Sightseeing in Leh

LEH (State: Jammu and Kashmir, Category: Religious / Adventure)
(Recommended Stay – 4 nights to 7 nights)
The main overland approach to Ladakh is from the Kashmir Valley through the
434-km Srinagar-Leh highway, which follows the historic trade route, also known
as the ‘Treaty Road’. It generally remains open for traffic from early June to midNovember. This road journey provides the best possible introduction to the land
and its people. At one step, as you cross the Zoji-la pass (11,500-ft./3,505 m),
one passes the lushness of Kashmir into the barren contours of a transHimalayan landscape.
The 473 km Manali- Leh Road is open for about three months in the year from
early July to September. For much of its length, it passes through areas so
barren that it is entirely void of habitation. Lahoul district, through which the road
passes, is a typically trans-Himalayan landscape. The first major pass in this
road, the Rohtang pass (13,000 ft / 3,978m) which is crossed soon after
departure from Manali, cuts through the Pir Panjal range of the Great Himalayas.
The Zanskar Range, which lies next on this road, is crossed through two more
passes, the Lachulung-la (16,600 ft / 5,059m) and the Taglang-la (17,469 ft /
5,325rn). Between these two, there is nothing but rock and sand, rolling hills and
broad plains scoured by dust devils.
The flight route to Leh presents the visitors with a spectacular panoramic view of
snow-capped ranges spread out below, and the thrill of identifying particular
landmarks. The twin peaks of Nun and Kun stand out high above the others.
Tso-moriri lies intensely blue among bare brown hills. The Zanskar River
snakes through the mountains, and one route of flight takes you directly above
the Zanskar valley, with villages and gompas clearly visible. Far to the northwest,
the giants of the Baltistan Karakoram dominate all the other peaks and ranges.
Indian Airlines operates regular scheduled flights to Leh from Delhi, Chandigarh,
Jammu and Srinagar. Jet Airway, a private airliner, also operate daily flights
between Delhi and Leh.
Sightseeing in Leh
Sightseeing of the historic monuments and major Buddhist gompas
(monasteries) are the main attractions of Ladakh. The Indus Valley, particularly
from Upshi down to Khalatse, is dotted with all the major sites connected with the
former kingdom's dynastic history, starting with Leh, the capital, since the
building of its nine-storey Leh palace in the early 17th century.
A few kilometres up the Indus is Shey Palace, the most ancient capital, with its
palace and temples. Down river, Basgo, right on the road, and Tingmosgang, a
short distance up a side-valley, both served as royal capitals when the Old
Kingdom was temporarily divided into two parts in the 15th century. Both these
places have the remains of forts and temples dating from the period of their brief
glory. Just across the river from Leh lies Stok, the village with which the deposed
royal family was compensated for the loss of the throne. Stok Palace, where the
royal family now lives, houses a museum of artefacts associated with the
The central area of Ladakh has the greatest concentration of major Buddhist
monasteries or gompas. Of the twelve situated on or near the Indus, the oldest
monastery is that of Lamayuru. The monasteries of Phiyang, Hemis and
Chemrey were all founded under the direct patronage of members of the ruling
Namgyal dynasty.
The reformist Gelugs-pa, or Yellow-Hat sect, is also well represented in central
Ladakh by the monasteries of Thiksey, Likir, Ri-dzong and Spituk, the last of
which has branch monasteries at Stok, Sabu and Sankar. Ri-dzong, situated a
few kilometres up a side-valley from Uley-Tokpo, was founded only a century and
a quarter ago by a devout layman-turned-lama, with the purpose of following the
strict monastic rules of the Gelugs-pa sect.
Tak-thok and Matho gompas represent the smaller but much older Nying-ma-pa
and Saskya-pa monastic sects respectively. Tak-thok, situated at the foot of the
Chang-la pass, incorporates one of the many caves in the Himalayas where the
Indian Buddhist apostle Padmasambhava is said to have rested and meditated
on his journey to Tibet.
Matho gompa is famous for its festival of the oracles, which is held early in the
year, usually in the first half of March.
The jewel among Ladakh's monastic foundations is Alchi. Abandoned centuries
ago as a place of active worship, it has been lovingly maintained by the monks of
Likir, the nearest functioning monastery. Known as Chos-kor, or religious
enclave, it comprises five temples, the richest in paintings and images being the
Du-khang (assembly hall) and the three-storey Sum-tsek. Its murals, dating from
the 11th and 12th centuries, pre-date the Tibetan style of painting seen in all the
other gompas of the region.
Note for visitors to monasteries
The monasteries of Ladakh are the fountainhead of Buddhist religion and culture.
They are also the repositories of the region’s centuries old artistic and cultural
heritage. Visitors are advised to respect their sanctity and appreciate their
heritage importance.
Most of the region’s principal monasteries are open throughout the day and a
caretaker lama is there to show visitors around. Some of the less visited
establishments have special opening hours.
Circuits around Leh
Khalatse-Domkhar-Skurbuchan-Achinathang-Biama-Dah and return.
Down the Indus, between Khalatse and the Shayok-Indus confluence, live a
people, known as
Drok-pa, who are Buddhists by faith, but racially and culturally distinct from the
rest of the Ladakhis. Two of the five villages inhabited by them, Dah and Biama
are now open to foreign tourists. The route follows the Indus river down from
Khalatse, past the villages of Domkhar, Skurbuchan and Achinathang, along
a fairly good road.
The special interest of this region is its Drok-pa inhabitants. A minuscule
community of perhaps no more than a couple of thousand, their features are pure
Indo-Aryan, and they appear to have preserved their racial purity down the
They have preserved their ancient traditions and way of life partly through the
celebration of the triennial Bono-na festival, a celebration of the harvest, and
partly through the songs and hymns.
Nubra Valley Circuit
Leh-Khardung-la-Khalsar-Tirit-Tegar-Sumur-Panamik and return.
The name Nubra is applied to the region comprising the valley of the river Nubra
and that of the Shayok, both above and below their confluence, where they
meander in many shifting channels over a broad sandy plain, before flowing off to
the north-west to join the Indus in Baltistan. The Shayok and Nubra rivers drain
the east and west sides of the Saser sub-range of Karakoram. The route from
Leh crosses over the Khardung-la, the highest motorable road in the world.
The main village is Deskit, which has a bazaar comprising of single line of
shops, and a gompa situated on a rocky spur above the village with a
commanding view. From Deskit, the route follows the course of the Shayok to
Hundar, past an area of rolling sand dunes, with their contours liable to shift with
every gale. There is a small population of the shaggy double-humped Bactrian
camels, which in the old days were used as pack animals on the Central Asian
trade route. During the past 50 years, they have been bred for transport
purposes in Nubra. Today visitors to Nubra can use these animals for going on
camel safaris.
The other circuit proceeds up the Nubra River, taking in the pretty villages of
Tirit, Lukung, Tegar and Sumur. Nubra's other major monastery. Samsta-ling
is situated on the mountainside just above Sumur. This was the route taken by
the trade caravans.
Pangong Lake Circuit
Leh-Karu-Changla-Durbuk-Tangtse-Lukung-Spangmik and return.
This route proceeds past the picturesque villages of Shey and Thikse, and turns
into the side-valley of Chemrey and Sakti. The Ladakh range is crossed by the
Chang-la (18,000 ft / 5,475 m) which is one of the easier passes remaining open
for much of the year even in winter. Tangtse, just beyond the foot of the pass,
with an ancient temple and a Tourist Bungalow, is a convenient halting point on
this circuit.
The main attraction of this circuit is the Pangong Lake, situated at an altitude of
14,000 ft (4,267m). It is a long narrow basin of inland drainage, hardly 6 to 7 kms
at its widest point, and over 130 kms long, and bisected by the international
border between India and China. Spangmik, the farthest point up to which
foreigners are permitted, is about 7 kms along the southern shore from the head
of the lake. It presents a spectacular view of the mountains of the Changchenmo range to the north, their reflections shimmering in the ever-changing
blues and greens of the lake’s brackish waters. Above Spangmik are the glaciers
and snow-capped peaks of the Pangong range
Tso-Moriri Lake Circuit
Leh-Upshi-Debring-Puga-tsomoriri-korzok and return
Leh-Upshi-Chumathang-Mahe-Puga-Tsomoriri and return.
The area traversed by the Manali-Leh road, and containing Tso-moriri and other
lakes, is known as Rupshu. Here, the Zanskar range is transformed into bare
rolling many-hued hills, divided by open high-altitude valleys scoured by dust
devils. It is a landscape quite unlike any other in Ladakh or elsewhere in India.
This area is now open for foreigners for visiting, along the two tour circuits.
The first circuit follows the Manali road over the Taglang-la as far as Debring, a
Changpa camping place. From here it strikes off eastward on a rough track
across the basin of the twin lakes Startsapuk-Tso (fresh water) and the Tso-kar
(salt water), over the Polokongka-la (about 16,500 ft/5,030 m) to Sumdo in the
Puga Valley, near the site of old sulphur mines, then over a roller-coaster track
to the head of the Tso-moriri, and on to Korzok viilage, a quarter of the way along
the lake's 20-km length.
The alternative route, instead of leaving the Indus at Upshi, carries on up the
river through the gorge between the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges, to the village of
Chumathang, where there is a hot spring. At Mahe, about 17 kms further, the
road crosses from the north to the south bank of the river, over a bridge, and
then follows the Puga stream up to join the first circuit at Sumdo
Korzok, situated at 15,000 ft (4,572 m) with its dozen or so houses and its
gompa, is the only permanent settlement in Rupshu, which is otherwise inhabited
only by nomadic Chang-pa herdsmen. The Rupshu Chang-pa live in tents all the
year round, moving according to an old established annual routine, between the
pastures that exist wherever an occasional stream makes possible the growth of
grass, which is said to be highly nutritious. The few barley-fields at Korzok are
believed to be among the highest cultivation grounds in the world.
Despite its barrenness Rupshu’s hills support a sparse population of wildlife, and
the animal most likely to be spotted is the Kyang, the wild ass of the Ladakh and
Tibetan plateaux. More plentiful are marmots (ubiquitous to mountain slopes all
over Ladakh), hares, and an unusual tail-less rat. The lakes are breeding
grounds for numerous species of birds. Chief among them is the bar-headed
goose, found in great numbers on the Tso-moriri, the great crested grebe, the
Brahmini duck and the bar-headed gull.
The western parts of Ladakh comprising the river valleys, which are drained and
formed by the Himalayan tributaries of the high Indus, constitute Kargil district.
Prominent among these are the spectacular valleys of Suru and Zanskar, which
lie nestled along the northern flank of the Great Himalayan wall. The smaller
lateral valleys of Drass, Wakha-Mulbek and Chiktan constitute important