Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now the Leh district in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Leh district, with an area of 45,110 km2, is the second largest district in the country, after Kutch, Gujarat (in terms of area). The town is dominated by the ruined Leh Palace, the former mansion of the royal family of Ladakh, built in the same style and about the same time as the Potala Palace-the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India, during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Leh is at an altitude of 3,524 metres (11,562 ft), and is connected via National Highway 1D to Srinagar in the southwest and to Manali in the south via the Leh-Manali Highway. In 2010, Leh was heavily damaged by the sudden floods caused by a cloud burst.
Ladakh (“land of high passes”) region in Jammu and Kashmir currently extends from the Kunlun mountain range to the main Great Himalayas to the south, inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir and its culture and history are closely related to that of Tibet.
Historically, the region included the Baltistan (Baltiyul) valleys (now mostly in Pakistan), the entire upper Indus Valley, the remote Zanskar, Lahaul and Spiti to the south, much of Ngari including the Rudok region and Guge in the east, Aksai Chin in the northeast (extending to the Kun Lun Mountains), and the Nubra Valley to the north over Khardong La in the Ladakh Range. Contemporary Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, the Lahaul and Spiti regions to the south, the Vale of Kashmir, Jammu and Baltiyul regions to the west, and the southwest corner of Xinjiang across the Karakoram Pass in the far north. Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and culture. Aksai Chin is one of the disputed border areas between China and India. It is administered by China as part of Hotan County but is also claimed by India as a part of the Ladakh region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1962, China and India fought a brief war over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, but in 1993 and 1996 the two countries signed agreements to respect the Line of Actual Control.
In the past Ladakh gained importance from its strategic location at the crossroads of important trade routes, but since the Chinese authorities closed the borders with Tibet and Central Asia in the 1960s, international trade has dwindled except for tourism. Since 1974, the Government of India has successfully encouraged tourism in Ladakh. Since Ladakh is a part of strategically important Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian military maintains a strong presence in the region.
The largest town in Ladakh is Leh, followed by Kargil. Almost half of Ladakhis are Shia Muslims and the rest are mostly Tibetan Buddhists. Some Ladakhi activists have in recent times called for Ladakh to be constituted as a union territory because of perceived unfair treatment by Kashmir and Ladakh’s cultural differences with predominantly Muslim Kashmir.
Leh the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Ladakh is now a dream destination of many and the Mecca of adventure enthusiasts! Leh, one of the coldest deserts in the world is located at a distance of 434 Kms from Srinagar and 474 Kms from Manali (Himachal Pradesh). At the time of reorganization of districts in 1979, Ladakh was divided into Leh and Kargil and now Leh district is synonymous with Ladakh and vice-versa! Built by the Buddhist kings of Ladakh in 1553 the Leh Palace was once the world’s highest building. The primary attraction within the Leh city this palace is structurally similar to the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Now only the palace prayer room lives up to the sense of former grandeur of Leh Palace. Leh is a backpacker’s haven with numerous trekking trails, valleys, and picturesque lakes. Renowned as the land of monks and monasteries there is lots to see in this amazing piece of land. There are three sub divisions of Leh with 7 different tour circuits identified for international tourists in Leh with breathtaking Himalayan panorama.
What to See and Do
Leh is a paradise on earth with its mesmerizing scenic beauty and is blessed with majestic snow laden Himalayan ranges, lush green landscape, sparkling blue waters and deep gorges. …
The famous and sparkling blue Pangong lake is situated in the Himalayas, approximately at the height of 4350 meters. It is 124 km long and extend from India to Tibet, where 60% of the lake lies. The lake freezes completely during winters in spite of its salinity. The lake has been a tourist attraction since a very long time and has gained further popularity after being a ‘hot-spot’ for many film shoots, apart from being an essential for anyone travelling to Leh.
Pangong lake is home to many migrating birds in summer and one can witness numerous ducks and gulls “surfing”. Due to the briny water the lake does not support aquatic life other than some ocean bugs called crustaceans by oceanographers. Some are luck to spot a kiang which is a wild ass or a marmot a brownish rodent. There are two streams from the Indian side that form the wetlands and marshes at the edges. It is the beauty of the impeccable blue waters that embezzle the tourist’s attention the most. The serenity and tranquility of this place is the tourist’s paradise.
Best time to visit Pangong Lake
It is best to visit this lake in summers, precisely from the month of June to the month of September as the lake would be frozen, and in winter due to it’s extreme weather and high altitude the vacation would not be as enjoyable. A visit in summer will open an avenue to witness different migratory birds and other flora fauna.
How to Reach Pangong Lake
Air: The closest air-port is Leh 150km from the lake. And from there road transport is available.
Rail: Kalka is the nearest railway station to Leh. Buses or taxis can be hired to reach Manali viaë_Shimla. There are regular taxis and bus services from Manali to Leh.
Road: It is a breath-taking 5 hour drive from Leh.
Where to Stay
If you wish to camp at the lake then tenting is the only option. Also the places to live in and around the vicinity are in Lukung which is in close proximity, has a provision of eco huts. Local households also provide accommodation and the ideal place to live is 32 km a from Pangong lake, Tangste. One can however, be based at Leh, which has numerous options for accomodation and take day trip to the lake.
Pangong Lake’s Cuisine
While options for food at the lake are limited, you may find popular and local preparations such as Thukpa which is a noodle soup, Tsampa, known in Ladakhi as Ngamphe (roasted barley floursted barley flour), and Skyu which is a heavy pasta dish with plenty of veggies as well as the very popular and delicious Momos which are steamed dumplings stuffed with vegetables or meat. Drinks include Tea, coffee, beer and Chang which is an alcoholic beverage drunk especially on festive occasions.
Best Restaurants Nearby
There are a few eateries and stalls at the lake selling popular local items, maggi and tea. One might want to however, carry their own food for a trip to the lake.
Pangong lake is best seen on a trip to Leh. From Leh, start early to enjoy the sunrise during your drive to Pangong Tso. Spend the whole day, till the afternoon exploring the lake and its surrounding lake Tso Moriri. One may also go about exploring the rest of the Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary.
It is advised to carry more and sufficient warm clothes to withstand the cold weather. It is an ecologically fragile place where littering is a serious offence. Kindly dispose your waste wisely. An inner line permit is required to visit Pangong lake. The permit will be easily available at the Dc’s office in Leh by submitting an application. It is prefer to carry 5-6 copies of the permit as it has to be submitted at various check points.
Shanti Stupa is one of the magnificent Tibetan structures that has ever been built. The architecture and the beauty of this place are unexplainable. Shanti Stupa is a white-dome structure dedicated to Buddhism. Located on the hilltop of Chamspa in Leh, it is one of the major tourist attractions of Ladakh not only for its religious significance for also for its splendid views of the surrounding mountain ranges that it has to offer. This marvelous structure is an example of the ties between Japan and India.
Shanti Stupa was constructed in the year 1991 by Japanese Buddhist, Bhikshu Gyomyo Nakamura. The construction was jointly done by the Japanese and Ladakhi Buddhists to mark the completion of 2500 years of Buddhism and to promote world peace. It is a part of peace pagoda mission, which aims to spread peace through the preaching of Buddha.
The stupa has various relics of old Buddhism culture including the huge idol of Buddha placed at this base; the idol was enshrined by the 14th Dalai Lama. The beauty of Shanti Stupa takes a level up at night, especially during the full moon night when it is naturally illuminated by the moonlight.
How to Reach Shanti Stupa
Located on the top of the hill Chanspa, 15 minutes of walk is required to reach the Stupa on the hill top from the foothill.
Structure of Shanti Stupa
Shanti Stupa is perched at an elevation of 4,267 meters and offers the breathtaking view of the Himalayan ranges that surround this majestic structure. You need to jot down a short trek of 15 minutes from Changspa to the stupa. The Shanti Stupa is constructed on two levels. The first level houses the gold embellished statue of the Buddha and the Dharmachakra (the wheels of life), where the devotees move the wheels while they pray to God for their prosperity. The second level of the stupa depicts the life, nirvana (enlightenment) and the death of Buddha. You can take a round of the stupa praying and enjoying the astonishing beauty of Ladakh.
Construction of Shanti Stupa
Shanti Stupa was built under the ‘peace pagoda mission’ which aims to construct peace pagodas all around the world to promote world peace. The original idea of this magnificent structure was proposed by Nichidatsu Fujii (Fujii Guruji) in 1914. The construction of stupa was the joint effort by the Japanese and Buddhist monks under the supervision of the Bhikshu Gyomyo Nakamura and Kushok Bakula, Lama of Ladakh from New Delhi, the former international diplomats of the Republic of India.
The construction of the stupa began in 1983, and it was partly funded by the then government of India under the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi. The construction of the stupa was completed in 1984, and henceforth a concrete road was built to the stupa. Shanti Stupa inaugurated by the then Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso on August 1991.
1. Reaching to the hill top requires a trek, make sure you are in your comfortable attire.
2. Do not miss the view of Shanti Stupa at night.
Forget the biggest of fortresses but can a king’s residence be any better than Leh Palace with the view of the surreal Himalayas standing abreast. Leh Palace is one of the most historically rich edifices of Kashmir located in the town of Leh. The palace was built in the 17th century by King Sengge Namgyal and was his former residence. Palace offers the marvelous view of the of the whole Leh town and as well the mighty Himalayan ranges of Stok Kangri and Zanskar mountain ranges giving this palace a strategic position.
A huge part of the Leh Palace has now been turned into ruins, due to the Kashmiri invasion in the 19th century. However, the beauty of the palace still stands in pride with a lot of ancient Buddha relics, paintings, old utensils, cutlery used by the royal family and artifacts adorning the walls of the palace.
The palace is now under the Archaeological Survey of India to renovate the ancient structures of that era and to keep intact the history of Namgyal dynasty in Leh. The palace looks stunning when it is lighted at special occasions such as Galdam Namchot festival when locals gather around the palace to celebrate the local festival.
How to Reach Leh Palace
Leh Palace is located in the old Leh city, and you need to walk through the old town to reach the palace. It is situated at a distance of 5 km from the Leh air force base airport.
History of Leh Palace
The construction of the Leh Palace began in the year 1553 by one of the rulers of Namgyal dynasty-Tsewang Namgyal. The construction was completed by his successor- Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. It is located on the Tsemo hill. The palace bears a close resemblance with the Potala Palace in Tibet.
The Leh Palace was abandoned by the royal family in the mid 19 century when the Dongra forces took over Ladakh and Namgyal family had to shift to Stok Palace. The palace has now been converted into an archaeological museum displaying the artifacts of the yesteryear’s rulers of Leh.
Structure of Leh Palace
The Leh palace is a magnificent example of the Tibetan architecture. It is entirely made up the hard bricks, mud, wood and sand. The unique construction allows the palace to illuminate naturally during the day.The palace is nine stories high, the upper floors were used by the royal family as their residence, and lower levels were given to servants and soldiers for the protection the royal building.
The top floor of the palace is called victory tower which offers the panoramic view of the Leh town and the Himalayan ranges. The base of the palace is embellished with several other Tibetan structures- the famous Namgyal stupa, Chandazik stupa and Chamba Lhakhang stupa.
Do not miss the sunset and sunrise from the Leh Palace.
Tso Moriri Lake
The lesser known of the many lakes within the Changtang Wildlife sanctuary, Moriri Tso lake is twin to the Pangong Tso Lake. Located inside the Changtang wildlife sanctuary, this lake offers a scenic place of peace and tranquility. The water body measures about 28 km in length from north to south and about 100 feet average in depth. The lake is surrounded by barren hills, with the backdrop of beautiful snow-covered mountains. Since Moriri Tso lake is the lesser known of the two lakes, the crowd frequency is less too. Pangong lake always has many more people, and is now crowded with little stalls that sell Maggi and tea.
Tso Moriri has been declared as a wetland reserve. A number of species of birds included bare-headed goose, the great-crested grebe, the Brahmin duck and the brown-headed gull. Himalayan hares are abundantly found here. Moriri Tso is also called the ‘mountain lake’, owing to the peaks that surround it, towering at a height of 2000 meters, shutting it off from the outside world.
Best time to visit Tso Moriri Lake
From the month of January to March, Tso Moriri remains mostly frozen, extremely cold conditions with no options to stay around the lake. During April, it starts to melt and starts transforming into the beautiful multi shades of blue colors off the shores. May, June, July and August is the peak tourist season but as compared toë_Pangong Tsoë_, there are less tourists that visit.
How to Reach Tso Moriri Lake
Road: It is a brilliant drive from Leh. It is a must to take an experienced tour operator from Leh.
Where to Stay
It is best to stay be based at Leh and take a day trip to the sanctuary and the lakes. If one wishes to stay near the shores of the lake, Korzok village and Nubra Valley have camping facilities. However, only camping tents will be available for accomodation. One may, alternatively camp at Pangong Lake or its nearby areas that provide accomodation.
Tso Moriri Lake’s Cuisine
The options for food are scarce and limited at the lake. While Leh has a distinct food culture about it and various specialties and Pangong lake has managed to house local stalls selling popular and basic food items, Tso Moriri does not provide any options for eating out.
Best Restaurants Nearby
There aren’t any eateries or food stalls here.. Hence it is best to carry your own food for a trip to the lake.
The lakes is best seen on a day trip from Leh. From Leh, start early to enjoy the sunrise during your drive to Pangong Tso. Spend the whole day, till the afternoon exploring the lake and its surrounding lake Tso Moriri. Roam around the wildlife sanctuary to spot rare species. If one has the time, they may also visit Tso Kar, another lake close to Tso Moriri.
1.Keep all your permission papers in handy, and keep many copies. 2.The weather is quite unstable in this part of Jammu and Kashmir, and thus it is always better to carry warm clothes. 3.Tso Moriri is inaccessible by public transport; you should contact a tour operator at Leh who will arrange and include your permit to the package. You will need two photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport and visa. Permits are required to travel to this lake. Once you have your permit, usually only valid for a maximum period of seven days, make at least 5 copies before setting off, as checkpoints like to keep a copy when you log in.
Khardung La Pass
Best known as the gateway to the Nubra and Shyok valleys in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, the Khardung La Pass, commonly pronounced as Khardzong La, is a very important strategic pass into the Siachen glacier and claims to be the world’s highest motor able pass at an elevation of 5,602 m.
The pristine air, the scenic beauty one sees all around and the feeling that you are on top of the world has made Khardung La a very popular tourist attraction in the past few years.
Best time to visit Khardung La Pass
The best time to visit Khardung La is between May and October. This is the time when the pass is open.
How to Reach Khardung La Pass
Road: Khardung La is situated at about 39 km from Leh. The first 24 km, as far as the South Pullu check point, are paved. From there to the North Pullu check point about 15 km beyond the pass the roadway is primarily loose rock, dirt, and occasional rivulets of snow melt. From Leh, a daily bus service to Nubra Valley passes over Khardung. The ideal method to get to Khardung-la is by taxi or bikE.
1. It is best advised to hire an experienced driver. 2 Prophylactic altitude-sickness medication like acetazolamide may be necessary for some travellers as there are no emergency medical facilities to treat altitude sickness along the route. 3. Required permits : For visiting the Nubra valley one requires a permit. This can be collected from travel agents in Leh on payment of a nominal fee of about two hundred rupees. But even without any permit one can enjoy the exhilarating trek above the pass.
Where To Stay
Many Hotels are available in Leh.
How To Get Around
HOW TO REACH LADAKH | LADAKH TRIP PLANNER
Srinagar to Leh (first approach)
Reach Ladakh from Kashmir Valley through Kargil, which is around 434 kms. This route remains open from early June to November. Zoji-La pass of the Himalayan ranges that is a gateway to Ladakh is approximately 11,500 feet (3,505 m high) above the sea level. J & K State Road Transport Corporation, J&K SRTC, runs regular deluxe and ordinary bus services between Srinagar and Leh. There’s a night stay in Kargil. You can also hire cars, jeeps or taxis in Srinagar. If traveling in groups, you can rent deluxe buses for Leh, Kargil or Padum (Zanskar) from J & K SRTC at Srinagar.
Manali to Leh (second approach)
Manali-Leh road of 473 kms, since 1989 has been another route to Ladakh. This route is open from mid-June to early October. The road passes through the desert plateau of Rupsho and is around 3,660m to 4,570m high. There are a number of high passes falling on the route, Taglang-La being second highest motorable road in the world, 17,469 feet (5,235m) above the sea level. Himachal Pradesh Tourism (HRTC) and J & K SRTC run daily deluxe and ordinary buses between Manali and Leh; that takes around hours (or two days) with night halt in camps at Sarchu or Pang. You can also hire a Gypsy or jeep taxis.
Distances by Road
Srinagar – Leh: 434 Km
Manali – Leh: 473 Km
Srinagar – Kargil: 204 Km
Delhi – Leh: 1047 Kms
Leh – Kargil: 234 Km
Kargil – Padum (Zanskar): 240 Km
Leh – Deskit (Nubra Valley): 118 Kms.