Thangkas are religious painted scrolls depicting Buddhist deities, traditionally done on cloth. Over the years, techniques like embroidery and applique have been added. They are believed to be pictures of the spiritual worlds. Thangka is a traditional form of Buddhist art with Tibetan, Indian, Chinese, and Nepalese influences. Hence there are different schools and styles. Various factors determine this – geography, availability of raw materials, socio-cultural influences and the schools of Buddhism they follow.

Q What is the purpose of Thangka paintings?

Thangkas communicate a message to the practitioner, serving as an aid to teaching and as an aid to meditation through the visualization of the deity. It is a medium through which Buddhist philosophy can be explained. Originally lamas and monks used scroll paintings to instruct the Buddhist Dharma (teachings).

Q What is the history of Thangka paintings?

To establish Buddhism in Tibet, in the 7th century, the Tibetan king Songsten Gampo married the Chinese princess Kongjo, who brought scriptures of Lord Buddha’s Teachings, sculptures and paintings, and with artists who came with her, also introduced a Chinese style of painting in Thangka.

Q What is a Thangka?

Thangkas are religious painted scrolls depicting Buddhist deities, traditionally done on cloth.

Q Which are the primary colors used?

The five colours are – red, green, yellow, blue and white. They are called primary or basic in Mahayana and are associated with the five primordial Buddha. They are also believed to represent the five elements of life- fire, water, air, earth and ether.

Q What are the rituals behind making Thangka?

Before the painting begins, the artist cleans his place and takes a bath. Then the canvas, paints and brushes are brought to the place. To bring out the best from his work, the artist makes an offering of water to his deity. This is followed by meditation to get purified.

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The original function of the Thangkas was to cure and protect people who are absorbed in looking at them, regardless of the mood in the scenes depicted. They are used in the prayer halls of monasteries and houses. The large Thangkas are displayed only during festivals. During the rest of the year, they are rolled up and safely kept away.

-Many works of Tibetan Buddhist art are connected with Tantric rituals and are regarded as tools for mediation and worship. Some art objects can be touched, owned, held and moved. Others are used to meditate on. These incorporate a “Circle of Bliss,” a sharing of power between the observer and the work of art.
-Tibetan art is expected to be a tool for enlightenment rather an expression of the self. John Listopadm an expert on Tibetan art told the Los Angeles Times, “Tibetan art is psychological art and meditational. It is an art, which works on people and their personalities. It can calm you down and help you find peace and balance.”


In Tibetan art, the emphasis is placed on the “sacred process” and devotional aspects of the work rather than the aesthetic qualities and originality of the finished product, as is often the case with Western art. Most works are done anonymously. Personal expression and the selling of Tibetan art are frowned upon.
It is said that only highly skilled master artists can paint and render by just reading a description of the deity in the scriptures. An average artist requires referring to the set of rules, an old work or drawings.
Broadly, only silk and cotton are seen all around the religion. From costumes to masks to offerings to coverings- one can find a whole range of silk and cotton products. In silk, heavily ornamented brocades are only used, which nowadays are made in Benares and Delhi. Traditionally, only handloom jacquard brocades were used in Buddhism for adorning the idols and lamas of highest orders. For monasteries and other holy purposes, however, traditional textiles are still adhered to.

Myths & Legends:

The mythology of Tibetan Buddhism has many tales of various spirits and demons. These representations of both good and evil qualities are depicted in the form of masks and their stories are enacted as masked dances during the annual festivals of various Gompas in Ladakh.

Much of Tibetan art is oriented towards Buddha, gods and merit. Many works have complex iconography and symbolism that requires extensive knowledge about Tibetan Buddhism to unravel. Buddhism in Tibet has believed in different iconographies for different purposes. The story begins with Mandalas and how they are used in various thangkas. –

-Thangka for Compassion, Green Tara– The Green Tara is often painted on Thangkas and her symbolism is deep yet simple. She can be considered as the Mother, ready to help and love all beings that pray to her. Considered as one of the most important deities in the Buddhist pantheon and widely revered in Tibet, her compassion is infinite. This article will try and shed some light on the symbolism of this Thangka.

-The Wheel of Life, Samsara – By Samsara (bhavachakra) we are talking of all existences that are conditioned by: ignorance, suffering and the unexplainable flow of time, often represented by Yama holding the wheel of life. Nirvana, on the other hand, represents the world unaffected by negative emotions, which by definition is the nature of happiness.

Dhyana (Samahita) Mudra: These meditation mudras symbolize the female left hand of wisdom of emptiness over which lays the male right hand of skillful means.

Samsara, The Wheel of Life Part 2– The Wheel of Life contains twelve unique images each linked to one another called ‘dvadasanga pratityasamutpada’ or the 12 Interdependent Factors. These can be found on the outer most circle, each image has its own symbolism to help us better understand Samsara.


Historians state that Dards made West Tibet their home in the 4th and 5th centuries. They say that these people migrated along the course of the Indus River and that they introduced irrigation and settled communities. Colonial historians placed almost all peoples and languages of the Upper Indus River into one pot and defined Tibetans as Baltis, later obscuring and simplifying distinct identities by introducing three other terms, “Dard, Dardistan, and Dardic,” which in truth do not occur in classical sources and were never mentioned before.

It is not clear when the first Buddhist communities were established in Ladakh. The site of His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, write, “Starting about the 3rd century, Buddhism began to grow and spread outside India, adjusting to local cultures and the varying conditions of different countries. Buddhism began to take root in different countries in Asia as they came in contact with Buddhism from the early 2nd century B.C.E. Buddhism became nearly extinct in India, the country of its origin.”

History books concede that after the eastward propagation of Buddhism in the 7th century. Those overran Ladakh and its neighbors, fleeing westwards from the early Tibetan Tubo Kings. The chiefs of the Tubo Empire in Yarlung (which is situated in Central Tibet) had established an aristocracy and displaced the native inhabitants who had an independent state with its own language, literature, and culture; these people continue living in remote areas of Zhang Zhung in West Tibet proper, Kashmir, Ladakh, Zanskar, and the Himalayan regions of Nepal.

Buddhism in Ladakh is ancient and widespread and a popular theme for cultural tours in Ladakh. The population of Ladakh is predominantly Buddhist and Ladakh has been deeply influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, which follows the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools. In these forms of Buddhism, Buddha is worshipped a deity who has attained Nirvana (freedom from the cycle of birth and death). Various incarnations of Buddha, known as Bodhisattvas, are also worshipped in monasteries. Many tourists undertake trip to Ladakh to explore, understand and learn from the ancient Buddhism, which is practiced here. Some of the best frescoes are seen outside of Tibet in places like Mustang in Nepal and Ladakh in India. Many frescoes in Tibet were either lost or badly damaged in the Cultural Revolution.


Most Tibetan painting is in the form of murals and frescoes painted on monastery walls. They depict bodhisattvas, scenes from the life of Buddha, Tibetan gods, portraits of famous lamas, apsaras (angels) and demon-like dharmpalas stomping on human bodies.
The composition of paintings is often the same: a central image of Buddha, surrounded by smaller, lesser deities. Above the central figure is a supreme Buddha from which the central figure emanated.

Proportions are a very crucial part of Thangka paintings. These comparative measurements are standards for all deities.  The basic unit of measurement is called the Sor. Every artist decides his own Sor according to the scale of the painting.

The sizes of the Thangkas vary. The dimensions are rectangular with a vertical format for the depictions. The painted Thangka is always mounted atop a frame of brocades to be made into a scroll.

Thangkas (also spelled tankas) generally fall into 11 categories:

1) Mandalas
2) Tsokshing (Assembly Trees)
3) Tathagata Buddhas
4) Patriarchs
5) Avoliteshvara
6) Buddha-Mother and female Bodhisattvas
7) Tutelary deities
8) Dharma-protecting deities
9) Arhats
10) Wrathful deities
11) Other Bodhisattvas

The setting, the background, architectural elements, secondary figures are all executed with special aims and symbolic meaning. One thangka artist told the Japan Times, “There is no room for originality in thangka painting. The iconography, the colors, even the way you hold the brush—everything must be done just so.”

These are used in the Thangkas too have symbolism. The five colours are – red, green, yellow, blue and white. They are called primary or basic in Mahayana and are associated with the five primordial Buddha. They are also believed to represent the five elements of life- fire, water, air, earth and ether.

– White stands for peace and purity
– Yellow is a sign of prosperity and wealth
– Red denotes power, love and attachment
– Green stands for activities
– Blue denotes wrath.

Just like colours, the motifs also have a symbolism that is influenced by their religious, geographical and also political conditions. In Buddhist tradition, there are several symbols based on their landscapes, ceremonies, mythology, cosmology, and so on. Of these, eight symbols are of most importance, as they are also known as eight auspicious symbols of good fortune. They are believed to represent events in Buddha’s life. These symbols represent the offerings presented by the great Vedic Gods to Buddha upon his attainment of enlightenment. These are

– White parasol / Gdugs
Denotes royalty and protection

– A pair of golden fishes / Gser-nya
Symbolizing happiness and fertility

– A treasure vase / Gter-guibum-pa
Symbolizes wealth in abundance

– Lotus / Padma
Denoting purity and renunciation

– White conch shell / Dung-gyas-khyil
Referring to the supremacy of Buddha’s teachings

– Endless knot / Dpal be’u
Denoting Buddha’s endless wisdom and compassion

– Victorious banner/ Rgyal-mtshan)
Symbolizing Buddha’s victory over defilements

– Golden wheel/ Khor-lo
Refers to the wheel of dharma of Buddha’s teachings.

The paintings usually have one deity as the central figure. Various other elements are positioned around the central figure, their compositions holding various layers of meanings and connotations. A few prominent figures in the paintings are as follows

– Tara
Tara is the consort of Avalaoketeswara. She is believed to be the reincarnation of Buddha’s mother who came to bring Buddhism back to Tibet, 1000 years after the death of Buddha. She appears in many forms in the paintings, the main colours used being green and white.

– Avalaoketeshwara
He is the thousand-armed god of fertility. The arms are symbolic of his compassion for living beings and his wisdom. Tantric Vajrayana Buddhism considers compassion as masculine and wisdom as feminine. Therefore this deity also embodies both sexes.

– Mahakala
This is a wrathful manifestation of Shiva, one of the most important gods of Hindu and Shamanistic worlds. In Buddhism, he is believed to be the guardian of Buddha’s teachings.

A mandala is a form of Buddhist prayer and art that is usually associated with a particular Buddha and his ascension to enlightenment. Regarded as a powerful center of psychic energy, it symbolizes the macrocosm of the universe, the miniature universe of the practitioner and the platform on which the Buddha addresses his followers.
A typical mandala measures five feet across and contains a pictorial diagram of Buddhist deities in circular concentric geometric shapes. Many are shaped like a lotus flower with a round center and eight pedals, with a central deity surrounded by four to eight other deities who are manifestations of the central figure. Consorts often accompany the deities. In large mandalas there may several dozen circles of deities, with hundreds of deities.
Mandalas can be painted, constructed of stone, embroidered, sculptured or even serve as the layout plan for entire monasteries. It is believed that the tradition of making mandalas was derived from ancient folk religions and Hinduism.
Most mandalas are destroyed after a few hours or days. The destruction of mandalas after a short time ties in with the Buddhist idea that nothing is permanent and things are always in a flux and one should not become too attached to things because they will disappear and bring unhappiness.

Motifs in the brocades
Commonly used motifs in brocades are:
Duk – dragon
Palpi – swastika
Pema Chandan – large yellow lotus
Tanka – circular motifs
Khati – red geometrical design
Dukkhabral – two dragons face to face
Yungdu Lokyu – interlocked swastika
Singe – snow lion
Makala – black face
Chadukh – a combination of peacock and dragon
Rosonatta – elaborate floral pattern


Damage was particularly likely, given the tendency of Tibetans to travel long distances in harsh conditions. Thangkas were important articles of the tent culture of nomadic monastic groups in medieval Tibet. This was good for the people but intense for the thangkas! Rolling and unrolling was, and still is, unavoidably damaging for thangkas. Rough handling and damp walls damaged both the paintings and their mountings, in medieval Tibet and today as well.

These incredible works of art always were, and currently are integral to the Himalayan culture and way of life. However, the current reality is that due to a variety of reasons, including political turmoil and economic conditions, there are far fewer trained practitioners of this art. The art of Thangka painting is gradually becoming extinct. Given the rigors of training required to become an accomplished painter, and the fact that there are far fewer commissions, students and practitioners of this art, today are unable to rely solely on Thangka painting as a way of life. This tradition is in serious danger of being lost with time, unless more individuals choose to support the art by the commissioning of Thangkas or by other means.

Introduction Process:

A thangka is a complicated, composite three-dimensional object consisting of: a picture panel which is painted or embroidered, a textile mounting; and one or more of the following: a silk cover, leather corners, wooden dowels at the top and bottom and metal or wooden decorative knobs on the bottom dowel.

Raw Materials:

Canvas: Cloth is sewn onto four lengths of bamboo, which are strung to a large wooden frame.
Paints: Five primary colours are used. Traditionally, the materials included a variety of mineral and vegetable substances: minerals, precious stones, bark, leaves, flowers (especially the rock rose), gold, silver, copper, etc. Each had to be collected from its source in different areas of Tibet, cleaned, ground, powered, crushed or cooked.  Nowadays, artists in exile tend to opt for chemical based pigments, easily available for purchase. In an attempt to preserve the genuine tradition of Tibet, I use natural materials as far as possible in my work.
Gold or paint: Globules of gold are bought and put in a mortar with water and grain sized pieces of marble or glass.
Brocade: To mount the painting on.

Tools & Tech:

Paint brushes: For painting on rough surfaces, brushes were made out of Nama grass, a tough grass growing along riverbanks. For medium soft brushes, the hair of horses’ tails was uses. For soft brushes of any size, the tufts of hair growing above goats’ hooves, the fine hair inside cows’ ears, the fur of otters, the very soft feathers of mountain songbirds, and the fur of brown and black cats (especially in India where the other hair and fur is not available) are perfect for painting.
Canvas Frame: The canvas frame is made from hardwood and has holes drilled on all four sides for the rope holding the canvas in place to pass through so as to get tied on the corners.
Stone and/or Glass piece: This is required to rub the cloth to prepare it for the painting, so as to make it work like a canvas.


Before the painting begins, the artist cleans his place and takes a bath. Then the canvas, paints and brushes are brought to the place. To bring out the best from his work, the artist makes an offering of water to his deity. This is followed by meditation to get purified.
Thangka painting is a honed skill and one cannot be a Thangka painter without necessary training. The person, who intends to be a professional painter, needs to undergo training of many years under a guide or in a school before he is eligible to paint them. It is also only for people with their faith in Buddhism. Sometimes, monks engage themselves in training at a very young age. An artist who paints Thangka adheres to a strict moral code. He should be borne with modesty and a high devotion towards religion. Sound senses and cleanliness of body and mind are required to paint a Thangka. Some subjects even require abstinence from meat, alcohol, onion and garlic.

The final step of Thangka making is what distinguishes Tibetan Buddhist practice from ordinary “idol worship.” The practitioner takes his or her newly completed thangka to a highly realized Buddhist master and makes offerings to request the master’s blessings.
The master, endowed with the clear mind of enlightenment, is able to “bring alive” the image on the thangka by infusing it with energy and beseeching the deity to open its eyes and look upon all sentient beings. The thangka, having now been properly consecrated, is a receptacle of wisdom. It is ready to be hung and venerated as a genuine living embodiment of enlightened mind. It is important to note that this final step is only necessary if the thangka artist himself is not acknowledged as a realized being. Over the centuries, many important Buddhist masters have intentionally taken rebirth as thangka painters, and if such an artist creates a thangka, the very mind of the artist naturally consecrates the image being painted. In such cases, there is no need to seek the services of a lama for an additional consecration.  These are the steps provides a guide in achieving the desired visual effects required for the creation of quality thangka. However, one must remain aware that it is essential to combine these processes with the correct motivation, philosophy and creative ability to obtain a Thangka of excellence.


A thangka is a complicated, composite three-dimensional object consisting of: a picture panel which is painted or embroidered, a textile mounting; and one or more of the following: a silk cover, leather corners, wooden dowels at the top and bottom and metal or wooden decorative knobs on the bottom dowel. Tibetan painting has been influenced by art from China, Central Asia and Nepal but is regarded as closest to the original Buddhist art that evolved in India but is now all but lost.

A locally available Lattha is used for the Thangka. It is then stretched on a frame. Saresh, a local gum and whilet clay is mixed and painted with a rag. This canvas is then rubbed with a stone; water is poured continuously to smoothen the surface for painting.
The canvas is stretched over a wooden frame using a cord that allows tension to be adjusted after the cloth has been sealed with a moist mixture of chalk and gesso. The surface is polished with a smooth stone or glass, until the underlying texture of the canvas is no longer apparent. The design for the painting is then drawn directly onto the taut surface using charcoal or pencil. Once the initial sketch is complete, the lines are redrawn in ink and the details are refined. Colours are applied, beginning with the distant planes of the painting and completed with GOLD embellishments. When the painting is finally complete, it is mounted in silk brocade.

1) The cloth to be painted undergoes a complex process of preparation that takes between 14 to 20 days depending on local climatic conditions. In India’s foggy Himalayan foothills, canvasses for the whole year must be made in the dry months of March, April, October and November. If a canvas is improperly prepared, the entire thangka will be a failure. First, the cloth is carefully sewn onto four lengths of bamboo, which are tightly strung to a large wooden frame. The artist then spreads a cost of glue over the whole canvas and leaves it to dry. He stirs up a mixture of white clay, water and glue in a clean pot to the consistency of thick cream. Blessed medicines or other sacred substances are added if available. The mixture is then strained through fine gauze to remove any impurities and applied evenly to the dry canvas.

2) When this second coat has dried, the canvas is held up to the light and the areas that have not been evenly coated are patched up with more of the clay mixture and again left to dry. This process is repeated 8-10 times until the entire canvas is evenly coated.  The canvas is then laid upon a smooth wooden board and a small area is moistened with water using a soft white cloth. Section by section, the artist vigorously rubs the canvas smooth with a piece of white marble, moistening it with water as he works. This takes about an hour. The entire canvas is then slowly are carefully stretched by tightening the strings tied to the frame and left to dry in indirect sun.

3) Once dry, the entire procedure is repeated for the other side of the canvas, stretching it after each moistening and leaving it to dry. When it has been thoroughly treated and dried, the canvas should be so tightly stretched that it makes a nice drum sound when tapped. This is the sign it is ready to be painted. The front of the canvas is then polished with a conch shell. .

4) At this stage the artist bathes, takes purification vows at dawn, meditates upon his tutelary deity, and performs rituals to clear away obstacles and harmful spirits. Having studied the description of the image to be painted in a religious text and consulted a lama about any confusing details, the artist recites the sacred syllables of the Buddha or deity in question and begins to draw.

5) Ideally, the artist recites these syllables and visualizes the deity for the full duration of the creation of the thangka. If this is done in a genuine way, the thangka is very different from an ordinary work of modern art and is inherently highly sacred. The foundational lines are done in pencil (followed by black ink in old Tibet) and take between 10 to 30 days to complete, depending on the size and complexity of the thangka.

6) The outlines are drawn and then the colours are filled. White, red, yellow, blue and green are used. These are mixed to get at least 40 different shades. There is a sequence for filling in the colours – blue for the sky is always done first, then green for the earth, followed by the background of the deity and so on. The colour is not filled in flat, but three to four shades of the same colour are used. They are filled in a concentric manner, from dark blue to white. This is an important feature in Buddhist art.

7) The artist decides on the Sor of the painting. Then the outline is made as per proportions. For example, a 12:4 proportion of the face and the neck. He refers to books and the sets of rules for the iconographic depiction.

8) After filling colours, the Thangka is cut from the frame and taken to the local tailors for framing it with cloth. It is framed with a set of brocade panels. The dimensions of the borders may vary but usually correspond to fixed units. Borders of the sides and above are 4 units, and the ones below are 8 units.

9) Red and yellow brocade is fixed between the image and the main brocade frame, which is called the Thangkas rainbow. A contrasting panel of brocade is often sewn into the main broader border below called the Door of the Thangka. A yellow silk printed with green and red floral pattern is sewn to the upper rod and is used to cover the painting. This covers the image if the deity represented is not meant to be seen by a casual viewer. Sometimes tassels are attached to the paintings.

10) The Thangka is finally backed with much plain cloth. It is then secured to wooden rods with brass or silver knobs at each end. The brocades have various Tibetan motifs and symbols.

11) Once finished, the Thangkas are not signed by the artists but are given to a Lama for blessings. The lama endows blessings by writing core-syllabled abbreviation of ‘Om mani padme hum’ on the back.


There is no wastage in the making of Thangka paintings. The leftover paints in the shells can be kept aside and wet and used again for the next painting. The paintbrushes and frame also get used again, once a single painting is done with.

Cluster Name: Leh


Much beloved by India travellers, predominantly Tibetan-Buddhist Ladakh is a beautiful, high altitude area of mountain desert that takes the onlooker on an experiential journey of untouched silence, hidden mysteries and heaven on earth.

District / State
Leh / Jammu and Kashmir

Best time to visit
Stay at
Local hotels, Homestays, Camps
How to reach
Delhi-Leh, Srinagar-Leh, Manali-Leh
Local travel
Mini-Buses, Taxis, Jeeps, Motor-cycles, Cycles
Must eat
Tibetan cusine


The region of Ladakh once formed part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Ladakh and for nearly 900 years from the middle of the 10th century existed as an independent kingdom. Its dynasties descended from the king of old Tibet. After 1531, the Muslims from Kashmir periodically attacked it, until it was finally annexed to Kashmir in the mid 19th century. The early colonizers of Ladakh included the Indo-Aryan Mons from across the Himalayan range, the Darads from the extreme western Himalayas, and the nomads from the Tibetan highlands. While Mons are believed to have carried north-Indian Buddhism to these highland valleys, the Darads and Baltis of the lower Indus Valley are credited with the introduction of farming and the Tibetans with the tradition of herding. Its valleys, by virtue of their contiguity with Kashmir, Kishtwar and Kulu, served as the initial receptacles of successive ethnic and cultural waves emanating from across the Great Himalayan range.

Its political fortunes flowed over the centuries, and the kingdom, was at its best in the early 17th century under the famous king Sengge Namgyal, whose rule extended across Spiti and western Tibet up to the Mayumla beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. During this period Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. The merchants and pilgrims who made up the majority of travellers during this period of time, travelled on foot or horseback, taking about 16 days to reach Srinagar, although the people riding non-stop and with changes of horse all along the route, could do it in as little as three days. These merchants who deal in textiles and spices, raw silk and carpets, dyestuffs and narcotics, transported their goods on pony who took about two months to carry them from Amritsar to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Knotan. On this long route, Leh was the halfway house, and developed into a bustling Centerport, its bazaars thronged with merchants from far countries. This was before the wheel as a means of transport was introduced into Ladakh, which happened only when the Srinagar-Leh motor-road was constructed as recently as the early 1960s. The 434 km Srinagar-Leh highway follows the historic trade route, thus giving travellers a glimpse of villages that are historically and culturally important. The famous pashm (better known as cashmere) was produced in the high altitudes of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet and transported thorough Leh to Srinagar where skilled artisans transformed it into shawls which are known all over the world for their softness and warmth. Ironically, it was this lucrative trade, which finally spelt the doom of the independent kingdom. It attracted the covetous gaze of Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu in the early 19th century, and in 1834, he sent his general Zorawar Singh to invade Ladakh. Hence, followed a decade of war and turmoil, which ended with the emergence of the British as the paramount power in north India. Ladakh, together with the neighboring province of Baltistan, was incorporated into the newly created State of Jammu & Kashmir. Just over a century later, this union was disturbed by the partition of India, Baltistan becoming part of Pakistan, while Ladakh remained in India as part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.


Ladakh has an area of approx. 98,000 sq. km., situated at an altitude of 2,500 to 4,500 meters with some of the passes at 6,000 and peaks up to 7,500 meter all around the region. The four mountain ranges of Great Himalayan, Zanskar, Ladakh and Karakoram pass through the region of Ladakh. Ladakh also has the world's largest glaciers outside the poles. The towns and villages occur along the river valleys of the Indus and its tributaries, Zanskar, Shingo and Shyok. There is also the large beautiful lake Pangong Tso, which is 150 km long, and 4 km wide at a height of 4,000 m. Due to necessity and adverse conditions people of Ladakh have learnt to irrigate their fields. In the fields barley is the main crop, which is turned into tsampa after roasting and grinding. Apple and apricots trees are also grown with success. Most of the crops are reserved for the hard wintertime. At lower altitudes, grape, mulberry and walnut are grown. The willow and poplar grow in abundance and provide fuel and timber, especially during the winter. These trees are also the source of the material for basket making.

By Road: Travel by road gives you an advantage over flying into Leh as it enables you to acclimatize easily. As Leh is situated on a high altitude plateau and travelling by Jeep or car will give you the flexibility of stopping to see the several sights on the way. Srinagar - Leh road (434 km) is the main route with an overnight halt at Kargil. The road is open between mid June and November. The Manali-Leh highway is a spectacular journey with an overnight halt at tented camps at Sarchu or Pang. Kargil is situated on the main highway between Srinagar and Leh. The road from Kargil into the Suru and Zanskar valleys is open only between July and October.
By Air: Leh is the main airport for this area. Direct flights link it to Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu.


In peak winters the temperature in Ladakh goes down to -30 Degree Celsius in Leh and Kargil and - 50 Degree Celsius in Drass. Temperatures remain in minus for almost 3 months from December to the month of February. But on clear sunny days it can become very hot and one can get sun burnt. Rainfall is very less due to the geographical location of Ladakh. The rainfall is around 50 mm annually. It is the melting snow, which makes the survival of human and animals, possible. In the desert like landscape one may come across the dunes or perhaps occasionally to the dust storms.


Although, most of the places in Ladakh are more or less cut off for 6 months from rest of the world, the state has retained cultural links with its neighboring regions in Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, Tibet and Central Asia and also traded in valuable Pashmina, carpets, apricots, tea, and small amounts of salt, boraz, sulphur, pearls and metals. Yaks, ponies, Bactrian camels and hunia sheep with broad backs provided animal transportation. Livestock is a precious contribution to the economy of Ladakh, especially the yaks and goats play an important role. Yak provides meat, milk for butter, hair and hide for tents, boots, ropes, horns for agricultural tools and dung for fuel thus paying the most vital role in the local economy of the region. Goats, especially in the eastern region, produce fine pashmina for export. The Zanskar pony is considered fast and strong and therefore used for transport and for the special and famous game of Ladakhi polo. Ladakh is open to tourists only since 1974 and has attracted already a large number of tourists and the influence of the tourists does not remain unnoticed on the society as a large number of people, especially in the capital Leh has to do directly or indirectly with the tourists.


The development of Leh town probably began with the reign of the famous King Sengge Namgyal who ruled in the 17th century and during whose reign the kingdom expanded to its fullest extent. His most visible contribution to the town was the nine-storeyed palaces, which still dominate it today. The area around the palace developed with the houses of several noblemen and residences and temples belonging to different monasteries dotted along the slopes of the hill. The city of Leh traditionally comprised of many ancient localities known as Skyangos Gogsum, Chhubi Yangrtse, Kharyok and Stagofilok. The present city has evolved from some of these ancient localities. Many of the houses and monasteries are built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south, and are often constructed from a mixture of rocks, wood, cement and earth.

The architecture of the historic core uses the same indigenous materials that are used in other traditional buildings of this region. These are sun-dried mud bricks and stone, which have been used with great skill by the local masons to create buildings that have survived several centuries. The layout of the old town, with its narrow alleys and lanes surrounded by ancient adobe structures, gives a rare glimpse of the town's past. The central area of Ladakh has the greatest concentration of major Buddhist monasteries or gompas. Many of these monasteries were built in the past under the direct patronage of members of the ruling Namgyal dynasty. The monastic architectural tradition of this region reflects the underlying principles and approach of Buddhism. The monasteries are situated on the isolated hillock in the vicinity of villages. The monasteries are the focal point of religious faith for the highly religious Buddhist people. Monasteries are the places of worship, isolated meditation and religious instruction for the young. The approach to the monasteries is lined with mane walls and chortens. Mane walls are made of votive stones on which prayers and holy figures are inscribed, while chortens are semi-religious shrines or reliquaries containing relics of holy people or scripts. Today Leh is developing as a major urbanized city and is expanding towards Choglamsar along the Leh-Manali road and towards Phyang on the Leh-Srinagar National Highway.


Ceremonial and public events are accompanied by the characteristic music of 'Surna' and 'Daman' (Oboe and drum), originally introduced into Ladakh from Muslim Baltistan, but now played only by Buddhist musicians known as "Mons". The first year of childbirth is marked by celebrations at different intervals of time, Beginning with a function held after 15 days, then after one month, and then again at the end of year. All relatives, neighbors and friends are invited and served with 'Tsampa', butter and sugar, along with tea by the family in which the child is born.

Many of the annual festivals of the Gompas in Ladakh takes place in winter, which is a relatively idle time for majority of the people. It is time when the whole village gathers together. Stalls are erected and goods of daily need and enjoyment are sold. Eatables are brought along and families and relatives would enjoy the meals together. The whole activity takes place around the gompas. In the courtyards of the Gompas, colourful masked dances and dance-dramas are performed. Lamas, dressed in colourful robes and wearing startlingly frightful masks, perform mimes symbolizing various aspects of the religion such as the progress of the individual soul and its purification or the triumph of good over evil. Local people flock from near and far to these events and the spiritual benefits they get are no doubt heightened by their enjoyment of the party atmosphere. This is also an occasion to demonstrate the cultural heritage as well as the wealth of that particular monastery. Big and rare musical instruments, old weapons and religious objects including Thangkas are brought out during the performances. The first ceremony of any festival is very interesting as the male Lama is accompanied by the monks. Musicians, dancers and singers in a harmony create for visitors an unforgettable experience. Some of the popular themes include the victory of good over evil or some special stories related to great Lamas where their supernatural power is demonstrated or the stories related to Guru Padmasambhava. Their dances are also very colourful. A clown plays an important role so that an overdose of religion or history does not disinterest the villagers so that atmosphere is joyful. Spituk, Stok, Thikse, Chemrey and Matho have their festivals in winter, between November and March. There are some festivals, which are celebrated in warmer months. These are Lamayuru Festival (April or May), Phyang Festival, Thikse Festival (July or August).


The faces and physique of the Ladakhis, and the clothes they wear, are more akin to those of Tibet and Central Asia than of India. The people of Ladakh are predominantly Buddhist and practice Mahayana Buddhism influenced with the old Bon animistic faith and Tantric Hinduism. Bon religion and Tantrism involved rituals to fulfill the wishes and so they were very popular before Mahayana Buddhism dominated.

'Arghon', is a community of Muslims in Leh who are the descendants of marriages between local women and Kashmiri or Central Asian merchants. There are four main groups of people. The Mons who are of Aryan stock are usually professional entertainers, often musicians. The Dards are found along the Indus valley, many converted to Islam, though some remained Buddhist. Tibetans form the bulk of the population in Central and Eastern Ladakh, though they have assumed the Ladakhi identity over generations. The Baltis, who are thought to have originated in Central Asia, mostly live in the Kargil region. The Ladakhis are cheerful and live close to nature. The Ladakhis wore the goncha which is a loose woollen robe tied at the waist with a wide coloured band. Buddhists usually wear dark red while Muslims and nomadic tribes often use undyed material.

Famous For:

Hemis Festival in Ladakh: Hemis is the biggest and most famous of the monastic festivals, frequented by tourists and local alike. Hemis Festival is celebrated in the end of June or in early July and is dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava. After every 12 years, the Gompa's greatest treasure, a huge thangka or a religious icon painted or embroidered on cloth is ritually exhibited.

Tak-Tok Festival in Ladakh: Tak-Tok festival is celebrated at cave Gompa of Tak-Tok in Ladakh. It is one of the major festivals of Ladakh. Tak-Tok festival is celebrated for about ten days after Phyang festival. This festival is celebrated in summer, and yet another tourist attraction. The festival is celebrated with fanfare and locals from far areas storm the place on the occasion.

Sindhu Darshan Festival in Ladakh: Sindhu Darshan Festival, as the name suggests, is a celebration of the Sindhu River. The people travel here for the Darshan and Puja of the River Sindhu (Indus), which originates from the Mansarovar in Tibet. The festival aims at projecting the Sindhu River as a symbol of multi-dimensional cultural identity, communal harmony and peaceful co-existence in India.


List of craftsmen.

Documentation by:

Team Gaatha

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