Hemis Gompa is a world heritage listed Hemis monastery located in the Himalayas. The Hemis Gompa has remained relatively untouched by ravages of modern life due to its high altitude – it is around 12,000 feet above sea level.

Hemis Gompa is a world heritage listed Hemis monastery located in the Himalayas. The Hemis Gompa has remained relatively untouched by ravages of modern life due to its high altitude – it is around 12,000 feet above sea level. This makes it one of the highest settlements in use by humans in the world. It predates the 1700’s and many of the buildings are in their original structural form. It is decorated with various murals painted in gold and naturally occurring pigments and compounds that have been manufactured using ingredients found in the immediate vicinity of the Hemis Gompa. The Hemis Gompa hosts an annual festival (known as the Hemis Festival) designed at bringing people in the vicinity of the monastery together and celebrating the birth of Guru Padmasambhava.

The Hemis festival is essentially a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and it is apparent that it takes its cues from Tibetan Buddhist traditions rather than Indian. During the festival monks adorn themselves with brightly coloured clothing and wear their formal monk wear. Men and woman also wear fairly ornate and intricate clothing for the duration of the festival. Families who make their way to the festival usually carry a variety of traditional meals and ingredients localised to the area. It is not unusual to see families hauling pots of yak-butter tea and tsampa. The Hemis festival is celebratory in nature and upbeat.

Celebrations include dancing and traditional brass instruments. Monks perform as devils, evil spirits and re-enact battles that depict good versus evil. The Lamas play an integral role in the celebratory performances and are dressed in finery that compliments the festivals nature. Although many of the dances performed are quite controversial and open to interpretation. The Hemis Gompa is actually decorated quite extravagantly – it is considered to be the richest monastery in Ladakh and its wealth is apparent in the various gold, silver and copper adornments that are on show.

The Hemis Gompa is actually quite a large establishment situated on the banks of the Indus River. It was founded by Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso (first incarnation). The Hemis Gompa is now owned and maintained by a group of Tibetan monks known as the Dugpa Order. The Dugpa Order is responsible for the safeguarding and maintenance of the many valuable relics that are kept at the Hemis Gompa. This is no small task as (stated earlier) the Hemis Gompa is home to a massive wealth of artefacts – some of which predate the Hemis Gompa.

Hemis Festival
Amongst the earliest, the Mangyu complex comprises four chambers. Within the main temple is an image of the Vairocona, with the four Buddhas of the directions around him. The main temple is entered through exquisitely carved wooden doorway. The walls here have paintings of mandalas of Vairocana. Other belongings of the temple include rare thangkas (scroll paintings on the cloth) of the Panchen Lama, brought from Tibet

Bringing the colorful shades of festivities in the barren, deserted land of Ladakh, Hemis festival is one event that greatly represents the analogy of Ladakh culture. Like the other popular festivals in Leh Ladakh, Hemis festival in Ladakh also marks the victory of good over evil. Just past the harsh winters of Ladakh, Hemis festival feels like a welcome respite, that lures thousands of tourists to this remote place. And what better way to understand the people and culture of a region, other than its festivals.

Dedicated to the birth of Buddhist Lord Padmasambhava, who is the founder of Vajrayana Buddhism in Ladakh, Hemis festival is celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month. Evident from its name, the celebrations of this renowned festival take place in the Hemis Gompa or monastery, which, along with holding a sacred status, is also the largest of its kind in Ladakh.

Main Attraction of Hemis Festival:
Depicting the tales of war between good and evil, the Chams or masked performers dominate the festival with their uproaring dance moves. They are dressed in bright colored attires and paper-mache masks. Synchronization of their dance with the sounds of the traditional music instruments, makes the event a lively and joyous affair. Not just a dance performance to bring in variety, the Chams hold a significant place in the Tantric traditions of Buddhism, therefore, are the prime attractions of Hemis festival.

With the rhythmic sounds of cymbals, drums and trumpets, celebrations of the Hemis festival commences early in the morning. Starting from peaceful prayers and rituals to Lord Padmasambhava as the main ceremony at the first place to the mystic mask dance, which are locally known as Chams, the festival beautifully displays the culture and religious orientation of Ladakh. Visitors at this time of the year in Ladakh are amongst the lucky ones as they get to attend such an auspicious festival, plus the unique handicrafts, that are sold in a hefty amount at the monastery, can add to their interest. Antique objects and artifacts like Buddhist idols, Tibetan gems and jewelry and hand woven dresses are some of the prime attractions of the numerous shopping stalls, temporarily set during the festival.