General Information


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.

History


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.

Trivia


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.

Sightseeing in Ladakh is all about visiting various Buddhist monasteries which are the most distinguishing feature of Ladakh.

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.

Water Rafting

Water Rafting


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.

Trekking

Trekking


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.

Jeep Safari

Jeep Safari


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

Mountaineering


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

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.

Nubra Valley

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

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.

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Where to Stay

You will find a variety of places to stay in Ladakh. The accommodation option ranges from hotels and guesthouses to paying guest accommodation and tourist hostels. The hotels in this region are classified into A, B, C & Economy categories while guest houses fall in the upper, medium and economy class.

Quite a few hotels in Ladakh are family-run and give tourists the opportunity to interact with local families. Some monasteries allow guests and offer essentially basic accommodation that is available for the price of a small donation. Most of the hotels are around the main market area and most hotels and guesthouses close down in winter, mainly because occupancy is pretty low.

The best time to visit Ladakh is from the middle of May till the end of September when summer is at its full bloom and snow has melted. However the remote trek routes open up only by June. Another reason to visit Ladakh during the summers is that the Buddhist Monasteries or gompas celebrate their annual festivals at this time of the year.

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:

  • April to Mid-May. Learn more
  • Mid May to July. Learn more
  • August to Mid-September. Learn more
  • Mid-September to Mid-October. Learn more
  • Mid October to Mid-November. Learn more
  • Mid-November to March. Learn more

The Thi rulers built great forts and palaces, and also shifted their religious order more towards Tibetan Buddhism with its strong tantric aspects. In 1533, Soyang Namgyal established the Namgyal dynasty, which extended its empire up to the outskirts of Lhasa. The capital was shifted to the more strategically located Leh, where the descendants of the Namgyal dynasty still live. In the late 16th and 17th century, Ladakh was invaded by the Muslim Baltis.

In the tumultuous years after India’s independence, Ladakh also experienced some of the fiercest battles. In 1950, Chinese troops occupied Aksai Chin, which they claimed to be part of China. Their army marched deep into Ladakh, building roads and bridges without the knowledge of Indian authorities to link Tibet with Xinjiang. Though contested by India, the territorial dispute has never been settled. In 1962, China launched a full-scale war on India, with Ladakh as one of the fronts. In the aftermath of this war, Ladakh grew in importance as a military base. Due to its sensitive location, Ladakh remained closed to foreigners till 1974, when it was opened up for tourists from abroad. The aspirations of the distinctly different Ladakhis led to creation of Autonomous Hill Council within Jammu & Kashmir in 1995. Local councillors with greater decision-making powers govern this council, with its headquarters at Leh. Today, Ladakh has been rediscovered, not as a trade link, but a land of amazing beauty and antiquity.

April marks the beginning of tourist season in Ladakh when the place begins to warm up with tourist activity. Restaurants open, hotels and guest houses start to welcome guest and various camps at sites such as Pangong Tso and Moriri Lake commence to set up. Usually by the second week of May, the crucial Srinagar-Leh highway opens up leading to a flurry of tourism energy into Ladakh. By late April, all the lakes including the Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri begin to melt, uncovering the beautiful colors and fabulous sights. In order to welcome more guests, hotels and guesthouses offer heavy discounts, benefitting all the travelers who happens to be present here around this time. However, both Khardung La and Chang La passes are still under the snow and it’s a memorable experience in itself to pass through them.

During this time, one will only find Srinagar-Leh highway opened and this is just not the right occasion to complete the circuit. But in June beginning, Manali road opens up along with Rohtang Pass, however, the starting 7-10 days are really not suitable for travel since area experiences snow slides and recurring blockages. In the time of this short window, just before the monsoons, it is really cool and alluring to travel to Ladakh due to the amazing weather. The roads are flanked by high snow walls around Rohtang and sometimes Baralacha Pass too and there are many other incredible views of pervading snow to enjoy. However, due to rapid melting, the roads and paths are wet with gushing waters, so much so that sometimes it becomes really hard to cross them.

At this time, the monsoons are in full swing and rivers, puddle and water crossings are full with flow. Travelling during this period can be risky and dangerous as landslides are common. However, the area beyond Zozi La Pass, in the direction of Leh from Srinagar and further from Baralacha Pass, towards Leh from Manali side is a rain shadow area and do not receive much showers. But definitely the path won’t be easy up to Baralacha la from the side of Manali and Zozila Pass from the Srinagar side. Nevertheless, even the climate of this rain-shadow area is changing with time and there have been rains in Ladakh too or intermittent overcast conditions but nothing drastic has happened till now.

This is one of the best seasons of all for visiting the amazing and picturesque locations of Leh and Ladakh as the place is imbued in wonderful colors in all their glory right up thorough the Srinagar-Leh as well as Manali-Leh roads. After monsoons, the flowing waters recedes too much extent and the weather is dry with a beginning chill and occasional snowfall. Moreover, the road conditions are better and the maintenance work is also settled by this time. Various water bodies surrounding the locations turn aqua blue and the place is brimming with astonishing beauty. Raid-De Himalayas Rally open up and can prove to be disturbing for regular travelers. While some camps at the site have packed up and closed some are still running. Overall, to witness the real beauty of the place, this is just the right span to pay a visit.

By this time the cold has completely taken over the area with the place experiencing sub-zero temperatures at all locations above 14,000 ft. Almost all of the tourists have deserted the place with only few ones remaining to brave the chill. Most of the hotels, guesthouses, restaurants are closed while even locals have moved back, abandoning the place till winters. Although Srinagar-Leh and Manali-Leh highways remain open, it is usually not advisable to travel through them due to extreme chill and also due to the presence of black-ice which begins to appear towards the end of October and continuing till early winters, usually vanishing during the winter season.

This is the coldest seasons of all in Ladakh when the region is completely cut-off from rest of the India by road, although roads to Pangong Tso Lake and Nubra Valley over KhardungLa Pass and Chang La Pass are kept open all round the year, leaving few days of snowfall. From Mid-January to Mid-March is also the time when many adventure tourists arrive in Ladakh for the famous Chadar Trek, involving walk over the frozen Zanskar River. The conditions at this time are that of extreme cold and there is frequent snowfall which makes survival and acclimatization difficult. One of the major highlight of your visit during this time is the changing colors of Pangong Tso Lake and Tso Moriri which happens from November to December/mid-January. After this, the Lakes get completely frozen with solid ice and one can even easily walk on them.