Ladakh - a slice of Tibet
Jammu & Kashmir, North India
Go there for :
Adventure sports, Buddhist Monasteries
11°-26°C (Sum); Upto -30°C (Win)
When to Go:
STD Code :
+91 - 1982
Across the Kashmir Valley and over the famous Zoji La pass lies
Ladakh the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, nestled between the world's highest
mountain ranges - the Karakoram in the north-west, the Himalayas in the
south-west and the Trans-Himalayas at its core. The Indus is the life-saving
water-way that veins this high-altitude desert with a blazing sun and
freezing wind. Leh, at an elevation of 3505 m, is the main city, and hence
the appellation 'Leh-Ladakh'. The very road route to Ladakh is an adventure
Leaving the geographic brouhaha apart, Ladakh is about robed monks flocking
about the undulating streets, brightly painted monasteries, hand-made
wall-hangings in colorful woolen threads, and the aroma from the gurgling
vessels of gurgur cha filling the air. And as adventurers reach sequestered
Leh from their arduous expedition, a warmth seeps into their being inspite
of the freezing weather. This is the magic of 'Little Tibet'!
The once nine storied 17th century Leh Palace,
now in dilapidated state, rises from the edge of a hill and commands a
breath-taking view of the entire locale. Above the palace, at the top of the
Namgyal hill, is the Victory Tower, built to commemorate Ladakh's victory
over the Balti Kashmir armies in the early 16th century.
These are the repositories of Buddhist religion
and home to some thousands of monks. The 13th century Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
(also called the Leh Gompa), with its paintings and a three-storey high
seated Buddha image is beautiful, add to it the classic sweep of the entire
valley that can be had once you are there. The residence of the head of the
Gelukpa (yellow hat) order is the 17th century Sankar Gompa. The paintings
in the main prayer hall are worth a dekko. To the west of Changspa, lies the
large white stupa (commemorative cairn), Shanti Stupa, inaugurated by the
Dalai Lama in the 1980s. This monument was conceived as part of a
Japanese-inspired peace movement to spread Buddhism throughout the world.
Needless to say, Ladakh is a revered name in the Buddhist world with a
constant pilgrim bee-line, especially during festivals.
Hemis National Park:
Situated 40 km SE of Leh on the bank of river
Indus is the home to an exotic assemblage of cold desert fauna like the snow
leopard, Tibetan wild or kiang, ibex, serow and Tibetan antelope.
The gompa courtyards burst into a thousand hues during
festivities. The biggest and most famous of the monastic festivals is that
of Hemis monastery (Jun-July) dedicated to Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche),
the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, when the resident Lamas perform ritualistic
masked dances. Every 12 years, a magnificent embroidered silk thangka
(tantric wall hanging) is displayed to the public; the next such unveiling
takes place in June 2016, when the Year of the Monkey comes around again.
River rafting in the Indus and Zanskar rivers,
mountaineering in the Great Himalayan Range, the Zanskar Mountains and the
Karakoram Range are the raging favorites. The best trekking tracks are the 3
week trek from Indus Valley to Darcha (Lahoul), 10-day Markha Valley trek,
the 11-day Lamayuru- Padum traverse, Hemis-Markha-Padum trek and the 4/5-day
Leh has superior quality woolen garments, hand-woven carpets with
dragon motifs, rugs, wall-hangings and Pashmina shawls - the popular hunts
in Ladakh. Tibetan handicrafts like prayer wheels, Buddhist masks and
Thangka paintings. Traditional Ladakhi jewelry with turquoise carvings and
Tibetan silver jewelry are sheer delight for connoisseurs. Packets of
Ladakhi apricots make scrumptious souvenirs to gift away back home.
Bargaining is not an alien concept, but at the govt. Emporiums the prices
are fixed and considering the quality, one shouldn't really mind.
And the major locales are Tibetan Handicraft Emporium and Ladakh Art Palace
on the Main Bazaar Rd., Cottage Industries Exposition and Women's Alliance
The tables here emanate the unmistakably refreshening aroma of
boiled vegetables. Tibetan food mainly consists of Momos (dumplings stuffed
with meat or vegetables) with fiery chilli sauce, Thukpas (a thick noodle
soup with vegetables), Tsumpa (roasted barley flour, Ngampe in Ladakhi),
Skyu (a heavy pasta dish with root vegetables), fresh breads with apricot
jam and strong black tea flavored with butter and salt (gurgur cha). And if
you have a taste for continental diet, you will love this version of boiled
cuisine. The alcoholic beverage, Chang, made of fermented barley is
considered heavenly, the succor to the taste buds and warmth to the body
being the divine connection.
For traditional Tibetan food go to Himalaya Café, Shangri La for
Korean cuisine, Budshah Inn for Chinese and Kashmiri cuisine, Dreamland
Restaurant for Tibetan, Kashmiri, Indian and Italian food, Penguin Bar and
Restaurant for fresh breads, Mentokling Restaurant for pizzas cooked over a
traditional wood-fired oven and Pumpernickel German Bakery for lasagna and
A 5-hour jeep drive over the world's highest
motorable pass, Khardung-La (5,578m/18,000 ft.), leads to northern Ladakh's
lush Nubra Valley, a fertile region with gompas, hot sulphur springs (at
Panamik), and double-humped Bactrian camels. This route was a part of the
legendary Silk Route used by caravans of traders operating between the
Punjab and various regions within central Asia for many centuries. Rent a
bike or hire a jeep and discover the off-the-beaten-track purlieus there.
The Bactrian camel safari at the sand dunes in the Nubra valley is a
About 17 km from Leh, across from Choglamsar on the
opposite side of the Indus is home to the 74th generation of the Namgyal
dynasty - the Stock Palace (Open daily, May-Oct, 8am-7pm). The museum has an
interesting collection of thangka, weapons, jewels and the queen's perak (a
All the monasteries fall on two routes and can be
covered in two days. One is the route to Shey, Thikse, Stakna, Matio,
Chembray, Tak Tok and Hemis. The other route leads out from the airport road
and includes Spituk, Phyang, Likir, Alchi, Ridzong and Lamayuru. Inclusion
of Lamayuru (125 km from Leh), in your itinerary makes it impossible to
return to Leh the same day.
North of Leh, along the road to Srinigar are Phyang Gompa (16km from Leh),
and 15th-century Spituk Gompa (8km from Leh), roosted on a rocky hill. Alchi
(70km NW of Leh), along the left bank of the Indus, a short way off the
Srinigar-Leh Rd. has is of the pilgrim hot-hubs with monasteries as old as
The once majestic Shey Palace and Monastery (Open daily,May-Oct, 8am-7pm)
is 15 km from Leh. The Thikse Gompa (Open daily,6am-6pm), 25km south of Leh,
with its 12-story edifice all perched on a hilltop is an imposing spectacle.
Approaching the Tibet border, about 45 km from Leh is the Hemis Gompa, the
wealthiest Ladakhi monastery. It bursts into a riot of colors during the
Hemis Tsechu festival every summers in June and July.
A stark contrast to Ladakh's verdant valleys is Zanskar's
treeless expanse - a trekker's delight. River rafting is possible from
Serchu to Nyimu via Padam. Monasteries around Zanskar are Karsha (9 km),
Stongde (20 km), Burdan (10 km), Zongkhu (20 km) and Phuktal (70 km).
The Drokpa Circuit:
Banking the Indus near Khaltse, is the Drokhpa
community of Aryan origin. Ethnically, linguistically, religion-culturally
at variance from the rest of Ladakh and those in the surrounding villages,
and this is what makes this locale worth a dekko.
Hop next to: Gulmarg