A magical landscape dominated by the world’s mightiest mountain range, the Himalayas and an amazing culture to keep you warm, Ladakh has been a dream destination for reasons more than one.
It has pristine lakes that shimmer under the sun and colourful monasteries that teach lessons of spirituality. A trip to Ladakh can be a life-changing experience. Don’t be surprised!
So, when your Ladakh dream comes true, and you find yourself in the middle of the arid mountains, these are the top 10 places you must visit in Ladakh.
1) Pangong Tso
Pangong Tso is a mirror to the infinite beauty of Ladakh and truly deserves to be on top of your Ladakh tour itinerary. Situated at the height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft), it is 134 km long and about 5 km wide at its broadest point. The lake extends till Tibet with only 40% of its length lying in India.
In the winters, the lake freezes completely. It is home to a variety of migratory birds, ducks, gulls and wildlife including the Kiang and the Marmot. The marshes around the lake also support some species of scrub and perennial herbs. However, it said to harbour almost no aquatic life, except for some small crustaceans. You can spend a whole day here and never get bored. The calmness of the lake, its purity combined with its constant flux of life and changing colours will keep you mesmerised.
Situated in the scenic Leh, the Alchi monastery stands in isolation from all the settlements – the sole historical witness to the reign of the ancient kings of Kashmir, holding within itself paintings and murals of a bygone era.
It was built in the 10th century. A very identifiable Indian touch can be seen in the frescoes and murals of this monastery since most of the artists were employed from Kashmir who added a bit of India to the paintings. The exquisitely painted ‘Green Tara’ and ‘Wheel of Life’ are surprisingly well-preserved even after so many centuries. The monastery comprises three significant shrines, one of them being the Dukhang which is the oldest temple in the monastery having an elaborate wooden gateway with tiny Bodhisattvas. It is an interesting monument for archaeologists as well as tourists. If you are an art enthusiast, plan a visit to this historic site on your tour to Leh.
Situated more than 3000 m above the sea level, this small Uleytokpo village is famous for its apricot orchards. During spring and summer, you can see bunches of apricots swinging from the feeble branches of the trees. While the Indus River twists and turns in this cold desert, the barren landscape of the place amazes you.
As not many tourists visit this area, you get the feeling of being the only one charting the dirt roads of this Nubra valley. With the starry skies wide open in the night, you can escape into a dream-like beauty. A place not yet homogenised by globalisation or overcrowded by modernisation, the barren landscape of this place will never cease to enchant you.
Leh is the most looming landscape in all of Ladakh with its majestic mountains that look like paradise. At an altitude of 3,500m, Leh has many trekking trails, historical monasteries and architectural wonders.
Visit the royal Stok Palace, about 17 km away from Leh where you will get a glimpse into the royal family of Ladakh. It is also a museum that houses a big collection of thangkas, old weapons, coins, seals, antique items used in religious rituals and royal ornaments. The main object of attraction here is the ‘Perak’ or the queen’s headdress studded with turquoise, emerald and other semi-precious stones. The Leh Palace, a dominating noble ruin studs the Leh landscape. Built as a royal residence for King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century, the monument gives a glimpse into the history of Leh.
Another historical site which adorns the landscape is the Alchi monastery which contains some of the most beautiful samples of exquisite paintings, frescoes and murals. You can also visit the Shanti Stupa and meditate for a while. A bag of wonderful surprises, needless to say, a trip to Ladakh is incomplete without halting for a while at its most famous destination, Leh.
5) Nubra Valley
A tour to Ladakh is a tour to the coldest desert of the world. Here you will witness a rare mingling of various forces of nature, which cannot be afforded to miss. One such place in Ladakh which provides such extraordinary sights is the cold Nubra Valley.
This valley has an average elevation of around 3000m. Because of the scarcity of rainfall, the land here is barren and desert-like. The two main villages of this valley are Hundar and Diskit. Diskit is the main headquarter of this valley – it has important government offices and basic amenities for its people. It is the main village of the valley and the most populated. It lies on the Shyok River (another tributary of the Indus). It is also home to the oldest and the largest monastery of the valley – the Diskit Gompa. The other village, Hundar, is home to the Chamba Gompa. This Monastery has some of the most spectacular murals to be found in Ladakh. It also provides an excellent view of the valley below.
Between these two villages, there are several kilometres of dunes. Here you can see sand dunes and tall snowy massifs at the same time. This co-existence of two disparate entities is one of the rarest natural wonders found on Earth. You will also chance upon double-humped Bactrian camels in this area.
6) Tso Moriri
Tso Moriri is a brackish water lake around 250 km from Leh at an altitude of 4595m. It is one of the most beautiful lakes in Ladakh, easily accessible by foot or private vehicles. Its crystal clear water ripples in the sunlight while the distant mountain peaks gaze down curiously. The small waves caused by wind crash at the shore.
Camping at the shore of the lake can be easily termed as one of the best holiday experiences in one’s life. The lake derives its name from Tso Kar, meaning salt lake in the local language and as the name suggests, it has been a source of salt for the local population for centuries. Tso Moriri’s spring-fed bright blue water, the surrounding snow-capped mountains and a secluded picturesque landscape offer one of the most scenic camping destinations in all of Ladakh. This lovely setting also attracts a range of wildlife, including migratory birds and rarely spotted animals.
A small village situated in western Ladakh at an altitude of 3500m, the landscape of Lamayuru is different from any place you have ever encountered. There are sediment rock formations in various shapes which give a cratered look to the land here. Hence, this place is also called the ‘moon land’.
Adding to this already dramatic setting is a perilously placed monastery, Lamayuru Gompa which is under the Red-Hat (‘Zhawa-mer’) sect of Buddhism and inhabits around 150 Buddhist monks. With magnificent caves carved out of mountains and many beautiful shrines, the Lamayuru monastery boasts a rich collection of wall paintings.
The Rupshu region at an elevation of around 4200m is a part of the Changthang high altitude plateau that extends from southeastern Ladakh to northern Tibet. The nomadic Changpa tribe roams in this exotic land of giant peaks, placid lakes and verdant meadows. These are hardy people with minimal earthly possessions like their yak wool tent called ‘rebu’ and their livestock mainly constituting of pashmina goats.
In an environment that excludes basic means of acquiring food, the Changpas are forced to keep on moving through the land for their survival. With rich cultural and religious traditions, these people still retain their unique primordial qualities. You can camp under the starry sky alongside the Changpa tents and experience their pastoral lifestyle.
The Rangdum plain, situated at a height of 3657m from sea level is one of the most remote and yet most enchanting places in Ladakh. This valley is in the middle of a 245 km biking trail on the way from Kargil to Padum.
The valley is scarcely inhabited and is therefore quite untouched by human activities. The environment here is somewhat harsh, surrounded by rocky mountains and glaciers. The most striking feature of this place is its indigenous wild horse. You can spot many of these horses grazing languidly in the vast grassland, and some are even found roaming on the roads. This is a rare sight in India. The place is also known for its 18th century Tibetan Monastery – Rangdum Gompa. The valley enjoys a very brief summer, so plan your Ladakh tour accordingly
10) Dah & Hanu
Situated about 163 km northwest of Leh, the Dah & Hanu valley is home to about five small villages. However, only two villages are open to tourists – Dah & Hanu. It is considerably warmer than Leh because of its low altitude.
This place should never be overlooked if you want a cultural tour of Ladakh. It is home to one of the most distinct tribes of India – the Drokpas who consider themselves to be of Aryan lineage. It is said that their forefathers came to India with Alexander and settled in this valley. When you meet these people, the first thing that catches your imagination is the elaborate headdress of Drokpa women made from fresh flowers. They are decked up in colourful dresses and elaborate accessories. Their physical features, customs, religious practices differ from the rest of the community of Ladakh who is predominantly Tibeto-Mongol.
So, now that you have picked the best places to visit in Ladakh from this list, go back to packing your bags, and don’t forget to keep woollens!
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