Ladakh - Beyond Imagination


Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now Leh District in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Leh is at an altitude of 3524 metres (11,562 ft) and with an area of 45,110 km2, is the second largest district in India.

Leh was an important stopover on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and also between India and China for centuries. Its importance as a trading town slowed down with the partition of British India, and ended with the closure of the border in 1962 during the Sino-Indian war. Since opening to tourists in 1974, it has become a bustling tourist town, with large numbers of Kashmiri traders.

It's a small town, easy to get most places by foot. The old town is a compact area of mud brick houses and narrow lanes directly to the east of Main Bazar. Changspa is the agricultural "suburb" northwest of the center, with many guesthouses.

The tourist sights to be enjoyed in Leh are the former Palace of the King of Ladakh (admission 100rps). The most noticeable building in Leh, the palace was built in the 17th century, and now undergoing restoration. There are a few Buddhist temples in the area as well like Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, Soma Gompa, Karma Dupgyud Choeling.

The Shanti Stupa built by a Japanese Buddhist group is somewhat kitschy, but still worth a visit.

Pangong Tso (Tso stands for "Lake") is 40 miles in length and nearly 2-4 miles in width at a height of 4267m above the sea level. Its most eye-catching feature is the lovely colour of its water, especially towards evening, which is of the richest deep blue, over the whole expanse; and a lighter brilliant colour in the morning. The water of the Lake is not that salty as sea water.

Pangong Tso can be reached in a five-hour drive from Leh most of it on a rough and dramatic mountain road. The road crosses the villages of Shey and Gya and traverses the Changla pass, where army sentries and a small teahouse greet visitors. Road down from Changla Pass leads through Tangste and other smaller villages, crossing river called Pagal Naala or "The Crazy Stream". The spectacular lakeside is open during the tourist season, from May to September.

An Inner Line Permit is required to visit the lake as it lies on the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control.

The lake has very low micro vegetation and there are no reports of existing flora and fauna other than small crustaceans. However, visitors are known to have seen numerous ducks and gulls over and on the lake surface.

Nubra is a tri-armed valley located to the north east of Ladakh valley. Local scholars say that its original name was Ldumra (the valley of flowers). Diskit, the capital of Nubra is about 150 km north from Leh. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 ft. i.e. 3048 metres above the sea level. The common way to access this valley is to travel over the Khardung La pass from Leh town. Non-locals require an Inner Line Permit (obtainable in DC office, Leh town) to enter Nubra.

The fertile Valley of Nubra formed a part of the overland route between Tibet and Turkestan, prior to the partition of British India, and even until the Indian/Chinese war of 1967. Once dotted with garlands of camel and yak caravans, this Silk Route is also known as the 'Valley of Flowers' of Ladakh, and is amongst the greenest valleys in the region, you may also be able to spot feral camels descendants of the caravan trade.

The romance of the Silk Route still hangs in the air as you cross the formidable Khardung La (pass)- the highest 'motorable' pass on the planet that connects Leh to the Nubra Valley. The road from Leh rises steeply to meet Khardung La and then dramatically plunges into a whirlpool of bends and turns to gradually unfold itself along the rushing Shyok and the Nubra Rivers.
Enjoying a typical Ladakhi meal in Nubra is quite a delightful experience. Chang, a local brew (type of ale or beer) and butter tea are must haves in Nubra.