Ladakh, the erstwhile Buddhist kingdom is spectacularly jagged. Arid mountains, with crowned rocky outcrops, picturesque gompas, meditational mani walls and multi-hued flags are a few of the various sites that exemplify the sweetness of Ladakh.
The well balanced traditional society of Ladakh has much to supply the West in terms of ecological awareness. Ladakh may be a magnificent and unexplored wonderland of the Himalayas. It is a beautiful place and even considered as heaven by everyone who is on the lookout to satiate their indomitable love for adventure.
Ladakh is a region administered by India as a union territory, constituting a part of the larger Kashmir region, which has been the subject of dispute between India, Pakistan, and China since 1947. It is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region to the east, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to the south, both the Indian-administered union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan to the west and the southwest corner of Xinjiang across the Karakoram Pass in the far north.
It extends from the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram range to the north to the main Great Himalayas to the south. On The eastern end, the uninhabited Aksai Chin plains is claimed and handed by the Indian Government as part of Ladakh and has been under Chinese control since 1962. Until 2019, Ladakh was a region of the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir. In August 2019, the Parliament of India passed an act by which Ladakh became a union territory on 31 October 2019.
Ladakh is located in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It falls from an altitude of 5,753 m (18,875 ft) above sea level at its source at Indira Col on the China border down to 3,620 m (11,880 ft) at its snout.
How to reach Ladakh?
The easiest way to travel to Ladakh is by air. The nearest airport is Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport located in Leh. This airport is connected with many international airports in India like Delhi. It also receives flights from Srinagar, Jammu, Chandigarh and other common destinations in India.
There are government and private buses from Srinagar and Manali. If you are choosing Srinagar, you will pass through Zoji La Pass to reach Ladakh and you will scale Rohtang Pass to reach Ladakh from Manali.
The nearest railway station to Ladakh is in Tawi, which is 700 km away from Ladakh. This railway station receives trains from many important destinations like Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and others. From the station, you can find cabs to reach Ladakh.
Leh – Srinagar Highway
Srinagar is 434 kms away from Leh. The route covers Sonmarg, Zozi La, Drass, Kargil, Mulbek, Lamayaru and Saspol before reaching Leh. This route is open from May to October. It is the most scenic route with many attractions in its path.
Leh – Manali Highway
This route stretches from 490 km covering Rohtang, Gramphu, Kokshar, Darcha, Baralacha La, Gata Loops, Lachulung La, Tanglang La, Gya and Karu on the way. This route is open from May to September.
Anyone who wants to enjoy the adrenaline rush of a bike ride but not able to handle the activity can choose a jeep. Jeep rides are easier than bikes and more comfortable. You can choose either one of the highway routes as mentioned before.
When to visit Ladakh?
The best time for bike trips to Ladakh is from mid-May to October. Roads from Srinagar are thrown open from mid-May, whereas the Manali route is opened after May. You can take this road trip only during the autumn and summer season. Or else, you will have to take a flight.
The official Language in Ladakh is Hindi and English. However, Ladakhi and Purgi are the local languages that are spoken.
The climate in Ladakh is divided into only two seasons: four months of summer (from June until September) and eight months of winter (from October until May). Summer temperatures are pleasant and range from 59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 25 degrees Celsius), whereas winters are extremely cold.
Fairs & Festivals in Ladakh
Losar is one of the biggest festivals in Ladakh which has its origins in the 7th century and marks the arrival of a New Year in Tibetan Buddhism. It is celebrated for 15 days at a stretch, during which ancestors, gods & animals are fed. Changkol, or Tibetan Beer, is consumed by the people during this time.
Hemis Tsechu is celebrated to mark the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, one of the founding fathers of Tibetan Buddhism. Celebrated in Hemis Monastery, what makes it a must attend festival in Ladakh is the masked dances & colourful silk costumes worn by monks. The dances are special too, since they depict the various magical deeds performed by Guru Padmasambhava in his eight manifestations to defeat evil.
Sindhu Darshan Festival
The festival of Sindu Darshan, started in 1997, is held to pay respect to River Indus, as it is a symbol of civilization in the region. It is marked by Buddhist prayers by senior Lamas and several cultural programs by famous artists.
Ladakh Harvest Festival
Ladakh Harvest Festival, as the name suggests, is celebrated to mark the harvest season. The harvest season is a particularly special time in Ladakh and is marked by vigorous celebrations.
Masked dances, folk music, archery, concerts & theatre are some of the activities performed during the course of the festival. A major religious procession is also held during the festival.
Saka Dawa Festival
Saka Dawa Festival is celebrated to symbolise the birth of Sakyamuni (another name for Gautam Buddha), when he attained enlightenment followed by Parinirvana. The mantra, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” is chanted throughout the region.
No animals are killed or consumed on this day, and a new flag pole is erected at Tarpoche, and people hang new flags on it. In fact, the festival represents the spirit of Buddhism as a whole, and everybody can be seen immersing themselves into it.
Transportation/Stay to prefer
Getting into Leh is easy enough. There are flights from Jammu, Delhi and Srinagar. That is where it ends and you have to switch to road transport to explore the rest of Ladakh.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going and their chosen mode of transportation is the motorcycle. The roads are steep so get a bike that packs plenty of horsepower like the inveterate Bullet and chug along, stopping where you please and riding when you feel like it.
Fly in to Leh and then hire taxis or SUVs like Tavera, Innova, Qualis, Scorpio and make sure you have photographs ready for permits. The taxi operators have a union and their rates are more or less the same. Obviously, the larger the seating capacity, the higher is the rate so pick your vehicle to suit your group.
Taxis and jeeps are fine for long distances. For shorter sight-seeing trips hire ponies. Riding is quite a change and takes some getting used to but it will help you traverse longer distances than you can do on foot.
Places to visit in Ladakh
Pangong Tso Lake
Pangong Tso lake found fame thanks to Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots so without a doubt, this place deserves to be on your itinerary of places to visit in Ladakh. Pack a sweet picnic basket and head with your folks to the lake and maybe even camp next to it as you enjoy every moment of peace and tranquillity.
This 12-storey complex hosts over 500 monks and is considered to be one of the most beautiful Buddhist monasteries in all of Ladakh. For Ladakh sightseeing, Thiksey Gompa will enlighten you with knowledge about some of the Buddhist culture, lifestyle, scriptures, statues and even paintings.
Rent a Himalayan and go nuts on the road to Khardung-la pass. The pass is a gateway to the Nubra as well as Shyok valley and is one of the most elevated motorable terrains worldwide. Interestingly, the roads were opened in 1988 for vehicles to pass through. Cruisers and Himalayans considered to be the best means to travel here, to experience the rugged beauty of the journey.
If camping is your thing then you won’t find a better spot than at the Markha valley in Ladakh! You can trek up to some amazing sites such as Markha, Skiu and Hankar for starters. Once you reach the summit, you can unwind with some lovely tents, bonfire and make friends with strangers.
Famous for its white sand deserts and double-humped camels, Nubra Valley is certainly one of the best places to visit in Ladakh. Not just the scenic slopes of Karakoram range but also the confluence of Shyak and Siachen rivers is what makes Nubra valley an exquisite voyage!
Tso Moriri lake
Imagine a sparkling blue lake nestled in the midst of rugged surroundings. That, my friends, is Tso Moriri lake. Being 15000 ft above sea level in a rather rough environment is this tiny paradise. The place is often not considered ideal by many tourists due to the high altitude at which it stands proudly.
Hemis National Park
Ladakh’s Hemis National Park is considered to be the capital of Snow Leopard of India. What makes this national park exceptional is the fact that aside from inhabiting the famed snow leopard, it is also the only national park in the northern regions of the Himalayas.
Located at the heart of Nubra valley is this quaint Diskit Monastery. Sightseeing in Ladakh is literally incomplete without a visit to this monastery which was founded back in the 14th century. The calming aura of the gompa will definitely transport you to a whole new world.
Situated on a hill-top in Chanspa is this beautiful dome shaped Chorten called Shanti Stupa. What makes this white structure an attraction tourist place is the view it offers of the whole of Leh. The walls inside the Chorten have panels depicting the life of Lord Buddha.
The Magnetic hill is actually a gravity hill which possesses impeccable magnetic properties. Do not be alarmed by the sudden movement of your vehicles in neutral going uphill as the magnetic field will make it happen. In fact, to avoid being sucked in the magnetic field of the hill, airplanes often take their altitudes up a notch.
The snow-covered steep terrains of Zanskar valley beckon travellers to trek on while they are overlooked with the clear blue sky. It is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Ladakh, especially considering how the beautiful Zanskar river projects azure blue hues while all travellers walk on the frozen sides.
What makes the Chadar trek so famous is the fact that you can walk up the frozen Zanskar river while the rugged Himalayan range envelopes you. It certainly is a thrilling experience to walk on a frozen river, rather than trek and camp at Nerak, which gives a soothing setting for the heart.
Cuisines to taste in Ladakh
Tibetan influence on Ladakhi cuisine is momos, a dumpling stuffed with vegetables, minced chicken or even yak cheese. Other Tibetan dishes which are popular in Ladakh are thukpa, thenthuk and sky. Apples, walnuts & apricots are grown in fertile river areas. Of these, apricot is especially famous in Ladakh, and a number of products, from syrup and juice to jam, are produced from it. One should try the Apricot jam while in Ladakh, it’s tasty & nutritious. The people of Ladakh also supplement their diet with the use of herbs and plants. While wild garlic is used to flavour the dishes, stinging nettles are used to prepare soup.
Activities To do in Ladakh
River rafting in Zanskar River
One of the most exciting things to do in Leh Ladakh is experiencing the river rafting. The white waters of the mountain rivers in Ladakh including Zanskar are considered to be one of the best rafting destinations in India. However, do not be fooled by the fact that it is only done in summers.
Thrilling Chadar Trek
The Chadar Trek as it is popularly known as is basically trekking over the frozen rivers. The trek over the Zanskar river is the most popular one and is often undertaken in large groups by adventure enthusiasts. The Chadar trek is generally taken in November when the river is frozen and safe to trek on while the rest of the surroundings are still friendly enough to let you survive. This is one of the toughest and most adventurous treks.
Khardung La Pass- Motor road
Managed by the Border Roads Organization, Khardung-la Pass is the gateway to the north and can be considered by many as a tourist spot in itself. However, being at such a height, one has to take extreme care of health while traveling through the pass. On the fun side, the numerous Tibetan flags that are said to ward off bad spirits and keep you safe set up a beautiful contrast with the white snow.
Anti- Gravity at Magnetic Hill
The science behind the phenomenon is unknown but it has been observed that if you leave your vehicle at the base of the hill with the brakes unlocked, it will start moving uphill slowly on its own.
Unique Donkey Sanctuary
It might come as a surprise to even some of the most hardcore animal rights enthusiasts but there exits such a thing as the Donkey sanctuary. It caters to the old and sick donkeys in the region that are always needed by the locals owing to the geographical conditions but left when sick or old. The place in Leh Ladakh is a very lively barn and will probably set a smile on the face of children and adults alike with its witty posters and graffiti
Souvenirs to buy in Ladakh
Tibetan Handicrafts & Wares
The huge Tibetan population that have made Ladakh its home provides not just a rich infusion to the local culture but also allows everyone a generous peek into their homes and traditions by selling handmade Tibetan artefacts and wares at the markets here.
Silver and Stone Jewellery
The stunning Ladakhi jewellery makes a gorgeous addition to your or your better-half’s collection. Sift through the vast collections of pure silver jewellery, making sure it is hallmarked for authenticity, and vibrant turquoise and coral pieces worn traditionally by Ladakhis and Tibetans.
Pashmina Shawls And Woolens
The delicate, painfully beautiful, and very warm, Pashmina shawls made with fine Kashmiri wool can be found aplenty here. For normal woollens, look for socks, gloves, sweaters, caps and blankets woven with yak wool in the trademark local patterns.
Rugs and Kashmiri Carpets
Ladakh is a one-stop shop for making your home an abode of resplendence! Don’t miss out on crucial buys like Ladakhi carpets and rugs – naturally dyed and hand woven with wool in exotic patterns that include detailed dragons and floral representations.
Apricots’ Jam Oil
Enjoy the bounty of dried or freshly harvested apricots grown locally and abundantly in Ladakh and its neighbouring areas. You can also find organic apricot jam and oil while shopping in Leh Ladakh, to make the most of the luscious fruit.