Waiting for the High Lama

Korzok Villagers welcoming the high lama

Place : Korzok Village, Tsomoriri, Changthang district plateau , Ladakh, Himalayan India

Suddenly in a flurry, the usually sedate villagers all dressed up in their traditional costumes started arriving from afar, strolling down the only road in this remote village.

A high lama was visiting the village along with the District Commissioner of Changthang region and the villagers bring their offerings and silk scarfs awaiting for the lama’s blessings

Visiting Korzok Village

I arrived at Korzok village with the intent to photograph the upcoming cultural festival.

When I arrived, I asked around,  it seems no one really knew anything about it, and didn’t know when it was suppose to happen.

Many tourists do visit this sleepy little village but only as a short overnight transit to visit beautiful Tsomoriri Lake or as a rest stop from popular Tsokar to Tsomoriri treks, before their onward journey either to Leh, the Capital city of Lakdah or back to Manali in Himachal Pradesh. Seldom do people stay more than a day let alone more than two days.

It is interesting to note that Korzok village, Tsomoriri is still a trading outpost for Pashmina wool. Many nomadic goat herders pass through this village trading their precious and highly prized wool before the wool gets exported to Kashmir to be manufactured into expensive Pashmina scarfs. Contrary to what people believe about Pashmina, they are not come from Kashmir, rather, the goats are bred in Ladakh, particularly around Changthang region before exporting the commodity to Kashmir for manufacturing. Many of these herders are fairly improvished selling their lowly priced commodity to rich traders. Imagine how expensive your Pashmina scarfs or sweaters are and to realise how these herders get badly paid for their work.

The village does experience its fair share of comings and goings from tourists, traders and nomadic people alike and at times is not so sleepy.  The village use to be quite wealthy from the numerous trades of sheep, goats and other livestock but it seems to be quite a poor village now struggling for the tourist dollar.

On Arrival

When I first arrived to Korzok village, it was initially quite empty, and had almost a desolate feel to it, there were two tea houses which caters to the transit travellers situated along the only mud road in the village.  Suddenly a large group of Israeli tourists in this cranky public ex-school descended into this quiet little village right after I had arrived . They were frantically looking around for their over-night accomodation. As it happens they were on their way to Manali after spending some time in Leh. Quite the noisy bunch they took camp at the only two tea houses and decimated all the food for the night. I was feeling a little drained from the travels already , my travel mates on the same jeep to the village took a little turn for the worse, the Russian couple were experiencing a little attitude sickness as Korzok was around 3000 meters above sea level.They found their accomodation and remained there for most of the day.

After much walking around and asking where and when would the festivities occur, it concluded that there were no festivals, I was feeling rather disappointed but hopeful, and decided that I should stay in the village for a few days despite the inital disappointment.

The next morning it became a quiet little village again, and I took walks around the village and to Tsomoriri Lake which was only a short walk away. The weather was a beautiful blue in the morning, before it quickly turned grey and overcast. But it was a good sign, with me asking once again at the Monastery and then back to the main tea house, the reply came back, there was indeed a small festival happening, a High lama was visiting, they might have a celebration for him, however they did not know what time he would arrive, but he would indeed come visit either today or the next 2 days.

A high lama had decided to visit on invitation of the Changthang district commissioner who was the one organising this little cultural festival that had been publicised in Leh.

Korzok Village Festival Preparations

The villagers hanging up a banner just  before the Lama arrive  at the Monastery

Back to the District Commissioner, I met up with him, a very humble unassuming and friendly man.

His views on the festival :  if there were more tourist still around, he would organise a little cultural dance and perhaps a horse race, if not, there will not be a festival but just a blessings ceremony by the high lama. For after all this little show was to be organised in conjunction with the much bigger tourist cultural festival back in capital city of Leh.

Obviously, the Lakdah Tourist board and the district didn’t inform the villagers that until the very last day!

The next 2 day became this flurry of activities, the villagers started preparing for the dances, and the monks were bringing out their costumes and all the gear for the cham dance. I was surprised how quickly they got into the act of things. They must be quite experienced with such spur of the moment activities. The other villagers soon came from afar crowding the streets all dressed in their finest.

Korzok Village Festival

From a quiet street it turned crowded, many villagers from around Korzok and Tsomoriri lake started streaming in dressed in their traditional costumes with intermittent dust storms blowing over the small village.

Korzok Village Festival

The procession starts with the village heads walking along as the high lama rolls in on a jeep, with the villagers lined up awaiting for their blessings. It was a rather quick affair and the high lama was ushered off to the gompa into his resting chambers.

Story to be continued in the next post with more photos of the festival preparations

For more about the Cham dance,  you can see the photos here and here.

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3 responses to “Waiting for the High Lama

  1. You are so very lucky!!!

  2. Korzok is much higher than 3000 metres ASL! It’s more like 4600 metres.

  3. The pics are amazing! Some of them are like from ‘Seven years in Tibet’, the movie..

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