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Ladakh, the ‘Land of the High Passes‘ is a Union Territory of India and is among the most stunning parts of the Indian Himalayas. Ladakh is one of the highest regions of the world and is well-known for its remote mountain scenery, high plains, and deep valleys. This Land of High Passes is famous for adventure trekking, mountaineering, and white water rafting. Tourism is one of the economic contributors of Ladakh. The best time to visit Ladakh is between the months of April and September when the climate is pleasant and the beauty is breathtaking.
- The earliest inhabitants of Ladakh were the Khampa nomads, who domesticated Yaks. The first settlement along with the Indus river was established by Mons from the region of Kullu and another tribe called the Brokpas, towards the west of Ladakh, originating from Gilgit.
- Around the 10th century AD, nomads from Khotan launched a series of bloody invasions in Ladakh. Gyapacho succeeded in repelling the attack of the Khotan nomads with the help of Skilde Nimagon, the descendant Kin Tibet. Nimagon became the first king of Ladakh and chose Shey as the headquarter, and built a fort there. Later, he became the king of the entire Ladakh region. Skilde Nimagon ruled from 975 to 1000 AD.
- Ladakh was mainly known for Trade in the past. It was the main trade route for all other counties. When China closed the border earlier in the 1960s between the Tibet region and Ladakh, International trade suffered a lot.
- Tourism has always been an important part of Ladakh’s economy and the Government of India has always supported and encouraged tourism in Ladakh since 1974. The Indian military maintains a strong presence in Ladakh reign because of the wider reign in the Kashmir conflict.
Ladakh is a Union Territory of India, consists of two districts: Leh and Kargil. The Leh district contains the Indus, Shyok, and Nubra river valleys whereas the Kargil district contains the Suru, Dras, and Zanskar river valleys. Ladakh is also known as “Little Tibet” because its culture and history are closely related to Tibet.
- The nearest airport to Ladakh is Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh which is well connected to other major airports of the country. Jet Airways, Air India, and Go Air have a daily flight to and from Ladakh Airport. The timings of the flights depend upon the change in weather.
- The city is 9 km away from Ladakh Airport. You can take a taxi or book a cab to reach any place you want to visit.
There are 2 routes to reach Ladakh by road, one is via Srinagar and the other one is via Manali.
First Approach- Srinagar to Leh
The first route to reach Ladakh is from Srinagar which is around 434 kms away. You can hire a cab or take a bus to reach there. You can also take your own cars and bikes if you are planning an adventurous trip. This route remains open from the starting of June till November when the snow is cleared from the roads. This route is considered easier than the Manali route because it has more facilities and better connectivity.
Second Approach – Manali to Leh
The second route to reach Ladakh is from Manali which is around 473 kms away. This route remains open from mid-June to October and is generally blocked by snow for the rest of the year. You can also hire a bus or book a cab from Manali, Himachal, Delhi, and J&K to reach there. You can also take your own bikes and cars to make your trip more adventurous.
When to visit Ladakh?
- The best time to visit Ladakh is between the months of April and September when the temperature is between 20-30 degrees celsius.
- Summers in Ladakh is the best tourist season because of its pleasant climate and beautiful breathtaking views.
- You can also do river rafting, trekking, camping, and other adventurous activities in the Summer season.
The official language of Ladakh is the Ladakhi Language (Tibetan) known as Bhoti or Bhodi. The Tibetan Language is spoken in Ladakh, a region administered by India as a union territory.
- Summer Season: April to September
- Average Temperature: 20 to 30 degrees Celsius.
- Winter Season: October to March
- Average Temperature: -5 degree Celsius to -30 degree Celsius.
Fairs & Festivals in Ladakh
Ladakh is a place where many beautiful and interesting festivals are held. The Festivals of Ladakh is mainly celebrated in the courtyard of Buddhist Monasteries. People from all parts of Ladakh attend these festivals with enthusiasm and passion. Hemis Festival, Tak Tok Festival, Sindhu Darshan are some of the famous festivals celebrated in the Ladakh region.
The Hemis Festival is the most important and most popular festival in Ladakh which attracts lots of tourists every year. It is a two-day festival celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar month. This festival is celebrated on the birth anniversary of spiritual Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibet Tantric Buddhism.
At this festival, local and monks dressed up in traditional clothes and perform the sacred masked dance known as Chaam Dance on the beats of Drums, longhorns, and cymbals. On both days, Giant Buddhist paintings which are called Thangkas are unfurled for the public to see.
Sindhu Darshan Festival
Sindhu Darshan Festival is a 3 day festival of Ladakh celebrated every year on the day of Guru Purnima. At this festival, tourists from all over the country participate in musical shows, dance performances, and art exhibitions. This festival is also known as Kabaab festival and it draws focus to the Sindhu River as a symbol of the country’s communal harmony and unity.
On the first day of the festival, a ceremony is conducted by 50 senior Lamas on the bank of the river Sandhu and a bonfire is organized at night. The second day of the festival is all about art, culture, music, and dance performances followed by a Puja (prayer).
Tak Tok Festival
Tak Tok Festival is one of the major festivals of Ladakh celebrated at the cave of Tak Thok Gompa. This festival is celebrated every year on the 10th of the Tibetan Calendar which is the birth anniversary of Padmasambhava, founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The highlight of the festival is the great dance performed by the Lamas. Mask dance and other cultural programs are also organized throughout the day where people wear ethenic clothes and perform religious practices.
Transportation/Stay to prefer
Ladakh is a dream destination place for most people because of its scenic beauty and adventurous activities. Ladakh is also known as the land of festivals which attracts a lot of tourists every year to visit for its traditional dance forms, music, art, and culture. The most popular places to visit Ladakh are Pangong Tso Lake, Thiksey Monastery, Khardung-la Pass, Markha Valley, Nubra Valley, Hemis National Park, Magnetic Hill, etc. In Ladakh, there are numbers of buses, cars, and taxis that are available for tourists to visit different places.
- Travelling through public buses is the cheapest and the most comfortable way to visit different places in Ladakh. These public buses have a fixed schedule and can cover different places in Ladakh like Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Thiksey monastery, Hemis monastery, and Stakna monastery which are quite popular among the tourist circuits.
- If you are not comfortable with bus service, then you can opt for a cab or taxi service with a fixing price. You can book your cab or taxi from a registered travel agency to make your trip more comfortable and adventurous. There are lots of flyers, that people out there paste in cafes, bus stands, taxi stands wanting to share the taxis for different trips within Ladakh. You can also hire a shared taxi if you’re alone or if you want to meet new people and explore new places with them.
Top places to visit in Ladakh
Some of the most visited places of Ladakh are:
Hemis National Park
Hemis National Park is a high altitude national park in Ladakh, famous for its snow leopards. It is the largest national park in South Asia located in the eastern part of the Ladakh district. It was established in 1981, to protect the decreasing population of wildlife like leopards, Asiatic ibex, Tibetan wolf, the Eurasian brown bear, and the red fox. It is home to 16 mammal species and 73 bird species as per records. May to September is the best time to visit Hemis National Park. Routes are closed after November because of heavy rainfall.
Pangong Lake is one of the most popular lakes of Ladakh situated at a height of 4,350m. It is the world’s highest Saltwater lake and has attracted numbers of tourists every year from all over the country and above. The main highlight of Pangong Lake is the fact that it keeps changing colours, appearing blue, green, and red at different times. Pangong Lake is situated at the border zone of India and China, so Indians need to take an Inner Line Permit which can be issued from Tourist Information Center at Leh Market to visit the Lake. May-September is the best time to visit Pangong Lake. In winters, due to high altitude and extreme weather, the whole lake freezes during this season of the year.
Leh Palace is a former royal palace and one of the central attractions in Leh built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. It is one of the finest examples of medieval Tibetan architecture. Leh Palace is a nine-story palace with an interior of ceremonial dresses, ancient Buddha relics, old utensils, and artistic painting. The palace provides spectacular views of the Stok Kangri mountains and valleys below. The night view of the Palace is even more beautiful and attractive. Leh palace is open to visitors between 7 am and 4 pm every day.
Shanti Stupa is a white-domed Buddhist monument located atop a hill in the Changspa region. It is a religious place for the Buddhists and it holds a golden Buddha statue and images of his birth and death. It is another great vantage point that provides mesmerizing views of the town with the valleys below. The night view from the top of Shanti Stupa is extremely beautiful and breathtaking to capture some amazing shots. Shanti Stupa is open to visitors between 5 am and 9 pm every day.
Magnetic Hill is a popular point in Ladakh where vehicles defy the force of gravity and move upwards on the hill when parked at the marked location. It is the most famous point of Ladakh that attracts many tourists every year. Magnetic Hill has many theories with different logic. Some of them are based on superstitions. The river Sindhu also flows to the east of Magnetic Hill that makes the surroundings more beautiful and attractive. The best time to visit Magnetic Hill is from July to September when the roads are clear and the climate is pleasant to explore.
Nubra Valley is a tri-armed valley located in the northeast of Ladakh surrounded by snow-capped Himalayan mountains. Nubra Valley is also known as the Orchard of Ladakh and its original name was Ldumra that means the valley of flowers. Nubra valley is famously known for its beautiful orchards, scenic vistas, Bactrian camels, and monasteries. People can also visit nearby places in Nubra valley like Diskit, an isolated town on the edge of a desert, a landmark statue of Maitreya Buddha, and also visit villages like Somoor and Panamik. April to June is the best time to visit Nubra Valley in the summer with a pleasant climate making it ideal for sightseeing.
Zanskar Valley is one of the most attractive valleys of Ladakh, located in the eastern section of Ladakh. It was built by Rinchen Zangpo, the great translator in the 11th century. Zanskar Valley is famous for its snow-capped mountains and landscapes. Himalayan mountains, pleasant weather, and sparkling river view make Zankar valley the best tourist destination to visit. Zankar is also famous for various adventure activities like Trekking, Rafting, and Paragliding. The temperature in Zanskar is cold during winters so the best time to visit Zanskar Valley is between June and September.
Ladakh is not only famous for scenic views and adventurous activities but also for some picturesque monasteries. Thiksey Monastery is the largest Tibetan monastery in Ladakh with several stupas, statues, and other Buddhist artifacts. Thiksey Monastery is a 12 story structure, each of which has a different style of architecture with over 500 monks. This monastery is famous for its Buddhist culture, lifestyle, scriptures, statues, architectural elements, and even paintings. Thiksey Monastery is located on the top of a hill in Thiksey in the east of Ladakh and is a resemblance to Potala Palace in Lhasa. This monastery is open to tourists from 7 am in the morning to 7 pm in the evening throughout the week. October and November is the best time to visit the monastery.
Khardung La pass is also known as the “Pass of Lower Castle”. It is the world’s highest altitude mountain pass and is a gateway to the Nubra as well as Shyok valley in Ladakh. It is the most popular tourist attraction of Ladakh and people from all over the world visit this pass especially on their bikes for an adventurous experience. Khardung La Pass is situated at an altitude of 5,359 meters and is 39.7kms from Leh. The first 25 kilometers until the South Pullu Checkpoints are very smooth but from there the road starts to deteriorate with melted snow, broken rocks, landslides, etc. until you reach the top. The view from the top of Khardung La pass is extremely astonishing and thrilling and the feeling is no less than conquering the world. Vehicles from Leh to Khardung La are only allowed between 9 am and 1 pm and the best time to visit Khardung La pass is between the months of March-May and September -October.
Dras Valley is the coldest inhabited place in India and the second coldest inhabited place in the world, with temperatures dropping to as low as -45 degrees celsius. Dras is popularly known as ‘The Gateway to Ladakh’ and is situated at the height of 10,990 feet above sea level. Drass valley is famous for its spectacular beauty, serene peak, and especially for challenging and numbingly cold. Dras is also famous for trekking activities, some of the popular treks in Ladakh are Mushko Valley Trek, Trek to Saliskote, Trek to Amarnath, and Drass-Gurez Trek. The season between the months of May and September is the best time to visit Drass Valley.
Cuisines to taste in Ladakh
- A Trip to Ladakh is just incomplete without savouring different dishes & cuisines prepared by the locals. The Ladakhi cuisine is very different from Indian cuisine because it mainly originates from the culinary traditions of Tibet.
- Tibetan influence on Ladakhi cuisine is momos, a dumpling stuffed with vegetables, minced chicken, or even yak cheese. Some of the other Tibetan dishes that are popular in Ladakh are thukpa, thenthuk, and skyu.
- Some of the locally grown vegetables in Ladakh are radish, carrot, green leafy vegetables, and potatoes. Non-Vegetarian food such as chicken and yak meat are served with different recipes.
- Apricot Jam is the most famous locally made product of Ladakh which is a must to taste if you visit Ladakh.
Popular Food Of Ladakh
- Momos- A dumpling stuffed with vegetables, minced chicken, or even yak cheese
- Thukpa- A clear soup with vegetables and noodles made of wheat or barley flour.
- Skyu- A soup made with barley or wheat dough kneaded into thumb-sized flatten balls.
- Tingmo- A steamed Tibetan bread that is eaten with dal, cooked vegetables, or meat.
- Chutagi- A pasta-like dish with a rich vegetable-based sauce.
- Chhurpi- A yak cheese made from the milk of the domesticated yak called “dzomo”.
- Butter Tea- A traditional pinkish beverage of the Himalayan regions.
- Chang- A traditional alcoholic beverage.
- Khambir- A delicious traditional leavened wheat-based bread.
- Apricot Jam- Apricot Jam is made with Apricot (or “chulli” in Ladakhi language) is the most popular locally-grown fruit in the region.
Things to do in Ladakh
Ladakh is not only about mountaineers and views but also for exciting adventure activities. Each activity is allowed in different months depending on the weather. Some of the famous adventure activities of Ladakh are –
- Skiing- Ladakh with overwhelming beauty offers you to ski in full snowy mountains along with the frozen lakes and ever-changing Landscapes. Skiing is allowed between the months of December to March and it is one of the must-do activities in Ladakh.
- Paragliding- Paragliding in Ladakh is the best thing to do for the people who are Sky Lovers. The view from the top while soaring in the sky is beautiful and breathtaking. This activity is mostly done in the months between October and June.
- River Rafting- There are three major rivers in Ladakh, The Indus River, the Zanskar River, and the Shayok River that offer rafting options. Rafting in the Zanskar River is the most exciting activity in Ladakh. The twists and turns of the river make whitewater rafting on the Zanskar a memorable adventure. The best season to plan a trip to enjoy River Rafting in Ladakh between the months of June and September.
Some other activities to do in Ladakh are :
- Ice Skating
- Mountain Biking
- Rock Climbing
- Ice Hockey
Souvenirs to buy in Ladakh
- Tibetian Handicraft- Ladakh has a huge Tibetan Population so Tibetian art crafts and wares are quite popular in Ladakh. One can also buy Buddhist Statues, Buddha Masks, and traditional Thangka Paintings.
- Pashmina Shawl- Pashmina Shawl is made with fine Kashmiri wool which is very famous in Ladakh. It is extremely beautiful and warm. With Pashmina Shawl, one can also buy a traditional robe ‘Goncha’ that is made with wool and cotton.
- Kashmiri Carpets- Kashmiri Carpets have beautiful designs with warm silk and wool which are available in different sizes and prices.
- Silver Stone Jewellery- The stunning Ladakhi Jewellery made with pure Silver is one of the best things to buy in Ladakh.