50 Top Places to Visit in Leh Ladakh
Ladakh is a dream destination for every traveller. Serene Valleys, high mountain passes, quaint villages, undulated landscape, pristine alpine lakes and snow-clad Himalayan peaks; beauty of this mystical land majorly remains untouched till date. The tranquility and serenity of the place invites lots of holiday seekers and nature lovers from different parts of the world to spend relaxing time in the lap of nature. With its plethora of adventure activities of trekking, mountain-climbing, mountain biking, river rafting; the place is a favorite amongst adventure junkies too. To top it all, sheer abundance of wildlife in Ladakh, gives a perfect ambience for bird watching and wildlife exploration to wildlife enthusiasts also, who throng here to explore the treasures of wildlife hidden in the reaches of Himalayas.
If you are planning a trip to Ladakh, Where to go in Leh-Ladakh and what to see; are the very first few questions that will surely cross your minds. With this blog, we have tried to provide you with a consolidated travel information guide for Leh-Ladakh trip listing down the top 50 attractions that must be visited during your holiday to Ladakh. This guide will also help you jot down the best travel plan for the Leh-Ladakh trip so that you can explore each and every corner of this beautiful land.
Monasteries of Ladakh
Ladakh is often referred to as the Land of Buddhism. The monasteries are an integral part of Ladakh’s culture and traditions. Scores of chortens, fluttering prayer flags and Mani stones can be seen in every nook and corner of Ladakh protecting the land from the atrocities of nature. Some of the following monasteries definitely warrant a visit during your holiday trip to Ladakh.
Located at a distance of 8 km. from Leh, Spituk Gompa is an impressive monastery that dates back to the 11th century. Main prayer hall houses the deity of Lord Buddha. Antique Thangkas paintings, arms, ancient festival masks are a must-see in the monastery. An impressive idol of goddess Kali in the monastery is also worth noticing. The idol is unveiled only once a year during the annual Spituk festival when the monastery comes to life with its masked dance performances. Captivating views of the Spituk village and surrounding mountains adds to the charm of this beautiful monastery.
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Leh, the Shey Monastery is located in the Shey village at a distance of 15 km. from Leh. Fluttering prayer flags, decorated chortens, colourful stones carved with Buddhist inscriptions and dozens of prayer wheels welcome you as you climb the hillock housing the monastery. Set inside the Shey palace complex that is now in ruins, the monastery is famed for housing Ladakh’s second largest statue of seated Shakyamuni Buddha made in copper plated with gold. The walls near the statue adorn the illustrations of 16 Arhats and two disciples of Buddha. Beautiful paintings and frescoes on the walls of the monastery depicting different hand gestures of Buddha are also worth noticing. Besides the beauty of the monastery what makes you spellbound is the spectacular views of the surroundings with lofty peaks of the Zanskar hills and green Indus River snaking its way through the valley.
One of the must visit places, Shey Monastery should definitely be on the travel itineraries of tourists on a holiday trip to Ladakh. For the best experience, visit the monastery during its annual ‘Shey Rupla Festival’ that attracts hordes of tourists from the neighbouring villages and also gives you a chance to see the unusual dance performed by men dressed in tiger costumes.
One of the largest and most marvelous monasteries in Ladakh, ‘Thiksey Monastery’ makes to the top of the list of the best places to visit in Ladakh. Established around 600 years back, the monastery lies at a distance of 18 km. from the city of Leh. Known for its stupendous architecture housing 10 temples, a nunnery, residence for more than 100 monks and a Buddhist school providing education to poor children, the monastery is also referred to as the ‘Mini Potala Palace’ of India. The 40 ft. statue of Maitreya Buddha is the major highlight of the monastery apart from a rare collection of Thangkas, wall paintings, prayer books, Stupas and other art effects belonging to Buddhist teachings.
The monastery not only fascinates its visitors with a beautiful architecture but also provides them with an unprecedented experience of divinity and peace. Perched at a hill top overlooking the deep green Indus valley with brown and barren Himalayas in the backdrop, you can sit back here for hours gazing at the distant peaks, soaking your souls in mantras of “Om Mani Padme Hum” echoing in your ears from somewhere around the vicinity of the shrine. For a peaceful retreat in Ladakh, a visit to this enchanting monastery is a must for every tourist.
Located directly opposite the Thiksey Monastery on the banks of the Indus River, is another famous monastery of Ladakh, the Matho Monastery. Beautiful wall paintings, frescoes and statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya and thousand-armed Avalokitesvara in the assembly hall of the monastery are worth admiring. Not as frequented by tourists as compared to other famed monasteries in normal days, the Matho Monastery is swamped by curious travellers and Buddhists from different corners of the world during its annual festival of ‘Matho Nagrang’ when two of the monastery’s monks enter a state of trance and become oracles predicting the future of Matho village and of Ladakh. The sight of oracles under the influence of trance answering the questions of the villagers, curing their diseases, performing acrobatics and running blindfolded along the steep and high fortified walls of the monastery is one of the most unique and a breath-taking experiences you can have in your lives. Cham dance performances by the lamas during the festival add to the charm of the festival.
For researchers and students studying different traditions and cultures, a visit to the Matho Monastery is surely a different experience offering them an insight in different tantric and mystical practices of Buddhism.
Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
Famous for its three storied solid gold statue of Maitreya Buddha, the Tsemo Gompa dates back to 15th century and is located on a hill top right behind the Leh Palace. Besides an impressive architecture and a huge collection of beautiful frescoes and wall paintings adorning the walls of the assembly hall, the monastery offers breath-taking views of the Indus River and snow-capped peaks of distant Zanskar ranges. Imposing statues of Avalokitesvara and Manjushri are also prominent attractions of the monastery. Definitely a must-visit sightseeing destination during your holidays in Leh.
Located on the banks of the Indus River at a distance of 25 km. from Leh, the Stakna Monsatery is perched on a hill that resembles the shape of a tiger’s nose. The monastery gets its name from the same hill. Vibrant colours on the inner walls of the monastery immediately catch your attention as you enter the courtyard which also houses a 7 ft. tall silver gilded Chorten with figure of Lord Buddha engraved on it. Paintings of Sakyamuni and Bodhisattva adorn the walls of the prayer hall. What adds to the beauty of this little monastery are the striking views of the Indus valley and Indus River that make you fall in love with the place.
Located in the Alchi village of Leh district, the Alchi Monastery is more of a monastic complex with few temples and chortens. One of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh dating back to the 12th century, this is the only monastery to have been built on a flat ground unlike the other Buddhist monasteries which are all perched on hill tops. Owing to its distinct architecture with a Kashmiri influence and rare collection of well-preserved paintings dating back to 11th and 12th centuries, the monastery today, is very much a part of Leh’s popular face of tourism. These murals and paintings are a jewel of the Buddhist art that carved its niche some 1000 years back in the area. Of all the paintings and murals, the painting of thousand miniature Buddhas, four armed figurines of Bodhisattvas, and statue of Maitreya Buddha capture the eyes of the visitors.
Richly carved wooden doorways, facades and balconies of the complex are a delight for an artist’s eyes and boast of the excellent artistic skills and craftsmanship of the sculptors of the bygone era. Being an important part of cultural tourism in Ladakh, a trip to Alchi Monastery is a must for every tourist in the region.
Located at a distance of 40 km. from Leh, the Basgo Monastery is perched at a hilltop overlooking the ruins of the Basgo town that once served as a political and cultural centre of Ladakh. Despite of Basgo’s rich heritage and history, the town and the monastery do not find a place on a conventional tourist’s map. If you are a history buff at heart and like going off the beaten track to explore new destinations immersed in the rich past of a glorious era, Basgo is a place for you. Stop by at the town for some time and revel in the basking glory of the monastery that looks amazingly stunning during evening when the setting rays of sun cover it in the hues of gold and orange – a perfect venue and ambience for photographers to click some memorable pictures. The monastery is home to three temples, each adorning 16th century original and vibrant murals showcasing incidents from Buddha’s life and illustrating thoughtful moods of various Buddhist Gods. The collection undoubtedly is a real delight for historians and art-lovers. A 14 metres high gilded statue of Maitreya Buddha in one of the temples is an additional highlight of the monastery.
Located east of Leh, at a distance of 40 km., the Chemrey Monastery dates back to mid-17th century and is noted for its tall idol of Guru Padmasambhava embellished with semi-precious stones. Another main highlight of the monastery is its rich and unique collection of ancient Buddhist scriptures written in sterling silver and pure gold letters; the only one of its kind. Main assembly hall of the temple houses a beautiful image of Sakyamuni Buddha and vibrant paintings of Kalachakra and Akshobhya Mandalas. There is also a separate temple dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava housing his several figurines and paintings showcasing him in various forms and manifestations. Serenity and tranquillity of the surrounding landscapes of the monastery adds to the charm of the monastery and give you an extreme sense of peace and solitude that is these days, somewhere lost in bustling and crowded city lives.
Situated at a distance of 45 km. from the capital city of Leh, the ‘Hemis Gompa’ is the most revered monastery in the Leh-Ladakh region. The largest and wealthiest monastery in India, the Hemis Monastery is a top spiritual destination in Leh and is visited by many tourists and Buddhist monks throughout the year. An intriguing location with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, an immense aura of serenity with fluttering prayer flags all around and to top it all, the beautiful architecture of the monastery, makes this shrine a must visit destination in Leh-Ladakh. Originally established in the 13th century, the monastery is built in a traditional Tibetan style of architecture with beautifully coloured walls adorned with paintings of Sakyamuni Buddha and a huge courtyard that plays the grand host to the famous ‘Hemis Festival’. Statue of Buddha made of copper, a rare and antique collection of Thangka paintings, murals and Buddhist scriptures and various Stupas made in gold and silver embellished with semi-precious stones are few major highlights of this monastery.
The ‘Hemis Festival’ held annually during the months of June-July is a major attraction for tourists visiting Ladakh. Cham masked dances performed by the Lamas, traditional music, people dressed in colourful attires and a delicious local cuisine; entire city covers up in the veil of jubilation and festivities during the festival. This is also the best time to get a closer look at the customs, cultures and traditions of Ladakhi people.
Located at a distance of 52 km. from Leh, Likir Monastery is situated near the picturesque village of Saspol. The monastery is believed to have been originally established in 11th century and is considered to be one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh region. A 75 ft. tall statue of sitting Buddha covered in gold is the first to grab your attention when you reach the monastery. Majestically sitting on a vibrant throne with the backdrop of stunning vistas of snow-capped mountains and azure sky, the statue is a visual treat to eyes and a delight for photographers. Adorned with colourful wall paintings and prayer flags, the courtyard of the monastery offers a serene ambience making you revel in its peaceful aura.
Rare collection of murals, Thangkas, manuscripts and statues made of precious metals like gold and silver are the monasteries major assets. Impressive clay images of past Buddha (Marme Zat), present Buddha (Sakyamuni) and future Buddha (Maitreya Buddha) are also worth noticing in the main assembly hall during your visit to this enticing monastery.
Located on the way to Lamayuru, the Rizong Monastery overlooks the Indus Valley and is perched on a cliff to the west of Alchi, 73 km. from Leh. One of the most significant monasteries of Ladakh, it holds a special place in the hearts of Tibetan Buddhists because of its association with Guru Padmasambhava, who is believed to have meditated in the caves in the surrounding region. The shrines in the monastery complex house statues of Lord Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha, stupas, wall paintings and other Buddhist relics that are worth taking a look during your visit to the monastery. One of the only monasteries in Ladakh where Cham dances are not performed, this monastery is governed by strict rules and restrictions for lamas. Located amidst serene and tranquil settings, no wonder, it is called as the ‘paradise for meditation’.
Situated at a distance of 160 km. from Leh on the way to Kargil, the Mulbekh Gompa is a unique monastery owing to the fact that it houses two monasteries, each belonging to a different set of Tibetan Buddhism. A 30 ft. tall sculpture of Maitreya Buddha carved out from a limestone rock dating back to 8th century is also a major attraction for tourists visiting the monastery. The sculpture is a remarkable piece of workmanship and stands tall basking in the glory of its rich history, providing ample opportunities for photographers to capture a masterpiece of their work. Besides the sculpture, the Mulbekh Gompa is a great stopover on your Ladakh trip to have a glimpse at the rare and ancient collection of Buddhist relics, edicts in ancient Kharosthi inscriptions, valuable frescoes and classic paintings that have been possessed by the monastery since ages.
One of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh, dating back to 200 years, the ‘Rangdum Gompa’ is located in the picturesque Suru Valley. Architecturally built as a fortified structure, the monastery is perched on a hilltop offering mesmerizing views of snow-laden peaks, Rocky Mountains and shimmering glaciers. Situated in one of the remotest parts of the valley, the monastery has been able to retain its old world charm and pristine beauty. Serene Wilderness of the monastery engulfed in a deep silence immediately takes you in its complete awe of spirituality. One of the most interesting monasteries in Ladakh region, main highlight here is its ‘Mani’ walls made up of ‘Mani’ stones engraved with pictures of chortens and the inscriptions of “Om Mani Padme Hum”. A picture with these walls makes for a great remembrance to your visit to this beautiful monastery. The monastery is definitely worth a stop while your trip to Zanskar via Suru Valley.
One of the remotest monasteries in Ladakh, the Phuktal Monastery is located in the secluded Zanskar Range. Only accessible on foot, winding your ways through a series of steep cliffs, enigmatic rock formations, rickety bridges, lush villages, ancient Stupas and breath-taking valleys lead you to a monastery that lies hidden inside a cave on a Cliffside resembling a honeycomb; the journey to the Phuktal Monastery is as impressive as the monastery itself. During winters, trek to the monastery has its own magical charm making you traverse through the frozen Zanskar River – one of the most incredible and exceptional experiences you can have in your lifetime.
According to the religious beliefs the monastery was once a home to many great saints and sages including the 16 Arhats or direct descendants of Lord Buddha and Guru Padmasambhava. Made up of wood and mud, the monastery walls are decorated with ancient frescoes and wall paintings that are a visual treat to eyes. Perched precariously in the mountain crevices, braving the atrocities of weather for thousands of years, the monastery still stands tall as a testimony to time. For brave-hearts and adventure buffs, a visit to Ladakh is incomplete without a visit to this ancient monastery.
Located in the Lingshed Village in the remote Zanskar Ranges, Lingshed Monastery dates back to 15th century. The monastery is mostly visited by brave-hearts and trekkers on their way to Padum from Lamayuru or while venturing on the ‘Chadar Trek’. The statue of Buddha, Mahakala and Yamandhaka are the main deities in the assembly hall and also the prime attractions of the monastery. Deity of Yamandhaka remains covered throughout the year and is unveiled only once a year when the monastery gets swamped with hordes of pilgrims who gather here to get the blessings and catch a glimpse of the deity. Do visit the monastery if you happen to visit Zanskar during your trip to Ladakh.
Dating back to 11th century, Stongdey Monastery is an important Buddhist religious centre in the Zanskar region of Ladakh. Offering panoramic views of the Zanskar valley and river, the monastery finds a top place on the list of trekkers venturing into the Zanskar region. Collection of ancient Thangkas, exquisite paintings, murals and scriptures housed by the monastery are a must-see here. If you happen to be around the region during the festival of Gustor, do be a part of it and get an insight in the Ladakhi-Buddhist culture. Sacred dance performances by the monks is the major highlight of the festival.
One of the branches of the Stakna Monastery which lies in Leh, the Bardan Gompa is a beautiful monastery nestled in the Zanskar ranges that dates back to 17th century and is famed for its several Stupas made of different elements like clay, bronze, copper and wood. The monastery’s handmade copper prayer wheels and ancient festival masks form a unique collection to be seen by the tourists. A shrine devoted to Maitreya Buddha in the monastery premises is another prime attraction of this place. A must-visit place if time permits.
The largest and most significant monasteries of Zanskar region, Karsha Monastery is associated with the Guru Padmasambhava. Located on a steep hill perched above the Doda River, the monastery comprises of several temples, silver and copper chortens and residential quarters for monks. Beautiful art work, exquisite wall paintings, and Thangkas are the prime highlights of the monastery. Mesmerizing views of the Zanskar valley, Padum and Karsha village with flowing river and pure white glaciers adds to the charm of this beautiful monastery. You can sit back here for hours gazing at the gorgeous scenery. Needless to say, a trip to Zanskar remains incomplete without a visit to Karsha Monastery.
Located in the historic Wanla village of Ladakh, Wanla Gompa is a well preserved monastery dating back to 10th century. One of the oldest monasteries, people from different corners of Ladakh visit this monastery to get the blessings of almighty. A three storeyed idol of 11 headed, 8 armed Avalokiteshwara is the key attraction of this shrine. One of the quietest monasteries, a visit here gives you a complete peace of mind.
The beautiful Samstanling Monastery is located in the Sumur Village of Nubra Valley amidst a serene and tranquil location providing amazing views of the mountains and the river flowing by. Built in the 19th century, the monastery today is a home to around 50 monks. Painted in vibrant hues of red, gold and white, you can get a glimpse of the monastery even while standing at a far off distance. Elegant hangings, murals and thangka paintings depicting teaching of Lord Buddha, Dharmachakra and other aspects of Buddhism are a major attraction of this monastery. Intricately carved doorways and balconies of the gompa are also worth noticing and catch the eye of various art lovers and curious travellers. A stopover to this lovely monastery during your visit to Nubra Valley cannot be missed.
Valleys of Ladakh
Ladakh is a home to few most beautiful valleys in the world. Offering some of the most unforgettable and picturesque vistas, these valleys seem to have directly made their way out from picture postcards. From fairy-tale villages to exquisite landscapes, a visit to these valleys is no less than exploring a dreamy land which is just out of this world. Here are few of them.
Indus Valley is the largest valley in the Ladakh region and covers the area within 50- 60 km. radius of Leh, Changthang Highland on its east, Zanskar in the south-west, Sham valley in the West and Nubra valley in North. With Indus River meandering almost through the entire region of Ladakh, the river is often referred to as the ‘Soul of Ladakh’. The central Ladakh mainly comprising of regions of Leh, Alchi, Lamayuru and Hemis forms the major part of Indus Valley that has been explored till date. This part of Indus Valley is also known for its ancient monasteries and mesmerizing scenic beauty. Ample opportunities for trekking and river rafting, makes this valley one of the top destinations in Ladakh.
The picturesque and breath-taking Nubra Valley is one of the ‘must-visit’ destinations in Leh-Ladakh. Situated at a distance of 150 km. from the capital city of Leh, the valley offers awe-inspiring vistas of nature and scenic splendours. Where at one end, the valley covers a veil of arid and parched terrain with vast stretches of cold desert, on the other end, it is teeming with lush barley fields, apple and apricot orchards, colourful Buddhist monasteries and charming villages that stand like an oasis in the middle of the desert; rivers Shyok and Nubra flowing through two ends of the valley double-folds the scenic charm of the region. One of the most amazing places on earth, a trip to Nubra Valley is a lifetime experience for anyone.
Snuggled in the North-Eastern foothills of Himalayas, Suru Valley extends from the town of Kargil up to Panikhar towards South and Pensi-La in the East. One of the most beautiful valleys in the Ladakh region, it offers panoramic vistas of snow-capped peaks, undulated alpine slopes, shimmering glaciers and vast stretches of lush vegetation of wheat, barley and millet. Entire valley covers a veil of apricots, apples and mulberry during the autumn season. Owing to the valley’s tranquil and picturesque settings, it is thronged by countless tourists who come here to spend a peaceful vacation amidst serene natural beauty. With a stark contrast to the topography of most of Ladakh which is arid and barren, Suru Valley blooms with greenery and is one of the most agriculturally productive lands of Ladakh, therefore, is also referred to as the granary of this region.
Kargil, Sankoo, Panikhar and Parkachik are the main towns of the valley and offer a dramatic change of vistas when one moves from Kargil towards Parkachik. Breath-taking views of the grass with orange hues snuggled between the striking contrasts of arid mountains and some glorious views of the ‘Nun-Kun peaks’, make you speechless as you enter Parkachik. From Parkachik, one can make his way towards Pensi-La, the gateway to Zanskar Valley, which also offers some magnificent views of the ‘Drang Drung Glacier’. Midway, you can stop at the Rangdum village and visit the famous ‘Rangdum Monastery’. The ‘Karste Khar Village’ of the valley needs a special mention for its 7 metre tall rock statue of Buddha dating back to 7th century.
The remotest valley of the Ladakh region, Zanskar is a paradise for adventure junkies; a place where they can indulge themselves in fun of trekking, river rafting and paragliding. Home to one of the toughest and unique treks of the region, the ‘Chadar Trek’, Zanskar Valley invites hundreds of passionate trekkers every year to explore the magic of mystical trails of Zanskar. It’s not only trekkers who frequent the place, but also some brave-heart rafters who come here to satiate their raised adrenaline levels by rafting in the ice-cold waters of the Zanskar River.
Besides adventure sports, Zanskar is also famous for its ancient and beautiful cave monasteries such as ‘Lingshed’ and ‘Phuktal’ Gompas that have braved harsh weather for many past centuries but are still standing tall in their full glory and magnificence.
Unarguably, the most beautiful valley of Ladakh, Markha Valley is tucked away high in the Himalayas in the east with the peak of ‘Kang Yatse’ guarding it. The valley is a paradise for trekkers and many ardent trekkers venture on the Markha Valley trek every year. Offering some of the most varied and scenic trekking trails in Ladakh, the trek is not only popular in the region but also in the world. Luring many ardent trekkers from different parts of the globe, this trek is an epitome of nature’s workmanship and traverses you through different landscapes comprising of gurgling rivers, narrow gorges, rocky canyons, lush fields, quaint villages and terrains of multi-coloured rocks. Do not miss on clicking some memorable pictures against the ruins of ancient forts and castles that you encounter enroute to the valley. As you enter the enticing valley, take in the vistas of elaborate chortens, swaying prayer flags and Mani walls against the backdrop of captivating snow-clad mountains and revel in the panoramas of the peak of Stok-Kangri as it stands in its full glory touching the Southern skyline of the valley.
Villages of Ladakh
Remote, serene and untouched; no other words can describe the beauty of Ladakhi villages. Truly immersed in ancient Buddhist culture with no connection with the outer world, they have managed to retain their pristine beauty. Let’s take a look at some of the most spectacular villages of Ladakh.
Enroute to Tsomoriri lays a small village of Chumathang that is basically a high altitude pasture land inhabited by the shepherds of the Langtang Valley. Barley and wild flowers can be seen growing on these pasture lands. The major attraction of the village is its natural hot water springs. Located on the banks of the Indus River, these hot springs are a blessing in the freezing cold weather of Chumathang. Villagers can be seen here boiling potatoes, eggs and rice in these hot waters. One of the famous stopovers on the way to Tsomoriri, Chumathang is also relatively situated at a lower altitude than Korzok village and therefore, is much warmer and provides nice lodging facility to people who are not able to find an accommodation in Korzok.
Dha – Hanu Villages
Situated on the confluence of rivers Shyok and Indus in the Kargil region of Jammu & Kashmir, Dha & Hanu villages boast of an interesting culture and stunning landscape. One of the most off-beat destinations in India, these villages are a great attraction for many curious travellers and backpackers. Known for the settlement of the Drokpa/Brokpa community who are believed to have been the descendants of the army men of Alexander the Great, the people of Dha & Hanu look completely different in terms of physique, culture, society and language from the most of the Tibetan-Mongolian inhabitants of Ladakh. Owing to their hats adorned with big flowers, a distinguishing characteristic of their tribe, the people have also got the sobriquet of ‘flower people of Ladakh’. Distinct cultural lifestyles, especially the practice of polyandry and wife-swapping amongst the tribe also makes this village a perfect destination for anthropologists studying different human behaviours, cultures and traditions.
Besides getting an insight into different traditions and cultural practices of this Indo-European race of people, the villages are an ideal site to capture in your minds, some stunning views of Ladakh teeming with walnut, cherries, apple and apricot trees. If time permits, do make a visit to these two beautiful villages, which is sure to be an eye-opener and a unique experience itself.
Located in the Suru Valley, Panikhar is a small hamlet and a major stopover for tourists travelling to Zanskar valley from Kargil. One of the most scenic places in the Suru Valley, Panikhar offers enchanting spectacles of lush fields of crops, patches of alpine pastures, vast expanses of Himalayan flowers covering entire valley in multiple hues, snow-capped mountains, cascades of pristine water streams, and dazzling glaciers descending through mountain slopes merging in the bed of Suru River – a scenery that you can only get to see in picture postcards. Towering peaks of Nun and Kun looming over the skyline in their sparkling majesty adds to the magical charm of nature’s bounty in the region.
The village also acts as a base for various trekking expeditions in the region; treks to Tangol (base for Mt. Nun), Parkachik La, and Parkachik glacier are few popular ones.
A quaint little village situated between Leh and Kargil, Lamayuru is famed for its mysterious moon like landscapes. A topography that resembles that of moon with its soft crater like formations and orangish-yellow tint to the brown soil of Ladakh; the mesmerising beauty of Lamayuru is truly a sight to behold. According to the legends, a lama named ‘Naropa’ visited this alluring spot centuries ago when it was completely submerged under water. On the lama’s request, water receded and left this unusual piece of land for him to establish a monastery that is today famous as the ‘Lamayuru Monastery’. One of the oldest and most beautiful monasteries of Ladakh, the Lamayuru Monastery takes you a back with its jaw-dropping paintings of the Buddhist guarding deities, frescoes and thangkas in the courtyard and the main prayer hall. A cave with the statues of Naropa and his disciples at the right of the prayer hall is another major highlight of this shrine. Needless to say, the monastery also offers some unmatched and breath-taking views of the moonscape.
Besides the moonscape and the monastery, the quietness around the village with only the occasional gurgling sound of river Sind flowing by, makes this place a perfect destination to spend a peaceful time with your family. Various homestay options are available in the village where you can easily spare a day off relaxing and marvelling on the bedazzling views of the Lamayuru Moonland.
The pretty village of Diskit is the main administrative hub of the Nubra Valley and provides ample accommodation options to the tourists visiting the valley. Located on the banks of the Shyok River, the village is dotted with apricot plantations and is famed for its scenic splendours and ancient monasteries. The ‘Diskit Monastery’ in the village dates back to the 14th century and is the oldest and the largest monastery of the Nubra Valley. Sitting atop a small hillock over the confluence of the Nubra and Shyok rivers, the monastery also provides 360 degree panoramic views of the valley and the surrounding snow-capped Himalayan Mountains. The overwhelming statue of ‘Maitreya Buddha’, sitting tall at a height of 32 metres, is the major draw for tourists to this serene place. Besides the statue, the monastery complex with the main prayer hall housing the statue of Buddha and walls adorned with frescoes and Thangkas paintings is worth taking a visit. Peaceful aura of the prayer hall echoing with the chants of the monks gives a complete solace to the exhausted hearts and souls of the visitors.
Can anyone ever think of finding sand dunes in a mountainous region? Well! The mystic landscapes of Leh-Ladakh can surprise you with any and everything that you may not have even ever imagined in your lifetime. One of the most famous tourist attractions in Leh-Ladakh region, the village of Hunder sitting in the picturesque Nubra Valley is swarmed with endless number of tourists every year who come here to witness a rare spectacle of enigmatic sand dunes set amidst barren and arid landscapes, an uncommon contrast to the otherwise green and lush landscapes of the mountainous areas. What mainly attracts visitors is the unusual experience of taking a ride through these sand dunes sitting on the back of double-humped, short-heighted camels that are unique natives of this place. A joyride on these Bactrian camels is, for sure, an unforgettable experience for every tourist visiting Leh-Ladakh, especially the Nubra Valley.
Situated on the India-Pakistan border, the beautiful hamlet of Turtuk lies at the far end of the Nubra Valley close to Baltistan region of Pakistan. As you make your way to this scenic village, passing the exquisite sand dunes of Hunder and crossing the turquoise waters of the Shyok River, the landscape dramatically changes from barrenness of desert to lush fields of apricots and peaches, the fluttering prayer flags of Buddhist monasteries turn into echoes of prayers coming from a distant village mosque and the Ladakhi dressing style transforms into more of an attire resembling Muslim culture. Located at the extreme corner of the Indian border and snuggled in the lap of Karakoram ranges with captivating Shyok River snaking through the entire village, the place is truly a heaven. A stay in a camp set amidst serene beauty of flowers and trees, amazing scenic vistas and a delicious Balti cuisine is what adds to the magical charm of the beautiful trip to this quaint village of Turtuk blessed with unmatched gifts of nature.
The last civilian settlement in the Nubra Valley, Panamik is a quaint little village located on the banks of the Nubra River. Owing to its close proximity to the Siachen Glacier, the village is visited by many tourists and brave-hearts just to get a terrific feel of being close to the world’s highest battle field. Needless to say, the curative hot water sulphur springs of the region is definitely an added bonus. The village also acts as a base for a scenic trek to 250 years old ‘Ensa Gompa’ known for its Buddhist scriptures and murals. Providing a peaceful stay in the lap of Himalayas, the village is a perfect destination for nature lovers and holiday seekers looking forward to spend a relaxing time in the lap of Mother Nature.
Alpine Lakes of Ladakh
The charming alpine lakes of Ladakh are an integral part of the region’s intriguing landscape. With ever changing hues and spectacular scenery, a visit to some of these lakes is a must when you are in Ladakh.
Situated in the upper reaches of the Himalayan Mountain range, snuggled amidst barren landscape of Ladakh, the serene Pangong Lake is known for its enchanting alpine beauty. Breath-taking vistas of azure waters of the lake and rocky lakeshore with a stunning backdrop of rugged snow-capped mountains; words fall short to describe the magical beauty of the lake and its surroundings. As you spend few hours in the vicinity of the lake, observe the mystic phenomenon of its pristine waters reflecting multiple hues of blue and green with the changing position of the sun during the day. Often, various migratory birds like seagulls, ducks and cranes can be spotted on the lake side, also making it an ideal site for bird watchers and photographers. The frozen landscape of the lake during winter months offer perfect ambience for tourists to indulge in some real fun of ice skating. To add some more thrill to your trip to the Pangong Lake, nothing can be more exciting than opting for an overnight stay in the tents right next to the lake in the Spangmik Village.
Owing to the lake’s close proximity of the Indo-China border, special inner line permits are required from the Indian Army authorities for the foreign nationals to visit the area, however, Indian nationals can just present their photo id proofs at the army check posts.
Tso Moriri Lake
Tucked away in an extreme isolation of the brown hills of the greater Himalayan ranges, the ‘Tso Moriri Lake’ is a nature’s gift to the rugged landscape of Leh. Acclaimed to be the largest alpine lake in India, ‘Tso Moriri’ is located at a distance of approximately 400 km. from the Pangong Lake, perched at an altitude of more than 15000 ft. above sea level. Owing to its extreme harsh climatic conditions, it is visited by only few tourists. The sheer raw beauty and purity of this magnetic lake falls beyond words. The vast stretches of the lake beaming with emerald blue waters, an enigmatic topography of barren hills and a secluded countryside; it is only you and the lake – how thrilling and exciting!! To double-fold the thrill, go for an overnight camp stay at the quaint little village of Korzok and wake up to the fresh morning, immersing yourselves in the mesmerizing beauty of the rising sun with the lake glowing in its warm sunshine.
Offering extreme sense of tranquillity and solitude, a visit to this lake is one of the most unworldly, adventurous and memorable experiences for any visitor.
Yarab Tso Lake
Situated close to the picturesque ‘Sumur Village’ in the Nubra Valley, lies the sacred ‘Yarab Tso Lake’ which is not yet known to many. A lake which lies a little off the beaten track in the valley, is worth a visit owing to its magnificent and breath-taking vistas. Hidden amidst secluded remoteness of the valley with rocky terrains, the crystal clear waters of the lake reflecting the striking panoramas of its surroundings, give a perfect ambience for photography. The tranquil settings of the lake also make it an ideal place to spend some time on the lake shore immersing your souls in an inexpressible aura of spirituality and divinity.
High Mountain Passes of Ladakh
Often called as the ‘Land of Passes’, Ladakh is also a home to some of the world’s highest motorable roads that provide perfect ambience to ardent bikers and cyclists to satiate their adrenaline rush. Undoubtedly, a ride through these passes is one of the best ways to explore Leh-Ladakh.
Gateway to the captivating Nubra Valley in Ladakh, Khardung La standing at an elevation of more than 18000 ft. is the highest mountain pass in the Karakoram Range and the winding road traversing to the pass boasts of being the highest motorable road in the world. Offering amazing scenic vistas and a proud feel of being on top of the world, the pass is a major tourist attraction in Leh-Ladakh. A successful ride up till the pass is like a ‘dream come true’ for ardent bikers and cyclists for whom the pass takes a top position on their travel map. Besides being a popular tourist site, the Khardung pass plays a strategically important role for the Indian army as this is the only route via which army supplies can be carried to the Siachen Glacier. Narrow lanes with blind hairpin bends, rough terrain, occasional landslides and an unpredictable weather – no doubts why this pass has also the reputation of being one of the most dangerous passes in the world. Lack of oxygen and altitude sickness is quite common amongst the tourist visiting the pass. Proper acclimatization and keeping a track of weather conditions all along the route provides a safest bet to successfully touch the heights of the summit.
One of the highest mountain passes in the world, Chang La stands at an elevation of 17,590 ft. above sea level in Ladakh region and boasts of being the third highest motor-able road in the world. Situated enroute to the Pangong Lake, the Chang La has also to its fame of being home to the world’s highest operational research centre established by the DRDO, Defense Research and Development Organization. Narrow winding roads with deep cliffs on a side with muddy and rock-strewn patches in between, makes this journey one of the most thrilling and adventurous experiences of lifetime. Every bend and curve through the snaking road will make your adrenaline pump high. But, as you reach the Chang-La top, breath-taking views of the surroundings with everything covered under thick layers of snow are sure to welcome you with grinning smile making you awe-struck and spellbound for few moments.
Owing to its extreme harsh cold weather and lack of oxygen, the pass is only recommended to be visited for only 15-20 minutes as after that there are chances of being hit hard by symptoms of altitude sickness, breathlessness, headache and nausea. If possible, try to carry oxygen cylinders along and needless to say, a medical kit is a MUST.
Another high mountain pass located in India in the lap of Himalayas of the Ladakh region, Zoji La is an important pass providing a vital link between valleys of Kashmir and Ladakh through Sonamarg that lies only at a distance of 9 km. from the pass. Acclaimed to be one of the most dangerous passes owing to its rough and treacherous terrains with narrow roads and deep vertical drops that too, without any side barriers along the edges of the roads, a drive up till the pass requires a huge amount of mental attention. There is no room for errors on this route as even a slight concentration off the road can lead to a fatal mishap. Giving you one of the most harrowing and hair-raising experiences of your lifetime, the pass still finds a top place on the itineraries of ardent bikers, cyclists and adventure freaks. After taking all the efforts and pains to reach your destination, the reward is just awesome and indescribable in words. Amazing views of the lofty Himalayan peaks, ankle-deep layers of snow and a chilled breeze; you will forget all the shrills and thrills that you went through while your excursion to this picturesque pass. Play in the snow, relish on hot Maggi and tea or savour on fresh ‘Bhuna Bhutta’ while reveling in the brilliant vistas offered at one of the highest spots in the world.
The Marsemek La stands at an elevation of 18,900 ft., more than the height of Khardung La which boasts of the highest motorable road in the world. Well! Despite of the Marsimik standing at an elevation higher than Khardung-La, it is not the highest motorable road as this pass can only be reached by very few skilled bike riders and four wheel drivers (mostly Army jeeps and trucks). Also, the pass is the riskiest in the region owing to its steep slopes with loose sand and gravel and sharp rocks. Unpredictable snow storms, avalanches and blizzards can show up any time during the climb. With extreme scarcity of oxygen and zero greenery, this is the most inhospitable place in the world. A climb to the Marsimik La is only meant for real ardent adventure fanatics. So, if you have that zeal and skills, do give it a shot but, be prepared for the worst.
Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks of Ladakh
Ladakh is also an empyrean for wildlife enthusiasts offering a wide variety of rare Himalayan birds and animals. A quest for the glimpse of snow Leopards, Bharal and wild Himalayan fox hidden in the wilderness of the Himalayan national parks is something that invites lots of wildlife photographers from various parts of the globe.
Hemis National Park
Acclaimed to be the largest national park in South Asia, the Hemis National Park covers an area of around 4400 sq. km. Home to an endless variety of wild animals and rare Himalayan birds, the park is an empyrean for wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers. Captivating scenic beauty of the park with dense pine forests and steam of Indus River flowing through its middle, also makes it an ideal destination for nature lovers to spend some moments here revelling in its picturesque charms and fresh mountain air. The Hemis National Park is also a paradise for trekkers owing to its trekking trails offering breath-taking vistas of ever changing Ladakhi landscape with rocky terrains and occasional sights of vegetation and sparkling streams along the route. What mainly attracts the tourists and adventure buffs is the quest for sighting the snow leopard in Ladakh.
Known to the protected reserve for endangered snow leopards, the park is a great site to have a glimpse at the majestic cat adorning the striped grey coat to perfectly camouflage with its surroundings. Local expert guides can be hired who can take you through trails frequented by these ever elusive creatures. Homestays at some of the remote villages bordering the park is sure to add to the thrill and excitement of a memorable wildlife holiday trip to Ladakh.
A donkey sanctuary! Sounds interesting, right? Well! The donkey sanctuary in Leh-Ladakh has been sheltering and taking care of these abandoned creatures who are left on the streets to survive on their own after they are of no use to their masters. Bitten by street dogs, hit by cars and whining with pain without any food to eat, the donkey sanctuary is a home to these animals where they are taken care of. The sanctuary was opened in 2008 by Sonam Dorje and Joanne Lefson, a South African photojournalist who takes care of food, shelter and medical facilities for disabled and old donkeys, also keeping them away from the attacks of street dogs and other animals. Since the time the sanctuary opened, it has been a prime tourist attraction in Leh attracting several tourists throughout the day. Dotted with very artistic and colourful signboards, hoardings and paintings; the place is quite a hit amongst kids. During your visit, besides seeing these animals you can even feed them with carrots and sugar; these innocent creatures would be more than happy to eat from your hands.
Run by sheer dedication and selflessness of two great people, the donkey sanctuary is truly an essence of humanity.
Other Attractions of Ladakh
The erstwhile residence of the royal family of Ladakh, the Leh Palace is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Leh-Ladakh and is visited by numerous tourists on a holiday trip to the region. Resembling the Potala Palace of Tibet in architecture, the palace was built in 17th century and was abandoned in mid-19th century when the royal family moved to Stok after the Dogras of Kashmir took over the charge of Ladakh. The imposing structure of the palace, though in ruins today, gives a fair idea of its grandeur and magnificence. The compartments and corridors of the palace made of stone, wood and sand adorned with paintings and murals that have seen the atrocities of time, still exude an old world charm. Being maintained by the archaeological society of India, a part of the palace has today been converted to an exhibition area showcasing a rich collection of ancient Thangkas paintings, murals, jewellery and costumes that speak of the golden era of Ladakh. For historians, archaeologists and photo journalists, a visit to the Leh Palace is sure to be an eye opener.
A visit to the palace’s rooftop is a delight for professional photographers seeking for some unmatched scenic vistas, pictures of which can add a magical charm to their already big collection of photographs and portraits.
Built in 1991, the Shanti Stupa is a white-domed Chorten located on a hilltop overlooking the Leh city. Built by Japanese Buddhists with the help of Ladakh Buddhists as part of a mission to promote world peace and to celebrate 2500 years of Buddhism, the Stupa is built as a two-storeyed structure and differs from the conventional Ladakh style of architecture. The first level houses a golden statue of Buddha sitting on a platform turning the wheel of dharma or Dharmachakra. The second level houses the images depicting scenes of birth and death of Buddha.
Located at just a short drive from Leh, the stupa stands tall as a symbol of harmony between Japan and Ladakh and also provides breath-taking views of the surrounding snow-capped hills and valleys. Illuminated view of the Stupa during the night is a visual treat to eyes. A trip to Leh-Ladakh is definitely incomplete without a visit to this lovely monument.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
Established in 1970s in remembrance of the first Sikh Guru and the founder of Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is located at a distance of 25 miles from the city of Leh on the way to the magnetic hill. It would be surprising to know that in pre-dominant Buddhist state, the Ladakh lamas revered Guru Nanak Dev Ji as ‘Nanak Lama’ or as ‘Guru Gompka Maharaj’ since many centuries. According to local legends, in early 16th century, the locals were tortured and harassed by a demon. During the visit of Guru Nanak Dev Ji to Ladakh in those times, he was also attacked by the same demon who tried to kill Nanak Dev Ji by throwing a huge boulder. However, Nanak Dev Ji could not be harmed as the rock turned soft like molten wax on touching Nanak Dev Ji. Despite of all efforts of the demon, Guru Nanak Dev remained unscathed. Realizing the fact that Guru Nanak himself is a divine power, demon underwent a transformation and stopped harassing the locals. Since then, Guru Nanak Dev was worshipped by lamas and the boulder with the imprints of body of Guru Nanak Dev was worshipped as a sacred boulder.
The boulder thrown by the demon was discovered after centuries when a road was being built from Leh to Nimmo in 1970s.The construction of the road came to a halt as this huge boulder could not be removed from the road despite of all the efforts. Not knowing about the legend of the boulder, the army officials decided to blow it off. It was then when the lamas gathered and told the legend of ‘Nanak Lama’, the manifestation of Guru Nanak Dev revered by them to the army officials.
After that, the army officials, local people and lamas established this Gurudwara around the boulder which is today, being run and maintained by the Indian Army. A wonderful place to stop by, pay your obeisance and relish on some tasty langar and tea served in the Gurudwara premises.
Ladakh has always been a destination full of mysteries and surprises. From its landscapes to people to different cultures, there has always been that charm of enigma to this wonderful yet mystical land that has attracted thousands of tourists, adventure buffs and artists from different corners of the globe. Talking of yet another mysterious phenomenon of the land, the ‘Magnetic Hill’ that lies at a distance of around 30 km. from Leh towards Kargil, has always been on the radars of the tourists to Ladakh who purposely stop on this route to just witness this marvellous spectacle with their own eyes.
It is believed that on this particular stretch of road going uphill, even if your vehicle is standing in a neutral mode with its engine off, the vehicle will start moving ahead on its own at a slow speed. Sounds unbelievable, right? Some locals and tour guides see this something related to a supernatural stuff and some tourists call it a fake phenomenon. Well! There is nothing to do with the supernatural stuff and it’s not at all fake even. It’s just that you have to be at the right point to experience it.
Now, coming to the actual point, what causes it is the effect called ‘Optical Illusion’ that tricks your mind of seeing a very slight bend of road that is actually going downhill to be perceived as going uphill. The layout of the surrounding hills create this optical illusion and you are tricked into believing that your vehicle is moving upwards.
So, when in Ladakh, make it a point to visit this Magnetic Hill and be amazed with its illusion effect.
The infamous Kargil War between India and Pakistan during 1999 brought the Tiger Hill in limelight and since then, it has become one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Leh-Ladakh. One of the highest peaks in the Drass-Kargil sector, the recapture of this peak by the Indian forces was a turning point in the war which actually led to India’s victory. Considered to be the most strategically important peaks overlooking the Leh-Srinagar highway, a mere glimpse of the hill can give you goose bumps and evoke a chill down your spine thinking how the soldiers of the Indian Army could have braved to capture the highest point of the region that lies in the second highest and coldest inhabited valleys of the world where temperature can even drop to -60 degrees. In such adverse conditions, our soldiers preferred carrying ammunition rather than food; they not just fought enemies but also the weather. Our soldiers chose to die a death of martyrs; our sincere salute to all those brave-hearts who saved our country and the country-men.
Kargil War Memorial
Also known as the ‘Drass War Memorial’, the Kargil War Memorial is another intriguing site in the Dras sector that reminds you of the atrocities of the Kargil war. Built by the Indian Army in commemoration of the brave Indian soldiers who laid their lives invading the intruders from our country, Kargil War Memorial brings forth the series of main events of the war in form of various pictures and hoardings housed inside its museum. Located on the foothills of the Tololing Hill, the main highlight of the memorial is its huge sandstone wall engraved with the names of all Indian Army personnel who martyred their lives while fighting valiantly with the enemy. To remember the sacrifices of the brave soldiers, 26th July every year is celebrated as the ‘Vijay Diwas’. A special war gallery named after the Param Veer Chakra Awardee, Late Captain Manoj Pandey also requires a special mention. If you are in Drass-Kargil during your visit to Ladakh, do visit the memorial to pay your tribute to the valiant soldiers who lost their lives while saving our nation.
The largest accessible glacier in Ladakh after the Siachen glacier, the Drang Drung Glacier lies in the Zanskar Range of the Himalayas. Attracting many brave-hearts, the glacier can be reached through a one day trek from the ‘Pensi La’ mountain pass on the Kargil-Zanskar road navigating your way through Kargil and the less explored Suru Valley. Resembling a lengthy river of ice meandering through snow-capped mountain peaks, the views of the glacier and the surrounding landscapes just look gorgeous and awe-inspiring filling your hearts with a deep sense of peace and solace. Wild marmots, ibex, blue sheep and Tibetan fox can be frequently sighted near the glacier giving ample opportunities to capture them in your cameras forever.
There is no end to the tourist attractions and things to do in Ladakh. The above list is just a short glimpse at what this mystical land has in store for you. So, get yourselves ready and venture on one of the most beautiful and exciting journeys of your lifetime.