Hidden over high passes in an arid, largely treeless rain shadow, Ladakh has classic Trans-Himalayan scenery, huge khaki-coloured valleys and harsh rock walls brought alive by the occasional splash of green.
Traditional Tibetian Buddhist culture remains intact here, with spectacularly located monasteries that burst into life during medieval masked dance festivals that have changed little in 500 years.
For travellers there’s a bit of everything – epic treks, rugged valleys, snow-covered mountains, endless hills, barren lands, sparkling high-altitude mountain lakes, clean and curvy roads and a well-developed backpacker infrastructure based around the capital, Leh.
Few places in India are at once so traveller-friendly and yet so enchanting and hassle-free as mountain-framed Leh. Dotted with stupas and crumbling mud-brick houses, the Old Town is dominated by a dagger of steep rocky ridge topped by an imposing Tibetan-style palace and fort.
Lamayuru is a must visit, for its other worldly moon like landscapes and one of the oldest and largest monasteries of Ladakh. Lamayuru’s Yungdrung Gompa is one of the most photogenic Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, capping the village’s central hill, whose eroded slopes are huddled with picturesque homes and pitted with caves.
Nubra is a high altitude cold dessert with scant vegetation except along river beds. The ancient Silk Route passes through this valley. The deep-cut Shayok and Nubra River Valleys offer tremendous scenery on a grand scale, with green oasis villages surrounded by thrillingly stark slopes, boulder fields and harsh arid mountains. There are sand dunes, monasteries, a ruined palace and – at Turtuk and Bogdang – a whole different culture (Balti) to discover.
At 5602m, Khardung La is one of the world’s highest motorable passes. It’s a difficult mountain pass with curvy roads snaking through several mountains with deep valleys. With numerous hairpin bends and blind corners, driving through this pass is a nerve-racking experience, however, the views are breathtakingly beautiful!
The most talked about (and not without reason!) attraction of Ladakh is the Pangong Lake which undoubtedly is one of the most peaceful (and obviously beautiful) places on this planet.
This mesmerising lake plays artist with a surreal palette of vivid blues, which contrasts magically with the surrounding colourful mineral swirls of starkly arid, snow-brushed mountains. The scene is also striking for the almost total lack of habitation along shores of turquoise waters.
Situated at a height of 14270 feet (4350m), this picturesque 134 km long and 5 km wide lake is one of the largest salt water lakes in Asia. About one-third of this salt water lake lies in India while the rest is in China.
One of Ladakh’s magical great lakes, the tear drop shaped Tso Moriri shimmers with an ever-changing series of reflections in its vivid blue waters. At a staggering altitude of 4595 Meters or 15075 feet above sea level, higher than the Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake, this serene saltwater lake is about 7 KM wide at its broadest point and about 20 KM long. In fact, it is the largest high altitude lake in India.
Flanked by lofty mountains, this beautiful lake and the area around it attract a range of wildlife, including migratory birds, marmots, wild asses and Tibetan wolves.
Ladakh’s most celebrated trekking route follows a relatively straightforward and scenically glorious route through timeless villages in the roadless Markha Valley before crossing the Kongmaru La (5260m). It is a perfect combination of beautiful trans-himalayan landscape with ladakhi villages. There are good chances to spot some high altitude wildlife as well as experience the life of nomadic families as they herd their yaks in these big and beautiful valleys.
The city is deep within a high-sided river valley. The landscape looks more attractive if you climb to the little Central Asian Museum, which celebrates Kargil’s former glory as a trading post on caravan routes.
Majestically rugged, the greatest attraction of this mountain-hemmed Ladakhi Buddhist valley is simply getting there, preferably on a trek. As in Ladakh, the main sights are timeless monasteries, notably at Karsha, Stongdey, Sani and Phuktal, the latter only accessible on foot. The area’s tiny capital, Padum, is not much more than a village with a few shops.