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A Himalayan Feast of Festivals

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October 2009
A Himalayan Feast of Festivals

It’s not the largest or the loudest, but the annual Ladakh Festival is most likely the world’s highest cultural jamboree.

It was held for two weeks last month in Ladakh’s capital, Leh, at a height of 11,500 feet in the Himalayas. Earlier, there was the Ladakh Confluence, a music festival that debuted in August this year. Celebrated over four days, though the final day was washed out, it attracted more than 60 artists from Mumbai to Shillong in India, and from other nations across the world, including Israel, Portugal, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and Switzerland. An open-air Drum Circle, led by the musicians of Tempo Tantrick, capped the festivities every day. With its eclectic line-up of music concerts, the Ladakh Confluence could perhaps be seen as an Indian Woodstock in the Himalayas.

The Ladakh Festival, on the other hand, focused heavily on local culture, with an aim to boost tourism. Hundreds of artists from the region took part in the activities. Colorful parades and traditional dance programs like Chams were a hallmark of the festival, as were the artifacts, photographs and Buddhist thangkas on display. On Polo Ground—the main venue for events—there was, you guessed it, a polo match. And not to forget, there was a motorcycle race to Khardung La, India’s highest pass for passenger vehicles.

On the second day of the Ladakh Confluence, Rajasthan Roots took to the stage “and displayed stellar percussion jams,” according to Sharin Bhatti of Indiecision, an Indian resource for independent music. “Tughlaq Khan, the maverick on castanets (clacking instruments), Marjong (voice bass instrument) and dholak, stole the show with his playful and heavy bass-line riffs. There wasn’t a hand in the crowd that wasn’t raised and a scream that wasn’t in tune?. Shaa’ir + Func followed with their best set under the chilly night sky. Terrakota, Portugal’s Afro-reggae carnival band, closed the night.”

Ladakh is also known for its distinctive, visually striking religious festivals that include Dosmoche (Festival of the Scapegoat), Losar (Ladakhi New Year) and Hemis Tse-Chu (Festival of Padmasambhava).


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