Cold Desert – Ladakh

Why To Go

Ladakh, in Tibetan means, ‘Land of high passes’. Leh is more than 11000 feet high and the World’s highest motorable road, Khardungla (18000 feet) Pass is also in Ladakh. The major religion practised here is Buddhism, so Ladakh also appears to be like a land of Gomphas. Ladakh was previously a part of Jammu and Kashmir. However, by the recent Parliamentary Act passed in the month of August, 2019, Ladakh will become a Union Territory of India on the 31st of October, 2019, with Leh as its capital city. A trip to Ladakhrequires meticulous planning and cannot be based on whims. Specific months are meant forLakadh trips. Roads to Ladakh remain open from Mid-May to October-end. They remain closed during the remaining months due to heavy snow fall. Weather conditions are extremely harsh in Ladakh because, contrary to the picture of a desert in our mind, it is a desert- A Cold Desert! Ladakh ranges from the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram Range to the main Great Himalayas and is bordered by Tibet and Pakistan. Tourism is developing at a rapid pace across Ladakh in spite of the fragile and harsh climatic conditions and tough terrains because of the hypnotic scenic beauty of the land woven with the hospitality and simplicity of the humble people and the adventurous spirit of the place.

Travel Tips

The best way to reach Ladakh is by road even though there are daily flights flying from the major citiesof India to Leh. Your body needs acclimatisation to prevent you from mountain sickness due to such high altitude and scarcity of oxygen and climbing up by car does it best. Moreover, the journey with panoramic views across may make you feel at times that the journey is better than the destination. If you fly to Leh please spend the rest of your day at your hotel for acclimatisation. In fact, do not even exert yourself the next day by making long trips. Stick to local site seeing. Altitude sickness like breathing trouble, headache and nausea is common. Consult a doctor before the trip as it is advisable to start taking some medicines a few days before you begin the journey. As a precaution you may carry a portable travel pack of oxygen. Even if it is the month of June and the hottest summer in your city, do carry warm clothes, thermals, earmuffs and gloves.Layer your clothing so that you can keep wearing and removing them as and when you want because the weather is extremely unpredictable. You may experience a snow fall and the very next moment you can see the scorching sun and the extreme blue skies with some cottony clouds floating here and there. Carry sunglasses and sunscreen and stay hydrated.

Things To Do

Leh, the capital city, doesn’t explain the whole of the extremity that Ladakh experiences in terms of temperature or land forms. To have a feel of Ladakh, you must also visit Lamayuru and Moon Land and the white sand dunes of the cold desert, surrounded by rugged mountains at Nubra Valley Region. Even though Ladakh is so arid, it has some of world’s most beautiful lakes, the Pangong Lake and Tso Moriri being the most beautiful ones. Leh Hemis Monastery, rebuilt in 1672, existed from before the 11th Century. It is famous for the Hemis Festival held in June for which people from all over the world visit the monastery for its festivities and the mystic mask dance by the monks. The Monastery houses a museum exhibiting age old metal sculptors, ancient thankas and scriptures. The view of StaknaGompha, the only Bhutanese Buddhist Monastery in Ladakh, on a standalone hilltop, on the bank of Indus River will give you a dreamy experience. Thikse Monastery, located on a hill top, is a twelve storey complex, resembling the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The major attraction besides a panoramic view of the Indus Valley from the hill top is the 49feet high ornate bust of Maitreya Buddha, covering two storeys of the building. Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh in the past. The stretch of road from Leh to Shey is noted for having Ladakh’s biggest Chorten field. As you climb up the Shey Palace you will be mesmerised by the view of the vastness around. As you reach the top, you can see a 39feet high bust of Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Shey village, Sidhu Ghat, the bank of Indus River is a popular site. On Guru Purnima in July, Sidhu Pujan is celebrated by worshipping the sacred river which originates from the holy ManasSarovar Lake in Kailash and with cultural performances. Pay homage to the Indian soldiers who laid their lives defending India during Indo-Pak wars.Hall of Fame is a museum constructed by the Indian Army in memory of these brave Indian soldiers and to remind us of the sacrifices made by our jawans to ensure our safety and security. It is located on the Leh-Kargil Highway, about 4km from the city of Leh. It can be visited on the way to Leh if you are travelling by road to Leh via Kargil. Leh Palace, a 9 storey ancient palace, overlooking the city of Leh is being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. Very close to this ancient structure stands a newly built monument, the Shanti Stupa, built by the Japanese in 1991.This monument on the hill top provides a perfect location for observing sunset together with panoramic views. You can spend the early evenings in the Leh market with numerous souvenir shops, shops selling artefacts made of metal and wood, silver and stoned jewellery, shawl made of pashmina and/or yak wool. Lamayuru-Moonland Lamayuru, more than 100kms from Leh, is a small village on NH1-D, mid-way between Kargil and Leh which can be visited while you are travelling to Leh from Kargil or you need to visit from Leh separately on a day different from the one chosen for Leh site seeing. In this case it is advisable to book a night stay at Uletokpo Village or Lamayuru. Lamayuru is connected by buses from Leh. The beautiful hanging white blocks of the Lamayuru Monastery on the mountains with rocks with Tibetan scriptures carved on them appears artistic. This is oldest (10th Century) monastery in Ladakh. Climb up the meditation hill and have a bird’s eye view of the village. The monasteryexhibits ancient scriptures, thanks and statues of Buddha. Here you pass through the Fotu La Pass (More than 13000feet high), also called the Moon land for its extremely rugged land forms and with almostno vegetation. The yellow land with craggy rocks and the blue sky look surreal. See the magic of the Magnetic Hillwhere vehicles parked on neutral appear to move uphill, in defiance of gravity, on a downward gradient. This is Cyclopes Hill with its mystifying layout and surrounding slopes creating an optical illusion. Sangam, the confluence of the Sindh-Zanskar Rivers at Nimmoo Village is mesmerising. The blue and the murky rivers meet, forming a heart shape at the confluence. The sun and shadow on the rocky terrains and the fluttering colourful prayer flags conjure a magic together. The adventure spirited may indulge in river rafting too. On the way to Lamayuru from Leh, you can visit many monasteries – The ancient Spituk Monastery, closer to Leh and famous for the majestic Kali which is unveiled during the Spithuk Festival, The Rhizong Monastery, Likir MonasteryandAlchi Monastery and the ruins of the Basgo Palace. Nubra Valley via Khardungla You are literally on top of the World at the Khardungla Top, world’s highest motorable road at 18380 feet. To travel 150kms from Leh to Nubra viaKhardungla Pass, it takes around 6hours but it may vary depending on the weather conditions. The Pass has extremely unpredictable weather and the curvy roads with snow covered mountains are dramatic. The most popular places to visit in Nubra is Diskit, Hunder and Turtuk. Disket is famous for the picturesque 14th Century Monastery (the largest and the oldest in the Nubra Region) set up on the edges of the rocky mountain and the 106 feet tall statue of the MaitreyaBuddha on the hill top near the Disket Monastery. This majestic statue faces the Shyok River towards Pakistan and from the village below, the statue looks like the guardian of the land. The hilltop provides a picture postcard view of the Diskit Monastery and 360 degrees view of the vast Valley. You can reach Hunder (7kms from Nubra) in 20-40 minutes from Diskit by car. There you can see the glistening white sand dunes of the Tibetan Plateau and ride the double humped Bactrian camel. You can deck up like the locals and get clicked too. It is also believed that Jesus Christ has visited Baigdandu, an area nearby. Sumur, Kyagar (Tiger), Panamik and Turtukare villages along the Nubra or Siachen River. Samstanling Monastery is in between Sumur and Kyagar, Panamik is known for its hot springs and the EnsaGompha and Turtuk is the last outpost of India and one of the gateways to the Siachen Glacier. Pangong Lakeis the most popular Lake in Ladakh and its popularity heightened after Amir Khan’s movie, ‘3 Idiots’. You have to travel a distance of 150kms from Leh to Pangong through Changla Pass (17586 feet), the third highest motorable road in the world. This blue lake with saline water remains completely frozen in the winters and is world’s one of the highest altitude lakes. Soak into its serenity as much as you can.

What to Eat & Where
to Eat

The local food has Tibetan, Nepalese and Kashmiri influence. Leh has numerous eateries, cafeterias and restaurants. Do try the roof top cafes for some amazing views. In the remote and isolated places outside Leh just the basic local dishes are available. Do not forget to try Butter Tea, momos, Tigmoand Thukpa. Cholak, Khambirand Ladakhi Pulao are some mouth-watering Ladakhi delicacies.

Getting Around

Most of the places outside Lehare isolated. It is advisable to travel by car. Motor bikes are available on rent and riding across Ladakh is very popular.

How To Reach


KushokBakulaRimpochee Airport at Leh is connected to different cities in India through regular flights. Nearest Railway Station: Jammu Tawi, 690kms away from Leh and Chandigarh, 766kms away from Leh are the two railway stations that you can reach and then travel by road to Leh



Sringagar-LehHighway (NH1D) via Zozi la, Namki La and Fotu la Passes, is 464kms long and it takes two days to cover the road by car with night hault at Kargil. Before reaching Kargil, the picturesque Sonmarg is one of the haults. You can take the route through Mulbegh-Lamayuru which covers a range of site seeing spots or you can take the Kargil-Dras-Batalik route which requires inner permit. Manali-Leh Highway via Rohtang Pass, Sarchu and its highest elevation (more than 17000 feet) at Tanglang Pass is 460kms long with 230kms in Himachal Pradesh and 260kms in Ladakh. Besides rented cars, you can travel the entire stretch by Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) or Himachal Pradesh Development Corporation (HPDC) bus too in two days with night hault at Keylong or Jispa.Share taxis also ply between Manali and Leh. Both the roads provide picturesque views and adventurous thrills.

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Surrounding Attractions

Tso Moriri, a picturesque lake, spread across 33000 acres and at an altitude of more than 14000feet is 220kms away from Leh. Hemis National Park with Stok Kangri Peak (Trek route) houses endangered animals and is the largest notified protected area in India. It is globally famous for housing snow leopards

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