ex-Marine and I had to leave for the Hemis Festival a little before 8:00 a.m. to stake out decent seats. No problem since we were starving again and knocked off breakfast in no time flat. Erik and driver arrived at the Deskit Villa with packed lunches to eat at the Festival. FYI: I’ll be using “Gompa” and Monastery interchangeably through this series of Ladakh articles. Monasteries are called “Gompas” in Ladakh.
Driving in Ladakh is never boring and also takes forever to go short distances. The 45 km/28 mile drive took at least one hour on the good road with almost every car and bus headed in the same direction as we. The Hemis Tse Chu Festival is not only the largest and most popular festival in Ladakh, it is also the easiest to get to. Travels With Sheila is already considering exploring the sights of the remote Zanskar region next year to attend the Karsha Gu-stor Festival. Because Karsha Monastery is located high on the slopes in the Zanskar Mountains and difficult to get to, less tourists attend. We shall see…
The drive out of Leh headed in an easterly direction. Through a small town with meat hanging out in the sun and past a flat area filled with old and decaying, white stupas that were quite dramatic against the arid mountains…View image. The road to Hemis then passed small Stakna Gompa founded in the 16th century and situated on the right bank of the Indus River. The name, “Stakna” literally means “tiger’s nose” so named because the hill it was built on is shaped like a tiger’s nose. The majority of the gompa/monasteries in Ladakh were built on unbelievable pinnacles and outcroppings. A real act of faith and human labor.
The next astounding monastery appeared within seconds on the left hand side of the 4×4. The 15th century, 12-story hulk known as Thikse Monastery…View image. Thikse is the largest structure in central Ladakh and the different levels are arranged in an ascending order of importance. We stopped on the way back to Leh for a closer look (visited five years ago) but had to move along right now.
Across the Indus River on a bridge with prayer flags fluttering…View image, the car began “s-turning” it’s way up the barren landscape towards Hemis Monastery behind lines of cars, flat bed trucks converted into “taxis” for the day…View image, and extremely crowded mini-buses. Ladakhis were hanging out the windows, clutching sides…View image, sitting on top and hanging on for dear life on the back.
Let off at Hemis Monastery, Erik led the way up and through the crowds.