Leh is on everyone’s mind. The serenity and beauty of it is just serendipitous!
A belated Birthday gift for myself in 2017, it was a 10-day trip to the Himalayas with my family. Our trip was planned by an acquaintance of my brother in law who is based in Leh and runs a travel agency called Traventurist from there. Unlike other travel companies, Sankalp focuses on small groups and often accompanies them on all trip as and when he can thereby offering the unique experience of a personal touch.
Many people ride their bikes or take their cars to Leh, however, we were a group of 5 people including my parents who obviously are not as young to travel by road hence we decided to travel by flight. A view as pretty as this has never been witnessed by me before! The flight to Leh from Delhi is about 2 hours and towards the latter half is when the journey gets really exciting.
Much before, we got to Leh, a very exciting event took place on the flight. As we were just settling down into our seats, I noticed a women a row in front of us and immediately recognized her as a prominent figure in Indian history – Kiran Bedi! The very lady who is India’s First Woman to Join Officer Ranks of The Indian Police Service!! I was in Awe! Unfortunately, or fortunately no one seemed to recognize her and we did! Once the flight had stabilized, I went and spoke to her, thanked her for her service and of course took a picture with her. She is an exceptional woman, humble, kind and most of all, inspiring.
Leh is the joint capital and largest town of the newly formed union territory of Ladakh in India. Leh, located in the Leh district, was also the historical capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, the seat of which was in the Leh Palace, the former mansion of the royal family of Ladakh.
Day 1 – Arival In Leh – Once, we landed in Leh, we collected our baggage and headed off to locate our local driver. Stanzin, though shy at first, was one of the highlights of our entire trip! We reached our hotel and were greeted by the friendly hotel staff that also took time to brief us of the dos and don’ts especially for the first 48 hours after arrival.
Leh is situated at an altitude of 11,562 feet and therefore, it is a must that you acclimatize to this change. Though you may not feel significant difference, it is recommended that you eat light, do not shower for at least the first 12 hours after arrival and most importantly get out and walk around to get used to the climate and altitude. We took time to explore our local area and the markets on our first day.
Day 2 – Local City Tour – Post lunch, we headed out to explore local tourist places such as the Old Palace, Tesmo palace and enjoyed the sun set at Shanti Stupa.
The old palace is nine storey high; the upper floors accommodated the royal family, while the lower floors held stables and store rooms.
In the Tesmo Gompa/palace there is a three storey high golden statues of Maitrey Budh and most of the walls are painted with Budh stories.
Shanti Stupa (13,997 feet above sea level) is a white-domed stupa (chorten) on a hilltop in Chanspa, Leh district and holds the relics of the Buddha at its base, enshrined by the 14th Dalai Lama.
Day 3 – Local City Tour –A Sangam and day of Monasteries.
Another day of exploration began by visiting the Indus Valley. This is where the sangam of the rivers Indus and Zanskar takes place. The confluence is a sight in itself as you can see two different colors of the waters merging in between the mighty mountains. This is also the highest point in the world for rafting.
We continued out journey to Hemis. Of the many monasteries located in ladakh, Hemis is perhaps the most famous one. Situated 45 kms from Leh, Hemis is tucked away in the majestic mountains. We arrived there while the monks were preparing for the feast of the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava and hence we witnessed the monks of all ages practicing their prayer dances.
We further went to Shey Monastery. This one mostly lies in ruins but definitely offers some dramatic panaromic views of the leh. The unique feature of this monastery is that its Buddha statue standing at a height of 39ft in copper and gold which is estimated to be the second largest Buddha statue in all of Ladakh.
Thiksey Monastery was on our list next. This beautiful Gompa is situated at 11,800 feet in the village Thiksey which is 19kms from Leh. This is one of the largest monasteries of the Ladkah region with a 12 story complex which includes 10 temples, halls, homes for the monks, a nunnery and other sections.
Day 4 – Turtuk via Khardung La Top – Situated at an altitude of 18,379ft above sea level, Khardung La is the believed to be the highest motor-able pass in the world. This mountain pass holds a special significance as it is the way to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier. At the top of the pass, chai, obligatory photo ops by the signs, and sights of the mountain-side decorated with Tibetan prayer flags await.
We started our journey towards Turtuk. This small village with a population of 4000 people is one of the Northernmost village that is bordering India and Pakistan. Opened to visitors not so long ago, it is guarded by the Indian Army and has many stories to tell. On our arrival there, we stayed in the hotel and pretty much explored the village on foot. The locals were even kind enough to welcome us into their homes and offer us fruits and fragments of interesting stories.
Sumur is a quaint little village with sand dunes and the picturesque mountains in the Nubra Valley, which is about 110kms from Leh. It is one of the lowest points in Ladakh.
One of the highly enjoyed outdoor activities in Sumur is exploring the desert by means of a camel ride. It’s one of the few parts of the world where the two humped Camels can still be found as opposed to their far more numerous one-humped cousins.
The visit to Nubra Valley is incomplete without visiting the Diskit Monastery. It is the oldest and largest monastery in all of Nubra Valley at an altitude of 10,300ft. It is home to the 106ft statue of Maitreya Buddha which is easily visible from afar. The significant idea behind this statue was to focus on three main aspects namely – protection of Diskit Village, prevention of further war with Pakistan, and promotion of world peace.
Day 6 – Leh via Khardungla – On the 6th day, we started our descent to Leh via Khardungla Pass. This was a particularly difficult day for us as the snow storm hit us hard that day and we ended up being stuck on that narrow pass for three hours. Not only did the traffic conditions get bad but also this was one time, where you could really notice people were having difficulty breathing. Once back in Leh, we thanked the Gods for our safe journey back and re-visited the local markets.
Day 7 – NH-1D tour, Magnetic Hill and Hall of fame Museum.
The next day consisted of taking a road trip along the National Highway 1D which is also known as the Srinagar-Leh Highway and is one of the only two roads that connects Ladakh with the rest of the India.
Our next stop was The Magnetic Hill, which is basically a stretch of road amidst the mountains that seems to defy the laws of gravity. Once you reach here, you will notice a yellow box marked by the Border Roads Organization, where you can park your car in neutral gear and witness the mysterious pull of the car upwards.
Day 8 – Camping by Pangong lake via Ghang La
The 8th day consisted of going to Pangong Lake. This is perhaps the most breath-taking place I have ever been to. The shades of blue are mesmerizing! The best way to enjoy this place is to rent camps by the lake under the stars. Modern facility and luxury is not a thing of this place (or most of Leh to be honest) and some people may find it difficult to adjust to lack of hot water, western toilets, etc
Day 9 – Tso Moriri lake via Tsag La
Since it is more to do with admiring the beauty of nature and not much otherwise, we spent only one night at Pangong Lake. The very next day, we took for Tso Moriri. Just when I thought I had witnessed it all at Pangong, there comes another picturesque wonder – It is the largest high altitude lake in India. I could sit by the banks of this lake and be lost in thought for eternity to come.
Day 10 – Back to Leh
The very next day, we travelled back to Leh and ventured into shopping and packing as we were leaving the next day. I will forever be thankful to our guide and our local driver who took immense care of us during this trip.
Must Try: Ladakhi Cuisine, Thupka, Momo, Chai and Maggi at small shops along the road. (When I look back, I think I had Maggi at least twice, daily) 😛
Fun Facts about Leh:
1. Very limited cell services – I personally liked that there was limited internet which meant that only hotels and restaurants offered limited wifi and most of the time, we were cut off from the rest of the world and actually enjoy being in the present of such splendour.
2. Ladakh roads are not the most friendly and therefore if you have only driven in the cities or don’t have experience enough, I would highly recommend getting a local driver. The roads of Ladakh aren’t paved, have rough and sharp bends and most importantly run along kms of barrenness.
3. Most passes need to be permitted by the Indian Army, as most roads are desolate with minimal medical facilities. There is a very high chance that even if you have the permit, but the boarder check team foresees any danger, you will not be allowed to pass through.
Best time to visit Leh:
· April to June – While the rest of India deals with scorching heat, this is perhaps the best time to visit Leh. The sun is bright with clear blue skies and day temperatures are warm. You still get to see snow capped mountains and even witness frozen lakes in some parts.
· July to August – The monsoon months. Leh sometimes experience landslides and cloud bursts.
· September to October – Starting September, chill sets in Leh but the sun keeps shining. This is a great time to go trekking.
· November to February – Not favourable for tarvelling. Most trekking routes close down after November due to heavy snowfall.
*The Chadar trek is best conducted between January and mid-March.