Ladakh - The Hemis Festival

Ladakh - The Hemis Festival

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 11 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Venture to the far north of India to the magical regions of Ladakh and Kashmir.  Experience the cultural attraction of the Hemis Festival in Leh where monastery lamas perform in richly adorned masks to a cacophony of drums, cymbals and long horns as the birthday celebrations of Guru Padamasambhava. We cross high mountain passes with stupendous vistas and travel to remote villages close to the border with Pakistan. We spend time in the fertile Nubra Valley, a green oasis of villages surrounded by harsh arid peaks. Add in crumbling old towns, magnificent centuries old monasteries and friendly locals you will be enchanted by this picture perfect corner of India.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●○○○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • Experience the colourful cultural event of the Hemis Festival in Leh
  • Cross the Khardong La Pass into the beautiful Nubra Valley
  • Travel to Turtuk and nearby villages close to the border with Pakistan
  • Atmospheric age old monasteries

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of comfortable small hotels (some locally family run), and a houseboat
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Delhi
End Point: Delhi
Transport: Private cars or buses, domestic flight
Countries: India

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.


Day 1 – Arrive Delhi

Arrive in Delhi, the capital of India, where you are met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at Taj Princess or similar – No meals.

Note – if you are arriving early into Delhi we can arrange different excursions. Please contact us for details.


Old Delhi was the capital of Moghul India between the 12th and the 19th centuries. You will find here a myriad of mosques, monuments and forts dating from the Moghul period of India's history. The medieval atmosphere of the bazaars of Old Delhi contrasts sharply with the open, spacious streets of New Delhi, the majestically proportioned imperial city, created as the capital of India by the British.

Day 2 – Delhi – Fly to Leh (Flight time – approx. 1½ hours)

Transfer to the airport for a flight to Leh in the remote region of Ladakh (15kg checked bag allowance and 7kg hand baggage). On arrival you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Depending on flight times on arrival there should be some leisure time and we will also take a gentle orientation walk of Leh and its bazaars. Overnight at Hotel Singge Palace Hotel or similar (B)


Leh’s strategic importance for trade – on the Indus river valley where the old trading routes from Kashgar, Tibet, and Kashmir meet – mean that it has probably been a significant mercantile base for over 1,500 years. However, it became isolated by the closure of the Chinese border in 1962 and the tensions with Pakistan have also contributed to its strategic demise. In 1974, it opened up to tourists and has now become a key springboard for exploration into the region as well as a growing Kashmiri trade scene. The former capital of India’s Buddhist Ladakh kingdom, Leh seems a world apart from the chaos and sprawl of Indian cities further south, having much more in common with the Tibetan lands to the north.  The authorities, mindful of the burgeoning wealth and development of Lhasa, are very keen to see Leh’s traditional Old Town architecture and Buddhist ways of life preserved. Lhasa is modernising and Leh is arguably a much clearer example of uninterrupted traditional building over many centuries. The town’s main style of Ladakhi building depends upon whitewashed walls and seemingly fragile mud-based brickwork.  With increased levels of rainfall battering the often precariously built dwellings, the precarious nature of Leh is all the more accentuated. All over the Old City, temples, palaces, stupas and fascinating architectural gems abound. This stands at over 3,500 metres, so, upon arrival, you will sense the altitude a little, as well as the gloriously crisp, clear Himalayan air. The climate is generally kind in the summer: highs are usually mid 20⁰s centigrade, falling to around 10⁰ at night, though it can occasionally be cooler. Most of the current 28,000 population live in the New City below and there is a dominant barley farming and livestock culture, all set against the peerless background of the Himalayan peaks.

Day 3 – Leh

This morning you will visit the bustling food market as part of a short city tour. Your route takes you along the main street where strikingly-clad Buddhist women, wearing tall, velvet traditional Ladakhi headgear chatter exuberantly whilst selling their wares. Slender backstreets wind their circuitous ways through the old city. As you walk, the presence of clusters of old dwellings is a constant; your exploration will lead to the 16th century Leh Khar Palace and its gompa, the Temple of the Guardian Deities. This is exquisitely perched on top of the hill and offers an unforgettable backdrop to the city’s earthen-bricked scatter of houses. Next on your itinerary is a visit to Shey, a few miles outside the city, the oldest of the monasteries and no longer in regular use. The monastery contains a magnificent statue of the Buddha seated in meditation which is 12 metres high and contained within three floors of the building. There will also be time to head 12 miles east of Leh to see the 800-year-old Thikse Gompa. Standing above the valley at 3,600 metres, this is an ideal place to witness Buddhist ceremonies: the lulling sensation of monks chanting their prayers is set to a more cacophonous backdrop of bells, clashing cymbals and eerie horn-blowing, making for an overwhelming experience. Overnight Hotel Singge Palace Hotel or similar (B)

Day 4 – Hemis Festival

The Hemis Gompa (monastery) is the largest, wealthiest monastery in Ladakh and the centre of the Kagyu lineage of Buddhism. It probably dates back to at least the 11th century, being restored in 1672. The main courtyard provides the setting for the famous 'Hemis' festival that marks the birthday of the celebrated Guru Padmasambhava, builder of the first, 8th century Buddhist monastery in Tibet at Samye. This vibrant two-day spectacle takes place the 10th day (Tse-Chu) of the fifth Tibetan lunar month. Local people arrive in droves for the occasion, adorned in their very finest traditional garb and perform acts of devotion under the canopy of countless streamers of prayer flags. Chhams (Lamas) perform fabulous masked dances and ritualistic plays accompanied by a huge array of percussion and the ceremonial long horns. Overnight at Overnight Hotel Singge Palace Hotel or similar (B)

Day 5 – Cross the Wari La to the Nubra Valley (Driving time – approx. 5- 6 hours)

After early breakfast you will meet guide and driver and leave for another visit to Hemis monastery to watch festival activities for couple of hours before heading to Nubra Valley via Sakti and crossing over the spectacular Wari La pass (5,342 m) one of the world’s highest motorable mountain passes situated in the North –East of the Ladakh valley. From the col, the magnificent views offer you a panorama which stretches far south over the Indus valley to the seemingly endless peaks and ridges of the Zanskar range, and north to the giants of the Saser massif, the highest of which, Saser Kangri I stands at 7,672 metres (25,17 ft). Please be prepared the road conditions near the pass on both sides is quite poor so be prepared for a bumpy ride. Descending from the pass, you head into the villages of Nubra Valley like Tangyar and Agyam villages. Here you will encounter the rare double-humped Bactrian camels once the backbone of transport along the ancient Silk Road. If time allows you may get an opportunity to ride on one of these camels amidst the sand dunes of this enigmatic high-altitude desert with the glistening white backdrop of pristine snow-capped mountains on the horizon. You stay overnight in a pleasantly located hotel in Hundar. Overnight at Karma Inn,or similar (BLD).

Nubra Valley

To the north of Leh lies the region of Nubra – an incomparably tranquil and remote confluence of the twin valleys of Nubra and Shyock, the region now is characterised by its surprising blend of arable fields and montane, arid desert.  The alabaster sands compliment perfectly the rugged chain of snow-clad Karakoram mountains which encircle the broad flood plains.  The valley once hosted a thriving trade between Leh and Yarkand in modern day China: Varanasi brocades, Chinese silks, pearls, spices, Indian tea, pashmina wool, salt, indigo, carpets, and even opiates and gold flooded through the Ladakh ‘land of high passes’, bringing trade, wealth and cultural diversity, all on the backs of the doughty Bactrian camel caravans, pony and yak trains. Estimates suggest that each year over 10,000 pack animals completed the Silk Road here, through the breathless, yet gloriously crisp air. Political unrest – the valley, having hosted skirmishes between Indai and Pakistan in the past, is reputedly the world’s highest battlefield – and the eventual closing of the Chinese border in the 1950s finally signalled the end to this source of income; instead the villages in the Nubra (‘green’) focused on agriculture, irrigating fertile fields of grain, peas, mustard, and trees such as walnut, apricot, apple and almond. In recent years, a small tourist trade has begun to put Ladakh and the Nubra back onto the international traveller’s map: the stunning scenery, religious sites and opportunities for outdoor activities are starting to be realised here.

Day 6 – Hundar – Excursion to Turtuk (Overall approximate driving time: 5 - 6 hours)

Today we start early to take a full-day excursion to Turtuk which is about as close as you can get to Pakistan in India, physically and culturally. This delightful village is crunched into the narrowing Shyok River valley in the furthest corner of India, right at the top of the country’s map. Only when the Indo-Pakistan war ended in 1971, was Turtuk (together with 5 other Balti villages) then included within the Indian line of border control. It remained off-limits until only a couple of years ago, keeping it well off the beaten track. Turtuk is in every sense a pioneering treat – culturally intact, untainted by tourism and simply delightful. The Muslim Balti inhabitants are exceptionally friendly, and this area offers excellent opportunities for photography of scarcely-visited people in beautiful surroundings. Overnight at Karma Inn, or similar (BLD)

Day 7 – Hundar – Kyagar - (Overall approximate driving time – 1½ hours)

Hundar, capital of the erstwhile 17th century Nubra kingdom, is home to the simply jaw-droppingly beautiful ruins of Chamba Gompa. In nearby Diskit you will visit the 14th century Monastery, set amidst the mild climate of ‘The Orchard of Ladakh’, and the prize possession of a succession of Ladakh kings who developed it and poured favour and finance upon it. The chief and oldest monastery in the Nubra, its rooms are bursting with thangka paintings, statues and effigies of the Buddha. From Hundar your route crosses the Shyok River and heads north to the Samstanling Gompa, set in the serene green meadows of Sumur village and boasting a restored 19th-century monastery. After lunch you continue to Panamik, a foremost halt on the caravan trade route, and celebrated for its medicinal hot springs.. Our final stop for the day is the village of Terith. As the sun sets if time allows, take time to explore the village which very few foreign tourists have been privileged to see. Here the welcoming local Ladakhi people are always delighted to see visitors. Overnight at Osay Khar Resort or similar (BLD)

Day 8 – Kyagar (Terith) – Leh – Alchi - (Overall approximate driving time – 5-6 hours)

After breakfast, start a spectacular drive from Nubra to Leh and Alchi, Initially road conditions are good before crossing the vertiginous and spectacular Khardong La (5,602m), feasibly one of the world's highest motorable mountain pass. From the col, the magnificent views afford you a panorama from the Khardongla top where you can enjoy the magnificent view of peaks and ridges of the Zanskar range, and north to the giants of the Saser massif, the highest of which, Saser Kangri I stands at 7,672 metres (25,171 ft.). Descending from the pass, road conditions are quite poor so be prepared for a bumpy ride. Head into South Pulu and continue the drive to Alchi, passing through Leh city. (BLD) Overnight at Zimskhang Hotel, or similar (BLD)


70km from Leh is the renowned 12th Century Alchi Monastery. Alchi is a monastic complex of whitewashed temples, stupas and dwellings which, unusually is situated on the valley floor around a leafy garden, rather than the typical cliff-top monastery setting.  Inside is a breath-taking array of ancient wall paintings and wood sculptures, much of which date back to the origins of the Gompa in the 10th and 11th centuries. The wealth of thousand year old artwork is all the more surprising since the majority of religious houses suffered iconoclasm, looting and destruction during the 14th century Muslim incursions. Today, five tiny mud-walled temples house a unique collection: the Dukhang (‘Assembly Hall’), the beating heart of monastic life, contains exquisitely carved doorways and colonnades, leads through a passageway of 1,00 Buddha paintings a room adorned with a myriad of beautiful pictures; in particular, seek out the amazing image of Tara in the Manjushri; around the site are a series of equally delightful chortens.  

Day 9 – Alchi – Lamayuru – Themisgaam - (Overall approximate driving time – 2½ hours)

The road from Leh to Srinagar negotiates high passes and fragile mountainsides. There are dramatic scenic and cultural changes as you make the dramatic transition from Buddhist, ascetic Ladakh, to Muslim, verdant Kashmir. Still in Ladakh, you travel as far west as Lamayuru, one of the most famous and spectacular gompas in Ladakh, perched on a steep cliff overlooking a strange and alien land formation called the 'moon landscape'. The first Lamayuru monastery was built at the end of the 10th century: in its heyday up to 400 monks were resident here, but today only 20 to 30 remain. You visit the newly renovated prayer hall. Returning east to Themisgaam, the richest valley of Ladakh, you will encounter a real bounty of horticulture here: apricots, apples and nuts are plentiful, and you will also visit a beautiful village with its gompa. You stay overnight at a hotel run by a Ladakhi family. The hotel is sprawled over a vast area of apricot and apple groves proffering a relaxed and rejuvenating atmosphere. Overnight at Namra Hotel, or similar (BLD)

Day 10 – Themisgaam – Leh - (Overall approximate driving time – 2½ hours)

After breakfast explore Themisgaam. Start with a steep climb uphill (most of the way we can drive if the road allows) to a local nunnery overlooking the fertile valley. Continuing uphill you reach the monastery of Themisgaam with its opulent and ornate interiors.  Built in the 15th century, the once thriving foundation is now run by a single monk-on-duty. Each year, the monk is changed, unusually the duties being shared between the yellow cap southern order and the red cap order of Tibetan Buddhism. Alongside stands the impressive Tingmosgang castle, sentinel over the Indus valley and all its trade influences, and palace of the kings of Ladakh before they moved their court to Leh. This afternoon, drive back to Leh. Overnight Hotel Singge Palace Hotel or similar (B)

Day 11– Leh – Delhi (Flight time – approx. 1½ hours)

This morning transfer to the airport for your flight back to Delhi (15kg checked bag allowance and 7kg hand baggage). End of services on arrival in Delhi.(B)

Note – if you wish to extend your stay in Delhi or perhaps make additional arrangements in a different part of India then please contact us for details.

Additional Extension to Kashmir (Subject to Foreign Office Advice, currently unable to offer this)

Day 11 – Leh – Srinagar - (Flight time – approx. 40 minutes)

This morning you transfer to the airport for your short flight to Srinagar. On arrival in Srinagar, you relocate to houseboats at Nagin Lake where you will stay for 3 nights on a full board basis. The Kashmir Houseboats generally have three bedrooms and a common dining and living area and a veranda bordering the lake. Overnight houseboat on Nagin Lake (BLD)

Kashmir Houseboats

The famous Kashmir Houseboats originated during the period of the British Raj. Kashmir's ruler would not allow the British to own land in his kingdom, so they adopted the solution of building houseboats as a compromise – each one a little bit of England, afloat on Srinagar's lakes. These soon evolved from modest floating homes to veritable floating palaces. They now range from 60 to 150 ft. (18-45m) long, are 15 to 20 ft. (4-6m) wide and each is unique. The cedar interiors are intricately carved and display the consummate artistry of Kashmiri craftsmen. The furnishings include embroidered native rugs and fabrics, local objets d'art, and solidly comfortable Victorian and Edwardian furniture.

The houseboats generally have three or four bedrooms, each with attached bathroom, electricity and modern plumbing. There is a common dining and lounge area, as well as a balcony at the front facing the lake. Quite a few houseboats have rooftops that are accessible. Some have gardens. These additional areas are appealing as they provide more space for guests. There is also a small kitchen, where the "boat captain" assigned to each houseboat is usually found, especially at meal times, when large numbers of local dishes will be served to you. Unlike houseboats in Kerala, these houseboats don't move. They're permanently docked on the lake. Houseboats docked lengthways along the lake will usually offer lake views from their bedrooms. Otherwise bedrooms will have a view of the neighbouring houseboat but their balconies will be fronting the lake.

Srinagar is the largest city in Jammu and Kashmir state and has traditionally been a summer escape for its wealthier population. The Kashmir Valley’s Jhelum River opens into the idyllic Dal and Anchar lakes, on which much of the city is centred. In constant evidence along the shorelines are Kashmir's famous houseboats. During the Raj period the Kashmir Maharaja’s refusal to grant the British land ownership led to the ingenious move to creating these beautiful water-dwellings, still Kashmir's most delightful accommodation option, earning it the epithet of ‘Venice of the East’. The lakes fringes also offer wetlands which abound with birdlife, particularly in the autumn and winter when tens of thousands of migratory species arrive from Siberia. Srinagar was probably founded in the 1200s but it was not until the 14th century that the period of Muslim settlement and lordship began. Since then, Islamic rulers have sat on the princely Kashmiri throne and it has been this controversy over the state’s inclusion in the 1947 newly independent India, rather than Pakistan which has fuelled so many acrimonies and military clashes. Modern Srinagar is thriving with over a million inhabitants. Tourism provides important revenue, but it has also become known for its dried fruit, nut and craft exports and is a thriving, increasingly modern melting pot of cultures.

Day 12 – Moghul Gardens

This morning you visit the gardens for which Srinagar is famed. The Mughal emperors created elaborate and dramatically terraced hillside gardens, designed around fountains and water courses which were formed by natural springs or streams. There are three gardens within easy reach of Srinagar, on the eastern side of the Dal Lake: Chashmashahi, Nishat and the world-famous Shalimar Bagh. Higher up, at the top of the of Zabarwan mountain rangeyou can visit the Pari Mahal or ‘Angel’s Abode’ from where there are fabulous views of Dal Lake and the snowy ridge of the Pir Panjal Range. This afternoon there is the option to enjoy a relaxing ride by shikara (a roofed little boat, with plush pillows to lie on) for a tour of the lake. You will encounter floating gardens, fishermen, floating markets, beautiful houseboats, with, at every turn, the constantly amazing reflections of the mountains and clouds on the clear, quiet lake. Overnight houseboat (BLD)

Day 13 – Srinagar

Spend the day relaxing on the front deck of the boat and soaking up the Kashmiri atmosphere. There is nothing quite like Srinagar in the evening: the air swells with prayers rising from the numerous mosques around the city and the different coloured lights of the houseboats lend the lake an evocatively ethereal air. Overnight houseboat (BLD)

Day 14 – Srinagar – Delhi - (Flight time – approx. 1¼ hours)

Transfer to Srinagar airport to connect with your onward flight to Delhi. On arrival at Delhi airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at Taj Princess or similar (B)

Day 15 - Departure

Transfer to the airport for your departure flight (B)

Arrival and departure transfers
Transport throughout as listed
Services of English speaking guide/ tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Domestic flight Delhi-Leh-Delhi (15kg checked bag allowance and 7kg hand baggage).

International flights
Travel Insurance
Meals not included in the itinerary
Items of a personal nature
Tips (discretionary)

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