Friday, March 13, 2009


Ladakh - a slice of Tibet

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 escapade.

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'!


Leh Palace: 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.


Monastries (gompas): 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.

Festivals: 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.
Adventure escapades: 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 Stok-Khangri trek.


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 in Changspa.


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 mini-meals.

Nubra Valley: 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 must-dare!

Stok Palace: 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 turquoise-studded headdress).

Monastery Circuit: 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 11th century.

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.

Zanskar: 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.

Location :
Jammu & Kashmir, North India

Go there for :
Adventure sports, Buddhist Monasteries

Climate :
11°-26°C (Sum); Upto -30°C (Win)

When to Go:

Local Tongue:
Ladakhi, Urdu

24 %

STD Code :
+91 - 1982

1 comment:

  1. You have provided a good and valuable information on Ladakh. Leh Ladakh is a good place to visit and explore. Ladakh has many good and interesting places to explore.