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Ladakh Travel Guide

Written by Fiona

March 17 2020

Ladakh is a region located in northern India, nestled in the Himalayas. It is well-known for its Buddhist monasteries and its spectacular landscapes. Ladakh is referred to as the “Little Tibet” due to its geographical proximity and strong links to Tibetan culture. Leh, the capital city of Ladakh and one of the most popular destinations for tourists in the region, is located at an altitude of 3,500 metres above sea level. 

The Indus valley and Thiksey monastery.

How to get there

Ladakh can be accessed either through air or by road. There are eight daily flights from New Delhi to Leh and direct flights are also available to Leh from Mumbai in summer.

There are two roads that connect Ladakh with the rest of the country: The Leh-Srinagar highway, which is open from April to November, and the Leh-Manali highway from June until mid-October. 

When to visit

Summer is the best time to travel to Ladakh. The weather is very pleasant from May to September. This is also the best time to do trekking and mountain climbing. The Markha valley trek is by far the most popular trek in Ladakh and it can be done in eight days between mid-May and early September.

Ladakh cannot be reached by road throughout the year as both the Leh-Manali and Leh-Srinagar roads are closed for more than six months due to heavy snowfall. However, the roads within Ladakh remain open in winter.

When the roads are closed in winter, flying becomes the only way to reach Leh. The Chadar trek and the Snow Leopard trek are the major activities that are organised for tourists in Ladakh during the winter.   

Mask dance during the Naropa Festival at Hemis monastery.

How to travel around

While Manali and Srinagar are connected through bus run by the road transport corporation (RTC), the bus services in Leh and peripheral areas are privately-owned and the schedule of the bus service is quite erratic. 

The easiest option to travel in Ladakh is to use taxis. There are different types of taxis ranging from Toyota Innova (more expensive) to Maruti Eeco Van (cheaper).

People travelling alone or in a small group are encouraged to join shared taxi tours when travelling in Ladakh Shared taxis are available for tours to all the main tourist attractions (Indus valley, Nubra valley, Pangong lake, etc.). Using shared taxis will not only save money but also to reduce the carbon footprint of the trip. 

Wall paintings inside Thiksey monastery.

Main places to visit

In addition to the Indian tourist visa, a special Inner Line Permit is required to visit the sensitive areas located close to the border with China and Pakistan such as Nubra, Pangong and Tsomoriri. This Inner Line Permit is obtained from Leh and any travel agency in town can help you to get it in one working day.

1. Monasteries of the Indus valley: Shey, Thiksey and Hemis

Ladakh is a Buddhist-dominated area and the region has many monasteries of different sects. 

The village of Shey used to be the summer capital of Ladakh. It has a large monastery that is well-known for its 12m tall copper statue of Buddha gilded with gold. A few kilometres further is the majestic Thiksey monastery, which resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The monastery is famous for its giant statue of the Maitreya Buddha.

The Hemis monastery, located at a distance of 45 km from Leh, is one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries in Ladakh. The monastery is famous for the Naropa Festival which is held after every 12 years. During this festival, monks perform sacred mask dances known as Cham dances.

Diskit monastery, Nubra valley.

2. Nubra valley

One of the major attractions of Ladakh is the Nubra valley or “the valley of flowers”. The Nubra valley is situated at an altitude of 3,100 metres above sea level. Hundar and Turtuk are the two most visited villages in the Nubra valley.

Hundar is popular for its sand dunes and the double-humped bactrian camels. The picturesque village of Turtuk is located just 13 km from the border with Pakistan. In the same area, one should not miss the visit of Diskit monastery which is home to 80 monks.

3. Pangong and Tsomoriri lakes

The other main attractions for tourists are Pangong and Tsomoriri lakes. Pangong Lake, situated at an elevation of 4,300 metres, is five-hour drive from Leh. Pangong Lake is 135km long and almost 60% of the length of the lake is in Tibet.

In the eastern Ladakh at a distance of 240km from Leh is the Tsomoriri Lake situated at an altitude of 4,500 metres. The lake is the breeding ground for the endangered black-necked crane.

Eco-responsible tourism in Ladakh

Ladakh is a high-altitude desert and water is a precious resource. However, due to rapid urbanisation and an increase in the number of hotels and guesthouses, especially in Leh town, people have abandoned centuries-old practices.

Instead of traditional dry compost toilets, flush toilets are being used in hotels and also in households that are putting a lot of strain on the already depleting sources of water such as spring and also contaminating the groundwater. It is therefore advisable to save as much water as possible by taking short showers.

Ladakh has limited waste management infrastructure. Therefore, one should make efforts to reduce garbage by consuming less packaged food and plastic bottles. Instead of buying plastic bottles, one can refill bottles with filtered water from the hotel or from water vending outlets in Leh such as Dzomsa.

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