Ladakh is popularly known as "The land of Numerous Passes", "The Land of Mystic Lamas", "The Broken Moon" and "The Last Shangri-La". It is a land like no other, situated in Indian Himalaya in Jammu and Kashmir State.
Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Greater Himalaya and the Karakoram, and it lies transversely two others, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range.
Leh is one of the favorite tourist destinations located in the northernmost part of India. Lapped in the snow-covered fringes of the Himalayas, Leh has been the center of Tibetan-Buddhist Culture since ages. Its colorful Gompa have attracted the devout Buddhists from all over the globe. Besides, it is also a favorite hiking locale and is known for some of the best hikes in the country.
Ladakh is a high altitude desert plateau, once covered by an extensive lake system, the vestiges of which still exists on its South-East plateau of Rupshu and Chushul - in drainage basins with evocative names like Tso-Moriri, Tsokar and Pangong Lake. With Dras, Zanskar and the Suru Valley on the Himalayan's Northern flank.
Leh, headquarter of Leh District is the largest town of the region. It is located to the north of the Indus River at an elevation of 3600m above the sea level. The town is dominated by the Namgyal Tsemo (victory peak) built by King Tashi Namgyal in 16th century, as a royal residence and the nine-storey Namgyal Palace built by King Sengge Namgyal on his victory in reunification of the Upper and Lower Ladakh in 17 century. Leh became the capital of Stod (upper Ladakh) during the reign of King Graspa Bum- Lde, who ruled Ladakh from 1400 to 1430 AD. In the later period, Leh became an important center for trade in Central Asia, along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and ultimately between India and China.
Right below Leh Palace is the old mosque, a Sunni Muslim mosque. It was constructed under the threat of military action by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb which prompted King Deldan Namgyal to build the mosque in 1661. The mosque reflects a mixture of Islamic and Tibetan architecture and can accommodate more than 500 people.
There is a religious coexistence of Buddhism and Islam, have been living in Harmony in Leh. Thus, Ladakh an age-old tradition of cohesiveness. The little section of Christian community in Leh were converted from Tibetan Buddhism by German Moravian missionaries who first established a church in 1885.
In order to provide a transparent development in the area the conception of the council was conceived and Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) was constituted in 1995. The council has 30 councilors, out of which 4 are nominated and rest are elected. The Chief Executive Councilor heads this council. He is also the Chairman of the council.
Unlike other districts of the State, LAHDC also governs the administration in Leh. The Deputy Commissioner, Leh also holds the power of Chief Executive Officer LAHDC.
In 1974 Ladakh was thronged open for foreign tourists. Since then Leh became the centre for tourism related activities in the region and today, Ladakh is among the most preferred tourist destination for foreign as well as domestic tourists.
Leh has a cold, arid climate with long, harsh winter season that is, from October to early March. The winter temperature in Leh dips down at maximum to -29 degree Celsius and during summers the mercury rises to a high of 33 degree Celsius.
Leh provides medium and lower class accommodation, with hundreds of guesthouses and hotels, which can suit every budget. There are number of good restaurants that offers palette of good multicuisine dishes for a reasonable price. There are number of tour Operator/Travel Agents around the town, which look after traveler’s requirements like booking oh hotels, providing tour guides, different tour packages and taxi services etc.
The headquarter of Kargil district is around 204 Kms. to the east of Srinagar and 234 Kms. to the west of Leh.It was a transit point of caravans on their way to and from China, Tibet, Yarken and Kashmir till 1949, but since 1974 with the influx of tourists the region has been replaced as centre for tourism related activities. Tourists traveling between Zangskar, Leh and Srinagar have to make a night halt here, before starting for the second day of their journey.
Kargil is located on the bank of the Suru River which flows at around 10,000 ft. high. Here people were followers of Buddhist religion till the 14th century AD. Presently, Kargil is inhabited by Muslims of Shia sect.
Suru Valley :
Suru valley has a beautiful land scape to see especially when it gets dotted by flowers in the summer. The valley expands from Kargil town upto the Penzi La watershed, from where the Suru River rises. The valley constitutes a large population, mainly of Tibetan-Dard Muslims, who converted to Islam in the 15th century. The peaks of Nun (7,135m) and Kun (7,035m) Massif add to the beautification of this region.
The Kartse Khar (palace) is an ancient village known for its 7m tall rock carved statue of Maitriya Buddha which is an evidence of the presence of Buddhist community in the valley in the past. There are other magnificent Stupas and rock carved statues to be seen in Suru valley, if one wishes to explore.
Panikhar is the best station to undertake mountaineering expeditions to the various Peaks surrounding the valley. Tanyol, the approach base for climbing Mt. Nun, is just 6 Kms. further up the valley along the road. A short walk up the hill slopes from here takes one across the Sentik Ridge to the base camp on the rim of the ice plateau. Another very interesting hike is to the Nun- Kun view saddle (3810m) in the Parkachik ridge. This requires 3 hours of walking along verdant slopes overlooking the fertile valley below.
Drass is around 60 Kms. to the west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar. The place has beautiful pasture grounds and majestic mountain peaks surrounding it. Drass is the second coldest inhabited place in the world, where the temperature goes as low as - 50 in winter.
Drass has become famous in recent years because of Pakistan’s misadventure in the Tiger hill and Tolloling areas. One can have a lovely view of Tiger hill from Drass village.
The inhabitants in Drass consist mainly of the Dards stock, an Aryan race believed to have originally migrated to these villages of the western Himalaya from Central Asian steppes. The language they speak is Shina, which is very much unlike the Ladakhi dialects spoken elsewhere in the Ladakh region. Polo is the favorite time pass of the inhabitants of Drass.
Buddhist remains at Drass:
Drass is dominated by Muslims, which was predominant a Buddhist region, converted to Muslims in 15th Century. The only Buddhist remains of note in the whole area are images carved in relief on stone of Maitriya, Avaloketeshvara, a lotus flower, a man on horseback and a stupa.
Zangskar valley lies to the south west of Leh, surrounded by the Himalayan and Zangskar ranges. It is the most isolated of all the trans- Himalayan valleys. Zangskar comprises two main valleys of Stod (Doda chu) and Lungnak (Tsarab chu), which converge below at Padum. The valley has an area of about 5,000 sqr. Kms. and is situated at an elevation of 13,154 ft. The area remains inaccessible for nearly 7 months in the year. As winter approaches all the high passes get close and the river freeze on the surface. Zanskaris walk along the frozen river to reach the Indus River in Nimo village, which is known as the Chadar trek.
The route from Kargil to Padum via Penzi La is the only motorable road to reach Zangskar valley, which remains open from June to November. The Kargil to Padum Road was completed in the late 70’s. Even today this road is not mettaled and has been neglected by Govt. Localites of the region are trying to get the construction of Chadar road running from Nimo to Padum along the Zanskar river , which would then connect Zanskar from Leh in 5hr.
Padum is the sub-tehsil of Zangskar which is 464 kms from Leh and 234 kms from Kargil. Once the Capital of the Zangskar valley, today it is the administrative headquarter of the region and probably the most populous settlement of Zangskar. There is a small market along the main road with hotels, restaurants and number of shops. The town has a newly contructed Mosque and a recently formed Muslim community. Stakrimo Gonpa on a hill side and the 10th century monument carved on a huge rock near the river bank, provides an epigraphic evidence that the region was influnced by Budddhism since ancient period.
The main attractions in Zangskar are the ancient Buddhist monasteries like Zongkhul, Bardan, Stongde, Karsha, Phuktal and Sani Palace. The beauty of these monasteries are beyond description and most of the monasteries can be visited in a day or two by Jeep from Padum.
Padum is the head quarter of Zanskar Valley and it provides Hotels, Guest Houses and couple of restaurants. Jeep is available for the sight seeing of nearby monasteries.
Nubra Valley :
Nubra Valley Known as Ldumra (the valley of flowers) is situated in the north of Leh. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 ft. above the sea level. The main attraction in this area is the Bactarian Camels (Shaggy double hump Camel) around sand dunes, Deskit and Samstanling monasteries. This Tour can be organized for 3 days 2 nights stay.
The road journey to Nubra valley leads through the world highest motorable road, Khardongla Pass which is at a hight of 18380 ft above sea level and around 50 kms from Leh. After crossing the pass, you can have a view of Khardong village, Khalser and Deskit (the main villages of Nubra valley). The Deskit village offers Guest Houses and lower budget hotels. The Camel safari can be organized from Deskit to Hunder village for 2 hours. Hundar village has a small monastery and is located on the ancient Silk Route an experience to share.
Changthang means Eastern Flat Land; it is the land of nomads located in the east of Leh on the Chinese border. The average altitude of the area is around 14600m above sea level. This area is also known as Rupsho valley. The main attraction of this area is Changpa nomads, wild animals, lakes and rare birds.
The Tsomoriri Lake is a beautiful mountain bounded expanse of water, around 240 Kms. from Leh in Rupsho Valley. The Lake is located at 14,000 ft. near a small village of Korzok. One can also visit the Korzok Monastery of 19th century that houses Shakyamuni Buddha and other statues. The Nomadic people are most outstanding feature of this Lake area, which graze herd of goats and yaks. About 76 kms from Tsomoriri is located another beautiful Lake, Tsokar (the salt lake) in this area.
Trip to these two Lakes can be organized in two to three days by Jeep and in two to three weeks by trek.
Pangong Lake is 40 miles in length and nearly 2 to 4 miles in width at a height of 4267m above the sea level. One third of the lake is in India and the rest comes under China. The colour of the water is the most striking feature of this lake.
Dhahanu (The Land of Aryans):
Dhahanu is situated to the south west of Leh, around 163 kms, passing through the beautiful villages of Kaltsey, Domkhar, Skurbuchan and Achinathang. There are many small villages but only two villages of Dha and Hanu are open for tourist. Being on lower altitude Dhahanu is warmer than Leh.
The main attraction of this tour is coming across the Drokpa Community considered to be the last race of Aryans confined to the valley. Their feature is pure Indo Aryan and they have preserved their racial purity down the centuries. Their culture and religious practices are very similar to ancient pre- Buddhist religion known as Bon-Chos. This tour can be done in two days with one night stay.