Bound by the Karakoram in the North and the great Himalayas in the South, Ladakh is a mountainous desert located at altitudes ranging from 9,000 ft to 25,000 ft. Situated at the western edge of the Tibetan Plateau, the Ladakh landscape has been modified and sculpted into its spectacular shape by wind and watererosion over the millennia. Despite the rugged terrain and difficult climatic condition the people of Ladakh exhibit a natural joie de vivre and warm disposition. Their customs and lifestyle are a continuum from the past and the cultural traditions are vibrantly alive and colourful.
Leh town : It has many historic monuments to visit, starting with the 9-storey Leh Palace built by King Singe Namgyal in the 17th century. Above the palace are the ruins of the earliest royal residence and the Tsemo Gompa dating from 15th century. Below in the bazaar, the main sites are newly built Jo-Khang and the 17th century Jamla Mosque. Leh bazaar by itself is a sightseeing attraction. Strolling along its lanes and by-lanes, observing the crowd and looking into the curio shops is an engaging experience. There is bargain shopping for semi-precious stones, jewelry, antiques and dazzling arrays of souvenirs. Many handcraft show rooms stock local handmade carpets, woolen shawls, dragon paintings, thangkas, lacquered tea-tables, all ideal as souvenirs.
Forts & Palaces : Outside the town, many monuments connected with the former kingdom's history dot the Indus valley. These include the royal palace of Shey (15 km) with its temple housing a 3-storey high Buddha statue. Down river are the remains of the fort & temple of Bazgo (37 km) and across the river from Leh is Stok Palace (17 km), present residence of the royal family, which also houses a museum of artifacts associated with the running dynasty.
Monasteries : Then there are the Buddhist monasteries (Gompa), treasure troves of images and artifacts of which about a dozen are situated on or near the Indus. Upstream of Leh are the monasteries of Thicksey (17 km), Stakna (25 km), Hemis (40 km), Chemrey (47 km), Takthok (50 km) and Matho (26 km). Hemis, the largest monastery of Ladakh, was established by King Singe Namgyal in the 17th century. Takthok incorporates a cave which is associated with the journeyof Padmasambhaba to Tibet. Matho monastery is famous for the two oracles which make public appearance during the annual festival.Down river from Leh are the monasteries of Spituk, Phyang, Likir, Alchi, Rizong, & Lamayuru.
Nubra Valley : North of the leh is the Nubra Valley on the erstwile silk route nestling along the foothills of the great Karakoram range. The road to Nubra runs across Khardung-la, the highets motorable road in the world. Prominent places to visit here include the capital town of Deskit with its hilltop monastery and just across the rolling sand dunes, Hundar which has a small population of double-humped Bactrian camels, a legacy from the Central Asian trade caravans. North of Deskit, in the valley of the Nubra river, is Sumur where the hillside monastery of Samstaling is the main attraction. Further up the valley is Panamik, famous for it's hot springs used as a traditional spa for curing various ailments further stream is the famous Saichen Glacier.
Pangong Lake : It is about 130 km long and 5-6 km wide, straddling across the border between India and China. The ochre hills of the Chang-Chenmo range surrounding it from the north provide a spectacular backdrop to the blue and green expanse of its brackish waters.
Tso-moriri : It is set in the desolate landscape of Rupshu, is famous as the breeding ground of the rare Bar-headed geese, and home to a number of other rare bird species. The small village of Korzok, with its hilltop monastery, is the only habitation in the area, which is otherwise inhabited by the nomadic Chang-pa tribe.
Dah-Hanu : A group of pretty villages nesting along the steep banks of the Indus, 163 km west of Leh, is home to an exclusive tribal community called Brokpa, who are believed to be descendants of a lost Aryan tribe. The Brokpa have preserved their features and fair complexion, besides their colourful dresses and spectacular headgears.
Ladakh offers many challenging options for adventure tourism. Trekking is the most popular activity and is done during June through September. The 10-day Markha Valley trek is the most popular, while the 20-day trek from Lamayuru to Darcha is the longest and involves crossing of the Zanskar and the Great Himalayan range. The most challenging trek, however, is the week-long winter walk between Leh and Zanskar on the Chaddar route which is formed by the freezing of the Zanskar River.
River Rafting options are aplenty in Ladakh. The stretch of Indus between Karu and Spituk offers half-day scenic floating amidst beautiful landscapes and rural scenery. For white water expeditions, River Zanskar provides the ultimate challenge, comparable to the course of the Colarado through the Grand Canyon.
Mountaineering is yet another activity for which Ladakh is very popular. The most popular site is Panamik, Saser Kangri, Saichen Glacier. In Leh area, the nearest site is the Stok Khangri massif (6,150 m), which has 5 known peaks. Mountaineering expeditions are required to obtain proper clearance from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), New Delhi or a branch office at Leh.
Kargil is one of the districts of Ladakh region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is located 120 miles (204 km) from the capital city of Srinagar. Kargil lies on the line of control (LoC). Zanskar is part of Kargil district along with Suru, Wakha and Drass valleys. The region has recently been thrown open to tourists. The district is nestled in the Himalayas, giving it a cool, temperate climate. The Zanskar plateau is even colder, thus making it a near-uninhabitable place for humans to stay, except for the hardy Khampas. The entire Kargil district is spread over 14,086 km. There is a partially paved road, leading from Kargil south to Zanskar a distance of nearly 220 km, which is only open from June to September each year.
INTERNAL TRANSPORT : Main public transport is provided by coach and mini bus services. Tourist transport is essentially by 4-wheel drive taxi vehicles which are easily available at Leh at specific fixed rates. A national highway that includes the Zoji La Pass connecting Srinagar to Leh, cuts through Kargil. This highway is open for traffic only from June to mid November every year due to heavy snowfall at the Zoji La.
Accommodation : Leh town has a variety of accommodation options in hotels and guesthouses. Most of the hotels are family run establishments. These are classified into A, B and C/ Economy categories while Guest Houses are divided into Upper, Medium and Economy classes. In remote areas such as Nubra valley, accommodation is available mainly in Guest Houses and in residential houses converted into paying guest accommodation.
Climate : The climatic conditions are mainly dry and desertic with little or no rainfall. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 27°C in the shade while in winter they may plunge to -20°c below zero. In Kargil summers are warm with cool nights, while winters are long and cold with temperatures often dropping to -40 °C with recorded temperatures of -60°C in Drass. During winter, most parts of Ladakh are snow bound and all the land approaches are blocked.
Acclimatization : If you are traveling into Leh by air, you must allow a full day of complete rest for getting used to the high altitude and low oxygen level. High altitude sickness is a risky condition faced by visitors who do not allow sufficient time for proper acclimatization.
Clothing : Summer: Cotton with light woollens and a wind parka for occasional use; sturdy walking shoes. Winter: heavy woollens including down-filled wind proof jackets/parka and thermal inners, sturdy walking shoes.
Inner Line Permits : For visiting Khardungla, Nubra valley, Pangong and Tsomo-riri Lakes and the Dah-Hanu area of Leh District, it is mandatory to obtain Protected Area permits from the Deputy Commissioner's office at Leh.
Getting There :
By Air : Major Airlines operate regular flights to Leh from Delhi, and shuttle services to Srinagar and Jammu (once and twice a week respectively). Leh Airport is 6 km from the city centre. Flight Duration Delhi to Leh : 70 Minutes.
By Road : The main overland approach to ladakh is the 434-km Srinagar-Leh highway (open May/June-October). This historic road passes through Kashmir's picturesque countryside till Sonamarg (86 km) before ascending the Zoji la pass (3,529 m). It connects the most populous parts of Ladakh including Kargil Town (205 km) where the journey has to be broken for the night. The other land approach is the 473-km Manali-Leh Road (open July-September) which runs across 5 passes. the lowest being Rohtang-La (3,878 m) and the highest Taglang-la (5360 m). J&K State Road Transport Corporation (J&K SRTC) operates regular bus services between Srinagar and Leh/Kargil while HP Tourism operates coaches on the Manali-Leh Route. Taxies are easily available from Srinagar & Manali for visiting Ladakh.