Authored by Andra Padureanu
Have you ever heard of Ladakh?
Based in the Trans-Himalaya region, this is India’s Land of High Passes, also known as “Little Tibet.”
If you’re a beach lover, chances are that Ladakh won’t exactly thrill you. But if you are a nature enthusiast and a fan of the mountains, a trip here definitely won’t disappoint.
What makes Ladakh unique is the landscape. You might be surprised to know that the local population lives at an elevation between 2,700m and 4,500m. Even the capital of Ladakh, the city of Leh, is at an altitude of 3,500, (which can cause travelers some high-altitude symptoms).
And within that spectacular landscape? There are a huge range of tourist places in Ladakh and exciting things to do.
Things to do in Ladakh
Why Should You Visit Ladakh?
There are a lot of tourist places in Ladakh, which means that there is a bit of something for everybody.
You can choose to trek in Ladakh, or perhaps you want to try your skills in a bike trip. A road trip to Ladakh is a must if you are in India and not prone to motion sickness, as the passes in Ladakh are among the highest and most scenic in the world.
For the thrill seeker, you might enjoy the rafting in Ladakh. Or for the newly wed, consider spending your honeymoon here. The dramatic views and the friendly locals are just two of the reasons why the area is described as romantic.
And the food in Ladakh will give you a taste of Tibet, as it has profound influences from the neighboring area. It is one of those areas that for sure will make you fall in love with India.
Trekking in Ladakh
There’s no secret that India is an excellent place for trekking, as the Himalayas are hugging its northern borders. And the mountains of Ladakh, together with the warm and friendly locals, make it a perfect trekking destination.
There are a lot of routes to choose from, depending on how much time you have or your fitness level. But if you decide to travel to Ladakh, you should include at least one trek in your plan.
Sham Valley Trek
This is a short trek, very accessible and not challenging, perfect for first timers in Ladakh. You can easily complete this trek in 4-5 days, reason for which it is known as the “baby trek”.
It is a homestay trek, you will sleep each night in a different village in a traditional Ladakhi house. And this is how you will fall in love with Ladakh, as you will experience the local hospitality.
Markha Valley Trek
This is probably the most famous trek in Ladakh, a tourists’ favorite. This 7- to 10-day route will take you all the way up to 5,100m, passing traditional villages and snow-capped mountains.
But it will also get you to the Hemis National Park, known for its impressive biodiversity. Although it is not a very difficult trek, it is recommended to have some prior trekking experience.
Nubra Valley Trek
Depending on the route that you choose, you can finish this trek in 5 – 10 days. But it is different from the others, as it allows you the chance to meet the double-humped camels of Nubra, chilling in the region’s sand dunes.
The highlight will probably be the point when you will reach an altitude of 5,400m from where you can spot the Karakorum mountain range.
Chadar Frozen Trek
Yup, you read that right! This is called the frozen trek as you will be walking alongside or even right on the frozen river Chadar.
This trek can only be made during winter and its duration varies from one week to even one month. But for sure you need to be prepared for some extreme cold, as the temperatures drop way below 0°C, sometimes down to -35°C.
And there won’t be any mattresses, as you will be sleeping in caves or camping right next to the river.
Lamayuru to Alchi Trek
This short (less than one week trek) will take from the famous moonscape area of the Buddhist Lamayuru monastery to Alchi monastery, a more than 1,000 year old monastic complex.
Alchi is also famous for the fact that it is located on flat ground, unlike the other Ladakhi monasteries.
Climb Stok Kangri
This is not a trek for beginners, as it will take you on top of Stok Kangri, at an altitude of 6,153m. As any high altitude peak, it needs to be taken seriously and you have to know the side effects of mountain sickness and how to recognize them.
If you are very fit and acclimatized you can even climb it in 3 days. However, you shouldn’t speed up. It’s better to pace yourself and listen to your body.
Visit the Monasteries in Ladakh
Ladakh is the perfect place if you want to discover the charm of Tibetan Buddhism. Given the difficulty in traveling freely through Tibet at the moment, Ladakh is the ideal alternative.
It’s no wonder that the Dalai Lama visits the region each summer and has often declared that he will retire here (as if he will ever retire!).
Any tour in Ladakh will comprise at least one monastery. They are among the best places to visit in Ladakh, and they all have a mystical aura that will instantly allure you.
If you happen to assist to a ceremony, the better. The monks will let you take part (provided you are respectful) and you will soon be hypnotized by their incantations that seem to be floating in the air.
There are a lot of monasteries that are worth visiting, but a couple of them are a must:
The Hemis monastery in Ladakh is one of the most beautiful in the entire region. What makes it so special is its location, hidden in the mountains.
Here you can admire beautiful Thangkas, the Tibetan Buddhist paintings, usually made on cotton and depicting various scenes, gods, and even mandalas.
It is also home for an impressive number of monks, starting with young students whom you can spot playing in the courtyard.
If you were to choose to visit only one Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, then pick this one.
This is Ladakh’s oldest monastery and also the largest. Here you can also try the meditation center if you want a more spiritual journey.
The monastery sits proudly on top of a hill, at an altitude of 3,510m together with the surrounding houses inhabited by its monks. A visit to Lamayuru will also get you right in the middle of the famous moon like land.
The Thiksey monastery in Ladakh is another impressive site. Upon reaching it, you will be amazed by its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Tibet.
You can easily spend hours inside, as it houses ten temples and impressive statues. It is one of those monasteries where it is recommended to have a guide if you want to learn more about the history of Tibetan Buddhism.
As mentioned above, this is the only monastery that is located on flat ground and composed of a number of temples.
The Alchi temples in Ladakh draw an impressive number of tourists due to its remarkable wall paintings, intricate and wonderfully detailed.
Some of them have been preserved very well, so they provide veritable proof of how majestic is the Tibetan Buddhist art.
Meet the Famous Snow Leopard
In case you were wondering if there any animals in Ladakh, you should know that the region is home to an impressive fauna. From brown bears to wolves and foxes, from lynxes to ibexes and blue sheep, and the star of the area, the snow leopard.
There are a lot of places in Ladakh where you can still see this elusive cat. However, you have to be really lucky to actually spot the snow leopard in Ladakh. It is a very shy mammal, so it will probably try and stay as far as possible from travelers.
Still, there are tours explicitly organized for spotting the snow leopard. Some of them end with success, but there are also chances that you spend days in the mountains without meeting it.
The locals will, however, show you photos of their cattle, when they sometimes fall victim to this endangered cat.
Photo credit: Tambako The Jaguar
Spend Time at the Lakes in Ladakh
While strolling in Leh, you will notice that all tour operators in Ladakh have something in common. They offer trips to the famous lakes Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri.
The Pangong Lake in Ladakh became well known after it appeared in the famous Bollywood movie “3 Idiots”. The lake sits at an altitude of 4,350m and more than half of it lies in China. It is worth spending at least one night at the campsite near the lake.
Tso Moriri is the other famous lake in Ladakh. If Pangong can be done even as a day trip (a very long one) from Leh, it’s pretty much impossible to do this if you want to visit Tso Moriri.
Quietly resting at 4,595m, it will take you around 6 – 7 hours to reach it by car from Leh. But it will definitely be a rewarding trip, as it is not as crowded as Pangong.
It is around Tso Moriri where you might also spot nomadic tribes, as the people of Chang-pa inhabit this area and can sometimes be encountered. Both lakes are magical enough to be included in the list of best places to see in Ladakh.
Visit Ladakh During the Festivals
There are so many festivals in Ladakh that it is straightforward to plan so that you can take part in at least one of them. By far the most famous one is the Hemis Festival, held at the homonymous monastery.
Crowds will gather to watch the Chham Dances performed by the monks, wearing unique costumes and masks and interpreting a play in which the good forces fight against the evil ones and finish triumphantly.
There are festivals at almost all the monasteries in Ladakh, and there is also the Ladakh festival that takes place every year in Leh and the surrounding villages. On this occasion, you can participate in various spectacles including dances, traditional singing, and even Polo matches.
So when you decide to travel to Ladakh, you should also check the dates of the festivals and try to include one in your plan. The dates change from year to year, so you need to make sure that you get the right ones.
Pro Tip: The Dalai Lama has teachings almost every year in Ladakh, so you might even consider attending one. Seeing the Dalai Lama live will have a profound impact on your journey as you will feel the positive vibes surrounding him.
Sightseeing and Shopping in Leh
Most likely you will begin your tour to Ladakh in Leh. And if you fly in, it is recommended to rest for at least the first 48 hours. This is the main reason for which most travelers start with some sightseeing in Leh.
The most iconic sites are definitely the Leh Palace, that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and also the Namgyal Tsemo Monastery above the palace.
Although the palace is not in perfect condition and doesn’t have spectacular things to be seen inside, it is still worth to climb up to it as it provides breathtaking views over Leh and the valley.
And you might also want to do some shopping. There aren’t a lot of places for shopping in Ladakh, but Leh has a couple of Tibetan refugee markets where you can find some unique souvenirs, especially handmade jewelry. And it will also help the local Tibetan community.
Best Time to Visit Ladakh
When planning your trip to Ladakh, you have to be aware of the climate. As such, the weather in Ladakh does not make it a year-round destination.
Actually, the best time to visit Ladakh is from June to September. This doesn’t mean that during winter it is closed. It will just be freezing and difficult to find accommodation, as most places don’t provide heating.
The best month to visit Ladakh would be September, as the weather is still warm and the number of tourists significantly lower.
Flights to Ladakh
And if you wonder how to reach Ladakh, you should know that the flight from Delhi to Ladakh, respectively to Leh, is one of the most scenic flights.
It will take you over snow-capped mountains and will provide you with an excellent introduction to the region’s landscape. There are daily flights to Ladakh, so you won’t have any problems finding one.
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