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The pride of the Himalayan region

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. - Neale Donald Walsch

Few places in India have the tendency to both intimidate and awe travellers, both at the same time as mountain framed Leh. And it goes without saying that you will be overwhelmed by not just the snow capped peaks that almost seem to pierce the heavens but also the plunging valleys. Dotted with stupas and monasteries, Leh is not for people who travel to a place to do something, it’s for those who pine for the complete opposite. It marks your soul, makes time stand still and leaves you feeling insignificant in the larger scheme of things.

That being said, Leh is a place that is very easy to fall in love with, but we recommend you take things slow as your body requires some time to get used to the high altitude. Once that is done, you can safely start unwinding and focus on the things that matter: starry skies, crisp air scented with pine, the warmth of the sun in the day, and a campfire and loved ones close by at night.


Head To Nubra Valley

An unforgettable trip!

To the north of Leh, there is a beautiful and austere region that is cradled by rugged mountains called the Nubra Valley. A tuft of land on the very scalp of India, this deep-cut valley offers tremendous scenery on a grand scale, with villages surrounded by thrillingly stark scree slopes, boulder fields and majestic mountains. Add to that, the sand dunes, ruined palaces and monasteries give travellers more than one reason to step out and explore this region, in all its majestic glory.

During the earlier decades, local communities prospered in the region, thanks to an extraordinary trans-Himalayan trade route that originated with the Silk Road. And while on the map, Ladakh might look impenetrable, mainly due to the presence of huge mountains, yawning valleys and uninhabited lands, yet for centuries it has been at the centerstage of highly profitable trade, with caravans carrying various products like spices, jewellery pieces, indigo and opium to trade with these communities. However, when China sealed its borders in the late 1950s this trade between them, eventually ended.

Since that time period, Nubra Valley has been pushed into obscurity and today despite it still being a sensitive border area, things are getting better. This is mainly due to the fact that government agencies and private companies are injecting a lot of money into this region and now more and more tourists who visit Ladakh are willing to go the extra mile and visit this region.

That being said, many places in this region still remain out of reach for the normal traveller. On top of this list is the Siachen Glacier, which after the polar regions is the longest glacier in the world. However, unless you are willing to go on a fully fledged expedition, this area will remain outside your reach.

PS: Did you know that Siachen is the highest and coldest battlefield in the world, with India and Pakistan having fought at this spot many times. Currentlu, a ceasefire has being held here since 2003.

With explorations that can easily fill more than a few days, make sure you stop at the following attractions, while you are here.

Diskit Monastery - The main administrative centre of the valley, the Diskit Monastery is located in Diskit, which is Nubra Valley’s prime commercial area. Located on the edge of Shyok-side deserted area, this monastery was built in 1420 AD  and belongs to Yellow sect of Tibetan Buddhism. And while you can always drive here, it is joy to walk among its mani walls (elongated and artfully arranged mounds of stone that have Buddhist prayers and mantras engraved on them) and whitewashed chortens (dome-shaped monuments housing Buddhist relics), that are located on the way.

Another major attraction of the monastery is the 32 metre high statue of Maitreya Buddha that is placed near the small hillock, close to the monastery. The statue overlooks the valley, facing the Shyok river and is a prime example of the amazing skill possessed by the craftsmen of this state. If that is not enough to tempt you, the views of Karakoram range from this monastery is truly stunning and Instagram worthy, so make sure you do not miss an opportunity to head here.

Pro-tip: Try to visit this monastery in the early dawn, when monks gather for their morning prayers. The chanting monks, crashing cymbals and deep horns together make for a truly memorable experience. Close to the main hall, there is another hall, where there is a famous statue of a protector deity brandishing the apparently mummified head and arm of a medieval Mongol soldier. A lot of people  do not enter this hall, because of erratic admittance but if you are with a local guide, the chances are better and higher.

Hunder Village:  Another popular place in the Nubra Valley is the white sand dunes of the Hunder village that is located close to 8 kms from the Diskit town. A white desert, this is one of the best places that truly depicts the majestic hues of the Nubra valley and is perfect for taking a long scenic walks. You can follow a trail up to the hills that might look intimidating but it is pretty straightford and offers some truly amazing views in the end. If walking is too much, you can also enjoy a camel ride from Diskhit to Hunder Village. Till 2010, the valley was accessible only till the Hunder village, but now you can go ahead and explore other lesser know Ladakhi villages  as well.If you have time,  head to Turtok, which is close to two hours away. With well metalled road that provide spectacular vistas of the valley, the journey between these two places, clearly depicts the transformation from Buddhist Diskhit to a Muslim culture around Turtok. Also, Turtok is a friendly, but conservative place, so make sure you tread carefully.

Other places that warrant a visit in Nubra Valley include Panamik, (the last accessible village before the Siachen valley, it is renowned for its hot sulphur springs and Pashmina goats that are relatively easy to spot here. The village also serves as a base camp for trekking expedition to the ENSA GOMPA, which is a 25o old monastery that is known for its well restored Buddhist murals and scriptures) Samstanling Monastery and Yarab Tso Lake.

Visit The Leh Palace

Standing the test of time.

The former royal palace of the Leh kingdom, the Leh palace is located right in the centre of the city and one of the biggest local attractions. With nine storeys, the palace offers some incredible views of the mountains and surrounding regions. It is currently being maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Leh Palace was built by the Tsewang Namgyal, who started building the palace in 1553, although it got completed only in the 17th century during the reign of Sengge Namgyal. The upper floors of the nine-storied palace were used for residential purpose by the royal family, whereas the lower floors housed stables and storerooms. However, during the 19th century the Dongra forces invaded Ladakh and captured the palace. In the aftermath, the royal family shifted to the Stok Palace, and the Leh Palace suffered a lot of damage as well. Despite the damage that the palace has suffered over the years, the carved entrances, small compartments, few spacious rooms and corridors, have managed to retain their glory and even stand the test of time.

When you are at the palace, visit the exhibition halls which houses Tibetan thangka and artistic paintings that are more than 450 years old. Plus, this is also a good spot to admire the surrounding valleys and mountains.

Go to the Stok Palace

A testament to a regal past!

Built by King Tsepal Tondup Namgyal in 1825, the Stok Palace is the residential palace of the royal family. The architecture of this palace is perfect mix of the traditional and contemporary styles and boasts of some truly scenic gardens and a library that has around 108 volumes of the Kangyur (a collection of the teachings of Lord Buddha). The palace is located 15kms from the main city.  

The Stok Palace also hosts a yearly dance-mask festival, which sees a lot of local participation. There is also a collection of royal clothing, crowns and other important things that you can view as well.

Stop at Pangong Lake

Made famous by 3 Idiots!

Also known as Hollow Lake, this lake is a clear sign of the beauty of nature. Situated at a height of 4,250 metres this lake is one of the largest brackish lakes in Asia. The entire lake is spread over 100 kilometres across the borders of both India and China. A large chunk of the streams that come together to form the lake originate in Tibet and is a five hour drive away from Leh.

The road to this lake passes through Chang La, which is the third highest motorable mountain The route passes through beautiful Ladakh countryside, over Chang La, the third highest motorable mountain pass in the world. Traces of snow along the road welcome us. One can cross the valley on sinking road. The mountains in the backdrop appeared to be painted in the colors of green, brown and violet. There is a mountaineering school, which imparts training in various degrees of rock climbing.pass in the world. There is also a small camp on the way to the lake, where you can do yak safari. It is best to spend two-three days here, before returning back  as that will give you time to explore the region in a better manner.

PS: During the winter season, the lake and its surroundings are frozen, and many skiers come here to take part in a skiing competition.During this festival, tourists also get to see the local culture of the native region.

Pay Your Respects At Hemis Monastery

A sacred Buddhist site, that is truly alive.

Located 40 kms towards the south-east of the main city of Leh is one of the largest and well-known monastery in Ladakh. Built under the reign of the King Singge Namgyal in 1672 AD, the monastery hosts a yearly festival that attracts visitors from around the world. A colourful festival, Hemis Tsechu sees local resident Lamas perform a holy masked dance to glorify the victory of good over bad. So while it is best to visit the monastery during the festival, in case you stop by during other months, make sure you check out the beautiful paintings and statue of Lord Buddha housed in the monastery.


Witness The Beauty Of The Shanti Stupa

Picture perfect

A white-colored domed shaped structure, the Shanti Stupa is located in Chandspa, which is around 25 minutes from Leh. Dominating Leh from a high rocky ridge, this stupa was built by the Japanese monks to promote world peace. It took a total of nine years to build, from 1983 to 1991, and was inaugurated by his Holiness, the Dalai Lama in 1895.

Come here and spend some time meditating in the Buddha hall, but the greatest attraction here is the stunning view over Leh. Race up the stairs, preferably in the evening and spend some time soaking in the beauty of the sunsets, that are truly special in this region.


Raft through the rivers of Leh

Seeking the thrill in the waters!

Depending on what time you visit Leh, it is possible for you to either take a rafting trip down Zanskar river, or even trek through it. A remote Himalayan tributary of the river Indus, this is a journey that brings together many magical moments including a geologic paradise, an interaction with Zanskari culture that is unheard of in other parts of the country and a thrilling whitewater adventure. That’s being said, a rafting expedition down Zanskar river is not for the faint-hearted or those who have less time to spare. This is because a normal trekking expedition down Zanskar river requires close to 6-11 days, depending upon your route.

Other popular routes include Hemis-Stakna-Shey-Thiksey-Choglamsar, which are perfect for beginners. If you want a calmer and soother ride, take the Phey-Nimo route that will take you through villages, monasteries and scenic mountains. The best time for rafting is between June and August.

PS: Rafting is a dangerous activity, which is why we totally recommend that you choose a trained guide, who will help you navigate through the dangers in an effective fashion. Please do not undertake this activity on your own or from people who do not have the required license/expertise.


Camping At Pangong Lake

On the road less travelled.

There is no better way to experience the outdoors than through camping. It is a gateway into a new realm, on that is at the same time exciting and spiritual. And when you are in Leh, the number of places to pitch your tent is literally endless. If you do not have your own tent, head to Pangong lake that has miles of tents pitched around it. Here you can spend your days wandering around the lake and picking up pebbles and wild flowers from the bank, but make sure you turn in for an early night, because the restful sleep that the mountains bring with it, is truly an extraordinary experience. The peak season for camping in the Pangong lake is from May to September and while we understand that giving up the comforts of a modern lifestyle might be tough, but we are sure that after spending one night with nature, you  will surely change your opinion. Highly recommended!

PS: Camping is also available at Nubra Valley, so make sure you check out that as well.

Sign up for the Chadar trek

A trek of a lifetime!

The mighty Zanskar river is extremely popular among white-water enthusiasts that swells in all its glory from July to September. However at the peak of winter, most of the rivers in the Himalayas freeze and Zanskar is no exception to the rule, with temperatures dropping to as far as -20 degree celsius and turns the river into a chador or a sheet of snow and ice. In fact the only way you can cross into Ladakh from Zanskar during this period is by walking on this frozen river surrounded by deep gorges.But don’t let that put off, because even if the Chadar trek is harsh, it is at the same time, stupendously beautiful that it will calm even the most anxious and fidgety minds. It will teach you to live in the moment and calm the continuous tailspin of thoughts in your mind. Somewhere along the trek, the stillness of the mountains will get imbibed into your being and maybe for once, through the nine days you will live only in the present moment.

Considered as one of the toughest treks in the world, the Chadar trek will take you past Buddhist monasteries and frozen waterfalls, over a period of nine days. With altitudes that go as high as 3,850 metres, the ice can be really thin in some areas, so make sure you go with a registered guide only. If you like trekking, this is the big daddy of them all. Suit up!

Grade: Difficult. Best season: Mid-January to mid-February.

Star-gazing At Leh

With nocturnal views as brilliant as nature intended!

For people living in the city, a clear night sky that is free of pollution is akin to a mythical beast. So although we have heard the legends inspired by the constellations, and how sailors used stars to guide them home, it is hard to imagine these stories today. But no more, because at Leh the stars will literally guide you home. Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso are two of the main places where star-gazing can be done.

If you are truly want to experience stargazing in a fun and interesting manner, the Indian Astronomical Observatory in Leh-Ladakh, has one of the world’s highest sites for optical, infrared and gamma-ray telescopes. Situated at an elevation of 4,500 metres, this is the second highest observatory in the world.


Go Biking On The Highest Motorable Roads In The World

The road trip of your life

Route details: NH3 - Manali- Jispa - Sarchu - Leh

Time to drive: 4 days

The biggest and most epic road trips that you can take in India is the one from Manali to Leh. Being exposed to the elements, the exhaustion and views on a bike on the entire highway, checks all the right boxes to ensure the most memorable ride of your life.

Road conditions between the two states have increased dramatically over the last few years, but it is still quite a task to navigate between them, especially when you are trying to get a 200 kg Bullet across soft sand, at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Plus, if luck is on your side, then you get to ride with a few animals as well.  

That’s not all. Leh also boasts of Khardung La, which is the mightiest of all passes and the highest motorable road in the world. It is probably the most visited place in all of Ladakh; being so close to the city and on a bike, this is an experience that you will not forget for a very long time.

Unwind And Do Nothing

See the big picture.

There is many things that you can do in Leh, but the most important thing that you can do is stay still and enjoy being in the moment. Pico Iyer, traveller and writer, says in his The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, “In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” And unfortunately today travel has become synonymous with constant movement with so many things to do in a short span of time. With pictures to be posted and reviews to be shared, we are always trying to experience everything in the shortest time frame. This results in our body and mind, being constantly badgered and this is why many of our experiences are very superficial. So slow down and try to soak in the beauty of Leh, by staying still because this is the best way to not just connect with your inner self, but also to understand and connect with the local flavours of a place. Happy tripping!

Before you go, here are a list of things you should keep in mind:

  1. Carry a government-issued photo identity proof (like driving licence, Aadhaar card or PAN Card). You might need them in case permits are required and at checkpoints.

  2. Plastic bags are banned are in Ladakh, so carry a few paper bags with you

  3. The weather here is completely unpredictable, and can very easily go from warm to chilly in a few minutes. It is therefore a good idea to wear layers than a single jacket.

  4. Many of the prime establishments in Ladakh are closed during off-season, so plan accordingly

  5. Carry waterproof bags, as it will keep your stuff dry when it rains or when you need to drive through water.

  6. Take out your camera batteries, when not in use because they drain faster at higher altitudes

  7. Drink less alcohol and more water as breathing in dry air drains moisture from lungs and it is important to stay hydrated

  8. Driving here is not an easy as it is a constant mental and physical test. Plus, if you are not a seasoned driver, it is best to take it slow and cover the distance according to your convenience.

  9. Prepaid SIM cards don’t work well in Leh, but postpaid do (Airtel, Aircel and BSNL are your best options). The main market in Leh city also has multiple STD booths

  10. Most importantly, don’t try to do everything in a limited time span. Ladakh is a place that requires your patience and time, so make sure you stock up on both.


how to get there

Located in the heart of Jammu and Kashmir, Leh is best reached by road as rail and airways are currently not present. There are two roads that lead to Leh, one from Manali in Himachal Pradesh in the south, and one from Srinagar in the west. Equally spectacular in different ways, both these routes are time consuming with winding, narrow roads, and numerous military checkpoints.

The main advantage of taking the road from Srinagar to Leh (434 kms) is that it runs at a lower altitude and therefore reduces the risk and gravity of altitude sickness. Plus, this route is open for a longer duration (normally from June to October) and passes through many scenic villages and farmlands. However this route runs the risk of miltant attacks and takes two long days to reach Leh, with an overnight stop at Kargil. The price in buses range from between INR 370-470.

The route from Manali to Leh takes place over a distance of 473 km and is the normal preferrred route by tourists. With an overnight stop at either Keylong (or Sarchu), this route is a good way to reduce the risk of altitude sickness. Surrounded by wild rugged mountains, this route is not for faint-hearted as the road is pretty winding and narrow. This route was linked to Yarkhand, which was severed in 1962 during the India-china war and can be accessed only between June and September. The rest of the year, the road is blocked due to snow. 

If you do not want to take the bus, shared jeeps are also available. The road from Manali to Leh is often known as a Biker's Paradise and there are many bike rentals for those who wish to travel between these two places by bike.  

By Air: Nearest Airport is in Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport (2.4 kms) and Srinagar Airport (806.7 km)

By Train: The closest train stations are Pathankot (738.2 kms) or Chandigarh (780.2 km), both at least three days away by bus. A new station added recently is Udhampur which is linked by rail to Jammu. 

By Road:

Manali to Leh: 473.4 km via Leh Manali Highway

Srinagar to Leh: 802.6 via Leh Manali Highway

when to visit

The best time to visit Leh is between April and June. This is because crucial Srinagar-Leh highway opens up and all the major tourist attractions, including restuarants open up their business. Plus, many of these places have heavy discounts during this time so this is a good time to plan your trip. However keep in mind, that even though temperatures are warm, make sure you carry enough woolens and sunscreen. 

If you want to do some trekking in Leh, September to October is the best time to visit.Once it starts snowing heavily, generally by Novemeber, most of the roads to Leh close and it is best to wait for summers, before heading out here again. However, the Chadar trek is best conducted between January and mid-March, so there is one exception to the rule. 

Local cuisine

Leh Cuisine

Momos and thumpka to win your heart!

The unique Himalayan ecosystem in Leh has led to the development of a distinctive type of agricultural system that is not found anywhere else in the country. A majority of local people in Ladakh are farmers and many of these farm ingredients play a key role in most of the dishes that form a part of this cuisine. And while meat is consumed in almost all parts of the city, vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkins, beetroots and beans accompany these dishes. That being said, the staple food of the people of this region are Sku and Thupka (made of wheat flour),  Pava (made of sattu)  and Khambir (local bread). Other dishes that you can try here include the following:

Tigmo: A form of fermented and steamed bread, served with a veg/non-veg stew, tigmo is one of the main dishes served in a majority of Leh restaurants. The bread is very soft and complement the stew very well. Order seconds already.

Butter tea: Generally available in all local homes in Leh, this is rarely served in restaurants. A bit salty in taste, the tea is mainly from butter and salt. It is an effective way to keep your lips from getting chapped in the harsh cold weather and salt also helps to stay from altitude sickness.

Momos: No greater love than your love for momos? Then don’t forget to gorge on some of these at local restaurants in Leh. Plus with plates after plates of piping hot, juicy momos served in so many varieties, saying that you will be spoilt for choice here would perhaps, be an understatement. Add a plate of Thukpa for a complete meal experience.

Cheese from Yak’s milk: A favourite among locals, cheese from yak milk is called Chhupri in Leh. Easily available in  the main market area, where vendors sell it both on roadside and street shops, it is available in three flavours namely, sweet, salty and plain. The big pieces are difficult to digest, so it is best to pick smaller pieces.

Local Shopping

Leh Shopping

So much to buy!

If you plan to go shopping in Leh and don’t know where to start, fret not because we have you sorted. And while malls and emporiums are always a safe bet, local shops are where you will find the best deals and bargains. Some popular items that you can buy in the state include Pashmina shawls, Tibetan handicrafts like Buddhist prayer wheels, masks and paintings. In addition, silver jewellery is also pretty popular and must be a definite addition to your shopping cart. Plus, if you like apricots, Leh is a good place to pick up a few boxes, not just for yourselves but also for your family and friends.

Another favourite shopping item in the state are handwoven rugs and carpets that are available in a wide range of prices. Most of the carpets have geometric designs or dragon motifs, which can also be used as decorative wall hangings. Made from wool of Ladakhi goats, they are long-lasting and are perfect to add a touch a touch of elegance to any home. Don’t forget to pick them up.  

Coming to where you should shop from, Ladakh Art Palace is a good place to start especially if you are looking for Tibetan handicrafts and jewellery. The Buddhist Thangka House has a variety of thangkas as well as other items such as Ladakhi hats and jewellery. The Tibetan Handicraft Emporium on Bazaar Road and the Tibetan Handicraft Community Showroom in Choglamsar are other places where you can buy souvenirs. Be warned that these shops have fixed prices that are somewhat inflated at times. If you are looking for bargains, head to the open markets – Tibetan Market (off Old Leh Road) for clothes and antiques (genuine and otherwise!) and Moti Market (near Leh bus stand) for handicrafts, semi-precious stones and jewellery. Leh has several colourful handicraft markets run by long-term Tibetan refugees, many from families who first fled to Ladakh more than 50 years ago.

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