An introduction to what Ladakh has to offer.
Perched on a Himalayan plateau in the eastern part of India, Ladakh is a Buddhist-dominated region that holds travelers captive with its breathtaking landscapes and views. There are spectacular ways to arrive in Leh, the capital city of Ladakh. By car, one can travel north from Manali along the mountainous Leh-Manali highway crossing Rohtang and Tanglang La passes, which are among the world’s highest roads. The most convenient way to reach Leh is the hour-long flight from New Delhi. Leh is the ideal base from where you can organize multi-day sightseeing tours in the region as well as other activities such as trekking, mountain biking, rafting, etc.
Even though it is always complicated to strike the right balance of confluence of the season and personal schedule as the window for travel in Ladakh is short, the best time is from May to September. For the major part of the year, this high-altitude region is a snowbound hinterland. It is always convenient to dress in layers and a light jacket comes in handy on crisp mornings and evenings. Ladakh is one of the few places in the world where you can suffer from frostbite and sunstroke at one go. Lamayuru monastery
Visit monasteries and lakes
Signs of religion are everywhere in Ladakh as you would come across numerous whitewashed chortens, monuments built to expiate sin, on seemingly every corner and wind-ripped prayer flags flapping at the top of houses. Buddhists do a lot of circumambulating, negotiating monasteries and sacred objects in a clockwise direction.
Multi-storied monasteries or gompas draped in colourful silks and the air thick with juniper smoke, sprout out of mountains in every village. Thiksey monastery, a gigantic structure modelled on the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet; the 350-year-old Hemis monastery, among the richest monasteries in India; Alchi and Lamayuru monasteries, two of the oldest monasteries built in Leh, receive heavy footfall of tourists during the busy summer months.
Pangong and Tsomo Riri lakes will also have you bewitched at first sight as both are a shimmering patch of turquoise in an opening between mountains. The 145-km-wide and 62-km-long Pangong Lake that changes its colour from blue to seas green and grey united India and China. Tso Moriri Lake, which is 220-km far from Leh city, has every imaginable hue of blue, ringed by snow-clad peaks. Both the lakes and the journey to them is guaranteed to hook you for life.
In recent years, Ladakh’s reputation as one of the most rewarding trekking destinations in the Himalayas has increasingly attracted adventure-seekers. Trekking routes in Ladakh offer experiences that will stay with you for a lifetime. Markha valley and Sham valley treks are manageable for trekkers with little experience.
Markha valley trek, of course, is the most popular trek in the Hemis National Park offering breathtaking views of mountains, green paddy fields and wild animals. Travelers are also afforded comfortable resting in traditional-style mud houses popularly known as homestays. The houses offer hot tea, hearty plates of fuel and warm beds.
Involving 6-8 days, the Markha valley trek can be started from either Rumbak or Chilling. Some days are easy while other days can be really challenging during the trek. While many of these trails seem magically untouched by time, these are used frequently by the villagers to import and export things to their villages.
A slow and steady trek allows time for acclimatization and is the safest way to ascend and prevent altitude sickness, which could have fatal consequences. Sham trek is exactly what it offers to the trekkers who are almost beginners and do not want to test their limits.
Try Ladakhi food
As the day fades and your stomach growls after a day-long journey exploring monasteries or lakes, it is time to find a place to satisfy your palate. While moving through the streets in Leh, you can smell the air filled with the aroma of different types of Ladakhi food: freshly steamed momos and the drifting smell of thukpa or noodle soup. Due to the footfall of tourists from all parts of the world, the cuisine of Leh is an amalgamation of continental, Indian, Chinese and Tibetan food. Tibetan influence on Ladakhi cuisine is clearly visible, especially thukpa and momos.
If you are looking to experience local food, head to Alchi Kitchen, where chef Nilza will serve you mouth-watering dishes such as chhutagi, stuffed khambir and skyu. Namza Café is another option to not only purchase designer traditional Ladakhi dress but to also savour food from centuries-old recipes such as the Yarkandi Pulao as its recipe can be traced to the time of the Silk Route when travelers from Yarkhand, now China, crossed Leh while going to Srinagar.
During your time in Ladakh, try local dishes such as skyu, chhutagi, paba, khambir and butter tea.