Ladakh – Land of High Passes and Monasteries
Leh is the capital city of the Union Territory of Ladakh. It is nestled amidst the Himalayas having treasuring the breathtaking views of the Karakoram ranges. The former Royal family of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh was lived in the Leh Palace. It was built in the same style as that of the Potala Palace of Tibet.
Leh is situated at an altitude of 3,524 metres (11,562 ft) above sea level. It was the important stopover on trade routes between India and Tibet for centuries. The main goods of trade were salt, grain, pashm or Kashmiri wool, charas or cannabis, resin, indigo, silk yarn and Banaras brocade (Brocade is a class of richly decorative shuttle-woven fabrics, often made in colored silks and with or without gold and silver threads).
Best time to Visit Leh, Ladakh:
The Leh has a cold desert climate with long & cold winters from late November to early March where temperature ranges from -28 degree Celsius to 6 degree Celsius. The city gets occasional snowfall during winter. During January and February the temperature remains in minus. However, these months are suitable for trekking like Winter Chadar Trek and Snow Leopard Trekking in the Hemis National Park.
While in remaining months, the weather is generally fine while temperature ranges from 0 degree Celsius to 34 degree Celsius. So, best time for family visits is the months of May & June. But you can also consider the months from July to September for a fine visit because Ladakh is in rain shadow area.
How to reach Leh, Ladakh:
Air India operates daily flights from Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) (Terminal-3) New Delhi to Kushok Bakula Rimpoche Airport, Leh. It also provides services to Jammu, twice a week and a weekly flight to Srinagar. The Go Air also operates from Delhi to Leh daily flights during peak time. Due to its location in between the Himalayas, the approach to Leh Airport has been named as one of the world’s most scenic approaches.
The Leh is connected with Srinagar via Kargil (419 KM) through National Highway-1 which opens from June to Mid-October. While the Leh-Manali Highway or National Highway-3 (472 Km) is troublesome due to very high passes, plateaus and the landslide prone area of Rohtang Pass near Manali. It is open from June to October, only.
There is no railway service currently in Ladakh. However, a 498 Km, Bilaspur–Leh railway line has been proposed.
What to see in the Ladakh:
Military Hall of Fame
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
Confluence of Indus & Zanskar rivers
Basgo Monastery and ruins of Palace
Chang La Pass
Shey Palace & Monastery
Day 1: Spend your day in acclimatization and take a walk at Leh Market.
Ladakh region is very unique in its climate because of its geographical location. Most of its places are located at an altitude above 10,000 feet from the sea level. So there is less oxygen in the air in comparison to other hill stations of India. Therefore, you have to take care of yourself and your family by acclimatization to the high altitude condition. This is very important to do it without fail; else your whole trip will be ruined.
The basic symptoms of high altitude sickness are nausea, dizziness, headache, sort of air, nose bleeding etc. In case of acute mountain sickness (AMS) contact to Hotel Management Staff for visit to the Doctor. However, Hotel staffs are aware of such problems so they enquire frequently about your health.
You can do one more thing after reaching to your hotel; enquire about Doctor on call and availabilityof Oxygen, in emergency situation.If you have some Oxygen problem then buy oxygen can or rent oxygen cylinder which can be arranged by your hotel staff.
Take proper rest. Go outside only when you and your family feel comfortable and mentally prepared. When, I was there in Leh with my family, in the third week of May, 2019. We took 4-5 hours rest after taking breakfast. In the evening, we took a walk upto the Leh market and explored it.
Important Tip: Prepare your daily itinerary in advance and handover a copy to Hotel Staff or agent to take necessary inner-line permits from the Concerned Authorities by paying prescribed Fee. Agent or Hotel Staff generally charge Rs.200/- for convenience fee else you can do it by yourself by spending considerable amount of time.
Inner-line permit is necessary for visiting many places like Pagong Tso, Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri lake.
Leh market is good for souvenir shopping and also for some good stuff, if you have missed something in your packing. (Have some tips for packing essential items). Some branded showrooms along withsome good shops are there in Leh only so do your shopping here. You can find some native items of Ladakh and Jammu &Kashmir. However, souvenir shopping can also be done at different places including at Hall of Fame. Whenever, you go at Hall of Fame, try some delicious snacks and one of the best Coffee of Leh.
Day 2: Sham valley- all places are in one direction.
Places: Likir Monastery, Alchi Monastery, Basgo Monastery and ruins of Palace, confluence of Zanskar and Indus River (Sangam), Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Patthar Sahib, Hall of Fame, Shanti Stupa.
Likir Monastery or Likir Gompa is a Buddhist monastery in Ladakh which is located at elevation of 12100 feet which is approximately 56 kilometers in the west of Leh. It is picturesquely situated on a little hill in Likir village in the valley near Indus River. It is about 9.5 kilometers north of the Srinagar to Leh highway.
Alchi Monastery or Alchi Gompa is a monastic (the place where monks live) complex of temples in Alchi village.The complex comprises four separate settlements with different period’s monuments with Alchi monastery which is said to be the oldest and most famous.It has three major shrines: the Dukhang (Assembly hall), the Sumtsek and the Temple of Manjushri and Chortens (which are mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics and are used as a place of meditation).
Basgo Monastery and ruins of Palace
Basgo Monastery or Basgo or Bazgo Gompa is located at distance of approximately 40 km from Leh. It is situated on top of the hill towering over the ruins of the ancient town and is noted for its Buddha statue and murals. The complex comprises the Chamchung, Chamba Lakhang, and Serzang temples, dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha.The monastery was listed among 100 most endangered heritage sites in 2000-2001 by World Monuments Fund.
Confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers
The confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers is one of the most visited places on the Leh-Srinagar Highway. The Indus River is one of the longest rivers in the world while Zanskar River is its Tributary. The muddy and wavy Zanskar meets calm Indus water and you can see clearly the difference in the water colour. This beautiful mountain gives you a phenomenal experience at Sangam. You can take exclusive photographs in every direction. Here, you can get amazing experience of river rafting in Zanskar river.
This is probably the most well-known area of Ladakh. It is a common belief that here the hills have some magnetic properties and can pull any vehicle even when the engine is turned off. There is a lot of folklore about the place as well which terms the entire phenomenon as supernatural. But the fact however is entirely different.
In brief, the placement of hills and the inability to see the horizon from this place creates an optical illusion, making the descending road looks ascending. So when you stop at this spot and turn off your engine, your car will itself start rolling down slowly but since the road appears going up, it will lead you to believe that the car is going uphill.
So whenever you go, you should take your experience. By the way, here is a shop where you can rent some 4-wheeled adventure bikes and enjoy. Magnetic hill is located at about 35 kms from Leh on Srinagar Leh highway 6 KM before Sangam.
Gurudwara Patthar Sahib:
It is 10 Km before Magnetic Hill towards Leh. It was built in 1517 to commemorate Guru Nanak Dev’s visit to Ladakh. It is noted for a huge stone that is believed to have Guru Nanak Dev’s imprint on it and another stone that is believed to have the imprint of a demon he encountered here. Both these stones are on display here. (10 KM from Magnetic Hill)
Hall of Fame:
Hall of fame is a must visit place. It is a museum constructed and maintained by Indian Army, honoring the Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives during Indo-Pak wars.
It also commemorates the Army’s role in cloudburst relief in 2010. In the Siachen Glacier section, you can find a lot of information related to how our brave soldiers survive in such extreme conditions. Some artifacts related to Kargil war too are on display.
It is built on a hilltop in Changspa region. It is a white domed stupa built by a Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura. There is a road leading from Leh to Shanti Stupa. It is another great vantage point (View point) offering mesmerizing views of Leh town with mountain landscapes in backdrop. You can capture some amazing sunset shots.
Day 3: Chang La Pass, PangongTso (Tso means Lake) and Return.
Druk Padma Karpo School, Leh
The Druk White Lotus School is located in Shey, Ladakh, is known locally as the Druk Padma Karpo School (Karpo means White and Padma means Lotus in the local language Bodhi).
The school was featured in a 2007 episode of the PBS series Design e2, Cisco Systems “Human Network” advertisement as well as 3 Idiots movie.
Chang La Pass
The Chang La is a high mountain pass in Ladakh at an elevation of 5,360 m or 17,590 ft. It is one of the highest motorable roads in the world. The climb is very steep and requires a careful drive.The stretch of 10-15 km road on either side from Chang la is loose dirt and slush.
During the summer months when snow melts, small streams appear across the road, making the climb a challenge for the bikers. Because of high altitude, it not advisable to stay at the top for more than 20-25 minutes, as it could affect your health.
Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake is an endorheic lake (no outflow of water into any external body of water like river, sea or ocean) in the Himalayas. It is situated at an elevation of 4,225 m (13,862 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies within the Tibetan Autonomous Region. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water.
The lake acts as an important breeding ground for a variety of birds including a number of migratory birds. During summer, the Bar-headed goose and Brahmini ducks are commonly seen here. Bird Islet is the most famous island in Pangong Tso which is a protected place.
For Security reasons, the boating is prohibited in the lake. However, there are several eating points are available along the shore of the lake.
Day 4: Shey Palace, Shey Monastery, Thikse Monastery, Hemis Monastery, Sindhu Ghat & Leh Palace.
Sindhu Ghat is located 10 kilometers from Leh near Shey village. Here, you can spend some time in peaceful environment near Sindhu river bank. Sunset view is marvelous. 3-day annual festival known as Sindhu Darshan festival is organized on full moon day (on Guru Purnima) in June, every year. The main reason behind its celebration is to endorse the Indus River (Sindhu River) as an icon of the communal harmony and unity of India.
Shey Palace & Shey Monastery:
Once it was used as a summer abode by kings of Ladakh but this palace is mostly in ruins now. It was built in 1655 in Shey Village which is 15 kilometers on Leh-Manali highway.
The monastery is located in the Palace complex. It is note for its giant copper with gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha. It is so named since Buddha was the sage (muni) of the Sakya people who resided in the Himalayan foothills and their capital was Kapilvastu. It is said to be the second largest such statue in Ladakh.
There are two festivals celebrated, first is called “Shey Doo Lhoo” to mark the beginning of the sowing season. The second festival is called the “Shey Rupla” that marks the harvesting season.In this festival, the “Rhupla dance” is performed by two men in tiger costumes.
Thikse Gompa or Thikse Monastery is located on top of a hill in Thiksey village, at an altitude of 3,600 meters (11,800 ft). It is located at a distance of 19 kilometers from Leh town.
It is the largest gompa in central Ladakh Tibet noted for many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings, swords, and a 15 metres (49 ft) high statue of Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh, covering two stories of the building.
Hemis Monastery is located in the small village of Hemis, at a distance of 45kms from Leh. The annual Hemis festival honouring Padmasambhava is held in early June. The monastery and village as well are close to Hemis National Park, home to the endangered snow leopard.
Overlooking the town of Leh, this palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century and continued to be the King’s residence until mid 19th century until Dogra forces took control of Ladakh and the Royal family was moved to Stok Palace.
The palace is nine storeys high and you can get an amazing panoramic view of Leh and surrounding areas from its roof. You can also view the mountain of Stok Kangri in Zanskar towards South from here while the Ladakh mountain range behind the palace towards North.
The palace also holds quite a collection of ancient jewellery, ornaments, ceremonial dresses and crowns. If you are someone who interested in photography, this is the perfect spot to get some great clicks. The night view of the palace is quite charming too though you will not be allowed inside after sunset.
Day 5: Return to Delhi or your sweet home or to the next destination.
- Taxi rates are fixed in Leh, Ladakh, so you can check the list before booking the vehicle.
- Bargain a little bit in local shops, if you think the price is too high. But think twice about the environmental conditions, terrain, number of business months in the year.
- Souvenir shopping can be done on different places so they can also get some benefit of short travel period.
- Always keep your heavy woolens, thermals and an umbrella as you never know when the need arises.
- Always keep a Sunscreen lotion, Sun glasses, Gloves, Cap, Cold Cream, Lip Balm.
- Always keep water, some snacks and your medicines along with some cotton as in the case of nose bleeding etc.
- Mobile and its charger, Camera and its charger, Power Bank.
- Always keep your travel documents and at least one government issued Identity Card to show the authorities whenever required.
- Please ensure that you are carrying both the original and a few photocopies of it.
- Write down some of your emergency on a paper.
- Multiple copies of your Inner line permit once you have procured it in Leh, Passport size photographs.
- Keep some postpaid mobile connections because pre-paid connections might not work in Ladakh.