I followed the performers all the way to the Polo Ground where the inaugural ceremony was to take place. The Ladakh Festival started off with a few long winding speeches from the master of the ceremony and obscure dignitaries. Fortunately, free refreshments were handed out by the organizers and this kept the audience active until the dazzling cultural programme started.
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The Ladakh Festival inauguration ceremony
The ceremony began with a beautiful spring flower dance, followed by palm plate dance, balancing dance, and the famous masked dance. First was the welcome dance followed by the spring flower dance, palm plate dance, balancing dance. All the dances belonged to different tribes from various parts of Ladakh and the beautifully attired performers trooped in flashing costumes, taking small birdlike steps. All the dances except for the high-energy Cham seemed to have slow, languid steps moving to a chant-like music, with some having balancing bowls and plates skillfully placed on their hands and heads while dancing.
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Can there be a better start of a Ladakh trip?
The other exception was the Tibetan Refugee lion mask dance and it was one of the most photogenic performances of the Ladakh Festival inauguration ceremony. The inauguration ceremony ended with a parade of polo teams and a huge group dance, and I walked back to my hotel with a happy, tired smile. After two days of struggling with road weariness and altitude sickness on the Srinagar-Leh highway, it was the most incredible start of my Ladakh trip. I could not have asked for more.
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Travel Tip for the Ladakh Festivals
Ladakh celebrates some of the most intriguing and colourful festivals in India. Sindhu Darshan, Tak-Tok, Phyang, Ladakh Festival, Losar, Dosmoche, and Hemis are the most popular ones. The Ladakh tourism board diligently puts up the yearly festival calendar on their website for tourists to explore and appreciate their unique culture. These festivals are extremely popular and it is advisable to book accommodations early as the hotels get sold out fast. Though easily DIY (do-it-yourself), Ladakh festivals are best enjoyed with the help of a local. Homestay hosts are the best bets and the festival schedules/programs are handed out by all the hotels or can be taken from any tour agent in Leh. The Hemis Festival is the most spectacular monastery festival. The highlight of this festival is the Masked Dance, performed by the lamas, in which the performers wear bizarre costumes and brightly painted grotesque masks while dancing in slow steps. The music is characteristically punctuated with sounds of cymbals, drums, and trumpets.
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