Flying into Leh, Ladakh is a magical experience. Surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks, the earth below is covered in brown sand that seems so out of place. Surreal, it is like a desert hiding in the valleys. At that height, the Leh airport looks like it has been carefully etched in the sand. It is only as the plane descends for landing that one can see the buildings and tarmac below, dwarfed by the spectacular mountainous scenery that surrounds them.
Looking around this stark region of the Himalayas, it is hard to believe that it hosts some of the most colourful Buddhist monastic festivals. One of the most famous is the Matho Nagrang Festival, also known as the festival of the oracles. Celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar, this Buddhist celebration in Ladakh falls on March 4th and 5th in the year 2015.
It is held in the Matho Monastery, located in the small village of Matho, 26 kilometers from Leh on the banks of the Indus River. The monastery in Ladakh was founded in the 16th century by Lam Dugpa Dorjeein and is the only one from the Sakya Order of Tibet. The Matho Monastery still contains precious thangkas carried from Tibet that are over 400 years old.
Enter The Trance
This festival in Ladakh celebrates the appearance of two oracles who have spent two months in dedicated meditation and isolation. The oracles are monks who are carefully selected from the Order every three years, and held in isolation to keep them pure so that they can invoke the divine spirits. As the oracles enter the public space of the monastery, they are in a trance and blind-folded, channeling the spirits. In this half-conscious state, the oracles are free from harm as they perform some miraculous feats including skilled acrobatics. Running along and jumping from the balcony, the monks are protected by the spirits as they entertain the crowds.
The other monks also participate in the festivities, changing out of their usual maroon attire, by donning brightly coloured silk brocade robes. Monks put on masks that have been decorated to reflect deities with wide eyes and some terrifying features.
Predict Your Future
Whilst the bright and interesting performances by the monks and oracles are certainly worth seeing, the reason most people flock to this Buddhist Festival is to seek the advice and guidance of the oracles who are able to predict future events and provide advice on how to solve existing problems. The oracles are also able to perform rituals to help people deal with issues that are troubling them.
To know your future and marvel at the amazing courage and skills of the oracles and monks, it is definitely worth heading into the depths of the Himalayas to visit Matho Monastery.
Budget: Rs. 17,000 for 2 people for a 4 day trip (inclusive of B category hotel) Distance From Delhi: 1,024 km (1 hour 30 min by flight) Traveller Type: Family, Friends Note: In the month of March, the temperatures drop to -5 degrees. We recommend you keep one day for acclimatization.