The name Ladakh means (the land of many passes). La means (a mountain passes) dhak means (Many). This description / definition describe only a small part of Ladakh.
Ladakh a land of Stark contrasts. You could get a frost bite and sun burn at the same time. A land of high passes and deep gorges. A arid land without a blade of grass and rich green valleys. A land of festivals, celebrations and friendly people to a contrast of climatic conditions so harsh that even the tough and seasoned Nomadic tribes have to be on move just to survive.
Ladakh lies between the two highest mountain ranges of the world – the Himalayan range in the south and the Karakoram Range in the north. It is the highest plateau of India and one of the country's most inaccessible parts. Ladakh is considered as one of the coldest and most elevated inhabited region of the world. Ladakh also stakes claims for the highest motorable passes in the world and the highest salt water lake in the world.
Ladakh has a rich historical background. At one time Leh was a major settlement on the Asian 'Silk Routes' and a commercial capital in its own right.
A land so remote yet not isolated, this trans-Himalayan land is a repository of Buddhist culture and religion.
This district has some beautiful monasteries more popularly known as gompas hold immemorial treasure like frescoes, images, thankas and rare manu-script.
Ladakh the land of Lamas and Gompas definitely makes a most memorable adventure experience in your life. A must do for all travelers.
But for those travelers who are not open to adapt for an High Altitude Himalayan Adventure or Long Hour Rides on winding and bad roads kindly avoid journey to this rugged yet delicate eco-system.
A Changpa Nomand Women
Places of Interest in and around Ladakh
Ladakh remains unbeatable on the heritage frount with our 30 ancient Buddhist monasteries (Gompas), where each monastery is distinct from the other in its unique way. These monasteries are centuries old, have a greate historical and archeological value, and house priceless articfacts, exquisites wall paintings and rare Thankas, and many other religious symbols that bring peace to the solace seeker.
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Over a dozen Gompas are situated on or near banks of Indus River.
Upstream of Leh are the monasteries of Thiksey (17 km), Stanka (25km), Hemis (40 km), Chemrey (47km), Thakthok (50km) and Matho (26km).
Himalayan Wild Ass
Hemis, the larges monastery of Ladakh, was established by King Singe Mangyal in the 17th century. Takthok incorporates a cave, which is associated with the journey of Padmasambhava to Tibet.
Matho monastery is famous for the two oracles which make public appearance during the annual festival. Down the river of Leh are the monasteries of Spituk (7km), Phyang (17km), Likir (53km), Alchi (69), Rizong (73km) & Lamayuru (125km).
A Ladakhi Women in Traditional Dress
Lamayuru is the oldest monastic foundation that was originally believed to be the holy site of pre-Buddhist Bone religion. Culturally, however, Alchi is Ladakh's monst valuable heritage. Know as Chhos-kor (religious conclave), its five temples have exquisite mural dating 11th and 12th centuries.
Forts and Palaces
Outside the town, many monuments connect with the former kingdom's history dot the Indus valley. These include the royal palace of Shey (15km) with its temple housing a 3-storey high Budddha statue. Down river are the remains of the fort and temple of Bazgo (37km) and across the river from Leh is Stok Palace (17km), the present residence of the royal family, which also houses a museum of artifacts associated with the ruling dynasty.
Land of Festivals
Ladakh comes alive during festivals, when people from different corners of valley gather at one place and participate in the festival spirit.
Every monastery in Ladakh has an annual festival it is famous for. Dance-dramas enacted by Lamas dressed in colourful robes and fearsome masks representing various Buddhist deities, performing mimes symbolizing key aspects of religion and its history, are a treat to watch. The Hemis festival held in June is the most famous of these festivals. Every 12th year, a huge Thanka of Padmasambhava, the found of Tibetan Buddhism is ritually exhibited during this festival.
There are cultural festivals too. Archery festivals are held in summery in many villages as per local traditions. The 15-day Ladakh festival (1-15 September) is a major event sponsored by the Jammu & Kashmir Government to showcase the rich cultural heritage of Ladakh.
The 3-day Sindhu Darshan festival, organized during the month of June to Showcase the historical and cultural importance of Indus aims at projecting the river as a symbol of India's unity and communal harmony. This festival is also a symbolic salute to the brave soldiers of India.
The Losar or the Ladakhi new year is another festive occasion celebrated with great spirit all over Ladakh in the month of December – January every year.
All this truly makes Ladakh a land of celebration and rejuvenation.
Places to visit while in Ladakh
The High Altitude Lakes of Ladakh
The high altitude lakes of Ladakh are the other captivating gems embedded in the white desert of Ladakh. These Lakes are know to change colours during the course of the day. The turquoise blue lake with the barren mountains in the background make for the ideal treat to the eyes.
Pangong Tso, over 100 km long and nearly 2 to 10 km wide, is situated at a height of 4267 meters above the sea level. This lake changes its colour every few minutes from a lighter shade of green to rich deep blue that reflects entire mountainscape of the Chang-chenmo range . The water of the lake is salty. Travellers are not allowed to pitch their tents near the Lake and are only allowed to go upto Spagmik due to security reasons as over 60% of the lake comes under China territory. The Landscape on the way to Pangong and around the lake is nothing short of spectacular.
Picture taken at Pangong Lake
The Tsomoriri Lake is beautiful mountain-bound expanse of water, about 240 kms from Leh in Rupsho Valley inhabited by the nomadic Chang-pa herdsmen and their flocks of Pashmina goats and Yaks. The Lake is located a t a height of 14000 ft near a small village of Korzok. Set up in the 19th century, the Korzok monastery houses Shakyamuni Buddha and other Statues. The Tsokar (the salt Lake) about 76 kms from Tsomoriri is the other beautiful lake in this area.
Pso Moriri Lake
Leh and Around
The headquarters of Leh District, Leh is the largest town in the region. Located to the north of Indus River 3600m above the sea level, the town is dominated by the nine-storey Namgyal Palace and Namgyal Tsemo (Victory peak), built by king Tashi Mangyal on his victorious in reunification of the Upper and Lower Ladakh.
Leh became the capital of Stod (upper Ladakh) during the region of King Graspa Bum-Lde, who ruled Ladakh from 1400 to 1430 AD. In the later period, Leh became an important centre for trade in Central Asia.
Along the eastern ridge of the Karakoram range in north Ladakh is the Nubra Valley or Ldumra (the valley of flowers) comprising of the Upper Shayok and Nubra river valleys. It is about 10000 feet above sea level. To reach Numbra valley you have to cross the highest motorable road in the earth, Khardungla perched at height of 18380 feet above sea level. The route follows the valley past attractive village Deskit, the largest village in the valley. Onwards to Hundar down the Shayok valley. You can try a short Bactarian Camel safari here.
The valley is famous for Bactarian Camel (Two Humped Camels, believed to be left behind by Alexander's Army) that can be zeen grazing around sand dunes, besides Deskit for Samstanling monastery. You can also explore Sumar monastery and Panamik hot water spring known for its medicinal properties.
Hamalayan Mountain Goat
Chang Thang or the Easter Flat Land, is located east of Leh on China Border. The altitude of the area is about 14600m above sea level. Also know as Rupsho valley (Morrey Plains), the area is known for Changpa nomads, wild ass, lakes and rare species of birds.
Dhahanu (The land of Aryans)
Situated to the south-west of Leh, the scape covers beautiful villags of Kaltsey, Domkhar, Skurbuchan and Achinathang. Of the many, only two villages of Dha and Hanu are open to tourists. Being at Lower altitude Dhahanu is warmer than Leh.
The valley is home to Drokpa community, said to be the descendants of Aryans. The race, confined to this valley, is said to have preserved their racial purity down the Centuries. Their Culture and religious practices are very similar to ancient pre-Buddhist religion known as Bon-Chos. Tour to this valley can be done in two days.
The Zanskar Valley is noted for its high ranges, fine gompas and gentle people. It lies about 500 km from Leh towards south-east of Ladakh. The most isolated of all Himalayan valleys, inaccessible for 8 months in a year due to heavy snow fall, it is now a popular destination with trekkers.
Zanskar is the esoteric nature of Buddhism practiced here have enabled its inhabitants to preserve their identity and have learnt to live in perfect harmony with the unique environment. Zanskar is also know for its beautiful landscape comprising of Large green pastureland and beautiful villages.
Set in a wide plain where two swift flowing tributaries join to form the Zanskar River, is Padum the main habitation and the sub divisional headquarters. Close to the town are a set of ancient rock carvings and two picturesque monasteries, the Stagrimo and Pidbiting gompas. A two hour trek from Padum takes one to Karsha with the larges and most wealthy gompa in the region. It dates back to the 16th century. Other interesting monasteries include the castle – like gompa at Sani (6 km from Padum), the splendid Stongdey (18km) perched on a rocky outcrop, Bardan (12km) and the spectacularly located Phughal just off the Padum-Manali trail.
Planning a trip to Ladakh
One needs a minimum of one week to do justice to the sights and experiences of Ladakh, ideal duration is two weeks, could extend to three week if you wish to go for a 4 to 5 days trek or extend your journey to remote places like Zanskar. Or best preferably would like to spend extra few days at Ladakh doing nothing (best thing to do).
Season and Route
Ladakh is best visited during Indian monsoon June to September when most part of India is drenched in rains, Ladakh enjoys a pleasant summer. You have three options to travel down to Leh either take a early morning flight to Leh from Delhi enjoying the panoramic view of the Great Himalaya snow capped mountain ranges or you may decided to a Rustic Ramble Tran Himalayan Jeep Safari from Shrinagar (Kashmir) or from Manali (Himachal Pradesh). Both these motorable journeys are open from June beginning to September end.
Checklist for Ladakh
Average altitude of Leh is around 3500 meters / 11500 feet), this means you need to allow yourself to a day or two to acclimatize.
How to reach Ladakh?
My personal favourite is taking road route from Delhi – Manali – Keylong – Sarchu - Leh Route. This is definitely one of the most adventurous rountes in the world. While exiting I would prefer taking Leh – Kargil – Srinagar – Jammu or you may take a flight from Leh / Srinagar. With couple of days reserved for enjoying Kashmiri hospitality in House boat, Shikara Ride and Moguls Gardens.
The Manali – Leh Road Adventure Trailer
(3 days with Night Halts at Keylong & Sarchu; Can be done in 2 days with stop over at Sarchu; or in. Or can also be done in less than 20 hrs not recommended; this ride is called the bone cracker ride)
Delhi – Manali (585 km/ 14 hrs) a overnight journey in Sleeper Volvo – Rohtang La (51 km / 3 hrs, 3980m) enjoy first experience of snow here not to forget a heavy Omlette / Paratha breakfast at Marhi before reaching RohtangLa – Koksar (20km/1hr; check post) enjoy tea / freshen up first stop on Lahaul Spiti District – Sissu - Tandi (34km/2hr;2573m) The congruence of Chandra and Bhaga River forming Chandrabhaga River – Keylong (8km/1hr;3350m) good place for Night Halt; explore – Baralacha La (52km/2.5hr;4892m) – Sarchu (32km/1.5hr;4253m) – Lachung La (53km/3.5hr;5065m) – Pang (24km/1hr;4630m) – Debring (54km/2hr; 4500m) – Tanglang La (10km (10km/ 50min; Upshi (63km/2.5hr;3384m) – Leh (47km/1hr;3506hr)
The Srinagar Leh road (434 km), is shorter than Manali – Leh road, is a better option if you are looking at easier route, as it is part of National Highway NH1D and normally in good shape. It has three major passes and approaches within 5km of Line of Control (LoC) in fact at one location along the road between Kargil and Drass it mentions Under Enemy Observation. Kargil is the mid-point of the journey and for those who wish a break journey a point to stop over for the night. Kargil a small town became famous because of the India-Pakistani war during 1999 near the area of Drass.
Srinagar – Sonmarg (8990 feet / 84km) (Entire route has beautiful landscapes with Pine and Deodar medows; and rivers), Thajiwas Glacier, Starting point for Amarnath Yatra – Baltal 13 km from Sonmarg camp for Amarnath Yatra is setup here during the month of July / August - ZojiLa pass (11578 ft / 22 km from Sonmarg) heavy snowfall, extremely rough and unstable terrain; this also marks transition of landscape from Kashmir green medows to Ladakh's arid region.. – Gumra (11250 feet/ 3km) from Zojila to Matayin (10430 feet) has grass stretch called Minimarg - Dras (10660 feet / 21 km from Matayin) lies around 63 km ahead of Kargil and is also the second coldest inhabited place on earth after Siberia with recorded temperature of -60 degree centigrade. Also check Army memorial at Dras if time permits and also 4 Buddhist Sculptures that dates back to 6th century AD - Mulbek (10600ft / 45 km from kargil). You will find a 30 feet sculpture of Maitreya, the future Buddha carved out of a cliff. – NamkiLa Pass (12204 ft) – Bodh Karbu (10890 ft/ 23km from Mulbek) Huge Army base and PWD Bungalow – Heniskot (11640 ft) Starting point for a popular strenuous trek to Rangdum Gompa - FatuLa Pass (13479 ft) highest pass between Srinagar and Leh. Mountains all around here are shades of brown and ash and purple – Lamayuru (11520 ft/ 125 km before Leh) Lamayuru Monastery and Moon Land formation, a giant crater-like depression, its sides tinted pale yellow – Khaltse (97 km short of Leh) – Saspol (35 km from Khalatse and about 62 km from Leh) – Between Saspol and Leh Likir Village and monastery, stunning ruins of Basgo Castle, one time capital of Ladakh, Zanskar Joins Indus River at Nimu, Magnetic Hill (if a vehicle is partked on a square marked besides the road here and its ignition switched off; it may begin moving mysteriously uphill for a short distance) – 5 km after Magnetic hill Sikh Gurudwara Patther Sahin - Leh.
Activities that can be done at Ladakh