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, which is divided into two parts; the crumbling city of Old Delhi and the orderly well-planned New Delhi. Overnight at Florence Inn / Taj Princess or similar

Old Delhi was the capital of Moghul India between the 12th and the 19th centuries. You will find here many mosques, monuments and forts of 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 imperial city created as the capital of India by the British.

Day 2 – Delhi – Fly to Leh
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. Overnight at Glacier View / Hotel Kang-la-chen or similar (B)

Day 3 – Leh
This morning we visit the market on a short city tour. Along the main street the Buddhist women with their tall hats chatter freely as they sell vegetables. Narrow lanes veer up and wind their way through the old city. We pass old dwellings clustered together and visit the 16th century Leh Khar Palace and its gompa, the Temple of the Guardian Deities perched on top of the hill. Though ruined and austere for ages, Leh Palace still makes an unforgettable backdrop to the mud city. We then visit Shey, the oldest of the monasteries and not in regular use. The monastery contains a two story high statue of the Buddha seated in meditation. We also visit the twelve storey 800-year-old Thikse Gompa. This is a good place to witness religious ceremonies. It's a magical moment when the monks say their prayers amidst mystical chanting, the ringing of bells, the clashing of cymbals, and the blowing of horns. Overnight at Glacier View / Hotel Kang-la-chen or similar (B)

Day 4 – Hemis Festival
The Hemis monastery is the biggest and wealthiest monastery in Ladakh. Colourful flags flutter in the breeze from the four pillars in the courtyard. This is the stage for the famous 'Hemis' festival that celebrates the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava. The colourful two-day pageant falls on the 10th day (Tse-Chu) of the Tibetan lunar month. The local people dress up in their finest traditional garb for the occasion. Lamas called 'chhams' perform splendid masked dances and sacred plays to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and long horns. The head lama presides over the function. Overnight at Glacier View / Hotel Kang-la-chen or similar (B)

Day 5 – Cross the Khardong La to the Nubra Valley
After breakfast meet your guide and driver and begin your spectacular drive from Leh to the Nubra Valley, crossing the Khardong La (5,602m), possibly the world's highest motorable mountain pass. From the pass, one can see all the way 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. After crossing the Khardong La Pass, you descend to the villages of Nubra, which were important stops for rations along the Silk Road to Central Asia. Here we can find the rare double-humped Bactrian camels once used for transport on the Silk Road. You will have an opportunity to ride on one of these camels amidst the sand dunes of this high altitude desert with snow-capped mountains on the horizon. You stay overnight in a pleasantly located hotel in Hundar. The hotel has a lovely garden where you can relax and enjoy evening tea. Overnight at Karma Inn or similar (BLD)

Nubra Valley
North of Leh, the Nubra Valley is a sublime mixture of cultivated fields set in an arid desert that glows with white sand surrounded by the Karakoram Range and sliced by rivers. The villages in the Nubra (meaning green) Valley are irrigated and fertile, producing wheat, barley, peas, mustard for oil, and a variety of fruits and nuts, including apple, walnut, apricot and even a few almond trees. Before partition, the Nubra Valley was a centre for trade, as the famous Silk Route passed through this area. Every year, over 10,000 pack animals - horses, yaks, Bactrian camels, and an especially sturdy breed of local sheep - traversed the Nubra region, carrying Varanasi brocades, Chinese silks, pearls, spices, Indian tea, pashmina wool, salt, indigo, opium, carpets, and gold.

Day 6 – Hundar - Excursion to Turtuk
Today we take a full day excursion to Turtuk (approximately 3 hours’ drive from Hundar). Turtuk is about as close as you can get to Pakistan in India, physically and literally. This delightful village is crunched into the narrowing Shyok River valley in the furthest corner of India, right at the top of the map. Only when the Indo-Pakistan war ended in 1971, Turtuk (together with 5 other Balti villages) was then included within the Indian line of border control. It remained off limits until a couple of years ago and keeping it well off the beaten track. Turtuk is in every sense a 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 unusual people in beautiful surroundings. Overnight at Karma Inn or similar (BLD)

Day 7- The Samstanling Gompa and the sacred Yarab Tso Lake
Hundar was the capital of the erstwhile Nubra kingdom in the 17th century, and is home to the ruined Chamba Gompa. In nearby Diskit we visit the 15th century Monastery. This is the most important monastery in the Nubra Valley, and the various rooms are full of thangkas, statues and effigies of the Buddha, and old mural paintings. From Hundar we cross the Shyok River and head further north to the Samstanling Gompa, in a peaceful location overlooking the green fields of Sumur village. Parts of the 19th-century monastery have been recently restored, and feature impressive images. Next is the sacred Yarab Tso, which is popularly known as the hidden lake. From the road we take a short 15 minute walk to the shore of the lake. The lake is very beautiful and a great place for a picnic lunch. We continue to Panamik. This was a major halt on the caravan trade route, and is now well known for its medicinal hot springs. Tonight we stay in a family-run hotel at the edge of Kyagar village. A late afternoon stroll through the village and the surrounding greenery is a fascinating and restful experience. As the Nubra Valley opened to foreign tourists only relatively recently, the friendly local Ladakhi people are always pleased to see visitors. Overnight at Rimo Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 8 – Kyagar – Leh - Alchi
Today we cross the Khardong La again to return to Leh and continue to Alchi where we stay the night in a traditional hotel close to Alchi Monastery. Overnight at Zimskhang Hotel or similar (BD)  

70km from Leh is the famous 12th Century Alchi Monastery. Alchi is a religious enclave which houses an extraordinary wealth of ancient wall paintings and wood sculptures. Barely a handful of the monasteries founded during this era escaped the Muslim depredations of the 14th Century, but the Alchi treasures were miraculously preserved for over nine centuries inside five tiny mud-walled temples.

Day 9 – Travel to Lamayuru - Themisgaam
The road from Leh to Srinagar negotiates high passes and fragile mountainsides. There are dramatic scenic and cultural changes as you go from Buddhist, ascetic Ladakh, to Muslim, verdant Kashmir. Still in Ladakh, we 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 lived in the monastery but today there are only 20 to 30 left. We visit the newly renovated prayer hall. We return east to Themisgaam, the richest valley of Ladakh. Apricots, apples and nuts are plentiful here, and we will 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 rendering a relaxed and rejuvenating atmosphere. Overnight at Namra Hotel or similar (BD)

Day 10 – Return to Leh
This morning we explore Themisham. We have a steep climb uphill to a local nunnery overlooking the fertile valley. Continuing uphill you reach the two monasteries of Themisgam, one belonging to the yellow cap order and the other to the red cap order of Tibetan Buddhism. One of the monasteries was the palace of the kings of Ladakh before they moved to Leh. This afternoon we drive back to Leh. Overnight at Glacier View / Hotel Kang-la-chen or similar (B)

Day 11 – Fly to Delhi
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.


Day 11 – Fly to Srinagar

This morning we transfer to the airport for your short flight to Srinagar. On arrival in Srinagar we transfer to houseboats at Nagin Lake where 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 in a 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. long, are 15 to 20 ft. 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 objects 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 centred on the idyllic Dal Lake and Nagin Lakes, where you'll find one of Kashmir's favourite attractions - its houseboats. During the Raj period the Kashmir Maharaja refused to grant the British permission to own land here. Instead, they built houseboats - each one a little piece of England afloat on the lakes, and still Kashmir's most delightful accommodation option.

Day 12 – Moghul Gardens

This morning you visit the gardens for which Srinagar is famous for. The Mughal emperors created 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 Shalimar Gardens. There is also the Pari Mahal 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'll see floating gardens, fishermen, floating markets, more off beautiful houseboats and the amazing reflections of the mountains and clouds on the clear, quiet lake. Overnight on the houseboat (BLD)

Day 13 – Srinagar

Spend the day relaxing on the front deck of the boat and soaking up the Kashmiri atmosphere. There's nothing quite like Srinagar in the evening: the air fills with prayers from the numerous mosques around the city and the different coloured lights of the houseboats give the lake an evocative feel. Overnight on the houseboat (BLD)

Day 14 - Return to Delhi

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 Florence Inn or similar (B)

Day 15 - Departure

Transfer to the airport for your departure flight (B)

Arrival and departure transfers
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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