The second day of the Hemis festival was more low-key and actually more to our liking. Although the dancing started late and ended early and lacked the flashy big masks of Guru Padmasambhava and his followers, it seemed more unified and real. Most of the audience was local and it had less of the feeling of a performance for tourists.
Most of this day's dance was devoted to neutralizing and then slaying an effigy of evil spirits, much as we had seen at other festivals. In the long morning wait while pujas were conducted inside the monastery's assembly hall, a monk made a small triangular platform out of tsampa (barley meal). The effigy, also made of tsampa, was later placed on this platform at an appropriate moment in the dance.
After some preliminaries, a group of masked monks made a circle around the platform. Groups of four among them were dressed as different types of people – monks, turbaned merchants, protector gods, and so forth. Each group paid their respects to the platform by dancing around it.
With the effigy now in place, a group of masked gods came out for the serious business of destroying the effigy and its evil spirits. Led by a god with the head of a yak, they danced deliberately in a large circle. Finally the yak-headed god made a clean slice with his sword and severed the effigy's head. Evil had been defeated for another year.
Next came the four skeletons to finish the work. These younger monks danced energetically and sometimes hassled photographers who had encroached too far into the ring. Then they settled down for the serious work of destroying the tsampa platform, which might have inherited some evil spirits when the effigy was slain. While two of them lifted the effigy, the others used their feet to scatter the tsampa.
The dancing ended with a comic routine where a few masked monks brought out their own instruments and played them. These slapstick routines are a common feature of these monk dances, breaking up the seriousness and keeping the crowd under control. In this case, the routine distracted the crowd while the regular musicians packed their instruments and left.
We got back to Leh around 4:30 and checked into our hotel for a final night before leaving on the second part of our trek. Leh's internet connection was fortunately working, so I was able to complete all of the business that I had left hanging at our previous departure.