Adventures or Sports Tourism in Ladakh


In Leh, and many of the villages, archery festivals are held during the summer months, with a lot of fun and fanfare. They are competitive events, surrounding villages all sending teams and the shooting takes place according to strict etiquette, to the accompaniment of the music of Surna and Daman (oboe and drum). As important as the archery are the interludes of dancing and other entertainment. Chang, the local barley beer, flows freely, but there is rarely any rowdiness. The crowd attends in their Sunday best, the men invariably in traditional dress, and the women wearing their brightest brocade mantles and their heaviest jewelry. Archery may be the pretext for the gathering, but the party’s the thing


Polo is traditional to the western Himalaya, especially to Baltistan and Gilgit. It was probably introduced into Ladakh in the early 17th, century by King Jamyang Namgial, whose second wife was a Balti princess. The game played here, differ in many respects from the international game, which indeed is adapted from what British travellers saw in the western Himalaya and Manipur in the 19th, century. Here each team consists of six players and the game lasts for an hour with ten minute break. Each goal is greeted by a burst of music from Surna and Daman, and the players often show extraordinary skill. For example, when starting play after a goal the scorer gallops up to midfield holding ball and mallet in the right hand, and throws the ball, hitting it in the same movement towards the opposite goal.

Unlike the international game, Polo in Ladakh is not exclusively for the rich. Traditionally, almost every village had its polo ground and even today it is played with verve in may places besides Leh, especially in Drass and Chushot. In Leh it has been partly institutionalized with regular tournaments and occasional exhibition matches being played on the Polo-Ground in the shadow of the palace. The local crowd takes keen interest especially in these matches in which a civilian teams takes on the Army. Altogether polo adds a unique kind of colour and excitement to the Summer in Leh.

Biju John
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