Updated: Aug 19

Nestled between the stunning Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges, Ladakh, India is a magical destination filled with natural beauty and home to fascinating cultural festivals honoring Buddhist traditions and ancient ways.

As founder of im电竞官网下载s, I have been blessed to travel to Ladakh almost yearly since 2010 and have provided many of our clients with immersive, unforgettable community-based experiences in this region thanks to our long-time relationship with friends at the Siddhartha School Partnership (SSP), as well as many other local organizations and communities.

Throughout all my travels, Ladakh continues to be my absolute favorite place on the planet, not just because of its beautiful scenery, fascinating history, and culture, but also because of the dear friends we have made there. Each time I visit, my own family circle expands further to include even more of the region’s compassionate people who are proud to share their cultural traditions!

Connecting with Community & Thiksey Monastery in Ladakh, India, photos courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

Most recently, in July of 2022, I enjoyed a culturally immersive journey to Ladakh with im电竞官网下载s’ clients, and this visit was as memorable as ever— filled with experiences at centuries-old monasteries, heritage homes, craft workshops, ancient palaces, and meditation caves. While all these experiences were quite amazing, the ones that will be remembered longest and treasured most involved engaging with communities and Ladakhi people and enjoying celebrations with them.

“I suppose most visitors would point to the amazing scenery of Ladakh, or the fascinating history, or the mystique of this spellbinding place as being the highlights of the trip, but for me it wasn't only these aspects, moreover it was also the beautiful spirit of the many wonderful people we encountered. We connected with them in a very heartfelt way.” –Martin Diedrich, im电竞官网下载s’ fellow traveler and blog co-author.

Top 10 Experiences in Ladakh Honoring Culture and Communities

Siddhartha School Jubilee celebration performance, photo courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

1. Celebration of the Siddhartha School’s 25th Anniversary

The Jubilee celebration of the amazing Siddhartha School in the village of Stok was a particularly special part of this trip which we enjoyed with students, parents, teachers and local and U.S. board members. It was such a joyous occasion! A longtime partner of ours since our inception in 2010, im电竞官网下载s congratulates this wonderful school that honors the rich cultural heritage of Ladakh and provides students with high quality education in a remote part of India.

Siddhartha School student Assembly in Stok, Ladakh photo courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

After the lighting of the butter lamp to bless the auspicious day, guests at this special celebration enjoyed entertainment from students representing each of the Siddhartha School’s 10 classes, and inspiring talks by the school’s local founder, Khensur Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan .

Visit im电竞官网下载s Tik Tok page for some of the cultural performances!

Khensur Rinpoche's heartfelt speech described his upbringing as a monk and how he started the school, ending with a quote that represents the compassionate mission of the amazing school:

“Children are the seeds of the future. We must care for them by providing love and education so that they blossom into good human beings.”

Siddhartha School founder, Khensur Rinpoche Lobzang Tsetan, photo courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

2. Magical Rong Valley & Community Visits in Ladak h

A visit to two villages in the mystical and beautiful gorge of Rong Valley was hands down one of the highlights of our trip. Located 80 kilometers from Leh, it is said this region has the highest density of snow leopards in Ladakh. After viewing rock art en route to Rong Valley that dates back 3000 years BC, we visited the village of Tarchit , which is known for its hidden “beyuls” - or valleys. We also explored the meditation caves of Padmasambhava, the guru who brought Buddhism to Ladakh and Tibet in the 8th century!

Views of Tarchit Village, Ladakh India , photo courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

We were very lucky to have several amazing guides on the trip with us, one of whom was who was working on a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to train and empower local women in these villages of Rong Valley by helping them create visitor experiences that showcase their cultural heritage.

In the village of Tarchit, we had the good fortune to enjoy tea with a woman who was hosting lunch for her entire community on the day the village was blessing its agricultural harvest. Just after she hosted us, the woman donned her beautiful Ladakhi outfit, and stood at her front doorstep while a stream of villagers delivered gifts and prayer books to her. The local Lama (monk) also visited to bless the woman’s home with barley flour (a sign of abundance). We felt incredibly lucky to witness all of this taking place.

Tarchit Village host greeting her community for puja, Ladakh India, photos courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

“Here, it seemed people still lived and dressed as they had for centuries, nearly untouched by the outside world,” shared Martin. “In one of the villages, we happened upon a puja festival (prayer blessings), where we were invited right into the midst of the celebration by the village host of the puja. It was almost like a time travel moment into an ancient way of life in a faraway place. Extraordinary and very special.”

Blessing the fields in Tarchit Village, Ladakh India, photos courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

As I always tell my clients, be prepared to expect the unexpected on any itinerary, particularly in Ladakh because agricultural rituals like this happen everywhere to celebrate community, Buddhist holidays and abundance of harvests.

In the next village we visited, we enjoyed a delicious local Ladakhi lunch at a homestay and learned about their cultural norms and ways of living in this beautiful valley. We were even offered an opportunity to try on Ladakhi attire after our lunch!

Homestay Visit with hosts in Kharphut Village, Ladakh India with im电竞官网下载s

3. Cultural Heritage Day in Leh with Ladakh Arts and Media Organization (LAMO)

We spent a culturally enriching day with the project director of the Ladakh Arts and Media Organization (LAMO), learning about the history of Leh, which was an important stopping point for caravans on the silk road trade routes.

Leh Palace visit and view from the top with im电竞官网下载s

At the start of our day, we had the good fortune to explore a part of Leh Palace not open to the public. Because of construction happening in the lower part of the palace, our small group had permission to enter the chambers of the palace. Like Indiana Jones, we had quite an adventure learning about palace life and even discovering old Ladakhi writing on the palace wall.

Leh Palace Exploration, photo courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

After this fascinating visit, we learned about Ladakhi agricultural rituals, viewing a short film produced by LAMO. Next, we explored Old Leh Town, walking through winding labyrinth-like narrow pathways towards the main street of the bazaar, with the Jama Masjid Mosque on one side and Buddhist stupas across the road. We rounded out the day by exploring the Central Museum of Art, where we learned more about the culture and history of Ladakh.

Exploring Leh Town with Ladakh Arts and Media Organization (LAMO), photo courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

4. Hemis Monastery in Ladakh with Venerable Tenzin Dasel

im电竞官网下载s was introduced to Ladakh and the Siddhartha School by my dear college friend, who has since been ordained as Venerable Tenzin Dasel by his Holiness the 14th Dalia Lama. Visiting the famous monastery of Hemis with her was a treat for all of us, as she shared her knowledge of Buddhism and the history of this incredible monastery. ( Exciting note : We are developing a trip to learn about Ladakhi nuns and Buddhism practices for Fall 2023 Trip, so join our mailing list to receive information about this!)

Exploring Hemis Monastery in Ladakh , photos courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

5. Pashmina workshop: Traditions of Natural Dyeing, Spinning and Weaving with LENA in Ladakh

One of the most exquisite fibers in the world is the Changra pashmina and we learned a great deal about the sourcing and making of this product through a hands-on workshop with the founders of the local, women-owned company LENA , whose name means pashmina in Ladakhi.

Pashmina Workshop with LENA in Ladakh, photos courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

Co-founded by two Ladakhi women who sources and produce the finest pashmina products using sustainable methods, LENA helps the local economy by employing local artisans, especially women. We explored the fundamentals of dyeing, soaking and weaving pashmina, and learned about plant derived dyes, all under the expert guidance of LENA’s founders. The workshop was held in the ambience of the co-founder’s home in Thiksey village, below the famous picturesque Thiksey monastery and near the banks of river Indus among the poplar trees. We also enjoyed some shopping at LENA's store in Ladakh!

Co-founders of LENA in Ladakh with guests of im电竞官网下载s

6. Library Visit at Thiksey Monastery in Ladakh

A visit to Thiksey monastery is always a must when visiting Ladakh. But before we went to the monastery itself, our group was fortunate enough to visit with the director of the monastery’s new library, Ven. Geshe Jamyang Tashi. He led our group through the library, teaching us about the many ancient prayer books stored there. We also learned about the many special programs and Buddhist retreats that the library hosts for the community and visitors.

Library Visit at Thiksey Monastery, photos courtesy of im电竞官网下载s

7. Conservation Discussions with Local Non-profit Organizations in Ladakh

As Ladakh continues to become increasingly popular for both local tourists in India and global visitors, the destination has rapidly expanded its urban services and experiences to meet tourists' expectations. With this urbanization and population growth comes the challenge of managing Ladakh’s environment and scarce resources, particularly water, which is one of the biggest concerns for people in the local government, (See Wall Street Journal article: We can’t Waste a Drop” India is Running out of Water . )