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Ladakh, India: Spirituality in the mountains

By Scott Dunn 23 October 2020

Tibet Buddhism has possessed the mountains of Ladakh, bringing spirituality and serenity since time immemorial, sowing its plains and valleys with Latos, stones, juniper bushes, and goat horns; chortens (མཆོད་རྟེན་དཀར་པོ།), fluttering prayer flags against the wind, cravings of positive messages of love and compassion ‘Om mani padme hum’ (ཨོཾ་མ་ཎི་པདྨེ་ཧཱུྃ; Hail the jewel in the lotus) on Mani Walls at the gateway to its villages. They erected statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Zanskari villages of Karsha, Padum, Tong-de, and Mune. India travel consultant Sara explores the spirituality of the land of the Lama.

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A wonderful stroke of fate transported me to the doors of a monastery in Ladakh, where I visited an Oracle—Lha-mo (female) or Lha-pa (male)—a type of spiritual healer. The oracles in villages focus on healing its visitors’ ailments and problems, and also serve as a “looking glass” for the future. During my visit, I saw many patients consulting an Oracle. The ceremony began as chanting and shrill cries filled the room, indicating that the Oracle was summoned by the medium. The medium twisted a damaru (ཌཱ་མ་རུ), a small two-faced drum with two hanging beads attached to it. 

Next, the Lha-mo wrapped bandages over her eyes and mouth and entered into a trance. She carried out the duty of mitigating the visitors’ ailments and problems by singing to transfer positivity and draw out the evil spirit within them. The Oracle answered its visitors’ questions by throwing barley into the air and counting the number that landed on the Dumroo to form their answer. The energy ran high in the room, alien to the minds of foreigners but while we were there, we were let in on its privy, almost magical workings of the local people of Ladakh.

After the supernatural experience, we were eager to learn more and as such, met with monks who imparted their unbounded knowledge on us. They also altruistically let us partake in their morning prayers at Thiksey Monastery and pay a visit to a nunnery.

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We retreated to our accommodation, dubbed Shakti Village Houses, to rest after all the excitement and newness of what we witnessed during the day which made for an immersive and authentic experience. The resort consists of a set of six luxurious traditional houses set in the rugged and remote mountains. Each village house contains three bedrooms with en-suite shower rooms on the upper-level rooms, adorned with sprung mattresses, duvets, and a wood burner to keep you warm during cold nights. We were pampered by a private chef and attentive staff bodies during our stay.

I would advise tourists to travel between June to August to witness the height of its beauty, during which the Hemis Festival of Ladakh is held to celebrate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava or the reincarnation of Buddha. You will be blown away as you watch monks perform an elaborate dance clad in masks. Every little glimpse of the festivities will plunge you headfirst into the gaiety of the colourful celebration.

Ladakh is a picture-perfect painting of high plains and deep valleys, where the people and the cattle stay indoors most of the year because of the cold weather, making it a seemingly isolated and esoteric place. That being said, it is still full of life, courtesy of its distinct culture and the prominent presence of spirituality.

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Scott Dunn

Travel partner

Scott Dunn is a luxury tour operator specialising in tailor-made holidays. We build your holiday around what you want, not our preferences, and we take the time to understand what you enjoy so we can create the perfect holiday for you.

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