Hemis Festival is one of the most popular festivals in Ladakh. Countless blogs and video documentaries have been created about this event calling it something that every culture lover should experience at-least once in their lifetime.
Me, being an admirer of these unique festivals, had planned to visit Hemis a long time back. Travelling to Ladakh just to attend one festival didn’t turn in my favour for the last couple of years. This year, I finally made it to Leh on time, a day before the festival was supposed to start.
But it turned out that Hemis Festival is unlike any of the Teschu I have attended in Punakha and Sikkim. This one is way more commercial and one can easily avoid it. During the two days when I attended the event, I observed a few things that was really off and not something that one would expect from festival that everyone says is a cultural extravaganza of Ladakh.
The festival is highly commercialized
Hemis festival is commercialized beyond one can imagine. It was sad to see high parking charges and the ticket costs going beyond INR 300 (for Indians) and around INR 700 (for foreigners). Never, ever have I been to any event where ticket charges were this high only because people are coming to attend a festival. A lot of visitors who were on package tours and didn’t know about the festival were disappointed with the high ticket charges and left from the outside. Paying INR 600 for two days of festival is very inconvenient for someone who is travelling on a limited budget.
Best seats are sold
This was first time when I saw that the seats with the best views were sold in advance or were being sold for a price. A lot of travel companies had already booked their seats from best views and the prices were already a part of the package. The top view seats were for INR 200 while the front row seats for INR 500.
The most crowded festival of Ladakh
While I publish this blog, I have already attended two more festivals in the region and I won’t be lying if I tell you that this is the most crowded festival of Ladakh. There are smaller scale festivals that you can easily search on Google and find out if they are worth attending or not. For me, the festivals around Pangong, Lamayuru and Zanskar region are more interactive and the experience is way better. Hemis festival is something that is visited by multitude of tourists from all around the world and the premises become so crowded that you will have to literally fight to see things clearly.
Special treatment for bloggers
Fam trips of Ladakh start as the roads open. This is the time when many travel companies invite bloggers to promote their companies and tour programs. Since Hemis Festival is easily doable and both parties will be happy, most of these fam trips head here. These bloggers have special seats, tickets and food prices are covered by the company. They get to sit in the front and hence a paid promotion blog has better pictures than others who have to sit or stand in middle of the crowds. If you are not a blogger and want to have better views then refer to second point.
The visitors are not respectful towards green rules and responsible tourism
Apart from how commercial the festival is, the management tries to make sure that the whole event is free from single use plastic. Sadly, most of the tourists who come here don’t respect the fact and bring as many plastic bottles as they can. When the festival ends, the whole area around the monastery is littered with plastic. Hemis Festival is easily avoidable just for the sake of environment.
Not a place where a photographer would find a good shot
When a festival is this crowded it becomes hard to capture a shot without avoiding some other photographer(s) get in middle of the shot. Unless you have a telephoto lens and only intend to capture closeup shots, you cannot avoid someone unintentionally getting in your shot. One out of 10 clicks end up in the shot being ruined due to movement of the visitors or the photographers and it is not something that you’ll enjoy in the end.
Some of these shots have come out nice because it rained during the last half an hour of the festival which made all the photographers run away in shed. It gave me a chance to move out to a better spot and click some photos.
If you are still planning to attend Hemis Festival then make sure that you start early and try to find a better spot. Photographers are rude here and they’ll try to step on your feet and push you so be patient and leave by the time sun goes up.