Rangdum Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery belonging to the Gelugpa sect, situated on top of a small but steep sugarloaf hill at an altitude of 4,031 m (13,225 ft) at the head of the Suru Valley, in Ladakh. It is next to the tiny village of Julidok, and about 25 km from the 4,400 m (14,436 ft) Pensi La (pass) which leads into Zanskar.According to an inscription the monastery was built by Gelek Yashy Takpa during the reign of King Tsewang Mangyul of Ladakh about 200 years ago. Although it is physically in the Suru Valley, it is culturally part of Zanskar. Because one cannot count on crops being harvested due to the brief summer, both the village and the monastery depend on supplies, other than locally produced dairy, brought up the largely barren Suru Valley, or over the 4,400 metre (14,436 ft) Pensi La pass from Zanskar. The monastery is home to about 30 monks !!
Drass (3230 m), is situated about 60 kms. west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar. Drass is a small township lying in the centre of the valley of the same name, surrounded by many small villages Matayen is the first village after Zoji La pass. Mostly the habitants of Matayen village migrates during winter to different places of jammu Kashmir and ladakh. Mateyn is the base camp for traders during the month of march when local traders carry vegetables and other food stocks on their horses across the zojila pass It has become famous as the second coldest inhabited place in the world due to the intense cold and snowfall that descends upon the valley during winters. In winters, the temperatures sometimes go down to minus 50 degrees and heavy snow and strong winds cut off the town. The Drass valley starts from the base of the Zojila pass, the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh. For centuries its inhabitants are known to have negotiated this formidable pass even during the most risky period in the late autumn or early spring, when the whole sector remains snow-bound and is subject to frequent snow storms, to transport trader’s merchandise across and to help stranded travellers to traverse it. By virtue of their mastery over the pass they had established a monopoly over the carrying trade during the heydays of the Pan-Asian trade. A hardly people enduring with fortitude and harshness of the valley’s winter, the inhabitants of Drass can well be described as the guardian’s of Ladakh’s gateway. The inhabitants here are Dard and Muslims. There is a bank and tourist bungalow in Drass.
Drass is a convenient base for a 3-day long trek to Suru valley across the sub-range separating the two valleys. This trek passes through some of the most beautiful upland villages and flower sprinkled meadows on both sides of the 4500 meters high Umbala pass, which falls enroute. The trek to the holy cave of Amarnath in neighbouring Kashmir, which stars from Minamarg below Zojila, takes 3 days and involves crossing of 5200 mts.
A shepherd or sheepherder is a person who tends herds, feeds, or guards’ herds of sheep. Sheepherding is among the oldest occupations, beginning some 5,000 years ago. Sheep were kept for their milk, meat and especially their wool. In many societies, shepherds were an important part of the economy. Unlike farmers, shepherds were often wage earners, being paid to watch the sheep of others. Shepherds also lived apart from society, being largely nomadic…. Shepherds would normally work in groups either looking after one large flock, or each bringing their own and merging their responsibilities. They would live in small cabins, often shared with their sheep, and would buy food from local communities, for a shepherd his flock of sheep’s are his friend’s. Less often shepherds lived in covered wagons that travelled with their flocks. Food planned for the flock. One of the principal duties at all seasons of the year is for the shepherd to plan food for his flock. In the springtime there is an abundance of green pasture, and usually the sheep are allowed to graze near to the village where the shepherd’s home is located. After the grain is reaped, and the poor have had an opportunity to glean what is left for them, then the shepherd brings in his flock, and the sheep feed on certain fresh growths, or dried blades, or an occasional ear of grain that the reapers may have left, or was overlooked by the gleaners. When this source of food is exhausted then the pasture is sought in other places. Sheep’s have always been valuable because of the important products that are derived from them. Life of a shepherd is quite tough but peaceful and adventurous.
Festivals of Ladakh are an important part of life there which mark several occasions such as harvesting, commemoration of the head Lamas of the founding monastery, New Y,ear etc.The festivals of Ladakh conducted by various monasteries often have religious masked dances which are an important part of Ladakh’s culture. The dances typically narrate a story between good and evil , which typically end up in victory of the former.
Hemis Festival : The most famous of all monastic festivals in June (a three day affair) to commemorate birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. The sacred dance drama of the life and mission is performed wearing facial masks and colorful brocades robes. The monkey year festival is a special treat which comes at a cycle of 12 yrs. The four-storey Thanka of Guru Padmasambhava is displayed during the festival.
Thiksey, Karsha and Spituk Gustor: Gustors takes place all the three monasteries at different times of the year. A two day celebration, to mark the victory of good over evil. Gustor literally means “Sacrifice of the 29th day” and it ends with burning of effigies representing evil.
Dosmochey : Celebrated with much fervor and delight in the month of February at the courtyards of majestic Leh Palace. Masked Lamas from different monasteries perform the Chams every year turn by turn. This festival is also celebrated at the Diskit monastery and the Likir with great enthusiasm. The start and end of the Tibetian calendar marks the occasion.
Matho Nagrang: Matho Monastery of Leh Ladakh hosts the Matho Nagrang Festival, on an annual basis. The festival takes place on the 14th and 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. All the monks participate in the sacred dances, performed at this annual event. The festival is famous because of appearance of the two oracles during the festival after a full month of meditation in complete isolation. Matho Monastery also boasts of housing an amazingly rich collection of four hundred years old Thankas.
Stok Guru Tsechu : Also held in February, a week before the Matho Nagrang. Monks from Stok monastery perform masked dances, but the highlight being appearance of two oracles who are laymen prepared and cleansed by the lamas to receive the spirit of the deities.
Phyang Tsedup : This festival is held in the Phyang monastery in July/August. The monks as usual perform the Chams but the festival gets its popularity from the huge Thanka of Skyoba Giksten Gonbo hung during the celebrations.
Yuru Kabgyat: The two day festival is celebrated at the Lamaruyu monastery in the month of July. The lamas perform the masked dance or the Chams with great zeal .
Losar celebration : Losar stands for the Tibetian new year. The Losar festival is celebrated in the eleventh month of Tibetan calendar, two months ahead of Tibetan New Year. In early 17th century, King Jamyang Namgyal decided to lead an expedition against the Baltistan forces in winter; therefore he decided to celebrate the festival two months before. Later it became a tradition and being celebrated in the eleventh month. It lasts for over a month when Gods, deities, ancestors and even animals are fed without fail. Everyone in the family joins in for the celebration and if anyone is missing, they will have a cup of tea filled in their name.
Ladakh Festival: From September 1st to 15th every year in Leh and in the villages around, the Ladakh festival is celebrated in the grandest style. With cultural troupes performing from different parts of Leh, forming the part of the procession which leads to the Polo ground, for the big inauguration. Regular programs are held at the nearby villages during the 15 day period.
Sindhu Darshan: Sindhu Darshan is a three-day festival held from 1st to 3rd June, in Shey Manla around 8 kms. from Leh on the bank of Indus river (Sindhu Ghat). For the first time it was organized in October 1997, as a symbol of unity and communal harmony and national integration.
Ladakhi culture is heavily influenced by Tibetan culture, in fact it is quite similar. There are more Buddhists than Muslims in certain areas and the ratio changes as we move towards Zanskar valley. Ladakhi food has much in common with Tibetan food, the most prominent foods being thukpa (noodle soup) and tsampa, known in Ladakhi as ngampe (roasted barley flour).
A dish that is strictly Ladakhi is skyu, a heavy pasta dish with root vegetables. As currency started making its place in the economy of Ladakh, food from the Indian plains gained popularity. Tea in Ladakh is traditionally made with strong green tea, butter, and salt. It is mixed in a large churn and known as gurgur cha(Butter Tea), after the sound it makes when mixed. The milk and sugar based sweet tea made in Indian style is also common now. Most of the surplus barley that is produced is fermented into chang, an alcoholic beverage drunk especially on festive occasions.
Ladakhis are very fond of ice hockey which is generally played in the month of January on natural ice. Archery is a traditional sport and many villages still conduct archery festivals, which also include drinking, dancing and gambling as a medium of celebrating the sport. Polo is another traditional sport of Ladakh.
The architecture in Ladakh draw heavy influences from Tibet and India. The monastic architecture reflects a deeply rooted Buddhist approach. The Buddhist wheel, along with two dragons, is a common feature on almost every gimp, including the likes of Hemis, Thiksey, Alchi etc. Ladakhi Buddhist festival music is much like its Tibetian counterpart and often involves religious chanting. These chants are complex, often recitations of sacred texts in celebration of various festival