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LADAKH HEMIS FESTIVAL JOURNEY: In Ladakh the gold and copper toned bare rocks of the Ladakh, Karakorum and Zanskar mountain ranges, above the tree line, surround the high River valleys. On the horizon beyond are the pure white snow capped Himalayan and Karakorum mountain peaks under the azure blue sky. This amazing landscape very unique to this region, is found nowhere else in the whole world.
Ladakh, a far flung region in the northernmost part of India, has continued to be a haven for Tantric Mahayana Buddhism. Three ranges of the highest mountains of the world – Himalaya, Karakorum and Zanskar - merge in this land that stretches along the valleys of the Indus and Zanskar Rivers. Being difficult to access by land, this region escaped the attention of most of the invading armies that intruded in to India from the northwest over thousands of years. Nonetheless it was not completely cut off from the world because the Silk Route trade caravans of precious commodities from China and central Asia passed through Ladakh on their way to the Arabian Sea ports in Gujarat state before discovered Bombay (now Mumbai). Lying west of the Kailash Mountain, Hindu pilgrims to the abode of Lord Shiva passed through Ladakh. The Tibetan Buddhists on their way to the land of Lord Siddhartha Gautam Buddha passed Ladakh in the opposite direction. The art in the ancient Buddhist monasteries of Ladakh reflects the blend of Tibetan, Central Asian and Indian traditions. Tibetan Buddhism pervades the lifestyle of the people of this land where Tantric Mahayana/Vajrayan customs and religious culture have flourished unblemished by foreign influences.
The highlight of this fascinating tour of Ladakh is undoubtedly the festival to celebrate the birth anniversary of Lord Padmasambhava, the ancient Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to the Himalayan region, central Asia, China and the far east beyond. This two-day long celebration is held each summer in the largest monastery in Ladakh, the Hemis Gompa and you will have premium seats in the monastery courtyard.
This tour is not a mountain hiking expedition; nonetheless some walking on steep slopes is involved because most Buddhist monasteries are situated on the peaks of hills and mountains. The Ladakh valley itself is over 3,505 meters or 10, 500 feet above sea-level. Please consult your personal physician. Oxygen cylinders and medication against high altitude sickness are available in case they are required.
The only time to visit Ladakh is between May and September when the snow covered mountain roads are open to traffic. In 2016 the Hemis Tsechu (festival) is on July 14 and 15. Please call or email us for full schedule of this amazing journey this year.
Day 1, US International Airport: Departure
Day 2, Delhi:
On arrival in Indira Gandhi International Airport, the representative of our India tour operator will receive and transfer you to hotel in New Delhi for overnight.
Day 3, Delhi - Leh:
Transfer to airport to board the morning flight to Leh. Our local representative will meet, greet, assist and transfer us to your hotel in Leh. Leh city is located at an altitude of 3,505 meters or 10,500 feet above sea-level. Rest of the day is free to relax and acclimatize to the high altitude of Ladakh. Overnight in Leh.
Day 4, Leh - Stok - Shey - Thiksey:
After breakfast drive about 15 kilometers or 9.3 miles crossing the Indus River to its west bank to Stok Palace and Gompa (monastery). The royal palace dates from 1840's when the Dogra rulers conquered Stok and forced the King of Ladakh to retreat. Of the 80 rooms in the palace only 12 rooms are being used, of these the museum is housed in 3 rooms. It has an impressive collection of royal Thankas, some of which are 400 years old. Other artifacts in the museum are crown jewels, royal garments, coins and Peraks encrusted with Turquoise and Lapis-lazuli as well as a variety of Buddhist religious objects.
Return to the east bank of the Indus River and driver further south to Shey Gompa (monastery). It is situated at an altitude of 3,415 meters or 11,204 feet above sea-level.Shey was once the residence of the royal family. It was constructed by the first King of Ladakh, Lhachen Palgyigon. According to tradition, it was the seat of power of the pre-Tibetan kings. The 32 feet 9 inches or 7.5 meters high Shakyamuni Buddha's statue in this Gompa, made of copper and brass with gold plating, is the largest in the region. Behind this impressive statue are two other smaller idols of Buddha's disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. On the walls are large paintings of the 16 Arhats (enlightened disciples). Shey Gompa was built by Dalden Namgyal in 1650 as a funerary memorial to his father, King Singee Namgyal. The palace Gompa has the largest Namgyal Stupa, often referred to as the Victory Stupa. The top of this stupa is plated with gold. In front of this stupa is a butter lamp, that is never allowed to extinguish. There is an interpretation center where one can follow the history of the palace / Gompa. From the Shey Palace one has a panoramic view of the Indus River Valley.
After sightseeing of Shey palace/Gompa, drive further 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles south to visit the Thiksey Gompa, one of the largest in Ladakh. It was built somewhat earlier and restored in 1430 CE. It is home to 80 monks of Gelukpa order. It is situated on the peak of a craggy hill with an altitude of 3,600 meters or 11,800 feet above sea level. It holds a valuable collection of Tibetan manuscripts and art work including the 15 meters or 49.2 feet high statue of Maitreya, the compassionate future Buddha. It was consecrated in 1970 to commemorate the visit of the 14th. Dalai Lama. On way back visit Tibetan refugee center. Overnight in Leh.
Day 5, Leh - Spituk - Alchi:
After breakfast drive west from Leh along the scenic Indus river bank. The Spituk Gompa is situated at a distance of 8 kilometers or 5 miles from Leh. It was established by Gyalpo Bumide about 550 years ago. It is believed that the Mahakala Temple in this monastery is older than the rest of the structure, being probably built about 900 years ago. Most of the temples were built much later in 1970's. This Gompa is now run by Gelukpa or yellow hat Lamas. After the Chinese invasion of Tibet many ancient Thankas (Vajrayana Buddhist scroll paintings) and many other important relics from the Potala Palace in Lhasa were brought to this monastery for preservation. A stairway from the main courtyard of the Spituk Gompa leads to the Dukhang or main temple. The walls outside and in the interior this temple have images of fierce protecting deities. Among the images in a prominent position is the likeness of the Tsong-kha-pa, the founder of the yellow hat Lamas and his two main disciples along with an image of Buddha. There is also an image of Tara, the consort of the Avilokiteshwara. Inside there is a row of thrones for the Lamas, one of which is higher and is reserved to be used by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, although he has been only once to this Gompa.
After the visit drive about 25 kilometers or 16 miles further west and cross the Indus river to Alchi. The Alchi Gompa is a large complex of many temples. This is the only monastery in Ladakh that is located on flat ground and not perched on a mountain top. Some of the oldest Buddhist paintings are preserved in this Gompa. It is now run by the Gelukpa Lamas. Transfer to Alchi for overnight.
Day 6, Alchi Lamayuru:
After breakfast drive further west to Lamayuru village and Gompa for a full day excursion. It is among the oldest surviving Gompas of Ladakh. It is believed that it was originally established by Mahasidhacharya Naropa, a scholar from Nalanda University. It was later expanded by Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055). About 150 monks reside in the Gompa permanently. Return to Alchi for overnight in Alchi.
Day 7, Alchi - Leh:
After breakfast drive back to Leh. In the afternoon visit the Leh Castle and Palace, also known as Lhachen Palkhar. It was built under the reign of Dharmaraja Singey Namgyal in 1600 and is an impressive 9 storied building. In the town there is an Islamic mosque that is believed to be built on land granted by King Deldan Namgyal in 1600's. Overnight in Leh.
Day 8, Leh - Nubra:
Early morning drive 166 kilometers or 103 miles in about 6 hours to Nubra valley traversing the highest road in the world over the Khardungla pass at 5,602 meters or 18,379 feet above sea-level. Arrive at Nubra and check in at the hotel in Nubra Valley.
Day 9, Nubra sightseeing
After breakfast proceed for a visit to the white sand dunes at Hunder and enjoy the Bactrian 2-humped camel ride with amazing views of the snow capped Himalayas on the horizon. Visit Hunder and Diskit monasteries. In the evening a short trek will bring us to the Samstling monastery. Overnight in Nubra Valley.
Day 10, Nubra Valley to Leh:
After breakfast drive to Leh once again passing over the Khardungla, the highest pass in the world. Arrive and check in at hotel. In the late afternoon free time to walk in the Leh market or visit the Leh mosque. Overnight in Leh.
After breakfast drive 70 kilometers or 44 miles in about 1 ½ hours to Leh with a stop on the way to visit the Likir Monastery. Overnight in Leh.
Day 11, Leh - Hemis Festival:
Full day to enjoy the masked dances accompanied by cymbals, drums and long horns; prayers and other rituals of the Hemis festival in this ancient Buddhist monastery that is located at a distance of 45 kilometers or 28 miles from Leh. The Hemis monastery festival celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, who is believed to have protected the local people and monks from demons. Every 8 years the largest Thanka painted scroll is ritually taken out and hung in the courtyard of the monastery. The next unveiling of this Thanka will be in 2016. A colorful fair with local handicrafts is held on the sidelines of this festival. Premium place seats will be reserved for our group in the courtyard of Hemis Gompa. Overnight in Leh.
Day 12, Leh-Delhi-Agra
Transfer to airport to board the Kingfisher at 0810 IT 3342 (Jet Airways flight 9W1610) at 8.25 AM to arrive in New Delhi at 9.40 AM. Drive to Jama Masjid built by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. After sightseeing of the Friday Mosque, enjoy a Cycle Riksha ride in Old Delhi.
After lunch sightseeing of Qutub Minar and the tomb of second Mughal Emperor Humayun.
Drive past Rashtrapati Bhawan – residence of the President, the office of the Prime Minister, Parliament House and India Gate. Around 4.30 pm drive on the Yamuna Expressway to Agra. On arrival dinner and overnight in hotel in Agra.
Day 13, Agra:
Early morning a short drive will take us to the world famous Taj Mahal to view it at sunrise.
After breakfast visit a marble factory to see the traditional craftsmen working on inlay of semi-precious stones in marble.
After lunch sightseeing the Red Fort built by third Mughal Emperor Akbar and marvel at the white marble palaces in this fort that were added to it by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. Overnight in hotel in Agra.
Day 14, Agra-Fatehpur Sikri-New Dehi-US International Airport:
After breakfast drive about one hour to Fatehpur Sikri, the deserted capital of Mughal Emperor Akbar for sightseeing of the red sandstone palaces with a unique blend of predominantly Hindu and Jain features with Islamic architecture.
Later visit the Jama Masjid with the beautiful white marble tomb of the Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chistie in its massive courtyard. After the sightseeing drive further to New Delhi. Farewell dinner before the transfer to Indira Gandhi International Airport to board the return flight to US International Airport.
Luxury hotels: Radisson Mahipalpur in Delhi, Grand Dragon Ladakh in Leh, Ule Ethnic Resort in Alchi, Silk Route Cottages in Nubra Valley, Radisson Hotel in Agra with farewell dinner in Radisson Mahipalpur Delhi.
1st. Class hotels: Radisson Mahipalpur in Delhi, Ladakh Sarai in Leh, Ule Ethnic Resort in Alchi, Silk Route Cottages in Nubra Valley, The Retreat Hotel in Agra with farewell dinner in Radisson Mahipalpur Delhi.
Please call or email us for more hotel choices or changes in the itinerary to suite your time schedule.
SERVICES & FACILITIES INCLUDED:
- Assistance and baggage handling at arrival, departure in airports, hotels and tented accommodations
- Accomodation on double or twin occupancy basis with breakfast and dinner in Delhi and Agra
- Lunches in Delhi and Agra in city restaurants
- Round trip airfare from Delhi to Leh
- All meals during the stay in Ladakh with breakfasts and dinners in hotels or camps while the lunches could be at stops on the way or packed picnic lunches
- Transportation in Delhi and Agra with deluxe air-conditioned car with daily mineral water
- Transportation in Ladakh with non-air-conditioned Toyota Qualis or Scorpio 4WD or similar vehicles
- Services of a knowledgeable, good English speaking guide in Delhi, Agra and in Ladakh
- Premium reserved seats at the Hemis Festival
- Entrances to monuments in Delhi and Agra as well as in Ladakh
- Camel ride at Nubra Valley sand dunes
- Inner Line permits
- Farewell dinner
- All applicable luxury taxes in hotels as well as road tolls and taxes
- Round trip international airfare from a US international airport to New Delhi (Please call or email us for flight tariff)
- Single room supplement
- International travel insurance (highly recommended, we will give you the cost of travel insurance on receipt of your registration form
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in hotels and restaurants
- Telephone, laundry, internet and room service charges in hotels
- Transportation in Ladakh is prepaid, there will be no refund in case of cancellation of any segment of the tour due to bad weather or any other reason
- Tips to drivers and guides (recommended tip is about $ 3 to 5 per day per person)
Please call for tour price, payment and insurance information.