Hanle (Ladakh): In a significant move, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has lifted restrictions on foreign tourists from attending an annual festival held every July in southern Ladakh, located close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
According to a Press Information Bureau release, the MHA’s July 13 permission is specific to the two-day Ladakh Nomadic Festival held annually in Hanle, the largest village in that part of Ladakh under the Nyoma sub-division of the union territory. The Nyoma sub-division includes the sensitive Demchok village along the Chinese border.
Permitting foreign tourists to visit frontier areas like Hanle in particular and the Changthang region in general had been a long-standing demand of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill District Council (LAHDC). Till now, foreign tourists were allowed only till Nyoma, situated about 57 kms from Hanle. Even Indian tourists are required to take inner line permits to visit these areas.
This year’s festival at Hanle was the third edition, organised annually mid-July, by the Ladakh Art Culture and Languages Academy. The festival promotes the art, craft, food and culture of the local Changpa tribe, and is aimed at offering a platform to the nomadic population to sell their wares to tourists.
News reports said the organisers, while welcoming the Union government’s move, hoped that foreign tourists are allowed to visit and stay in Hanle and other areas of Changthang beyond the annual festival so that tourism in that remote area could expand to become a steady source of income for the local population. The MHA’s July 13 decision was taken after getting a go ahead from the Army which, news reports said, was arrived at after consultations with the festival organisers.
Since the permission was granted just two days before the festival was to start, only a handful of foreign tourists could visit the festival. When The Wire visited it on July 16, the last day of the festival, only a few foreign tourists could be spotted. Some visitors told The Wire that they were already in Leh and decided travel to Hanle upon coming to know about the lifting of restrictions.
Held at a sprawling field in Hanle under an azure sky, the festival was a colourful sight, full of local flavour. Songs and dances of the tribe, their craft and way of life were exhibited for visitors. A wide array of local food was a special attraction.
Here is a peek at the fest through eight images.