Travel Picks – My Top 10 in Leh,Ladakh

Julley, Welcome to Leh.

Reaching Leh is the end of one journey and beginning of another. One can spend days on end just exploring the local sights and then proceeding to short trips around Leh. If you are staying in Leh you are most likely living in or near the Leh market. Although, online bookings beforehand will ensure availability of hotels & tours on reaching, you’ll find many tour operators in the market for the spur-of-the-moment plans.

In fact, there are flyers and posters in internet café and shops with info about the trips one can take, and availability of space in shared tours.Depending on your interest, time and level of fitness there are monasteries, architectural delights, lakes, valleys, treks, biking, camping, eating & drinking joints and much more available here.

Here are my Top Ten must do in Leh. Please note that it is impossible to rank them so they are in no particular order.

LEH MARKET

Since you’d already be in LEH MARKET, I think it is best to start there. You know, get into the groove of taking life easy and enjoying the little things in life. There are small Tibetan bazaars, general stores and some souvenir shops spread about in the many lanes of Leh Market. Get a custom made embroidered patch made in an hour, some pashmina shawls, prayer wheel or flags and silver artifacts.

The best part about this market is the food; you’ll find influence from all over the world. If you feel the restaurants remind you the vacation you had last winter in Goa, it may be because you went to the very same restaurant in Goa. Most restaurateurs move to Goa in the winter season. What a life! Right?

We spent many hours at a German Bakery run by a sardarji & watched a FIFA match with bonfire at Summer Harvest. Good Times!

PANGONG TSO

Now that you are acclimatized, lets venture out. My list starts with the mighty PANGONG TSO. It is about 150 km from Leh and I can bet you have seen nothing like this before. On the way we crossed Chang La.  It is the 3rd highest motor able road in the planet! Pangong is an army outpost, requiring one to climb 17,500 feet before descending to 14,000 feet to reach there. Some trivia – the lake is 134 km long, 6o% of it is in China and the rest in India. It is an Endorheic Lake, meaning it is a closed drainage basin that retains water without any outflows to rivers or oceans & the Lake freezes completely in the winter even though it is a salt water lake. There is a garnet hill near the lake, and I have actually picked up rocks with teeny-tiny pieces of the red garnet in them.

KHARDUNG LA

KHARDUNG LA lies at a distance of about 40 kms of Leh. It is believed to be the highest motorable pass & road in the world, 5602 meters above sea level . To visit Khardung-la foreigners need to obtain special permit in Leh.

NUBRA VALLEY

NUBRA VALLEY was a stopping place on the historic Silk Route. Caravans of traders along this route used the double-humped Bactrian camels. People travel far and wide to see the camels today. To get to Nubra Valley, one has to take the road through Khardung La. The drive to Nubra Valley is enchanting, especially crossing the Shyok Valley. Permits will be required here also.

TSO MORIRI

TSO MORIRI in the Rupshu Valley is a remnant lake, these lakes are originally structural but represent the remnants of vast lakes. Some other examples are Tso Kar, Pangong Tso and Dal Lake. Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve is heaven for wild life photographers. Since you are there, check out the Korzok monastery which lies on the western bank of the lake is one of the oldest settlements of the world.

MONASTRIES & GOMPAS

MONASTRIES & GOMPAS are and will always be the major attraction for tourists travelling to Leh. My recommendation is seeing Hemis, Thikse, Spitok & if time permits- Shey.

Among all the monasteries in Leh, I have a special place in my heart for Hemis. I saw the Hemis festival many years ago and can still recall the fascinating images. The annual festival of the gompa is held in the summer in the honour of Guru Padma Sambhav’s birth anniversary. Situated 40 Kms from Leh, Hemis is the wealthiest, best known and biggest Gompa of Ladakh. It also has the largest thanka in Ladakh which is unfurled once in 12 years. The next unfurling will take place in 2016.

Thikse is located about 17 kms south of Leh travelling towards Karu. It is probably the most photographed monasteries of Leh. A magnificent complex with its red and yellow main building rising grandly above the numerous monk cells. The Chamba lhakhang houses an impressive Maitreya Buddha. The roof of this monastery provides a panoramic view with the Zanskar range in the backdrop.

Spitok stands prominently on the top of the hillock at one end of the airport runway. The fifteenth century monastery houses, what many consider to be Kali Mata. I have read that it is actually Yidam Dorje Jigje. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms, and an awe inspiring 600 year old painting in the temple.

Shey Monestry, 15 kms upstream from Leh, the palace was once residence of the royal family. The palace is believed to have been the seat of power of the pre-Tibetian kings. A 7.5 metre high copper statue of Buddha, plated with Gold, and the largest of its kind, is installed in the palace. It is now in ruins and restoration work is going on.

HALL OF FAME MUSEUM

Learn some facts about Ladakh at the HALL OF FAME MUSEUM. The Museum houses information related to Leh culture, way of life, history, vegetation and animals. It is a fascinating place run by the Indian Army showcasing the history, glory and the tools of the trade related to army operations defending India in some of the most hostile terrain in the world. It also has a captivating display on the Siachen battlefield – the highest and more arduous battlefield in the world.

SHANTI STUPA

SHANTI STUPA was constructed by a Japanese Buddhist organization, known as ‘The Japanese for World Peace’. I recommend a visit for the spectacular views at sunrise and sunset.

GURDWARA PATHAR SAHIB

GURDWARA PATHAR SAHIB is just 20 kms away from Leh. It is a must stopover for hundreds of truck drivers who pass through the Leh-Kargil road and also for Army convoys and has an interesting legend behind it.

CHUMATHANG

Enjoy a spa experience by diving into one of the hot springs at CHUMATHANG. The hot sulphur water springs are known to have healing properties for various ailments like arthritis.

Places of interest that didn’t make it to my top ten lists are

The Leh Palace, that includes Namgyal Tsemo Gomp and Tsemo Castle. Alchi Gompa 70 kms from Leh. Phyang monastery 17 kms from Leh. Lamayuru 125 km from Leh. Other almost famous monasteries – Chemrey Monastery, Deskit Monasteries, Stok Monastery, Matho Monastery, Karsha Monastery, Phyang Monastery, Shachukul Monastery, Dakthok Monastery, Sani Monastery,Soma Gompa and about a dozen more. Jama Masjid a historical mosque is situated in the heart of Leh town and Masjid-e-Shah-e-Hamdan in Shey village.

Some other non-religious attractions include Magnetic Hill, Panamik- another hot water spring that bubbles out of the earth and is reputed to have therapeutic qualities.

Sangam of Indus and Zanskar just 4 km before Nimmu village. Enjoy the rafting experience on Indus and Zanskar Rivers only between July and September.

Drokpa Valley, where the main attraction is the Drokpa Community resides, considered as the last race of the original Aryans.

There are many opportunities for adventure sports lovers like trekking, camping, river rafting, mountain climbing, cycling, camel safari, yak safari…the list is endless.

I can bet on one thing. Whatever you see or do, you will not come back with any complains.

 

(c) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal and Sharninder Khera

 

Manali – Leh travel guide

The Manali to Leh road route is considered by many to be the greatest and arguably the toughest motorcycling road in the world.

Every year, dozens of bikers from all over the world ride over this road, which crosses over some of the highest mountain passes of the world.

The road is open from the end of May to about October, give or take a few weeks. The exact timings are dictated by the amount of snowfall that the passes recieve each year.

After my trip last year, a lot of people have been asking me time and again about the trip and for some tips on this route.

The Manali to Leh road route is considered by many to be the greatest and arguably the toughest motorcycling road in the world. Every year, dozens of bikers from all over the world ride over this road, which crosses over some of the highest mountain passes of the world. The road is open from the end of May to about October, give or take a few weeks. The exact timings are dictated by the amount of snowfall that the passes recieve each year. This road is maintained by the Indian Army and is of strategic importance and so the Army takes all pains to ensure that for the few summer months, the road is never closed for more than a day or two, even if the weather is particularly bad.

The Route: Manali – Rohtang Pass – Tandi – Keylong – Jispa – ZingZing Bar – Baralacha La (Pass) – Bharatpur – SarchuGhata loops – Nakee La – LachLung La – Pang – More PlainsTanglang La – Upshi – Karu – Leh

Planning

You can never plan enough to ride on this highway. There are just too many unknowns. Even if everything else is all hunky dory, the weather can play spoilsport anytime. The only way to ride on this route is to keep an open mind and be open to exploring new options.

The Manali-Leh highway is full of bad roads, water crossings, glaciers (if you’re lucky) and crosses over some of the world’s highest passes and such the journey is highly unpredictable. Be prepared for uncertainties like inclemental weather, tyre punctures and any other mechanical problems with your vehicle. Carry any spares you think your vehicle might need and prepare for the worst.

Plan to take atleast three days to complete the journey although some people do the entire stretch in two days, it doesn’t make sense to rush up. The real fun is in the journey and not the destination.

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Day 14: Pathankot to Chandigarh

The last day of a road trip like this one is always the boring. On one hand, none of us wanted to go back to our regular lives and on the other hand we were looking forward to being with family again. I had only about 200 kms to cover today since I was going to spend the night at Chandigarh at my parents place and the rest of the gang were going back to Delhi which was a good 500 kms away. It was quite humid in the morning but thankfuly it was cloudy and we didn’t have to face the summer sun.

We had barely gotten out of Pathankot and were getting petrol filled when it started drizzling. We took out our rain gear and kept moving on. Within a couple of minutes the drizzle turned into a heavy rain and when I saw, heavy, I mean downright downpour. It was almost as if the gods had started throwing buckets ful of water at us. The roads started getting flooded in no time and it was getting difficult to drive. I was actually more worried about the water getting in the engine since the water was almost till the exhaust. Our rain gear also was of no help in this downpour and we were all soaked. Fortunately, I had the camera and my phone stored in a polyethene bag seperately so that was safe. I would have loved to take a picture of the flooded streets but that was the last thing on my mind at the time.

We stopped at a roadside dhaba for a nice and filling breakfast of paranthas. The turn off for Chandigarh was a little ahead and we bade farewell to each other. I moved on towards Chandigarh and the rest to Delhi. The weather was lovely and I reached Chandigarh safe and sound for lunch and slept peacefuly for hours at home after eating a hearty meal 🙂

Day 13: Srinagar to Pathankot

We couldn’t see much of Srinagar in the evening since coming in to the cantonement after getting out would have been a problem for us and also since Srinagar isn’t the safest of places, the cantonement closes its gates in the evening and no one is allowed to go out or come in after that.

The gates open at around 7 in the morning and there was no point getting up before that, so we had a good sleep and got up at our own sweet time. Got out of the cantt, after collecting our cameras and mobile phones which had been deposited at the main gate, and started on towards the city to get petrol for our bikes. Bikes tanked up we started towards the Dal lake and stopped there to take a couple of quick shots.

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Day 12: Kargil to Srinagar

The trip was coming to an end and we were both sad and happy about it. Happy because we’d finally be back to civilisation, to our families and sad because, lets face it, we were having way too much fun.

We got up early and since the plan was to reach srinagar by afternoon, we had to be quick. We tied the luggage to the bikes, made a few quick calls back home to let them know we’re safe. Kargil was the hotbed of activity during the Indo-Pak war in 1999, otherwise known as the Kargil war, and our families back home were rightfully worried when we didn’t get in touch at all after leaving Leh.

Kargil is a major military base and the town has Army presence all over. There are points in the town where the enemy (Pakistan) posts are visible and signs like the one below have been put up to warn visitors of the presence of the Pak army.

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Day 11: Leh to Kargil

Our journey to Leh was finally coming to an end and none of us were in the mood to go back to civilisation. I wish we could have stayed there for a couple of more months, if not days. We had to get petrol filled in the bikes and so there was no point getting up early and then wait for the gas station to open. We slept well, got up, got ready, tied up our bikes and went to get fuel filled. Pandey and Akhilesh were late as usual and we told them that we’ll meet them at the gas station.

They were taking a long time and we got tired of waiting for them and so we called them and told them to reach the pathar sahab gurudwara that we were supposed to stop at. Pathar sahab is about 30 kms from Leh and is believed to be the place where guru nanak meditated while in Leh. A demon had thrown a big rock on the guru from a nearby hill while the guru was meditating. The rock on touching the guru melted and the shape of the guru’s back can still be seen embedded in the rock at the gurudwara. The place is now maintained by the Indian Army.

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Day 10: Leh Khardung La and Back

A trip to the highest motorable road in the world. This is what we had been riding the last 9 days for. Granted Pangong Tso was spectacular and offered a much better view, but you can’t take the brownie points away from a ride like todays.

Apjoo had taken permits for the Nubra valley for all of us and most of the group was actually planning to spend the night at hunder or diksit after crossing over Khardung La. I wasn’t too interested and wanted a rest day for myself. It had been raining the whole of yesterday and last night was also pretty cold. But we didn’t realise that it could have snowed at Khardung La and because everyone else wanted to go further to Nubra, we all started early. Which was a bad thing ! It was freakin’ cold and within a few kms of the ascent to K’La, we had to stop and warm our hands on the bike’s engine. The gloves were of no use at all.

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Day 9: Leh city

We had initially kept this day as a free day to recuperate from the journey till now. None of us wanted to mount the bikes and were all in the mood to actually walk and explore Leh. But, of course, laziness took over and apart from the walk till German bakery for breakfast in the morning , we rode to all the other places we visited, which was good ’cause otherwise we wouldn’t have ventured as far as we did.

After a nice and heavy breakfast, we went for a little shopping in the market. The Leh market is filled with fake chinese clothes and shoes. For some reason, everything seemed more expensive than what we were used to and some of the shopkeepers even downright refused to tell us their prices saying that we won’t be able to afford their wares ! Guess, they were more used to the firangs walking around the streets and willing to pay a premium for the substandard goods on display.

The shopkeepers aside, Leh seemed like a very calm place with a nice and friendly people.

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Day 8: Tang Tse to Leh

The accomodation that we stayed in at Tang Tse was easily the most luxurious we’d stayed in ever since the trip started. That showed since none of us wanted to leave our cosy beds in the morning. The guest rooms were next to a small stream and overlooking a garden with ducks and rabbits for company !

Woke up everyone, loaded up our bikes, had a nice breakfast and in between all this called the officer in-charge of the mess to thank him for the accomodation and to ask for a favour 🙂 None of us were able to figure out the problem with Akhilesh’s bike and so we asked the officer if he could get someone to look at it. We were in luck since he found someone at the EME workshop and sent him to our rescue. He diagnosed that the vehicle’s ignition switch has a problem and the proposal that he had was, well, a little extreme but it worked for us. He changed the wiring to bypass the ignition switch and managed to start the bike. That worked for us and we asked Akhilesh to stay ahead of all of us and to not stop anywhere.

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Day 7: Karu to Tang Tse (and Pangong Tso)

This was the day I’d been waiting for. A ride over the mighty Chang La and a glimpse of the Pangong Tso. I was looking forward to this even more than the ride to the highest motorable pass in the world, Khardung la. This was going to be an exciting day 🙂

Apjoo, btw, decided to skip this part of the trip since he wanted to acclimatize properly for the ride to Khardung la, and get permits for Nubra, if possible.

Except for Sandhu, Kunal and Akhilesh who got petrol filled from leh, the rest of us needed to get petrol filled as there wasn’t any other pump on the way to pangong. The only petrol pump was about 5 kms before Leh and that meant a 70 kms round trip for us. Fortunately, we found shopkeepers in the Karu market selling petrol in black. We decided to take our chance and get petrol filled from here only.

Akhilesh and Pandey went back to Leh in the morning to get Akhilesh’s rented bullet repaired, which had given them problems last night. Kunal’s rented pulsar was so far doing well.

Petrol topped up, permits in order we started around 10 in the morning for Pangong. The road was pretty good for the first 10 kms or so and the ascent for Chang la started almost as soon as we left Karu. This was going to be easy … or so we thought.

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