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Places to visit in Ladakh

Discussion in 'Jammu & Kashmir' started by GayandraJ12, Mar 20, 2017.

  1. GayandraJ12

    GayandraJ12 New Member

    This year I would like to visit Ladakh as it is a destination I have wanted to visit for quite some time now.

    I would like to know what places to visit in Ladakh so that I know how many days I should stay there and also create an itinerary.
    I know there are a couple of lakes there, but I am not sure to which ones to visit, and whether there are any villages which should be visited there.

    Please provide as much information and details about the places to visit, as I want to make the most of the trip and not miss out on anything.

  2. briannagodess

    briannagodess Well-Known Member

    Hello, welcome to the forum!

    (Images from Ankit, Deeptrivia, Karunakar and Narender)


    Ladakh is one of the three divisions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It can be subdivided into two districts, namely: Leh and Kargil. Under these districts, you would find the various towns and villages of Ladakh. As a tourist destination, Ladakh has scenic landscapes, of barren lands along with valleys and high passes. The region is also filled heritage sites in the form of palaces and monasteries, with their histories that can be traced back to hundreds of years ago. Accessible by road for only a few months in a year, it has become a sought-after destination in the state. In this guide, we would highlight the best places to visit when in Ladakh, so that you can plan your trip more accordingly.

    Places to Visit in Ladakh

    Laden with history...

    1. Leh - Leh can be considered as the commercial hub and tourist hub of Ladakh. Usually, when tourists refer to a visit to Ladakh, they mean that they are covering the town of Leh. The history of the region can be traced way before the 8th century, when it was considered as a part of the ancient Silk Route. The town is scenic, with barren mountains just ahead of it and its culture still very much intact. A number of Buddhist monasteries form part of the rich heritage of the town as well. The Thiksey Monastery, situated en route to Leh, is a must-visit religious attraction. This 15th century monastery is spread across 12 floors, set amidst a hillock, pure white in appearance and surrounded by stupas all around. Inside, you would find plenty more of artifacts such as thangkas and murals that are worth noting, along with the large statue of Maitreya Buddha which covers two floors of the monastery. The smaller Namgyal Tsemo Monastery might not be as grand but its bright rede facade is visible from any part of the town. You need to climb a few steep stairs of around 50 steps to reach the monastery but the view from the top, with the mountain ranges, is truly worth it. The Spituk Monastery is another marvelous though simple monastery to visit founded around the 11th century. The main shrine has a copper statue of Buddha whilst the other rooms have collections of oil lamps and statues. The ruined Leh Palace might not be as striking as the other known palaces of Rajasthan but it exudes a serene ambience. The supposed to be nine-storey building already has a dilapidated look but it only takes some imagination to understand the glory that it once has. And if you still have time, visit the Hall of Fame to give your respects to the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the Kargil War.
    • Must Visit Attractions - Thiksey Monastery, Namgyal Tsemo Monastery, Spituk Monastery, Leh Palace and Hall of Fame
    Thiksey Monastery in Leh (Image from Meridius)

    2. Kargil - Next we have the town of Kargil, a lesser explored region in Ladakh. You might be familiar with it being the venue for the Kargil War which occurred around the year 1947. But more than this event, Kargil is yet another beautiful destination in the region. Its tragic history gives it a distinct identity and its people are truly the epitome of strength and courage. Kargil is best visited from the Srinagar Leh Highway side, so en route you can visit the Dras War Memorial, dedicated to the soldiers who died during the Kargil War. This memorial is more elaborate, even having the inscribed names of all the soldiers who died during that event. You also can't miss the daily film highlighting the details of the war, along with the memorabilia from the event. The Lamayuru Monastery is located en route to Leh from Kargil so you can take a detour if you plan to visit both places. This monastery has a white stone facade which makes it stand out from the barren surroundings. It is believed to be the oldest monastery in the Ladakh region and has this unique valley behind it bearing some resemblance to the landscapes of the moon, hence the designation of Moonland. Other monasteries worth visiting here are the Mulbekh Monastery, famed for its huge stone carving of Buddha in stone, and Phugtal Monastery, which is built upon a cave approachable only by trekking.
    • Must Visit Attractions - Dras War Memorial, Lamayuru Monastery, Mulbekh Monastery and Phugtal Monastery
    Lovely lakes in a barren land...

    3. Pangong Tso - Popularized by the Bollywood movie, 3 Idiots, shown in 2009, Pangong Tso is around a 5 to 7 hours drive from Leh. This is a high altitude lake situated about 4,350 meters above sea level. En route to the lake, you would be passing by Chang La, considered as one of the toughest and highest passes in the world. Do take some minutes off here and enjoy the scenic views whilst having tea care of the Indian Army nonetheless. Then continue unto your journey by reaching Spangmik, the nearest village to the lake. Here, you would find tented accommodations and guest houses where you can spend a night or two in so you can be close to the lake. Pangong Tso in itself is a beautiful lake, with varying shades of azure, amidst the backdrop of the mountains. This is a saline endorheic lake, meaning it is salty because it remains without any draining basin. Interestingly, despite these features, Pangong Tso remains covered in snow during winter season. You can also spot a number of migratory bird species in the lake during this season. Do keep in mind that the lake is far from civilization, there are no modernities here such as internet or even mobile data services. It is the best place to get back to your inner self and just be on the true laps of nature. Also, falling within a disputed area between India and China, foreign tourists need to acquire for proper permits prior to reaching the lake.
    • Must Visit Attractions - Chang La, Spangmik and Pangong Tso
    Pangong Tso (Image from Alex)

    4. Tso Moriri - For those who want to avoid the touristy appeal of the former lake, then head instead to Tso Moriri. Alternatively, you can also combine a trip for both lakes since they are directly connected via road with one another. Tso Moriri is another high altitude lake located about seven hours of driving away from Leh. It is at an even higher altitude of around 4,522 meters above sea level. En route, you would be passing by another picturesque but smaller lake known as the Tso Kyogar, as if building up your excitement for the main star of the trip. Tso Moriri is more isolated than the previous lake, hence less visited by tourists. The nearest village is Korzok, a charming region filled with traditional Ladakh houses, with grasslands that separate the lake from it. The journey to the lake can be very daunting, as on many patches there would be no proper roads but rocky and steep ascents. It's all worth it though because the clear water of the endorheic lake reflects the varying shades of blue of the skies. In the distance, you can spot the barren mountains as if guarding the lake. You can also spot many migratory birds during winter season as the lake is part of a protected forest area. The downside is that it not as developed as the previous lake so accommodation options are fewer, make sure you book well in advance or reach the place early to find guest houses that can accommodate you.
    • Must Visit Attractions - Tso Kyogar, Korzok and Tso Moriri
    True blue wildlife lovers..

    5. Hemis National Park - Inevitably, Ladakh is home to a number of wild species of animals, some that are endemic to the region only. The Hemis National Park is one of the largest national parks of the country. It covers a mainly alpine landscape because of its location, though steep inclines and a few vegetation can also be found in lower areas. It is best known for being home to about 200 snow leopards, an elusive species of leopard only found in cold alpine regions. Despite their large number here, it can be very difficult to spot them as they venture away from the lower lying areas during summer and monsoon. During winter, the landscape becomes covered in thick snow that spotting them can be a hard task as well. If you're lucky, you can also spot the Eurasian lynx, which is a wild cat species known for gaming on smaller preys such as hares and rodents. The usual preys of the larger animals in the national park are the mountain sheep, Himalayan blue sheep and Himalayan marmots. Hemis National Park is unique in that it doesn't allow for tourists to explore the park via the usual jeep safari. Instead, you would be taken through a challenging trek amidst the forests, usually with a guide, which is of a trail around eight kilometers long. For the true adventure seekers, they can do the trek on their own, the presence of villages in the protected area helps ease the difficulty of the terrains since you can find help more easily.
    • Must Spot Animals - Snow Leopard, Eurasian Lynx, Mountain Sheep, Himalayan Blue Sheep and Himalayan Marmot
    Hemis National Park (Image from Adam)

    6. Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary - Specifically known as the Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary, this area encompasses a wide range, including the aforementioned lakes above. This is such a delicate biodiversity hotspot, home to not only wild animals, but also to the nomadic tribes known as the Changpas. While during summer the landscape is of grasslands, the long winter is harsh, when the landscapes change into thick blankets of snow. The Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is a little known destination in Ladakh, hence its beauty remains more pristine and virgin. It is home to the endemic Tibetan wild ass or locally known as kiang, of which the species only have its distribution in Nepal and Tibet, other than Ladakh. The national bird of Jammu and Kashmir is also found here, the black-necked crane, which, sad to say, is already in an endangered number. The wildlife sanctuary is also home to other wild animals such as snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, yaks and Himalayan marmots.
    • Must Spot Animals - Kiang, Black-Necked Crane, Snow Leopard, Tibetan Wolf, Yak and Himalayan Marmot
    A different landscape...

    7. Nubra Valley - Another excursion you can take from Leh is to Nubra Valley, which is around five to six hours of driving away. This is a valley sandwiched between the two rivers of Nubra and Shyok. Diskit is the most developed part of the region and is home to the Diskit Monastery. The monastery was built around the 14th century, initially inside a royal palace but the whole complex was thereafter converted into a monastery proper. Outside the monastery, there's a giant statue of Maitreya Buddha, gazing towards the disputed areas of the region. Some say that it was built to protect the village as well as a symbol of peace for the region. The Hunder Sand Dunes is another must visit here, which is unique in that the white desert is located at such a high altitude region. You can enjoy a scenic ride amidst the bactrian camels tendered by locals here. Panamik is around 25 kilometers away from Diskit proper. Here, you can enjoy the warmth of the Panamik Hot Springs, especially during the colder winter season. It is also said that these hot springs have medicinal properties that can cure ailments. Last but not the least is the Yarab Tso, which is a small lake approachable only by trekking though not as difficult, just a 20-minute uphill climb.
    • Must Visit Attractions - Diskit Monastery, Hunder Sand Dunes and Panamik Hot Springs
    Hunder Sand Dunes in Nubra Valley (Image from Mark)

    8. Hanle - Now we go to Hanle, around 254 kilometers away from Leh. As you venture further to this southern part of Ladakh, close to its border with Tibet, the landscapes seemingly change. Somehow, the barren lands become more remote and civilization ceases to exist even more. The Hanle Monastery is a 17th century Buddhist monastery built during the rule of Sengge Namgyal. It is not as grand nor as ornate as the other monasteries but exudes a different charm all because of its location. It is home to just about 10 monks, some visit it during various seasons, and the serenity you would feel here is definitely fulfilling. On the other hand, the Indian Astronomical Observatory is considered as one of the highest astronomy sites in the world, home to a number of technologically-advanced telescopes that visitors can view on a trip to the place. Sometimes, the caretaker of the observatory can provide for shows highlighting the importance of the place and just how it functions. A short trip to Hanle can showcase the extreme conditions that locals here have learned to live in. Yet despite this, the air of simplicity and beauty is never tainted in this small hamlet.
    • Must Visit Attractions - Hanle Monastery and Indian Astronomical Observatory
    Truly offbeat...

    9. Zanskar Valley - Zanskar Valley is located in the Kargil district of Ladakh. It is around a six to seven hour drive from the town of Kargil. This valley is a haven for the thrill seekers where they can find lots of activities to keep their adrenaline pumping. If you are physically fit, then do try trekking the Zanskar Gorge, a winter trail set amidst the frozen Zanskar River. It is sometimes referred to as the Chadar trek, popular amongst foreign tourists mainly. The trail is moderate, though there are steep inclines at times, plus you need to cover around a hundred kilometers over a series of days. Hence, this is not a trek for the faint-hearted, as the trail is long and can be a bit monotonous at times. You need to leave all comforts behind as there would be no proper hotel or camping site in this wild trail. If you visit the place at a time when the river isn't frozen yet, then you can indulge in a river rafting experience rivaling that of the Rishikesh rafting that is so popular in India. If you're not much of a trekker, a stay in the Padum village, the headquarters of Zanskar, would be enticing. Here, you can enjoy the rural life and observe the culture of the local Tibetans who live here.
    • Must Visit Attractions - Zanskar Gorge and Padum
    Zanskar 2.jpg
    Camping Site in Zanskar Gorge (Image from Goutam)

    10. Turtuk - Just 10 kilometers before the Indo-Pakistan border is the village of Turtuk, the last village in the Indian side of demarcation. To put it simply, Turtuk is a Muslim-dominated hamlet in an isolated region in India. Despite this, the locals are proud to be Indians and with the help of the Indian army, they are able to live simply and in harmony with one another. So while in some areas of the Jammu and Kashmir state, there is clashes between the government and the locals, you won't find that in Turtuk. There's no proper tourist attraction per se in the village, it's an ideal place for just being away from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Here, you would find plenty of fruit orchards and vegetations during summer. And during winters, the entire area becomes covered in thick snow as well, owing to its high altitude location. You can visit the Royal Palace, the home of the descendant of the Baltistan Chorbat dynasty, where you can explore some artifacts saved by the family over the years. The Mosque here is unique in that it houses artworks with themes from various religions. The beauty of Turtuk is that somehow, the Himalayan ranges are clearer from here, perhaps because there would be no throngs of tourists to hinder your view of them. Small streams are enough to quench your thirst as well, so you have that in the laps of nature experience as well.
    • Must Visit Attractions - Royal Palace and Mosque

    Ladakh is one of the largest districts of India yet remains relatively unexplored. In fact, except for its capital, Leh, its other towns and villages remain pristine and untouched by commercialization. Sure, the journey to Ladakh is not easy, you have to ensure proper acclimatization, endure long road journeys and be away from civilization most of the time. But really, if you're that person who is tired of the usual hill station getaways, maybe you want a new place that can take you further from the chaotic city life, Ladakh won't disappoint in that aspect.

    I hope this helps you!:)