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Which is better Leh or Ladakh?

Discussion in 'Jammu & Kashmir' started by Lavya, Oct 24, 2016.

  1. Lavya

    Lavya New Member

    I have always heard people saying 'we are going Leh Ladakh,' or 'we are going Leh,' 'we are going Ladakh.' It obviously sounds like these are two different places in the same region, so here is my query.
    Which is better Leh or Ladakh?

    Excuse my geography knowledge, but if I am wrong in thinking that these are two different destinations then, please correct me.
     
  2. briannagodess

    briannagodess Moderator Staff Member

    Hello, @Lavya, welcome to the forum!

    leh-or-ladakh.

    Overview

    On the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir lies the land of high passes, also known as Ladakh. Ladakh shares borders with Pakistan to the north and with China to the east. Prior to the year 1979, Ladakh is comprised of just one district, which was aptly named the Ladakh district. Thereafter, Ladakh was divided into two districts, namely: the Leh district and the Kargil district, which is still in effect until today. Therefore, Ladakh refers to the whole region comprised of the districts of Leh and Kargil. Leh is just one of the two districts, along with Kargil, which can be further subdivided into tehsils. Sometimes, Ladakh is confused with the region of Leh, the touristy part of the two districts. Most tourists who want to explore Ladakh refers to the region of Leh, at least most of the time.

    Leh and Ladakh - Are They the Same?

    Technically, Leh and Ladakh are not the same. Think of it this way, Ladakh is the term that should be used for the whole region comprising of the northernmost part of Kashmir, extending from the areas around Kargil, up to the areas around Leh. Ladakh is the one of the three divisions of the Jammu and Kashmir state, the other two being the Jammu division and the Kashmir Valley division. On the other hand, Leh is one of the districts of the Ladakh division, the other one being the Kargil district. Refer to the map below for further clarification.

    map of leh and ladakh.
    District Map of Jammu and Kashmir
    The map above highlights the areas covered by both Leh (Blue) and Kargil (Pink). Further to the west are areas around the Jammu and Kashmir Valley districts of the state. Combining the two areas covered by Leh and Kargil, you would then have Ladakh. As you can also see, Leh occupies the eastern side of the Ladakh region and has a large territory as compared to the other districts. Kargil lies on western side of the Ladakh region and shares its northern border with Pakistan.

    Which is Better - Leh or Ladakh?

    It's hard to compare the two regions simply because their categories are not the same. Ladakh is a division,
    which should then be compared with other divisions like Jammu or Kashmir. What we can compare though are the two districts of Ladakh, which are Leh and Kargil. Generally, Leh is the more popular destination out of the two, despite being one of the least populated districts in the country. The beautiful landscapes, the barren regions and the pristine natural attractions, not to mention the ancient monasteries, render any visitor of Leh speechless. Despite the tough terrains just to reach Leh, travellers brave the roads, knowing that what waits for them on the other side of the country is all worth it.

    Kargil is that other
    district, the place which rarely gets under the limelight. Kargil is a part of the Srinagar Leh Highway route, bypassed by many travellers to reach the more famous district of Ladakh. However, Kargil is equally interesting as Leh, if not more, because it remains unexplored as a tourist destination. It has its fair share of monasteries and even mosques, rivers and valleys also lend their natural beauties to the region. Adventure lovers would delight in the numerous trails that they can do here. And yes, historically, Kargil is where the famous Indo-Pakistan War, the Kargil Conflict, occurred so it has its place in history too.

    Leh and Kargil - A Comparison

    1. Accessibility

    • Leh - Leh is accessible by different modes of transport, though the journey can be very tiring, but at the same time thrilling. Leh has its own airport, the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, which is merely three kilometres away from the city centre. It has direct flights from Chandigarh, Delhi, Jammu, Mumbai and Srinagar. However, flights to Leh are largely dependent on the weather conditions and the higher altitude plus the challenging runway can be quite dangerous especially for novice pilots. But if you're reaching Leh during winter season, this is your only option as the roads to the region remain closed for vehicles then. By road, there are two approaches, either through Manali or through Srinagar but both opens only a few months in a year, from May or June, until October or November. If going with your own vehicle, you'd pass through high passes in both routes but the Manali Leh Highway has more dangerous passes. On the other hand, if going by bus, there are direct buses from Delhi to Leh, though the journey can be very long. The buses are operated by the HRTC and covers the distance between Delhi to Leh within two to three days. Alternatively, you can also opt to reach Manali and from there, ride a bus going to Leh. The same goes for the Srinagar, you need to reach this hill station first before boarding a bus bound to Leh. Train journey can also be done, but it requires a combination with bus journey. This involves reaching either the Chandigarh Railway Station and then riding a bus bound to Manali, then riding another bus for Leh or the Jammu Tawi Railway Station and then riding a bus bound to Srinagar, then riding another bus for Leh. While accessing Leh is very time-consuming, you have many options to do so that it isn't much of an issue to reach the district from any other part of India.
    • Kargil - Kargil is mainly accessible from the Srinagar side of Kashmir. The nearest airport to the district is the Srinagar International Airport, which has direct flights from Bangalore, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jammu, Leh and Mumbai. The airport is about 200 kilometres away from Kargil, you can cover the distance either by bus or taxi. If going by road, Kargil is more easily accessible from the Srinagar side, which remains open from May or June until October or November every year. Keep in mind that the roads to Kargil remain covered in snow during winter too, so it is closed to the public for safety purposes. Leh-bound buses from Srinagar also pass through Kargil. These buses usually halt at Kargil so you can just be dropped off here. All buses to Leh from Srinagar depart near the Dal Lake Tourist Reception Centre. Though you can also access Kargil from the Manali Leh Highway side, it's not advisable, except if you plan to include Leh in your itinerary.
    2. Landscapes
    • Leh - The landscapes of Leh are varied, ranging from valleys, high passes and distant mountains. The Indus River flows freely amidst the region, stunningly blue, as if reflecting the colour of the skies. In the few villages of the region, you would find fertile lands, filled with various crops that help the locals survive in the harsh and barren lands of Leh. The views of the brown hues of the mountains, topped with the snow-capped peaks, can leave you mesmerised. High altitude lakes are also present in the region, which remain as pristine and beautiful perhaps as the first time they were created by nature. You can even find the sand dunes of Nubra Valley in the eastern part of Leh fascinating, a high altitude desert that continues to inspire the poets in travellers.
    • Kargil - The landscapes of Kargil are also very varied, perhaps even more pristine than in the Leh region. The Suru River flows freely within the district, with the nearby Suru Valley giving it a fertile surrounding appeal. While the roads and areas around Leh are barren, Kargil has more civilisation especially in the Suru Valley region. Lush vegetation surrounds the valley because the river irrigates it. Aside from this, various regions around Kargil like Dras and Zanskar have barren landscapes due to their higher elevation and lower climates. You can also enjoy the view of the distant snow-capped mountains from anywhere in Kargil.
    3. Attractions
    • Leh - The town of Leh is home to many ancient Buddhist monasteries. The largest of which is the Thiksey Monastery, with a bright facade of different colours. Located off a hillock, the monastery can be viewed from a distance. It is about 12 storeys high, with a 40-feet statue of the Maitreya Buddha. There's also the Shey Monastery, which has a white exterior complete with bright red accents. It is famed for its huge statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha and the numerous paintings that line its main hall. The view of Leh from the top of the monastery is very stunning too, a panoramic view of the town with the backdrop of the mountains. You can then visit the Spituk Monastery, although fairly smaller than the other monasteries, it provides one with a great overview of the culture and tradition of the Mahayana sector of Tibetan Buddhism. The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery is also worth visiting, though it is mostly in ruins. It is also located upon a hillock and is dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha, with various wall paintings worth exploring. Nearby to the monastery is the Leh Palace, yet another ruined structure of the Namgyal dynasty. There are some murals in the walls though that depict the artistry of the people from the bygone era. Another can't be missed place is the Hall of Fame, a memorial dedicated to the soldiers of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. Outside of Leh town, there are excursions that one can take. The Pangong Tso, a high altitude lake, is located about 149 kilometres away from the town. It is best visited during summer as it turns frozen during winter. The clear blue water of the lake have been praised by all travellers who have seen it. Last but definitely not the least is the Nubra Valley, about 159 kilometres away from Leh town. It is famed for its high altitude desert, located in Hunder, where you can indulge in a safari ride via a bactrian camel.
    • Kargil - En route to Kargil from Srinagar, you must visit the Drass War Memorial, dedicated to the Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Indo-Pakistan War in the region. The memorial has all the names of the brave soldiers who died during the Kargil War along with a small museum showcasing photographs about the said war and some weaponries seized during that time. Kargil is also home to many monasteries of the Buddhist sector. Most famous of which is the Lamayuru Monastery, built in the 10th century by Mahasiddhacharya Naropa. The location of the monastery is very unique, as it is within a cliff on one side and a mountain view on the other. It is also best known for the view of the moon-like landscape of the Lamayuru village nearby. The Mulbekh Monastery is another worth visiting religious site here. It is known for its nine-metre high rock-cut statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Equally interesting is the Shargole Monastery, which has a front facade almost like it's glued to the rocks. This cliff-embedded monastery is a unique site that you can only find in the Kargil region. Other monasteries that you can visit around Kargil are the Phuktal Monastery and Rangdum Monastery. You can also visit the Suru Valley region, where the Suru River flows. This is perhaps the most populated region of Kargil and you would enjoy the lush greenery, contrasting the barren lands of other areas. An excursion out of Kargil can lead you to Pashkum, where you can find ruins of ancient palaces that were once homes of the royals of the region.
    4. Activities
    • Leh - The most popular activity in Leh is rafting in the Zanskar River or Indus River. The rapids in the rivers are quite moderate to medium grade, perfect for both novices and experts in rafting alike. Further, you can enjoy the isolation because Leh is not really a crowded tourist destination. Trekking is yet another activity that is popular in Leh, though this is best undertaken only during the summer or monsoon months. The most popular trek is to the Pangong Tso, though Tso Moriri also has its fair share of trekker praises. Once you reach the lakes, it's a sin not to indulge in camping. As you camp under the stars, with nothing but you, the lake and the dark skies, you'd enjoy the simplicity of the place and the activity. If you have loved ones with you, why not have a small picnic beside the lake as well? For the adventure lovers, other activities like mountain biking and jeep safaris can also be done in some of the rough terrains around Leh. As mentioned above, you can also try a camel safari in the sand dunes of Nubra Valley.
    • Kargil - The pristine landscapes of Kargil is a haven for trekkers. The trek to reach the Phuktal Monastery from Padum is a popular one. If you're quite adventurous, you can even trek to reach peaks in the region like Stok Kangri and Friendship Mountain. But for the novice trekkers, you can indulge in simple treks around Kargil too, where you can enjoy the landscapes without exerting too much effort. Since Kargil is an unexplored region, it doesn't have as many activities unlike Leh. River rafting is possible in the Suru River too, but the facilities for it might be more limited.
    5. Stay Options
    • Leh - Leh has many staying options for tourists. For a basic hotel, The Auspicious Hotel and Hotel Chube have rates under Rs. 4,000 per night. For higher end hotels, you can try The Grand Dragon or The Zen, both have rates around Rs. 7,000 to Rs. 10,000 per night. Guest houses are good options for those in a budget and you can spend around Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 3,000 per night for a comfortable guest house experience.
    • Kargil - Stay options in Kargil are less as compared to Leh. For a simple hotel, you need to shell out around Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 3,000 per night. Royal Inn Kargil and PC Palace are good options for this price range. There are some higher end hotels here as well like The Highland Mountain Resort and Spa and Hotel The Kargil. If you're in a budget, you can opt for home stays and guest houses which are plenty around the region too.
    Conclusion

    Don't be confused about Leh and Ladakh, though it's understandable because of the long history behind the region. Ladakh is comprised of both the districts of Kargil and Leh. Ladakh is one of the three divisions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, along with Jammu and Kashmir Valley. Though this guide did not highlight the differences between Leh and Ladakh, simply because they are not of the same categories, it did highlight the differences between Leh and Kargil, which are of the same category. So when visiting the Ladakh region, make sure you know specifically which region you want to explore, either Leh or Kargil, or maybe the whole Ladakh!

    I hope this helps you.:)
     

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