Summer in the Himalayas: Where to Experience the Best of Buddhist Culture and Traditions
Summer is coming, and there’s no better time of year to visit Himalayan destinations such as Tibet, Ladakh, Kashmir, and the Spiti Valley. Not only is it a beautiful season in the mountains, but it’s also a time of many cultural festivals that bring the region’s traditions to vibrant life.
Travelers interested in Buddhist traditions often think first of Tibet when choosing a destination. The region is currently open to travelers, although the many summer festivals are somewhat dependent on the ever-changing political situation. But whether or not they occur as scheduled, the region is still a wonderful place for visiting monasteries, exploring the local culture, and trekking through the incomparable alpine landscapes.
Beyond the region most travelers think of as Tibet – Lhasa west to Mount Kailash and south to Nepal – is a much broader area of Tibetan culture. “We refer to the area as Tibetan Lands because there are whole areas to the east of the Tibet Autonomous Region that are now in Yunan and other parts of China but used to be part of Tibet,” says Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer. “These areas are a very different world and a very different ecosystem.”
Yet Tibet is not the only – or perhaps even the top – destination to visit in order to experience traditional Buddhism. “For a lot of people, when they think of Buddhism the center of it all is Lhasa, but Lhasa has changed dramatically in recent decades. You’ll actually find a much more intact Buddhist society in Ladakh,” Neubauer reflects. “Considered Little Tibet, Ladakh is in many ways a wonderful example of what Tibet used to be years ago.” Along with active monasteries and a largely intact Buddhist society, Ladakh boasts spectacular scenery and a wide range of activities such as hiking and rafting. A highlight of summer in Ladakh is the many colorful festivals that take place at monasteries and other locations throughout the region.
Another destination that’s largely undiscovered by foreign travelers is the Spiti Valley in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, south of Ladakh. A high-altitude desert, the Spiti is home to several fascinating monasteries as well as villages where you can visit with locals and experience the way of life in this remote region. To the west of Ladakh, the long-troubled area of Kashmir has settled down significantly in recent years and is once again a wonderful place to visit. In the lush green Valley of Kashmir you can stay on one the famous houseboats on Nagin Lake in Srinagar while exploring the local culture and landscapes known far and wide for their scenic beauty.
Although the ecosystems of Kashmir, Spiti, and Ladakh differ greatly from each other and from those on the Tibetan plateau, the Buddhist philosophy remains consistent. “When Buddhism was struggling in the 10th century it was in Kashmir and Ladakh that it was kept alive,” Neubauer explains. A thousand years later, these regions still offer some of the best opportunities for travelers to experience these ancient, living traditions.
Photo Credits: Terri Goldblatt (left photo)