Lamayuru Ladakh

Zanskar Festival, Ladakh

Zanskar Festival, the most important and colourful Buddhist festival in isolated Ladakh.

Ladakh is among the top ranked beautiful places of the country and in the top corner of Ladakh, there is a beautiful place, not much infested by tourists or locals the Zanskar Valley. This majestic rugged- valley is located at a rough distance of 250 kilimeters from Kargil. The beauty of the place is the outstanding landscapes, the journey through the single motorable road, the scenic beauty and the isolation of the place.

Not many footprints have paved the way in Zanskar, and this place is often exclaimed as “middle of nowhere” with the least number of people one can hope to see. Though low on the number of people staying, Zanskar is culturally very rich and the locals dedicate their life to religion. Religious practices are a part of the daily routine, and the Sani monastery enjoys a two days festival that is called as the Zanskar Festival.

The Zanskar festival is a very important part of the social life of the people of Zanskar, though they dedicate their life to farming, schooling, religious practices, and mostly preparing for the severe winters, the locals take pride in their two-day monastery festival. Bright colours, dance, music are the primary attractions of the festival and it works as the social bridge between the villages located at long distances at the high altitudes of Ladakh.

The village Sani is located at a distance of 6km before Padum- the headquarters/capital of Zanskar. The Sani Monastery is the oldest monastery of the Zanskar and they host their festival in the month of July. The whole setting of bright colours, soulful music, the local dance, and the creative masks all in the shadow of the majestic mountains is bliss of an event. The people here are extremely welcoming and they seem to love each other a lot. The festival mainly celebrates the victory of Good over evil.

The Sani monastery festival is called the Nungnes. Every year the festival takes place but they don’t celebrate on any fixed date. Usually, the festival occurs in the month of July. The blooming of the “Guru Neropa Flower” starts off the festival. A lot of people from the villages around the place take interest in being the part of this amazing festival.

The monastery festival of Sani attracts a lot of people in the nearby villages and they seem to enjoy a lot. The beauty of the colour, the masks, the dance and the background is a photographer’s delight and a lot of photographers from around the world come and be a part of it every year. When someone visits the Zanskar, the locals welcome their tourists with a white scarf that symbolizes friendship and honour. The locals provide wonderful hospitality and they seem to enjoy when people from different parts of the country and the world come to visit them.

Festival means dance, music and other events but the Zanskar festival is not limited to dance and music. The extreme isolated Zanskar, hosts their monastery festival each year and the festival gives the opportunity to explore the present day culture of Zanskar. It is the ideal place where one can witness and understand the daily chores of the locals, how they interact socially and how each year their life is progressing and evolving for the good.

The music is really compelling and traditional instruments like Dhamal, Nga and yelling sets the tone of the festival. The people perform their dance according to the beautiful music wearing masks that resemble demons and gods. The dances are actually a way of praying to the almighty. Everyone who performs the dance wears different masks, some mask symbolizes gods while some masks are made to depict the killing of the evil by the good god. The underlying story of every dance in this festival is the win of good by defeating and killing the evil.

Though the places that host these festivals do not have very suitable staying options for the tourists, but the locals take the tourists home and staying with the locals in their homes gives a very good opportunity to explore and know beautiful cultures, share stories and know about the life of the people.

Life at Zanskar is hugely different from what we live in the cities and nowhere close to what we can expect, the festival holds a special and important place in their hearts and the make the most out of these two days. They dance, they sing they paint they depict, the people of Zanskar lives each day differently and they seem to absorb each bit of the culture, and dedicate their hearts completely in these festivals.