Location and history
Ladakh (“land of high passes”) is a region in northern India. It is located between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Himalayas to the south. Ladakh is well-known for its remote mountain scenery. It is inhabited by a mix of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan people. Their la nguage is an archaic dialect of the Tibetan language. It is sometimes called “Little Tibet”, because it has been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture. Ladakh is one of the least populated regions in the area.
Historically, the region of Ladakh included neighboring Baltistan, the Indus and Zanskar Valleys, Lahaul and Spiti, Aksai Chin and the Nubra Valley. The modern region borders Tibet to the east, Lahaul and Spiti to the south, and Kashmir, Jammu and Baltistan to the west. The largest town in Ladakh is Leh. It is one of the few remaining places in South Asia where Buddhism is very strong. A majority of Ladakhis are Tibeta Buddhists and the rest are mostly Shia Muslims. Leh is followed by Kargil as the second largest town in Ladakh.
How to go
The nearest airport to Ladakh is Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh which is just 3.8 km from the main city. The cabs are available outside the airport; by which you can get transferred to the heart of Ladakh easily. This is one of the highest commercial airports that is directly connected to the major cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu. The International travelers can directly board a flight from the major cities like Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi to reach Leh Airport by air and then ultimately to Ladakh, by a cab.
Places to Visit
Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake is an endorheic lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies within the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The lake is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 km2. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. It is not a part of the Indus river basin area and geographically a separate landlocked river basin.
Zanskar or Zahar (locally) or Zangskar is a subdistrict or tehsil of the Kargil district, which lies in the Indian union territory of Ladakh. The administrative centre is Padum. Zanskar, together with the neighboring region of Ladakh, was briefly a part of the kingdom of Guge in Western Tibet. The Zanskar Range is a mountain range in the union territory of Ladakh that separates Zanskar from Ladakh. Geologically, the Zanskar Range is part of the Tethys Himalaya, an approximately 100-km-wide synclinorium formed by strongly folded and imbricated, weakly metamorphosed sedimentary series. The average height of the Zanskar Range is about 6,000 m (19,700 ft). Its eastern part is known as Rupshu.
The Chadar Trek or the Zanskar Gorge is a winter trail in the Zanskar, in the Indian administered union territory of Ladakh. Traditionally the only means of travel in the area during the harsh winter months, the trail has become popular with international adventure tourists.
Nubra is a subdivision and a tehsil in the Indian union territory of Ladakh. Its inhabited areas form a tri-armed valley cut by the Nubra and Shyok rivers. Its Tibetan name Ldumra means “the valley of flowers”. Diskit, the headquarters of Nubra, is about 150 km north from Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The Shyok River meets the Nubra or Siachan River to form a large valley that separates the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. The Shyok River is a tributary of the Indus River. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 ft. i.e. 3048 metres above the sea level. The common way to access this valley is to travel over the Khardung La pass from Leh town.
Hemis National Park:
Hemis National Park (or Hemis High Altitude National Park) is a high altitude national park in the eastern Ladakh Union Territory of the Republic of India. Globally famous for its snow leopards, it is believed to have the highest density of them in any protected area in the world It is the only national park in India that is north of the Himalayas, the largest notified protected area in India (largest National park) and is the second largest contiguous protected area, after the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and surrounding protected areas. The park is home to a number of species of endangered mammals, including the snow leopard. Hemis National Park is India’s protected area inside the Palearctic ecozone, outside the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary northeast of Hemis, and the proposed Tso Lhamo Cold Desert Conservation Area in North Sikkim. The park is bounded on the north by the banks of the Indus River, and includes the catchments of Markha, Sumdah and Rumbak, and parts of the Zanskar Range.
Magnet Hill is a “Cyclops hill” located near Leh in Ladakh, India. The layout of the area and surrounding slopes create the optical illusion of a hill. The hill road is actually a downhill road. Objects and cars on the hill road may appear to roll uphill in defiance of gravity when they are, in fact, rolling downhill. It is 7.5 km southeast of Nimmoo and 26.5 km west of Leh on Srinagar-Ladakh road.
Why visit Ladakh?
Sweeping scenic beauty
Enclosed in between the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges, the Ladakh region is a highland that is layered in spectral of red, orange, brown, green, and grey with large crystal blue water bodies. The rugged landscape under the stark blue sky, aligned by snow crested peaks and some lush green patches of vegetation along the valleys formed by the perennial streams together make for a surreal scenic beauty. So if you are still thinking that Ladakh is just a barren landscape, I’m afraid, you are going to miss the shelter in heaven.
I know you must have tried out both momos and thukkpas out here in the city at some Indo-Tibetan restaurant or at any edge eateries. But out there in the mass of indigenous Indo-Tibetan sphere you will just relish each bite of momos and slurp of thukkpa. Just imagine that there is a mystical spice hidden in the valley that top-ups the steamy momos to a lip smacking snack and lashing of red chilli in the bowl of thukkpa will just counteract the chilly and dry winds ensuing a great solace.
Vibrant and indigenous festivals
You might have read or heard about the indigenous culture of the Indo-Tibetans – about their lifestyle, rituals and festivals. I bet it will be a pleasure to your eyes if you are visiting Ladakh during the auspicious festivals of Losar, Hemis, Naro Nasjal, Kalachakra, Dosmoche, Tak, and Phyang. These festivals are not just vibrant and unique in their own ways, but if you trigger the traveler inside you, you will find a sensational vibe of ritual that drives away the evil spirit. And if you can’t trigger that out, you have got to capture and enjoy the drama performance, which is a fusion of drums and trumpets, and thumping steps of the masked Lamas.
Lose yourself in the barren panorama
So, when you can afford your sound health to that altitude then why not to spend a bit more and explore the barren and rugged beauty that is dispersed throughout the region. It is a region where you can breathe in some fresh air, let go all the weariness and explore the untraceable landscape of Ladakh.
Limber up your photography skills
The mountainscapes, desertscapes and riverscapes altogether offers a wonderful scenic frame to limber up your photography skills. So you have got a chance to click countless candid moments. Not to miss moments are the heavenly horizons, unplugged landscapes, wildlife and culture and sparkling blue lakes.
Conquer the highest trekkable peaks and mountain passes
You know Ladakh is quite popular for certain trekkable peaks like Stok Kangri, Nun-Kun and Kang-Yatse? Well conquering that altitude isn’t a cup of tea but you are still fit to go for it. You can dream of a strenuous climb and days like Eskimos! Even if you think it is hard for you to get acclimatized to the high altitude of 6,000 meters and above, you got those historical mountain passes that used to be the trade routes once upon a time between India and China. Once you conquer one of these mountain passes I bet you will receive the best bird’s eye view of the distant valleys and remote villages tucked in the midst of the Trans-Himalayan ranges. Some of the notable mountain passes are the Khardung La, Tanglang La, Chang La, Wari La, and Namshang La.
Being an abode of some of the ancient Buddhist monasteries and gompas
The Ladakh region is also notable for housing some of the ancient Buddhist monasteries and gompas that chronicle the footsteps of Buddhism in India. The vibrant festivals, indigenous attire and strange rituals are some other things that you are going to see in addition when you visit these monasteries. Further, the artistic décor, ancient manuscripts and antiques like statues, thangkas and murals are simply going to take you back to the pre-historic era. Some of the notable Buddhist monasteries and gompas in the Ladakh region are the Hemis monastery, Alchi monastery, Matho monastery, Spituk monastery, Thiksey monastery, Stakna monastery, Stok monastery, and Lamayuru monastery.
Acclimatize your driving skills and snaking through mountain passes
If you are a traveler on wheels the aslant roads snaking through the barren mountains will give you an opportunity to acclimatize your driving skills. The drive from Manali to Leh, crossing some of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world; an expedition through Khardung La to Nubra Valley; and a thrilling journey from Leh to Srinagar is some of the best routes in Ladakh region where you can whizz and snake through the mountainscapes.
Stretch your money with cheap accomodations
Ladakh is one such destination where you are going to spend much on travelling than lodging. You will find neat and tidy rooms in Leh starting at just Rs. 600 even during the peak tourist season. Then you can also find accommodation in some local villages in the Ladakh region and experience the local culture throughout your trip. Further, you have plenty of options for camping in Ladakh.
Away from the Hi-tech life, live like a nomad
Overlooking the sparkling blue Pangong Lake an overnight camping is much needed for techies like you. Just imagine a life other than technology, civilization and infrastructure and you step into the wide open space of nature. How about a part of your life spending at the Hunder Sand Dunes? It is beyond your dreams. Amid the towering mountains camping in Hunder Sand Dunes makes you feel like you are living life like a nomad. There again if you can afford further couple of days, camping at the Tso Moriri Wetland will surely give you an opportunity to get acquainted with some of the beautiful species of high altitude birds and animals.
So if you are still thinking why to visit the Ladakh region once in your lifetime, you have got your own vibe to add further as another reason. If you are an adventurer then the winter is the best time to exploit every bit of Ladakh. The Snow Leopard trek and Frozen River trek are some of the notable winter expeditions in the Ladakh region which you can go for. If you are a leisurescaper, then you have time to plan a customized trip starting from April and continuing till October. So what are you waiting for?