every three years for this festival to be the receptacle for deities.

A month before the festival, these monks start to fast and meditate in order to purify and make themselves suitable for the gods. They come out of their month-long meditation at the time of the Matho Nagrang festival, believed to be possessed by the gods.

While in this trance state, the oracles perform several rituals and make future predictions. This festival is popular because the villagers too can consult the Oracle about their lives, solutions to their problems, and what the future holds for them.

women of ladakh

5. Gang-Sngon Tsedup Festival

This festival is celebrated in the Phyang Monastery during the spring season. The ceremony includes cham dances by monks wearing intricately carved wooden masks and ornate costumes, giving the celebrations an unforgettable character.

Also Read: Clothes for Ladakh – What to Pack

6. Saka Dawa Festival

Saka Dawa (also known as Saga Dawa) Festival is celebrated in the month of either May or June and celebrates the enlightenment of Lord Buddha. It is one of the holiest and most sacred days in Tibetan Buddhism.

The word Dawa means ‘month’ in Tibetan and Saka means ‘name of the closet star to the earth’. Saka is one of the 28 known major stars in Tibetan astrology. The day of this festival is believed to be the day when Buddha achieved awakening. During this time, animals are set free and locals refrain from killing and eating animals.

It is celebrated all across Ladakh and in all monasteries. Monks perform a special puja in the morning, sutras are recited and Cham dances are also performed. If you happen to be in Ladakh at the time of this festival, visit any of the nearest monasteries and you will be able to witness and be a part of the celebrations.

Also read: 10 Reasons why you should NEVER visit Ladakh

7. Sindhu Darshan Festival

Sidhu Darshan festival is one of the most widely popular festivals of Ladakh.  It is held each year in June for three days, to pay respect to Indus River. Since June is also the peak tourist season in Ladakh, it witnesses a large tourist attendance. It is celebrated on the banks of the Indus River at Shey village.

The festival was first celebrated in 1997 and has been an annual affair since then. The occasion is on a full moon night always but it has long outgrown the original idea. Now the festival is noted for not only commemorating Indus but also to pay respect to soldiers who sacrificed their lives while protecting the nation.

Senior Lamas commence the festival on the first day by offering Buddhist prayers followed by a reception of all participants on the banks of Indus at Shey. A bonfire is also lit at night on the banks. Cultural programs and prayers follow on the 2nd and 3rd day as thousands of people gather to experience the celebrations.

8. Hemis Tsechu Festival

Hemis festival lasts for 2 days and is held in Hemis Monastery in the month of July.  It is also one of the most popular festivals of Ladakh and sees a great number of people in attendance. Since it is celebrated in July and Hemis is quite close to Leh, a large number of tourists arrive at the monastery to observe the festival.

The time of the festival is also the birth anniversary of the Guru Padmasambhava. Mask dances by the lamas of Hemis monastery are held and the festival is concluded with a sacrificial offering on the second day. The amazingly vibrant silk costumes used by Lamas as they dance along with long horns and musical drums during their performances are a feast for eyes.

The festival is celebrated annually with much enthusiasm. But during the Tibetan year of the monkey (which falls every 12 years and the next one is in 2028, 2040) the celebrations and the rituals increase several times and Hemis observes a major extravaganza. For more details, please take look at How to Plan a Trip to Hemis Monastery.

local dance of ladakh

9. Yuru Kabgyat Festival

This festival is held in Lamayuru Monastery for two days in the month of July. The festival is noted as not only people from India but also from China, Japan, and Bhutan participate in it. It is dedicated to Yama, the Lord of Death, and Padmasambhava, the second Buddha and the God of Wealth.

Lamayuru monastery is about 115 kilometers from Leh, on the Srinagar Leh highway. During the festival, mask dances by monks are held for two days. The festival is concluded by a sacred ritual of the demolition of the statue; marking the liberation of inner demons and purification of one’s soul.

10. Phyang Tsedup Festival

Phyang Tsedup Festival is held in Phyang Monastery for two days either in the month of July or August. The monastery was established in the year 1515 and is located about 19 kilometers from Leh.

The festival commemorates the teachings of Lord Buddha by mask dances and dramas, also known as “Chams”. The victory of the good over evil is celebrated during the festival and concluded on the second day with the destruction of the Storma.

A pilgrimage to Thangka of Skyabje Gombo is also an important part of this festival. Another festival that is celebrated in the monastery is the Gang-Sngon Tsedup in the spring season. It is similar to Phyang Tsedup Festival.

11. Takthok Tsechu Festival

This festival is celebrated in the Takthok Monastery, located about 46 kilometers from Leh, slightly after the village of Sakti and on the road towards Wari La Pass. The name Takthok, literally translates into ‘rock-roof’ which attributes to the fact that both the roof and the walls of the monastery are made up of rock. 

The monastery was founded around the mid-16th century. Its location is said to be on a mountainside around a cave in which Padmasambhava meditated in the 8th century. The ceremony for the Takthot Tsechu Festival is held in the month of July or August and is attended by a large number of tourists and locals.

The masked Cham dances are performed by the monks and the rituals are carried out for a full two days.

celebration in aryan villages of ladakh

12. Ladakh Polo Festival

Ladakh Polo Festival is a week-long festival organized by Indus Chushot Polo Club and J&K Tourism. I am listing it here among fairs and festivals of Ladakh but more than a festival, it is a tournament between the local Polo teams that usually happens in the month of July. The last time I attended the festival, it was mostly the folks from the Indian Army playing the game but a lot of locals also participate in it.

Other than the festival in July, there are regular tournaments and games held throughout the year in which local teams play against the Indian Army teams. Traditionally, almost every village in Ladakh once had its own Polo ground. It is believed that the game was introduced into Ladakh in the early 17th century by King Jamyang Namgial, whose second wife was a Balti princess.

Polo has been a traditional game in the western Himalayas in places like Baltistan and Gilgit. But the way the game is played now in Ladakh is different in many aspects than how it is played at the international level. Witnessing a polo game in Ladakh is really something amazing.

Every team has six players and the game lasts an hour, with a ten-minute break at the half time. Each goal is greeted by a burst of music from Surna and Daman. So yes, there is a lot of cheering as well to make sure that things do not get dull. The game adds a unique excitement and enthusiasm to the two weeks long festival.

Also read: A Complete List of Tourist Attractions in Ladakh

13. Ladakh Festival / Ladakh Harvest Festival

Ladakh Harvest Festival, simply known as Ladakh Festival, is probably the biggest and one of the most popular of all fairs and festivals of Ladakh. I believe the original idea of this festival was to celebrate the harvest season but now it has developed into something much grander.

It is celebrated in the month of September and lasts for a full two weeks, coming to an end at the Ladakh Polo ground. A lot of people plan their visit to Ladakh in September so they could be a part of the Ladakh festival. What makes it so popular? It is because of the nature of this festival.

It is a grand celebration that attracts performances from the entire region, displaying an amazing cultural diversity. Performers from all over Ladakh come together to showcase an array of cultural events, impressive dance, and traditional music performances, in colorful vibrant robes and masks.

Some popular sports like Polo and Archery are also held during this time. It is one of the must-attend festivals for any tourists; especially if you are even slightly interested in photography. For an entire two weeks, there is a series of events related to culture, music, dance, and sports that you can attend.

In these two weeks, a religious procession is also held. It moves from one monastery to another as people dance and celebrate the harvest season.

ladakh festival

14. Chemday Wangchok Festival

Chemday Wangchok Festival is celebrated in Chemrey Monastery, also known as Chemrey Gompa. It is located at a distance of about 44 kilometers from Leh, on the road from Leh to Pangong Tso.  It was founded in 1664 by the Lama Tagsang Raschen and dedicated to King Sengge Namgyal.

The monastery is best known for a large Padmasambhava statue. Chemday Wangchok Festival is also known as Chemrey Angchok festival is a 2 days affair and is celebrated here annually in the month of October or November.

A week before the festival, the monks go into meditation to purify them and attain peace. These monks then come out of meditation and perform the sacred Cham dance during the festival.

15. Galdan Namchot Festival

This festival is celebrated all over Ladakh in the month of either November or December for 2 days. Not only Ladakh but it is also celebrated in Tibet, Mongolia, and many other Himalayan regions. It commemorates the memory of Tibetan saint-scholar, Tsongkhapa.

He was a famous teacher of Tibetan Buddhism whose activities led to the formation of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. In order to pay respect to the saint, all buildings in Ladakh including monasteries, houses, and public buildings are lit up with butter lamps and other lighting arrangements.

People celebrate the festival by traditional cuisines such as Thukpa, Momo, and Butter tea. Khatak, a traditional scarf is presented to each other as a gift. This festival marks the start of the New Year celebrations in Ladakh and lasts till the Dosmoche festival.

Also Read: How to Plan a Family Trip to Leh Ladakh

16. Losar Festival in Ladakh

Also known as Ladakhi Losar Festival, it is considered to be the most important of all fairs and festivals of Ladakh. This festival marks the beginning of the New Year and is celebrated with enthusiasm and in a colorful manner. A blend of cultural events, rituals, holy fire, chants, recitals, and performances in vibrant robes are some of the key highlights of this festival.

The stage fight between good and evil and the Ibex deer dance are the noted attractions of all. There is no set date for this festival as it is based on the lunar calendar. But it happens in the month of December, followed by month-long celebrations which sometimes even last till March.

People from all over Ladakh take part in this festival, of all age groups and tribes. Pictures of Alpine Ibex are painted on the walls and a procession of fire is organized by the locals to bring in good luck and prosperity. The festival is said to last 15 days but it usually is 9 days. Of this, the first 3 days are considered to be the most important.

The festival is marked by making offerings to the Gods, both in Gompas and their shrines. The celebrations begin with a traditional Metho ceremony during which people carry flaming torches together while chanting prayers. It is believed to cleanse one’s soul of evil and all the negativity. Even if you are not the religious kind, watching people move carrying the burning torches is a sight nonetheless.

losar festival

17. Thiksey Gustor Festival

The meaning of the word Gustor in the Tibetan language is sacrifice. It is a 2 days long festival that is celebrated in different monasteries on different dates. The two-day event is marked with religious ceremonies, folk music, and traditional mask dance. The three important locations that it is held at are the monasteries at Thiksey, Spituk, and Karsha. Gustors are an important part of fairs and festivals of Ladakh.

It is however celebrated at other monasteries as well at different times and on the 28th and the 29th days of the month. Thiksey Gustor festival is celebrated in the autumn season, between the months of October and November. The weather at this time is pleasant enough for the local people to enjoy outdoor activities and the festival witnesses a lot of attendance.

Recitals, chants, and charms are offered to gods by the monks of the respective monastery which marks the beginning of the festival. This is followed by a ceremony of offering liquid to invite gods of four quarters to come and witness the mask dance.

A re-enactment of the assassination of the traitor King Lang Darma of Tibet by a Buddhist monk during the mid 9th century also takes place. A sacred ritual is performed on the second day by “Black Hat” dancers and a dough cutting ceremony of the sacrificial cake, also known as “Torma” concludes the festival.

18. Spituk Gustor Festival

As the name suggests, this festival is celebrated in the Spituk Monastery, about 6 kilometers from Leh. The ceremonies and the rituals are the same as the Gustor festivals at the other monasteries. Cham dance is performed at the monastery and people gather in large numbers to witness.

The locals believe that after this festival, the weather becomes a little warmer and pleasant. People wait in the queue for hours at the gate of Gonkhang (the oldest part of the monastery) to catch a glimpse of the Mahakala statue. The face of the status remains covered throughout the year and is only unveiled during the Gustor festival.

On the 2nd day of the festival and the 29th day of the month, a Storma that symbolizes evil is burnt and concludes the festival.

Also read: How to Deal with Acute Mountain Sickness in Ladakh

19. Stongdey Gustor Festival

Stongdey Gustor festival is celebrated in the Stongdey monastery of the Zanskar Valley in the month of June or July. The highlight of the festival is the sacred Cham dance performed by the monastery’s monks. The monastery is located about 18 km from Padum, on the road to Zangla. This colorful yearly event commemorates the victory of good over evil.

cham dance

20. Karsha Gustor

This festival too is celebrated in Zanskar valley, at Karsha Monastery in the month of January. Karsha, home to about 100 monks is the largest monastery in Zanskar Valley. During the time of this festival, the entire valley turns vibrant and colorful. Black hat dance and Chams are the key attractions of this festival.

21. Diskit Gustor Festival

Diskit Gustor Festival is celebrated in the Diskit monastery of Nubra Valley in the month of October. The rituals and celebrations last for 2 days during which, like every monastic festival, you will see Cham dance by the resident monks.

22. Karzok Gustor Festival

Korzok monastery is located on the shore of the lake Tso Moriri in the village of Karzok. The gustor festival is celebrated here in the month of July. Black Hat dance is performed and re-enactment of the killing of King Lang Dharma by a Buddhist monk is performed.

Also Read: How to Plan a visit to Ladakh with Children

23. Archery Festival of Ladakh

Archery festivals in Ladakh are mostly held in the summer months. In some villages, it can be in the winter as well. Archery may really be the pretext for the gathering but it is more of a reason to party. The games are organized in a lot of villages and every village sends its own team to participate.

Other than Archery, there is also a lot of music, dancing, and drinking Chang, the local barley beer. The tournament lasts an entire day and people attend in their best and vibrant attires. The Arghon Dar-Tses was one of the most famous archery festivals in Leh in old times but has now been slowly forgotten.

The game is now played at a more local and village level. Not just around Leh city but Archery in Ladakh is also very popular in regions like Turtuk, Kargil, and Zanskar. In Turtuk, it used to be called ‘Penmazkyukpa’ which literally means shooting. In Zanskar valley, archery is done in a very traditional way. Almost no one uses modern equipment here.

In Kargil, it is also associated accompanied by religious Qasida and Salawat. There are a lot of skilled artisans in Kargil who made traditional bows and arrows as it was an important part of the culture.

archery festival

Fairs and Festivals of Ladakh – Conclusion

Depending on which month you are planning your trip in, make sure that you attend any festival falling at the same time. You will not only be entertained but will also learn a lot about the culture here; click some amazing photographs; witness some amazing dances by Lamas and have a great time.

I hope the information above on fairs and festivals of Ladakh was of help. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below, or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.

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