High up in the shadow of the world’s highest peaks is a land of mythical beauty, Ladakh- a land where vividly coloured mountains rise up dramatically on all sides, dwarfing the crystal rivers and shimmering glaciers which make their way through the barren land. A land that is arid and harsh, but also one of the most beautiful anywhere on earth; a land of warm, friendly people and a cultural heritage that is nothing short of amazing.
Once a little-known and even less visited part of Kashmir, but today a destination that’s topping all the popularity charts when it comes to tourism– Ladakh is exquisitely lovely and relatively unspoilt, and beckons the looking-for-new-horizons traveller. For those who have seen and done it all- Ladakh guarantees an experience one will not forget.
Rock engravings and archaeological finds indicate that the early inhabitants of Ladakh living here for thousands of years were nomadic tribals or Changpas from the Tibetan plateau. They were later joined by Buddhists from northern India called the Mons, in the 4th and 5th centuries AD by the Indo-Aryan Dards.
Migrating along the course of the Indus, the Dards introduced irrigation and settled cultivation into this region. The Muslim Baltis came in from Central Asia to settle around Kargil. In Roman times, Ladakh was a major trading centre on the Silk Route between China and the Mediterranean. The first independent kingdom that consolidated the entire region was established in the 9th century. At the same time, Buddhism was introduced in the region by great teachers like Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche). Towards the end of the 10th century, Ladakh came under the rule of the Thi dynasty, which established its capital at Shey. Learn more.
Things To Do
There is no dearth of things to do or see in Ladakh. Buddhist monasteries – the distinctive feature of Ladakh – are a must visit. Enjoy outdoor activities like white water rafting, trekking, jeep safaris and mountaineering here or shop for Ladakhi artefacts like Buddhist relics or Pashmina and Cashmere shawls and stoles. Savour the variety of Tibetan, Kashmiri and Ladakhi cuisines or revel in the festivities of the different festivals celebrated here and enjoy the vivacity of this destination.
Khardung La (la means pass in Tibetan) in Ladakh, is regarded as one of the highest motorable road in world, with an estimated elevation of 5359 meters or 17,582 feet.
Since Ladakh is situated at an altitude of almost 3500 mts, high altitude sickness is a very real problem and that is why it is recommended that your first 24 hours in Ladakh is spent resting.
The Hemis Monastery is the wealthiest, largest and one of the most popular monasteries in Ladakh. It was founded in 1630 and boasts of a very rich collection of ancient relics. The monastery hosts the annual Hemis festival which is celebrated to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The Thangka (a sacred appliqué-work tapestry wrought with pearls, which depicts Guru Padmasambhava) is put on display during this festival. The thangka can only be seen once in every twelve years.
Shey Gompa is another interesting place to visit in Ladakh. It was founded in the 17th century built on the instructions of King Deldon Namgyal, in the memory of his late father, Singay Namgyal. Its most distinguishing feature is the huge metal image of the seated Buddha believed to be the largest metal statue in the Ladakh region. The lower story of the monastery houses a large library adorned with images of Buddha. An annual festival is held at the Shey Gompa on the 30th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.
Other popular monasteries in the region are Alchi Gompa, Likir Gompa, Sani, and Karcha Monastery.
The Leh Palace was built in the 17th century by King Sengge Namgyal. It is a nine story palace that was abandoned when the Dogra forces took control of Ladakh in mid 19th century. The Leh Palace now stands in ruins but still counts amongst the most popular places to see in Ladakh.
White-water rafting on the Indus and Zanskar Rivers offers exhausting and challenging rides and is a popular outdoor activity. Rafting in the Indus offers mesmerizing view of Buddhist Monasteries and titanic hills. Flow of the stream increases between June and August, and it is the best season for rafting. Rapids, in this river, vary between grade one to five. Popular route for beginners is Hemis-Stakna-Shey-Thiksey-Choglamsar. A rather more adventurous people can go for the route between Alchi and Khaltsey.
Ladakh is the trekkers’ numero uno paradise – treks of varying degrees of difficulty or duration take visitors up to isolated villages, ancient monasteries, remote valleys, highland lakes and glaciers. Some of the popular routes take trekkers from monastery-to-monastery or to Hemis, Spitok, Changthang, around Leh and to the Marka Valley, Nubra Valley, Suru Valley, Zanskar valley, Indus valley, and the Rupsho valley. Trekking in Ladakh is not easy, the terrain is rugged and inhospitable, and the climate is enough to tax the most seasoned hikers.
For the less inclined to walk, but still keen to see more of Ladakh, the best outdoor activity in Ladakh is a jeep safari. Once you do this, it’s almost certain that you will go through the highest motorable road in the world Called K-top 5600m on the way to Nubra Valley. You will drive across Changla pass on the way to Pangong Lake & Taklangla on the way to Tsomoriri & Manali. With more tour operators willing to plan trips to new destinations, tourists are spoiled for choice.
Mountaineering is another adventure activity in Ladakh that you can partake. The Stok-khangri Massif, Mt. Nun, and Mt. Kun are some of the famous peaks in the Zanskar region popular with climbers. The peaks around Leh are Gulap Khangri, Matho West, Kantak and Konglacha. Further north, off the Nubra Valley stretches the awesome Karakoram Range. Most of the Karakoram peaks fall in the restricted areas and special permits are required by climbers.
Leh is a large town that once was an important stopover for laden caravan travelling the Central Asian Silk Route. It is situated at a height of 3417m amidst high mountain ranges and is connected via National Highway 1D to Srinagar in the southwest and to Manali in the south via the Leh-Manali Highway. It is pretty, picturesque place with old monasteries, temples or gompas and stupas, palaces of the ruling family and traditional houses. In recent times, Leh has become a popular destination and so tends to be more crowded and commercial than before. However, being well connected to other parts of India, most tourists prefer to use it as a base for forays into the less travelled parts of the province.
Ldomra, the valley of flowers is the Ladakhi name given to the Nubra Valley. Nubra (10,000ft) lies in the north of Ladakh and includes the valley of the Rivers Nubra and Shyok. The approach to the valley involves crossing the world’s highest motorable mountain pass, the famous Khardung-la (18,383 ft). The valley of the Nubra and Shyok Rivers lies surrounded by massifs and peaks of the mighty Himalayas and present impressive vistas – glaciers, snow clad mountain peaks contrast with pretty valleys and charming villages. Nubra’s other attractions are its sulphur springs, monasteries and gompas. Despite the high altitude, the valleys are sheltered enough to grow plenty of fruits and the flowering orchards are a visual delight in the summer months.
Zanskar is a three-pronged valley lying between the Himalayan and Zanskar mountain ranges and is home to more than 10,000 Buddhists. Overlooking the valley is the awesome mountain range with the mighty Nun-Kun peaks, considered the most tough and challenging mountains in Ladakh by mountaineers. The average height of the Zanskar Range is about 6,000 m (19,700 ft). Its eastern part is known as Rupshu. It is the most remote and inaccessible district in Ladakh and has only recently been opened up for tourism. It has the requisite number of Buddhist monasteries, gompas, and old monuments but its attraction lies in its terrain ideal for trekking, climbing, and whitewater rafting.
How to get there by Air
Ladakh’s capital Leh is connected by flight services that come in to the airport, 5 kms from the main town on the Srinagar Highway. The airport, shuttle bus services and shared jeep-taxis are available into town. Weather conditions can be erratic in Leh and flights get cancelled at short notice. Check before travelling and book well in advance, since flights are usually full in the summer months.
How to get there by Road
The most used overland approach to Ladakh is from the Kashmir valley on the Srinagar-Leh road (435km), The highway opens in early June just as the summer traffic to the region begins and closes down by November. The highway crosses some really fabulous scenic areas before entering Ladakh through the Zoji-La pass (3505m).
Getting Around Ladakh
Regular public bus services ply between the two main towns of Leh and Kargil on a fixed route basis; the other small hamlets and villages in Ladakh are connected to each other by mini-buses. Visitors to Ladakh can hire cars, MUVs or 4WDs from any one of the many travel agents in Leh for excursions into the interiors of Ladakh. Hired taxis remain the most convenient and comfortable mode of travel within Ladakh and definitely worth the extra cost. For travel to Nubra, Changthang and Dah-Hunu, it is necessary to hire vehicles from Tourist Dept recognized/ registered travel agencies only.
Get Directions From Your Location
Some feel that the best time is in the months of December to February i.e. during winter when you can experience authentic Ladakh, when there are only a handful of tourists. This is the time when you can go on one of the most adventurous treks of the world, Chadar trek- walk on the frozen Zanskar River for almost a week. Nevertheless, each time of the year has its own allure and deciding between the best times to visit the place often becomes confusing.
If this seems to be the case with you then the information underwritten would be a great help.
Season (Month) Wise Best Time and Way to Visit Ladakh: