Leh, the capital of Ladakh is a fascinating destination. Age-old monasteries, quaint lanes, colorful markets and stunning views of the Himalayas make Leh an exotic destination. Leh is where your adventure in Ladakh begins. You can go trekking through the mountainous terrain of Ladakh, enjoy a game of polo in a high altitude arena or watch an archery contest where local residents compete in a contest that remains unchanged by time. Mountaineering, white water rafting and wildlife tours are other adventurous attractions of Leh Ladakh India. Though the weather can be freezing cold, the smiles on the faces of the Ladakhi people are sure to warm your heart. Feel on top of the world in Ladakh, on tours to Ladakh with Leh Ladakh India.
A tiny speck of freshness in a hollow between monotonous grey slopes at a transiion from desert to greenery. Leh is a jigsaw of terraced roofs and houses jammed against one another. The bazaar cuts the town in two; this main artery reaches out from the centre to the enormous Royal Palace. Built into rock, the palace dominates the whole countryside. The mosque used by the Muslim community lies at the far end of the bazaar. In the narrow lanes are small eating places; here the standard meal is a bowl of boiled noodles, toped with meat both, washed down with salted butter tea. The little bazaar (Markets) sells hand-woven carpets with dragon designs, trinkets of silver and copper set with turquoise and painted thankas or scrolls.
How to reach Ladakh
Leh, the main town of Ladakh, has an airport that receives flights from Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and Srinagar throughout the year. The main airlines operating out of Leh are India Airlines and Jet Airways. Indian Airlines operates Daily flights to Leh from Delhi, twice a week flights from Jammu and once a week flights from Chandigarh and Srinagar. Jet Airways operates daily flights between Leh and Delhi.
The nearest railhead from Leh Ladakh is Jammu, approximately 690 km away. Jammu is well connected with rest of the country through trains.
The 434-km Srinagar-Leh road connects Ladakh to rest of the country. The road remains open for traffic from early June to November. There are regular Deluxe and Ordinary bus services between Srinagar and Leh plying on this route, operated by the J&K State Road Transport Corporation (J&KSRTC). You can also hire taxis (cars and jeeps) from Srinagar for the purpose. Another road leading to Ladakh is the 473-km Manali-Leh Highway. It remains open for traffic from mid-June to early October. There are regular Deluxe and Ordinary bus services plying on this route, operated by Himachal Pradesh Tourism, H.P. SRTC and J&K SRTC.
Ladakh lying in the greater Himalayas is bound to be cold. But interestingly enough this place has climatic variations which will leave you dumbfounded. Ladakh situated at an altitude of 3521m above sea level is a rugged mountainous town situated amidst barren mountains and a marked absence of life in the interiors of the these unnamed and unknown mountains.
Due to its extreme height Leh Ladakh experiences a conspicuous absence of rainfall and remains dry throughout the year. The annual rainfall is about 4 inches. Arctic cold but no snow, extreme temperatures where the nights are freezing cold and the day are equally hot is some of the characteristic features of the Climate in Leh Ladakh. Winters are extremely cold and summers leave you sweating in Ladakh.
Due to the fact that it is situated on the Greater Himalayas, the Indian monsoon winds are deterred from reaching the place. Moreover it is surrounded by some highest peaks in the world.
No one knows the varied climate in Leh Ladakh better than the mountaineers and the locals. Where else in the world you get frost bitten due to the extreme climatic coldness and sun burn the same day? An average summer temperature ranges from -3 degree C to 30 degree C while winter temperature ranges from – 20 degree C to 15 degree C.
Snow is an inevitable part of the climate in Leh Ladakh. Approximately it starts snowing from the end of September and goes on till end of June. During this time Leh Ladakh is completely cut off from the rest of the civilization
Places Of Interest
- Alchi Gompa
- Gompa Soma (Jokhang), Leh
- Sankar Gompa
- Phyang Monastery
- Shanti Stupa
- Sumda Chung Monastery
- Thiksey Monastery
- Tsemo in Leh
- Spituk Monastery
- Stakna Monastery
- Stok Gompa and Palace
- River Rafting
- Indus River
- Zanskar River
- Mountaineering in Ladakh
- Camel Safaris
The Alchi Gompa of Ladakh is situated at a distance of approximately 67 km to the west of the town of Leh. Built by Translator, Rinchen Zangpo, it dates back to the year 1000 AD. Alchi Gompa in Ladakh comprises of a number of blessed temples, including the main one of Rinchen Lhakhang at Lotsa Lhakhang. The other temples are the Jamyang Lhakhang (Manjusri temple) and the Sumtsag Lhakhang. Alchi Monastery of Leh Ladakh reflects an Indian touch, especially in its paintings.
Infact, Rinchen Zangpo has even mentioned in his biographies that he brought thirty-two sculptors and wood carvers from Kashmir, for the purpose of this monastery. The main image inside the Alchi Monastery of Ladakh is that of Vairocana. Apart from that, the other images include those of the five Buddha Families, along with their attendant deities.
Gompa Soma (Jokhang), Leh
Gompa Soma (Jokhang), Leh
The Ladakh Buddhist Association in 1957 built the small Gompa opposite to SBI, in the main bazaar, which is open throughout the day for visitors. The Gompa contains a statue of Joyo Rinpochey (crowned Buddha).
The Sankar Gompa is a couple of kilometers away from Leh town. It belongs to the Gelukspa school of Tibetan Buddhism. This small Gompa is a branch of the Spituk Monastery, founded by the first incarnation of Skyabje Bakula (head monk of Spituk).
Situated 2 Km North of the city center, the Sankar Gompa houses monks of the Gelukpa or Yellow Hat order. It has a grand image of Avalokiteshvara (The Buddhist deity of compassion) who is depicted with 1,000 heads and 1,000 arms.
Phyang Monastery, 17km. west of Leh is remarkably built on the hilltop, similar to the Likir monastery. This monastery belongs to the Degungpa Order. It was the first monastery, which introduced the Degungpa teaching of 'Skyob Jigsten Gonbo' in Ladakh that was founded by Chosje Danma Kunga, during the reign of King Jamyang Namgyal in the 16th Century A.D. It has about 50 monks in residence. Phyang also has a festival called 'Phyang Tseruk' on the 2nd & 3rd of the 6th month of Tibetan Calendar.
(Entry Free. Timings: 5 a.m.-9 p.m.)
The Japanese for World Peace built the Shanti Stupa, at Changspa, on the hilltop, and was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 1985. Its state of the art work attracts a lot of tourists to Ladakh and is spectacular to watch. The Shanti Stupa is an impressive white-domed structure in Chandspa that is beautifully illuminated at night.
It was built by a Japanese Buddhist organization to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism and to promote World Peace. The Shanti Stupa was inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1985. You can approach the monastery by a steep flight of steps or by a 3 Km route from the Fort Road. The views of the sunset and sunrise from the Shanti Stupa are spectacular.
Sumda Chung Monastery
Sumda Chung Monastery
Sumda Chon Monastery is around 65kms to the southwest of Leh, which is connected by a motorable road, upto Sumdo. The track starts ascending to the west, through a gorge from the left bank of the stream. At one point, the track crosses to the right bank and ascent becomes little more difficult. One or two houses come in the way before another gorge appears on the right which leads to the Sumda chon Monastery and towards the left leads to Sumda Chenmo. This track goes along the stream with plantations of Willow. After walking for an hour the monastery appears above the village houses. There is another short track from Alchi Village through Stakspila, the ascent from Alchi is more difficult and long compare to Sumda side. The pass is open only in summer. The Sumda Chon Monastery was probably founded during the period of Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo with Alchi Choskor and Mangu Monastery. The monastery comprises of three temples. The assembly hall has the image of four headed Vairocana, as the central or main image which is nicely decorated probably better than the Alchi and the Mangu Monasteries. The wall has murals of four Buddhas i.e. Ratnasambhava, Akshokhya, Amitabha, Amogasiddhi and Vairocana.
Thiskey Gompa, 17kms. south of Leh the most beautiful of all the Monasteries in Ladakh, belongs to the Gelukspa order. The Gompa was first built at Stakmo by Sherab Zangpo. Later the nephew of Sherab Zangpo, Paldan Sherab, founded the Thiskey Gompa on a hilltop to the north of Indus River. The Thiskey festival (Thiskey Gustor) is held in the month of October- November. Around 80 Monks resides here at present. Dukhang Karmo is a huge long assembly hall, which consists of the image of Shakyamuni and Maitriya Buddha statues. Chamkhang at the top near the courtyard contains the three storey Maitriya Buddha's statue, constructed in recent years. Dukhang at the top, consists of thousand armed Avaloketesvara, Shakyamuni Buddha and Bodhisattavas, Gonkhang contains the statues of Vajra Bhairava, Mahakala & Dharmakaya, the goddess Paldan Lhamo and Cham-sring
The Thiksey monastery located 17 Km from Leh is 12 storeys high and has many statues of Buddha, a pillar inscribed with Buddhist teachings, a 15 m high seated Maitreya Buddha in the main prayer hall, and a vast collection of Buddhist art. Home to monks of the Gelukpa order the Thiksey monastery is known for its annual festival held from the 17th to 19th day of the 12th month of the Tibetan Buddhist calendar.
Tsemo in Leh
Tsemo in Leh
King Gragspa Bum-Lde built the "Red Gompa" known as Tsemo Gompa in 1430 AD. The monument has three-storied Maitriya Buddha's statue and a one-storied statue of Avaloketesvara and Manjushri. The Tsemo Sungbum Chenmo (sacred text) was written in gold and silver, Tisuru Stupa consist of 108 temples, which were remarkable work completed in the reign of king Graspa-Bum-Lde.
The Namgyal Tsemo (victory Peak) was built by King Tashi Namgyal after the reunification of upper and lower Ladakh and victory over Hor. Their (Hor) bodies are placed under the image of Mahakala, the guardian deity to stop further invasion of Hor. The Leh palace known as 'Lechen Palkhar' was built by Singay Namgyal in the beginning of 17th Century A.D. The nine-storied palace is now deserted, and the ASI (Archeological Survey Of India) has taken up the renovation work.
The Spituk Gompa "Exemplary"; 7km. to southwest of Leh, was founded by Od-Ide, in the 11th century AD; when the monastic community was introduced. Meanwhile, Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo (the great translator) visited this monastery. In those days the Gompa belonged to the Kadampa School but Gelukpa order was introduced during the reign of king Dragspa Bum-Lde, when Lama Lhawang Lotus restored the monastery. The "Spituk Gustor" takes place in the courtyard of the monastery, on the 18th and 19th of the 11th month of Tibetan Calendar.
The Spituk Gompa is perched on a high hill overlooking the Indus river about 18 Km from Leh. Rinchen Zangpo the Great Translator who helped spread Buddhism in Ladakh named the monastery. (Spituk means exemplary). The Spituk monastery is known for its collection of Buddhist artifacts and for the Spituk festival held from the 17th to 19th days of the 11th month of the Buddhist calendar. Further up the hill is a Mahakal Temple, where a fearsome image of Vajrabhairava is unveiled once a year at its annual festival.
Stakna (Tiger's nose); 25km. south of Leh, is a small monastery comprising of few Dukhangs, which was founded during the reign of king Jamyang Namgyal, in 1580, by saint Chosje Jamyang Palkhar. The most important statue in the monastery is said to be of Arya Avaloketesvara. The monasteries like the one in Sani, Bardan and Stakrimo, in Zanskar are branches of this monastery.
Stok Gompa and Palace
Stok Gompa and Palace
Stok, 14 kms southeast of Leh, is a place, where the present day royal family resides. The three days trek from Stok to Spituk and the 8 days trek of Markha Valley starts from here. King Tsespal Tondup Namgyal built Stok palace & Museum in the year 1825, after Zorawar Singh's annexation of Ladakh. The royal family resides here since Ladakh lost to Zorawar Singh. At present the palace has a collection of royal dresses, old Thankas, King's crown etc. that is open for visitors. Gurphuk Gompa, a branch of Spituk Monastery is a little away from the palace, which is famous for its festival "Guru Tsechu" held on the 9th and 10th of the 1st month of Tibetan Calendar.
The Stok Palace is located on a glacial deposit of pebbles and overlooks fields of barley grown on terraces on the mountains. Standing four storeys tall, the Stok Palace was the official residence of the royal family of Ladakh and was constructed in 1814 by Ladakh's last ruler. The museum at the Stok Palace has an intriguing collection of Buddhist art, weapons, jewelry and artifacts, including thangkas painted with colors derived from crushed precious stones. Also on display are the ceremonial headdresses or 'peraks' of the erstwhile rulers of Ladakh. These headdresses are decorated with turquoise, lapis lazuli and coral and gold, making them an exotic sight.
Leh Palace is situated on the edge of a hill overseeing the town below. It is said to be a miniature version of the Potala in Lhasa. Known as Lhachen Palkhar, the Leh Palace was built in the 17th century by Dharmaraja Singey Namgial. This nine-storied palace took three years to complete. It served as the royal residence until the royal family was exiled to Stok in the 1830s. Now, it houses the Ladakhi branch of the Indian Government's archaeological conservation organization. Leh Palace also houses a museum displaying some exquisite tangkhas (painted or embroidered scrolls) and paintings.
There is a Victory Tower above the palace, on the Namgyal hill. It was built to commemorate the victory of Ladakh over the Balti Kashmir armies in the early 16th century. There is also a monastery above the Leh Palace known as Namgyal Tsemo Gompa. The monastery boasts of some beautiful frescos, Buddhist scriptures & idols and a huge statue of the Maitreya Buddha (future Buddha).
Trekking options in Ladakh are generally of two types, one consisting of short, daylong walks and the other, long treks lasting from a few days to a few weeks. The short ones are generally undertaken to see various monuments, monastic settlements, etc or across a ridge to enjoy the picturesque locales. While, the long ones are generally trans-mountain treks. Some of the famous routes for trekking in Ladakh, India are:
- Lamayuru (in Indus Valley) to Darcha (in Lahoul) - takes nearly three weeks
- Markha Valley trek - takes nearly ten days
- Lamayuru-Padum trek - takes nearly eleven days
- Stok-Khangri round trek - takes nearly four to five days
- Parts of the Ladakh range, lying between the Indus and Shayok valleys
Normally, the season for trekking tourism in Leh Ladakh is from early June to mid-October. However, the short treks within the central Indus valley can be undertaken in May also.
River rafting in Ladakh takes you through its picturesque landscape, consisting of deep canyons, soaring snow-covered peaks, hilltop monasteries, hillside villages, and unique wildlife. The best time for river rafting tourism in Ladakh is from June to October. Amongst the numerous options for white water rafting in Leh Ladakh, the main ones are
Indus River as well as its major tributaries in Ladakh offer a wide range of river rafting options. One of the best stretches on the Indus River is the one between Spituk and Nimu or Saspol. However, those new to river rafting must go for the easiest stretch upstream from Spituk up to Karu.
Zanskar River in Ladakh has on offer some of the most difficult, but exciting, rafting options. One of these stretches is the one between Padum and Nimu, through a gorge in the Zanskar Mountains. However, this trek will take upto a week.
Mountaineering in Ladakh
Mountaineering in Ladakh
One of the major attractions of Ladakh is its mountain climbing tourism. The major destinations for mountaineering in Leh Ladakh include:
One of the most patronized destinations for mountaineering tourism in Ladakh, Nun-Kun massif is easily accessible from the Kargil-Padum road. Of its six peaks, the highest ones are:
- Nun (7,135 m)
- Kun (7,087 m)
Stok-Khangri Massif (South of Leh)
Situated in the Zanskar Mountains, this massif provides some of the most spectacular views of the Indus River. The most popular peaks of Stok-Khangri are:
- Stok Khangri (6,150 m)
- Gulap Khangri (5,900 m)
- Matho West (5,950 m)
- Kantaka (5,275 m)
Karakoram Range (North of Leh)
The Karakoram Range lies across the Ladakh Range and the Nubra Valley. The major peaks of this range are:
- Saser-I (7,415 m)
- Saser-II (7,513 m)
- Saser-III (7,495 m)
To the southwest of Leh lies the Konglacha Peak (at a height of 6,700 m).
In case of foreign climbing expeditions, permission is required to be obtained from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. It takes atleast six months to process such applications.
Cycling is also one of the popular adventure sports in Ladakh, India. A visit to the spectacular Buddhist Gompas, through the fascinating local villages, with the Himalayas forming the background, is enjoyed best with a cycle. However, one needs to be a technically perfect biker to cycle on the zigzag roads in Ladakh. The best time for cycling is from mid June to end of September. Some famous cycling routes in Ladakh are the 64 km Leh-Alchi Road, 45 km Leh-Hemis road, Jispa-Gondla, Marhi-Manali, etc.
Camel safaris in Ladakh have the specialty of Bactrian camels, having 2 humps. These safaris are one of its kind in India and are organized across the sand dunes around Hunder in Ladakh
Polo is a very popular sport in Ladakh. It is usually played in summers at the Leh polo ground on every Tuesday and Saturday. The Ladakh Festival, held in the first half of September, includes a number of Polo tournaments.
Archery is a traditional sport of Ladakh. Villages and the National Archery stadium in Leh regularly serve as venues for Archery contests in Ladakh.
Leh Mosque, in the main Bazaar, is an architectural beauty. A Sunni Muslim Mosque, the Leh Mosque is believed to be built on the land granted by King Deldan Namgial, the grandson of the Muslim Queen of Ladakh.
You can enjoy shopping for curios and souvenirs in the bazaars and markets of Leh, while on your tour of Ladakh.
Popular items with tourists are Pashmina shawls, stoles and other Pashmina wool garments. Locally handmade woolen socks, gloves, caps and sweaters are a favorite of tourists in Ladakh.
Tibetan handicraft items including prayer wheels, Buddhist masks and Thangka paintings can be purchased in Ladakh. Tibetan silver jewelry and traditional Ladakhi jewelry with turquoise are also popular with tourists.
Apricots that grow abundantly in Ladakh are another popular gift that you can take back as a delicious souvenir of your trip to Ladakh.
Handwoven rugs, carpets and shawls are available in a range of prices in Ladakh's markets. The carpets have floral or geometric designs or dragon motifs on them and can also be hung as decorative wall hangings. Woven in wool gathered from Ladakhi goats, and dyed with natural dyes, Ladakhi carpets and rugs are thick, long-lasting and objects of utility and beauty, which you can buy while shopping in Ladakh.
While shopping in open markets, bargaining is commonly practiced and the final price you pay for any product will depend on your skill at negotiating with the seller. In government-run crafts emporia and larger established stores the prices are fixed and bargaining does not occur.
Some good venues for shopping in Ladakh are:
- Ladakh Art Palace on the Main Bazaar Road
- Tibetan Handicraft Emporium on the Main Bazaar Road
- Ladakh Environment and Health Organization on the Main Bazaar Road
- Tibetan Handicraft Community Showroom in Choglamsar
- Cottage Industries Exposition in Changspa
- Ecology Centre in Changspa
- Women's Alliance in Changspa
Main markets in Leh are:
- Tibetan Market off Old Leh Road for clothes
- Moti Market near the Leh bus stand
Ladakh's Himalayan ecosystem has led to the development of a distinctive agricultural economy and lifestyle. Many of the local people of Ladakh practice farming and the produce of their fields is made into the delicious dishes of Ladakhi cuisine.
Vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkins, beetroots, and beans are cooked in a variety of different ways and accompany meat dishes. Mutton and chicken are the commonly consumed types of meat in Ladakh.
Tourists in Ladakh can try local Ladakhi food, which is nourishing and usually mildly flavored. Favorites include Thukpa, a thick soup with vegetables that provides a complete meal and delicious Momos or steamed dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables, accompanied by a fiery chili sauce.
There are also many bakeries in Ladakh where you can buy freshly baked bread and enjoy eating it with locally made Apricot Jam. There are many restaurants in Leh, where you can have an international meal or choose from Tibetan or Ladakhi fare if you prefer.
Some good restaurants in Leh are:
- Himalaya Cafe - for good Tibetan fare.
- Shangri La - offers Korean cuisine.
- Budshah Inn - offers Chinese and Kashmiri cuisine
- Dreamland Restaurant - offers Tibetan, Kashmiri, Indian and Italian food.
- Penguin Bar and Restaurant - has a German Bakery with a wide choice of baked goods.
- Mentokling Restaurant - offers pizzas cooked over a traditional wood-fired oven.
- Pumpernickel German Bakery - offers lasagna and a fixed-price breakfast, as well as picnic meals.
Restaurants in Ladakh offer many kinds of cuisine including Tibetan, Korean, Chinese, and Western dishes. Enjoy a culinary adventure on tours to Ladakh with Leh Ladakh India.
There is no real night life in Ladakh. Most of the bars are associated with the hotels.