Leh, the land of Monasteries, is the capital of Ladakh and lies at an altitude of 3500 m asl. In this rugged cold desert city, nature is at its rustic best. The lively people, their colourful clothing and customs are a beautiful contrast to the barren and rusty landscape. Buddhism is widely practiced in the region. The monasteries or Gompas are treasure chests of ancient art & paintings; scriptures & scrolls; artifacts, sculptures and architecture. The region is blessed with spectacular desert-mountain scenery, breathtaking snow-covered peaks, the most beautiful lakes, high mountain passes, sandy desserts and incredible flora and fauna.
Places to Visit in and around Leh
- Leh Palace: Built in the 17th century, Leh Palace is perched on the slopes of Tesemo Hill. An imposing nine-storied landmark monument, it is visible from almost the whole of Leh city. Built by Sengge Namgayal and previously the home of the royal family, Leh Palace has been declared a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India.
- Shey Palace (15 kms): Highlight of the palace is the beautiful multicolored murals.
- Stok Palace and Museum (17 kms): Residence of the royal family of Ladakh, the museum houses artifacts from the royal dynasty.
- Tesemo Gompa: This monastery was built in 1430 AD and has statues of Maitreya Buddha, Avalokitesvara and Manjushree.
Shanti Stupa: This beautiful marble dome is built on a hilltop offering a spectacular view of the entire Leh Valley. Built to symbolize world peace, this monument was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 1985 and is one of the most visited spots in Leh.
- Leh Mosque: Legendary mosque built under the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and King of Ladakh Daldan Namgyal.
- Sankar Gompa: A part of Spituk Monastery, this small Gompa, has a collection of paintings and miniature statues of pure gold.
- Spituk Monastery: Houses prized Thangka paintings and a Kali temple with a huge statue of Goddess Kali.
- Sangam: Point where the grayish waters of the River Indus merges with the brown waters of River Zanskar.
- Magnetic Hill: A hill with magnetic properties that can pull a car uphill towards itself. Switch off the engine of your vehicle, put it in neutral gear and watch this gravity defying sight.
- Likir (60 kms) and Alchi (67 kms): Two of the oldest Gompas, huge clay statues of Lord Buddha can be seen in various forms. The walls of the Alchi Gompa are adorned with ancient colorful paintings. Photography is strictly not permitted inside the Gompas to protect the priceless ancient paintings from fading away due to the camera flashlights.
- Khardung La: The highest motorable pass in the world at an altitude of 5578m. After descending the pass one can visit Khardung, Khalsar, Sumoor and Nubra Valley.
- Thiksey Monastery (20kms): One of the famous monasteries, it has the biggest library in Ladakh. The Gompa is well maintained and has an imposing location overlooking the beautiful valley.
- Hemis Monastery: The richest and most important of all Gompas in Ladakh.
- Pangong Tso: A stunningly beautiful lake, it is a must visit in Ladakh. The changing reflections and colours of the bordering mountains on sparkling crystal clear waters of the lake are a sight to behold. The deep blue and white reflections of the sky make contrast with the brown and green of the hills making a striking picture. This is the highest salt water lake in the world. Almost three-fourths of the lake lies across the border in China. The Leh-Pangong road goes through the Chang La pass said to be the 3rd highest motorable road in the world. The beauty of the lake has also drawn filmmakers from across the world and many well known scenes have been picturised here. One can spend hours soaking in the beauty of the place and clicking pictures.
- Tso Moriri (7 Hours): A resting place for many species of birds and wildlife, this serene and breathtaking lake is a sight to behold in the harsh environs of Ladakh.
Best season to visit Ladakh: July – September.
Festivals in Ladakh:
Festivals in Ladakh help promote the rich Buddhist culture and increase tourism.
- Ladakh Singhey Kababs Sindhu Festival: This 3 day annual festival held in June showcases the Buddhist culture to the world.
- Mega Hemis Mela: Scheduled to be held in 2016 expected to attract over 2 lakh visitors from over 75 countries.
- Thiksey Gustor Festival: Organized at the monastries of Thiksey, Spituk and Karsha Zanskar. Gustor means sacrifice of the 29th day. Early morning peace prayers are held. During the festivities, dancers enact the assassination of the Tibetan King Lang Darma by a Buddhist monk in the 9th century. An effigy depicting the evil forces is also burnt. Dancers from the Black hat sect end the 2 day festival with the ritualistic dispersal of the Torma which depicts destruction of evil.
Recommended Ladakh Itinerary: (6Nights, 7 days)
Day 1: Arrival and acclimatization
Reach Leh and rest in hotel. Since you are at a high altitude of 3500m (11,500 feet) it is important to get acclimatized first. In the evening, take a walk in the local market.
Day 2: Local Sight Seeing in Leh
Hire a local cab and do local sightseeing in Leh. Visit the Sanchi Stupa, Shey Palace, Stok Palace Museum and the Army’s Hall of Fame. Visit the local market in the evening and buy some souvenirs.
Day 3: Pangong Lake (300 kms), Hemis & Thiksey Monasteries
Book a local cab and take a day trip to the magnificent Pangong Lake via Chang La (17340 ft). A permit is required to go to Pangong Lake so make sure you book the cabs the day you reach Leh and your cab driver will arrange for the permits. Enroute visit Hemis and Thiksey Monasteries.
Day 4: Nubra Valley via Khardung La (18,380 ft)
Book a local cab and take an overnight trip to Nubra Valley via the Khardung la, the highest motorable pass in the world. Enroute visit Sumoor. The beautiful Shyok river flowing through Nubra Valley makes a scenic frame. One road leads to Siachen Glacier. Take the other road to Deskit. Explore the sleepy town of Deskit and stay the night in a tented camp accommodation or guesthouse in Deskit.
Day 5: Deskit-Hunder-Leh
Visit Hunder and ride on a double humped Bactrian camel in the crescent shaped sand dunes. Civilians are not allowed beyond this point. Post lunch return to Leh.
Day 6: Sightseeing around Leh
Visit Lamayuru Monastery, Magnetic Mountain and Sangam –the meeting point of Indus and Zanskar rivers. Other sightseeing options if time permits – Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Kali Mata Temple in Spituk Monastery.
Day 7: Depart from Leh with loads of memories.
Travel to Leh:
By Road: Leh is connected by 2 main highways, the Srinagar – Leh Highway and the Manali – Leh highway.
- Srinagar – Leh Highway (434 kms, 10 hrs ): Srinagar – Sonamarg ( 79 kms, 2 hrs) – Drass (63 kms, 2 hrs) – Kargil (64 kms, 2 hrs) – Saraks ( 57 kms, 1.5 hrs) – Likir ( 114 kms, 3 hrs) – Leh ( 48 kms, 1.5 hrs).
- Manali – Leh highway (474 kms, 15 hrs ): Manali – Palchan – Rohtang Pass – Gramphu – Turn left – Khoksar – Sissu – Jagle – Raling – Khangsar – Gondhla – Thorang – Tandi Junction – Keylong (118 kms, 6 hours) Yurnath – Kawaring – Gemur – Jispa (22 kms, 1 hour) – Lingkyam – Darcha (7 kms, 20 mins.) – Patseo (15 kms, 30 mins.) – Deepak Tal – Zingzingbar Cafe – Suraj Tal – Baralacha (Pass at 4891 m) – Sarchu (62 kms, 2.5 hrs) – Gata Loops – Drive along Tsarap River – Naki La (Pass 4739m, 15547 ft) – Pang (78 kms, 3 hrs) – Tanglang La (64 kms, 2.5 hrs) – Debring – Gya – Upshi (62 kms, 2 hrs) – Leh (49 kms, 1 hr 20 mins).
Nearest Airport: Leh airport. Leh is also connected by air with flights from Delhi, Jammu etc.
Acclimatization: On reaching Leh, travelers are advised to rest for a day, get acclimatized to the high altitude of this region and only then venturing out on the road trips to Pangong Lake and Nubra valley.
Best season to travel: July – September.