The rough mountain terrains and landscapes separate Ladakh from the rest of India and is no less than a foreign land for Indians and foreigners alike. But besides the distance and remoteness, it is its cultural rift from rest of the country that makes Ladakh a unique destination.
Ladakh is literally translated as, ‘Land of high passes’ in Tibetan and is located at an average altitude of more than 3,000 meters above the sea level. It is sandwiched between the Kunlun mountain range on the north and the Himalayas to the south.
Majority of the people here follow Buddhism and Ladakh remains one of the few centres of Buddhism in South Asia. It is the land of pointed, rocky mountains, covered with snow on higher ranges. Miles and miles of barren brown mountains are broken at only certain places by well fed valleys that springs to life like an oasis in the desert. Though it is a difficult terrain with daunting mountain roads, Ladakh has been a place of importance since the medieval eras. The civilization here is as old as any other. The popular Silk Route passes through Ladakh and was closed in the 60’s when China sealed the Indo-Tibetan border.
Tibet has great influence on Ladakh therefore the similarities are also striking. It is also known as ‘Little Tibet.’
Ladakh’s isolated landscapes have always mesmerized travellers. Even there is so much to be explored about its culture as the people living here have rich traditions. Their lives are still steeped in ancient tradition and beliefs.
One is spoiled for choice as there are so many places to visit in Ladakh. 10 must places to visit in Ladakh are:
Leh is the capital of Ladakh and also the largest town there. Leh was once the capital of Ladakh Kingdom and therefore has many historical places and monasteries. It has become a tourist hub and is connected with Srinagar and Manali by road and can even be reached by air. It is a pack packer’s heaven; cheap hotels, good food, hospitable locals and exotic culture and destination. You would find decent commuting options in Leh to visit most of the places in Ladakh.
Kargil is the second largest town in Ladakh. The town is a valley surrounded by mountain on all sides. There is not much to see in Kargil but it has an old world charm. There are many places to explore around Kargil.
3. Pangong Lake:
Pangong Lake seemed to be the favourite destination for many tourists visiting Ladakh. Few years back it was a beautiful brackish lake known to very few people. It was relatively unknown before it got popularised by the blockbuster film 3 Idiots. After that tourists have increased manifold. Pangong Lake may be perhaps one of the most beautiful high altitude lakes in the world. It can be reached after 6 hours drive from Leh.
4. Lamayuru Village and Monastery:
The Lamayuru monastery is the most beautiful monastery I have ever seen. The village is centered around this ancient monastery and is worth a visit. It is the centre of Buddhism and is one of the most revered Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh. The small village is also the host for many annual events and religious festivals. Don’t miss the strange, out of this world ‘moonscape’ just near the village.
5. Tsomoriri Lake:
This is another high altitude Lake but less frequented than Pangong. The Lake is pristine and exotic. It is also a breeding ground for many migratory birds and so a good place for bird watchers.
6. Sand Dunes at Hunder:
Nubra valley is full of surprises. It is also one of the greenest valleys you will come across in Ladakh. Hunder is beautiful village in the middle of this valley known for its mysterious sand dunes. It is believed to have been formed out of a river bed that dried or got washed off by forces of nature like rain and wind. It also offers camping facilities. It has a small population of two-humped camels called Bactrian camels, that can be spotted and are like an attraction of Hunder.
7. Khartungla Pass:
Located at an altitude of 5,360 meters, Khartungla Pass is among the highest motorable roads around the world. It is continuously overflown with slush of mud and melted ice water. The 2,000 meters climb from Leh to Khartungla will offer some exciting view of Leh and the mountains beyond, i.e., the Zanskar Range. Some adventurous folk prefer to paddle down on cycle rather than hiring a taxi. Other than the snow covered peak and the cold, there’s nothing much to see but the view is rewarding.
8. Gompas and Stupas:
Literally there are forests of gompas everywhere in Ladakh. Sometimes you would see stupas even at the most unexpected places. These religious monuments are an integral part of the land. They are as old as their civilization and have experienced the test of time. These holy structures against the desolate landscapes add dimension and certain mysticism to the region.
9. Vast open space and mountains:
This may come as a surprise but you’ve to cover around 500 km from Manali to reach Leh and this road is a quite an experience for bikers. The diverse landscapes are just amazing to watch. After a hundred kilometers or so from Manali, the conditions became too harsh for habitation. So there’s a vast stretch of mountains unoccupied. It was a relieving sight to me after the suffocating and overburdened plains of Central and North India. There are no inhabitants for some 300 km or so. It is just you and the road. You will see some of the most breathtaking sights in your entire life. I’ve always thought the journey is as important as the destination.
Zanskar is a sub-district of Kargil and one of the most remote parts of Ladakh. It is also the least visited place in Ladakh. In winter Zanskar is accessible only by foot through a frozen river. The remoteness has preserved its old traditions and so far kept them authentic and unadulterated. Residents of Zanskar are colourful people, rich in tradition and culture. You wouldn’t see such people in other parts of Ladakh. Padum is the largest town but have a meager population of around 700 inhabitants. The rest are distributed in small villages and on highlands. They keep cattle and sometimes live a semi-nomadic life especially during summer.
Note: Both Indian and Foreign tourist are required to carry tourist permit while travelling to Pangong Lake, Tso Moriri, Nubra Valley and other destination bordering Tibet. The permit is valid for 7 days and can be acquired from any travel agency in Leh.