Eka Experiences

The Hemis Festival: Ladakh’s Grand Cultural Carnival

Team Eka

Ladakh is an enchantingly beautiful land steeped in ancient history, mythology and mysticisim. Here, ancient traditions come alive amidst the most rugged yet breathtaking landscapes. One of the most captivating and culturally-enriching experiences here is at the Hemis Festival or Hemis Tse-chu. 

The festival is celebrated every year with great fervor at the Hemis Monastery and is one of the most important religious festivals of Ladakh. This blog serves as a quick guide to the Hemis Festival with all the essential information to make the most out of this colorful and vibrant festival.

Hemis Monastery surrounded by deserted hills_Hemis Festival_Eka Experiences.
The Hemis Monastery surrounded by the rugged mountainous landscapes
Courtyard at The Hemis Festival Eka Experiences.
The main courtyard of Hemis Monastery with the Hemis Monastery

The Hemis Monastery

The Hemis Monastery or the Hemis Gompa is one of the largest, most significant and wealthiest monasteries in the Ladakh region. The monastery belongs to the Red Hat Sect or Drukpa lineage of Buddhism. Located in Hemis village, about 45 km from Leh city, it was built before the 11th century but it was re-established in the 17th century by Stagsan Raspa and Sengge Namgyal, the king of Ladakh. 

Unlike other structures in Ladakh, the Hemis monastery has distinct Tibetan architectural styles. Perched atop a mountain on the west side of the Indus River off the Leh-Manali Highway, the gompa stands amidst the tranquil vastness of the surrounding deserted hills. The monastery houses one of the important libraries for Buddhist books and scriptures and possesses valuable thangkas, paintings, impressive gold statues, and various stupas. The Hemis museum inside the monastery has a great collection of numerous historical objects, ancient scriptures, weapons, instruments, relics and treasured artifacts.

Road to Hemis Moanstery_Hemis Festival_Eka Experiences.
The road to Hemis Monastery
Rocky Hills and the monastery_Hemis Festival_Eka Experiences
Monastery structures are built atop jagged rocky mountains
The main building of the Hemis Monastery_Hemis Festival_Eka Experiences.
Visitors during the Hemis festival with the main hall at the background

The Hemis Festival

The Hemis Tsechu or the Hemis festival takes place annually at the Hemis Monastery. Started by Gyalsras Rinpoche in the 18th century, the festival is celebrated on the 10th day of the fifth lunar month, according to the Tibetan calendar. The 2-day celebration commemorates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche (the precious teacher). Guru Rinpoche was one of the founding fathers of Tibetan Buddhism, and also known as the second Buddha of the Himalayan region. He is believed to have played a crucial role in spreading the teachings of Buddhism across the Himalayas.

While the exact dates vary each year, the Hemis festival typically falls in the months of June or July. Curated Experiential tours in Ladakh coinciding with the festival dates usually include this unique experience. Set in the remote foothills of brown craggy mountains, the Hemis Monastery is adorned beautifully during the cultural extravaganza, welcoming travelers from all around the world. 

The monastery comes alive and is buzzing with locals as well as visitors from all over. Natives dress up in traditional ensembles, enjoy the local cuisines, and partake in various religious ceremonies. The entrance route is vibrantly decked up like a carnival bustling with dozens of eateries, game stands, shopping corners and kiosks displaying and selling local artworks, gemstones, jewellery, wicker baskets, carpets and much more.

The Hemist festival is celebrated in the grand courtyard in front of the main door of the monastery. During the two-day event, the monastic community of the gompa engages in intricate masked dances and sacred rituals, aimed at bestowing blessings and warding off evil spirits. Various musicians play traditional music accompanied by the monks. While dozens of sacred ceremonies and rituals having both cultural and religious significance are performed during the celebration, an enigmatic mask dance by an energetic group of monks is the main highlight for the visitors. It is definitely the main attraction of the Hemis Tsechu.

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Cham Dances or The Masked Dance by the monks during the Hemis Festival
Cham Masked Dance_Hemis Festival_Eka Experiences
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Masked Monk at Ladakh Hemis Festival_Eka Experiences.
Dances_Hemis Festival Ladakh_Eka Experiences.

The sacred masked dance is locally called Cham dance and is used in all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism in their rituals as a sacred dance. The monastery courtyard transforms into a colorful stage as the monks, adorned in vibrant costumes and intricate masks, perform these ancient ritualistic dances. Each dance tells a story from Buddhist mythology, captivating the audience with its grace and symbolism. The dance is based on the prescribed texts, and is reflective of the Buddhist tantric practices. 

During the show, each monk assumes the personality symbolizing any particular deity and dances to the rhythms accompanied with ritual music. The main aim of sacred performance and the dances are to bestow good health, to prevent and heal diseases and to conquer evil spirits. It is a visual and spiritual treat to witness these rituals performed by the monks, including the sacred cham dance, prayers, and the chants. The atmosphere is filled with devotion and spirituality, offering a profound experience for those seeking a deeper understanding of Buddhist traditions.

Overall, the Hemis Festival at the Hemis Monastery is an extraordinary cultural extravaganza that offers a deep insight into the rich Buddhist heritage of Ladakh. Immerse yourself in the captivating performances, witness sacred rituals, and soak in the spiritual ambiance.

Planning your festival travel:

When is the Hemis Festival Celebrated? What is the date of the Hemis Festival?

Confirm the dates of the festival well in advance, as they vary from year to year. The festival dates generally fall in the months of June and July. In 2023, the festival dates are 28-29 June. Contact reliable online sources for the latest information. You can also reach out to us for updated information regarding the festival dates.

How to reach Hemis Monastery:

Arrive in Leh city of Ladakh: You can reach Leh city by air or road. By Road, you can enter Leh via two high-altitude road options – the Manali-Leh Highway or the Srinagar-Leh Highway. There is no direct railway connection to Leh yet. The nearest railway station to Hemis is Jammu Tawi. After reaching Jammu railway station, you can reach Leh via Srinagar.

The nearest airport to Hemis Monastery is the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh, which is well connected to major cities in India like Delhi, Mumbai, and Srinagar. You can book a flight to Leh from your location.

From Leh, you can hire a private taxi or take a local public bus to the Hemis Monastery. The distance between Leh and Hemis Monastery is approximately 45 kilometers and it takes about 1 hour to reach by road. If you prefer more flexibility and convenience, you can rent a private vehicle in Leh. This will allow you to explore other attractions in the region at your own pace.

From Leh, Travel along the Leh Manali Highway towards the small town of Karu . At Karu, turn right at the main junction and continue towards the Hemis village where the Hemis monastery is situated perched atop a hill. The gompa is set in the foothills of the majestic Stok mountain range. The journey from Leh to the Monastery offers breathtaking views of the stunning Ladakhi landscapes. Take your time to enjoy the stunning surroundings as you travel to the monastery.

Best time to visit Hemis Monastery

The best time to visit Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, India, is during the summer months of June to September. The weather is pleasant, the roads are open, and the region’s picturesque landscapes are at their best. Remember to acclimatize to the high altitude and check current conditions before your visit.

Note that the roads to Ladakh via Manali and Srinagar remain closed from November to April because of heavy rain and snowfall. However, you can travel by air to reach Leh city and travel to Hemis. The road to Hemis monastery from Leh remains open even during winters. You can plan a trip to the monastery in winter if you are willing to endure the harsh weather conditions of Ladakh.

Hemis Monastery Entry Timings and Visiting hours

The entry hours of Hemis Monastery and Museum for tourists are from 8 AM to 1 PM and 2 PM to 6 PM. During Lunch/break hour 1-2 PM, the monastery is closed. It is open for visitors throughout the week.

Hemis Monastery Entry Fees / Tickets

During the 2022 Hemis festival, the entry tickets were Rs. 100 per person including the museum visit. Please note the courtyard seating prices will be higher and have to be reserved separately.

Is Photography allowed at Hemis Monastery?

Cameras are allowed to capture the vibrant moments of the Hemis festival performances and main rituals in the courtyard. Photography is not allowed inside the prayer halls or indoor areas of the monastery. It is also prohibited inside the Hemis Museum. 

On the way to Hemis Monastery_Hemis Festival_Eka Experiences.
The distant villages enroute to the Hemis Monastery


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Team Eka

Team Eka

Contributed by our team of experiential travel experts, explorers and storytellers.