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Leh, the capital of Ladakh is a fascinating destination. King Sengge Namgyal who ruled Ladakh during 17th century and during whose rule Ladakh was at its greatest shifted his court from Shey to Leh. Leh became the regional capital and very soon the town blossomed into one of the busiest markets on the Silk Route. During the 1920s and 1930s, the broad bazaar that still forms its heart received more than a dozen pony- and camel-trains each day.
Leh is where your adventure in Ladakh begins. You can go trekking through the mountainous terrain of Ladakh, enjoy a game of polo in a high altitude arena or watch an archery contest where local residents compete in a contest that remains unchanged by time. Mountaineering, white water rafting and wildlife tours are other adventurous attractions of Leh Ladakh India.
The main overland approach to Ladakh is from the Kashmir valley via the 434-km. Srinagar-Leh road, which remains open for traffic from early June to November. The most dramatic part of this road journey is the ascent up the 11,500 ft.(3505 m high Zoji-la, the pass in the Great Himalayan Wall that serves as the gateway to Ladakh. The J&K State Road Transport Corporation (J&KSRTC) operates regular Deluxe and Ordinary bus services between Srinagar and Leh on this route with an overnight halt at Kargil. Taxis (cars and jeeps) are also available at Srinagar for the journey. Groups can charter Deluxe and A-class buses for Leh, Kargil or Padum (Zanskar) from the J&K SRTC at Srinagar. Since 1989, the 473-km Manali-Leh road has been serving as the second land approach to Ladakh. Open for traffic from around mid-June to early October, this high road traverses the upland desert plateaux of Rupsho whose altitude ranges from 3,660 m to 4,570 m. A number of high passes fall enroute among which the highest one, known as Taglang-la, is the world’s second highest motorable pass at an altitude of 17,469 feet.
Attractions In Leh:-
An easy walk away through the interesting coppersmith’s quarter, past the Moravian Church, the Ladakh Ecological Centre and across the fields, is the Sankar Gompa. Another interesting walk to the Ladakh Shanti Stupa goes through the picturesque village of Changspa. In the colourful bazaar are fascinating little shops with everything from semi precious stones - Lapiz, Coral, Turquoise and Pearls to fine curios and artefacts. It is a marvellous shopping experience. Skara another pretty village and the ramparts of the old Earthern Fort of Zorawar Singh makes another little expedition. Eating out is fun at open air garden and sidewalk restaurants that offer Tibetan, Indian and even Continental cuisine.
Buddhism & Monasteries In Leh
Though Leh has been capital of this region since the 17th century, strewn around it along the Indus valley are earlier capitals of he region. From Leh one can wander off on marvellous day expeditions to get a glimpse of some of the treasures of Ladakh.
Not far from Leh, Shey is the oldest capital of Ladakh from where its earliest Tibetan kings ruled. Perched on top of a huge rock are the royal palace and temples adorned with brilliantly coloured murals and a 7.5 metre gold statue of the Buddha. Basgo and Tingmosgang with their forts and palaces were also capitals of Ladakh. Stok Palace across the river from Leh is the home of the erstwhile royal family. The Palace Museum here has collections of beautiful royal costumes and jewellery, exquisite Thangkas, porcelain, jade, weapons and armour.
Within easy reach of Leh is the Spituk Monastery with its commanding view of he indus. It has fine Thangkas and a collection of ancient masks. Thikse Monastery one of the most impressive in the area is spectacularly located and is noted for its beautiful murals. Hemis is of course the biggest gompa in Ladakh and the best known for its magnificent summer festival that celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The largest thangka in Ladakh is to be found here. It is unfolded only once every 12 years.
Other magnificent gompas located in the vicinity include the splendid Lamayuru, Likir, Phyang, Rizdong, Stakna, Matho and Chemrey Gompas, all easily accessible from Leh. Alchi no longer an active religious centre, is among Ladakh’s most beautiful monasteries. Over a thousand years old, its wall paintings like those of Tabo in Spiti are reminiscent of the Ajanta style of painting.
Around Leh in the upper Indus valley is the cultural heartland of Ladakh, where the old capitals of the area are located and where many of the splendid palaces and Gompas are also to be found.
The people of Ladakh are predominantly Buddhist and practise ‘Mahayana’ Buddhism tempered with the old Bon animistic faith and Tantric Hinduism. It was brought Buddhism to Tibet and Ladakh during his travels in the 7th century AD. In the 11th century the Buddhist scholar Rinchen Tsangpo established 108 monasteries in the region. The Gompas at Lamayuru and Alchi are said to date from that time.
The living Buddhist heritage is manifest in the villages where ‘Mani’ walls are engraved with the mantra ‘ Om Mani Padme Hum’ and stones are piled into commemorative mounds known as ‘Chorten’. The Gompas precariously perched on steep hillsides or rock faces seem an integral part of the rugged landscape.
In Western Ladakh, in Drass, Kargil and the Suru valley where the Muslim Shia faith prevails there are mosques and imposing Imambaras in the Islamic style, surmounted with domes.
The second largest town in Ladakh marks the mid point of the journey from Srinagar to Leh. Kargil is also the take off point for excursions into the Suru valley and the remote Zanskar Valley with their exciting opportunities for mountaineering, camping, river rafting and trekking trails into Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and the Indus valley.
Kargil was once at the cross roads of a network of trade routes that led to kashmir, Baltistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Tibet and an air of romance still lingers around its narrow cobbled streets and bazaars spilling over with locally crafted curios. The town retains its conservative Balti Shia Muslim culture and has two fine mosques built in the Turkish style.
Nestling in the Suru valley, Kargil is set amidst green, richly cultivated hill sides. The two tributaries of the river suru the Drass and Wakha meet there. There are pretty walks around the town breathtaking views of the mountains. A day long excursion into the Suru valley goes past the picturesque Imambara of Trespone.
The Suru Valley one of the prettiest areas of Ladakh, runs for 140-km beyond Kargil to the Penzi La pass, the point of entry into the Zanskar valley. Its verdant hills are intensively cultivated. Enough snow and water during the year sustain two crops annually. The valleys are especially picturesque in spring when they are the Sankoo-Panikhar tract is magnificent. The open valley adorned with undulating alpine meadows strewn with wild flowers, groves of poplars and willows are set against the majestic backdrop of the Himalayan peaks dusted with snow.
At Thangbu, a little village, the traveller gets a first glimpse of the spectacular Nun - Kun massif. Panikhar 12-km beyond this is the base for treks to Kashmir and Kishtwar. The road goes past the glaciers of the Nun - Kun massif to descend to Rangdum set in wild and beautiful surroundings. It is located at the furthest end of the suru valley before the Penzi La pass. Set high on a central hillock the Rangdum gompa with a little stream forming a moat around it, looks like an ancient fort protecting the valley.
Travel Facts - Leh
Altitude: Altitude range from 9,000 ft at Kargil to 25,170 ft at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram
Summer: Upto 270C
Winter : -200C and below in the higher reaches.
Best Season: Early June to October.
Summer: Light woollens
Winter: Heavy woollens with wind proofing.
How to Reach Leh
Leh - Leh is the main airport for this area. Direct flights link it to Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar and Jammu. Kargil, Suru and Zanskar valleys - Srinagar and Leh airports are both convenient.
Leh - Srinagar-Leh road is the main route with an over night halt at Kargil. The road is open between mid June and November. Ordinary and deluxe buses of the J&K state road transport corporation regularly ply on this route. Taxis can also be hired at Srinagar for this trip.
The Manali-Leh Highway - This is a spectacular journey with an over night halt at tented camps at Sarchu or Pang. This journey can be undertaken by the deluxe and ordinary bus services operated by the Himachal Pradesh tourism, HP SRTC and the J&K SRTC or by jeep from either Manali or Leh.
Kargil - On the main highway between Srinagar and Leh. Suru and Zanskar valleys - The road from Kargil into the Suru and Zanskar valleys is open only between July and October. Regular bus services link Kargil to Padum in Zanskar. Group wishing to go to Leh, Kargil or Padum can charter deluxe and a class buses from the J&K SRTC at Srinagar.