It is a major event organized every year by the J&K Tourism Department, in collaboration with the local communities and the district administrations of Leh and Kargil from 1st to 15th September. Its main objective is to revive and promote the richness, depth and pageantry of Ladakh’s centuries-old culture, traditions and folk heritage for world-wide appreciation and enjoyment.
The inaugural function is held on grand scale at Leh with a spectacular procession in which various cultural troupes and village contingents participate in full ceremonial costumes, singing songs and performing various types of dances to the tune of the traditional orchestra. At the Polo ground, where the procession terminates, the participants break into a variety of folk and popular dances, presenting the best samples of the region’s performing arts.
Among the regular programmes, the most colourful and interesting are the village archery festivals held in selected suburban villages of Leh. Every villager is required to formally participate in these events in accordance with the established social code.
Every male participant is expected to try his skill with the bow and arrow in alternate rounds of archery and dancing while the ladies have to join in as many rounds of the mandatory folk dances. Other programmes of the festival include a series of evening musical concerts, mask dances by lamas of selected monasteries and mock marriage ceremonies complete with all the associated traditions.
A major polo tournament called the "Ladakh Festival Cup" is also held as part of the festival in which polo teams from different parts of the region participate. Visitors to Ladakh during this period will have the opportunity of witnessing this ancient sport of the western Himalayas being played in its original, wild style with fewer rules and frenzied crowd involvement. Yet another interesting programme is the staging of a typical Central Asian trade mart in Leh Bazaar, complete with caravans laden with traders’ goods, while skilled artists dressed in period-costumes play the role of merchants engaged in trading, bartering and associated activities.
The festival is also simultaneously organized in different parts of Kargil district. These include traditional archery tournaments, besides presentation of programmes showcasing the cultural heritage and traditions of different ethnic groups of the area. Of particular interest are the cultural programmes presented by the Brok-pas people based on their ancient social customs and ceremonies. Among the programmes presented by the Dards of Dras is the game of polo, the ancestral sport of the Dards of the western Himalayas. Similar programmes are also held in Zanskar Valley, where the high point is the traditional sport called "Saka", in which a number of colourfully attired horses are used in a quaint racing competition.
The Ladakh Festival is a unique project of the State Department of Tourism to patronize the revival and promotion of Ladakh’s age-old traditions and customs, its cultural heritage and the performing arts. For the visitors to Ladakh, the festival provides an opportunity to witness and experience the lifestyle and cultural ethos of a people who have lived for centuries on the crossroads of Asia, receiving and harmonising socio-cultural and religious influences from their neighbouring societies.