Ladakh tour is one of the most enchanting on Earth. Ladakh tour is a heady combination of raw natural beauty of the land and a rich cultural heritage of its people. Nestled between the Himalayas, the Karakoram Range and the Indus river valley, Ladakh is straight out of a picture post card. The thrill of driving on the highest motorable road in the world at Khardungla is unbeatable. Equally attractive are the visits to beautiful Buddhist Monasteries that dot the mountains across Ladakh. Trekking the Himalayas, Whitewater rafting, camel safari in the cold desert and experiencing Tibetan culture would make sure you will never forget this experience in this lifetime!
The easiest way to visit Ladakh is to fly in to Leh from Delhi. The flight is very picturesque as your plane flies above the cloud covered Himalayas! A more adventurous way to take your Ladakh tour during June-November can be the 430 km drive from Kashmir Valley via Kargil. The most dramatic part of this road journey is the ascent up the 3,505 meter high Zoji-La pass in the Great Himalayan Wall that serves as the gateway to Ladakh. Alternatively, you can drive from Manali via Taklang-La pass the world’s second highest motorable road! This route opens between June and October and is a 473 km drive.
Leh is the most convenient place for finding hotels in Ladakh. It has hotels in all ranges. We had stayed at Ladakh Continental which was pretty comfortable. Contact number is 01982 251359.
One of the best hotels in Ladakh would be Ladakh Sarai, again in Leh. Located near the Indus River and facing the tallest peak in Ladakh, Ladakh Serai can be contacted on 01982 244063.
Another recommendation while considering Hotels in Ladakh would be Mantra Cottage in Leh. It is located near the market and can be contacted at 09419983233.
Land tours are arranged by all hotels.
Most places in Ladakh are at a high altitude and there is lesser oxygen in the air compared to the plains. If you are flying in to Leh, please rest the first day till your body gets tuned to the rarified atmosphere. Carry adequate warm clothes as it can be cold even in summer.
Ladakh has many magnificent Monasteries and make sure you visit atleast a few of these during your stay here. You can begin your Ladakh tourl at Hemis, easily the biggest and the wealthiest of them all. It is very scenically located on the western side of the Indus River and well concealed in a gorge to avoid the unnecessary attention to its wealth! Hemis was founded in 1630 by first incarnation of Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso. You are sure to be impressed with the copper-gilt statue of the Lord Buddha inside the monastery.
Make a Ladakh tour in June-July so you can attend the Hemis festival which is celebrated at the Monastery. It’s a 2 day festival to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of tantric Buddhism in Tibet. Once in 12 years visitors can also have a look at the Thanka or the sacred appliqué-work tapestry wrought with pearls depicting Guru Padmasambhava. Another compelling experience is the sacred mask dance that’s performed at the Hemis Monastery every year on the 9th and 10th day of fifth month of Tibetan calendar.
Thiksey is arguably the most beautiful and most visited monastery in a Ladakh tour. Belonging to the Gelukpa order, Thiksey is a 12 storey complex built on a hill at a height of 11000 feet. The architecture of the monastery strongly resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the former official seat of the Dalai Lamas.The highlight of this monastery is the temple of Lakhang Nyerma dedicated to Goddess Dorje Chenmo. Another interesting feature is a 15 meter tall statue of Buddha called Champa. Thiksey continues today as a residence for more than eighty monks and twenty five nuns.
The best time to visit Thiksey Monastery is in October-November during the Gustor festival. You will enjoy the trade fair that is held at the base of the monastery. The fair is the best opportunity for you to socialize with the local community as people come here from all over Ladakh to eat, play cards, drink and trade.
Khardungla Pass is the fantasy of many auto enthusiasts. Situated at a height of 5359 meters, it is known as the highest motorable road in the world and people drool over to take a drive over here! When we drove up there, it was easily the most enjoyable traffic jam encountered in our lives. Scores of vehicles were stranded precariously as an Army convoy of trucks was making its way up the pass. Even in May, there was snow all over and we were lucky enough to witness snowfall for a few minutes during this magnificent Ladakh tour.
Not many know of the controversy surrounding this claim. Many experts claim there are other passes higher than Khardungla and are motorable, a couple being Suge La again in Ladakh and Semo La in Tibet. I guess it depends on what you call as “motorable”. For that matter, people have been crazy enough to drive up to 6891 meters on a Jeep Wrangler in 2007 to Nevado Ojos del Salado, the highest volcano in the world located on the Argentina-Chile border!
I found Pangong Lake to be the most beautiful spot in the Ladakh tour. It is more than 130 kms long and straddles Tibet and Ladakh. As you complete a laborious 5 hour drive from Leh to reach Pangong Lake, all the travel fatigue vanishes in a few seconds as you are greeted by dozens of playful sea gulls. The lake is supposed to be rich in minerals and the water sparkles in distinct shades of blue, green, purples and violet. The entire lake freezes in winter. This heavenly place is inhabited by Chang-pa, a nomadic tribe who rear the world renowned Pashmina goats. These goats shed their winter coat every spring and that goes into making the world famous Pashmina Shawls.Nubra Valley is another must visit in the Ladakh tour. In ancient times it used to connect Ladakh to Turkistan through the Karakoram pass. Diskit is the headquarters of Nubra Valley and houses a fabulous monastery dating back to the 14th century. The monastery has a statue of Maitreya Buddha in the prayer hall, a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities. Don’t miss a particular statue in the prayer hall that holds the head and left arm of Turkish invader believed to be about 5000 years old!
Sumur is the largest village in Nubra and provides a great opportunity to mingle with the local people. During their local festivals you can witness camel races, peacock dances and even archery competition! Another highlight of Nubra is the Samstemling Monastery. It’s a complex of several temples with some amazing frescoes. The present Dalai Lama had visited this monastery in 2003 and you can take a look at the apartments where he had stayed!
Trekking Ladakh is an incredible experience. Lying in the lap of the Himalayas, Trekking Ladakh gives you a unique experience of a rich culture of people living in the highest inhabitable place on Earth. There are numerous trails for Trekking Ladakh. Here are 3 of my favorites.
Zanskar Trek is one of the most fulfilling trails while trekking Ladakh. This trail will take 2 weeks while taking you past Zangla, Ningrila, Niri doksha, Lar la, Gonteng la, Shade, Nialo kontse base, Marshun, Muneli, Tsogmetsik and Juktak. The terrain is between Indus valley and the crest of the Himalayas and covers dry desert as well as snow capped peaks. Mid June to September is the best time to hit this trail while trekking Ladakh.
Markha Valley Trek takes about a week across Spituk, Zinchen, Kandala base, Skiu and Markha. The route is dotted with Buddhist shrines and prayer walls. This trail while trekking Ladakh will take you past 15000 feet high up in the Himalayas! June- October is the best time to hit this trail while trekking Ladakh.
Rumtse Tsomoriri is another fascinating path to take while trekking Ladakh. It is usually covered in 10 days during june to October. It is in south east of Ladakh and the terrain covers arid plains, salt water lakes, high passes and mountain ranges. The route is through Rumtse, Kyamer, Tisaling, Pangunagu, Nuruchan, Rajungkaru, Gyamaburma, Gyama and Korzok.
Nature lovers will also find Ladakh tour fulfilling as it features one of the most exotic ecosystems of the world. It is home to several endangered species of alpine flora and fauna species. Some rare Himalayan birds that can be spotted around Ladakh are Lammergeyers, Griffon Vultures and Tibetan Snow Cocks. Wild Yaks are a magnificent sight, grazing on the hill sides at high altitudes. Nyan are big horned sheep and if you happen to be in Ladakh during their mating season, you can feast your eyes on courtship duels involving their 150 cm long horns! Another animal with splendid looking horns is the Ibex, often found on steep cliffs. Chiru or the Tibetan Antelope is an endangered species, due to poaching for its soft wool. The most feared predator of Ladakh is the Snow Leopard. However, you will have to be really lucky to spot one due to its elusive nature.
Another interesting place to visit as part of the Ladakh tour is the Magnetic Hill on the Leh-Kargil-Batalik national highway. It is a gravity hill which is supposed to push vehicles uphill! We did ask our taxi driver to park on the slope but the vehicle moved up only for a few inches. May be it was just an illusion!
Bollywood buffs in the Ladakh tour can visit Druk Pema Karpo School in Shey, the school set up by Aamir Khan in “3 Idiots”! It is a regular school which strikes a balance between keeping Buddhist traditions alive and preparing kids for the 21st century.
As for the foodies, don’t miss Thukpa and Momos while in Ladakh! Thukpa is a thick soup with vegetables that provides a complete meal while Momos are steamed dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables, accompanied by a fiery chili sauce.
For a travelogue on another paradise on the Himalayas, visit Scintillating Sikkim.