The annual Ladakh Festival is a veritable bouquet of cultural mores that constitute the region.

Men in long robes and tall leather hats upturned at the bottom, and women in long frocks that touch their toes, their headgear studded with topaz, and large silver earrings jostling for space with equally big nose rings.

Well, one gets a glimpse of this typical Ladakhi look in umpteen men and women at the ongoing annual Ladakh Festival. To numerous outsiders visiting the tiny alcove of a Himalayan town surrounded by jagged mountains capped in fresh snow, the fortnight-long festival is however an absolute posy of cultural mores that make the Ladakhi identity so distinct. That the region comprises diverse cultures, customs and costumes is the moot point of the festival aimed at showcasing them to tourists, foreign and domestic.

The first day of the festival threw up an exulting experience to visitors with over 300 local artistes, representing different cultural communities of the region, flaunting their colourful outfits accompanied by their traditional music and dance steps in a long-winding procession. It started at Chubi, passed through the vibrant Leh Bazaar and finished at the Polo Ground after about an hour or two of song and dance.

On reaching the Polo Ground, the festival was inaugurated by Union Tourism Minister Kumari Selja, donning the long Ladakhi robe. Soon more folk songs and dances came into play, much to the delight of tourists thronging the ground with cameras and video recorders. Each dance started with a homage and gradually gained pace. The music and the movements then became even faster before they ended. In total, there were 12 items presented to an audience of over 3000 that day.

Oral tradition

Each of these songs has been passed on as part of an oral tradition from one generation to the other. Ladakhi musicians claim to have 360 music tunes called Lharna dedicated to various dieties, lamas, kings and their ministries. Then there are 11 other music items called Chapskyuen Tses, Shondol, Mentok Stanmo, Spao Song, Chartses, Yak Tses, marriage song, Tashispa song, Jabro dance, Koshen dance and Alay Yayto Wa Nishu Tsana Wa. Each found its space at the inaugural function on September 1, which ended with Kumari Selja matching steps with the dancers along with many tourists.

The evening ended with an equally colourful show of music and dance, some from neighbouring Himachal Pradesh too, on the banks of River Sindhu.

The second day enthralled the visitors with a great show of traditional mask dance. Called Chams, the dance is the manifestation of good over evil and also showcases the religious facets of Ladakh’s cultural heritage. The Chams dancers are monks representing various monasteries across Ladakh. The day also saw an exciting motorbike race to Khardung-la, the country’s highest motorable pass. The evening was kept for an equally thrilling polo match, a popular sport in Ladakh. According to locals, polo came to Ladakh from neighbouring Baltistan, where for centuries it used to be the arterial source of amusement. Historians date the introduction of polo in Ladakh to King Jamyang Namgyal’s reign in the 15th Century, after he married Gyal Khatun, a princess from Baltistan.

Archery, yet another favourite pastime of Ladakhis, too found place in the festival, now on its seventh year.

Bacterian camel

This Friday and Saturday, visitors will get a free ride on the Bacterian camel, found only in Nubra valley of Ladakh. These camels, with double humps and long hair, trace their ancestry to the Gobi Desert in Central Asia.

Besides, ongoing exhibitions of photographs put on display the natural beauty of Ladakh, thankas and agricultural tools and local vegetables and fruits. The festival with multiple venues will end this Tuesday at the Polo Ground in Leh after taking a round of Nubra valley, Shey, Nimmo, Sindhu Ghat, Saboo village, Korzok and Leh’s Chowkhang Gompa.