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India >> North >> Jammu and Kashmir >> Leh Ladakh
Leh Ladakh Jammu and Kashmir, North
  Overview   Holiday Ideas 
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Leh, the high altitude desert kingdom with an area of 45,110 square kilometres in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, India is now the second largest district in the country (after Kutch, Gujarat) in terms of area. The 17th century capital of the Namgyal Empire is now the base station from where one can go on jaunts to the adjoining valleys of Ladakh.

 

The azure skies, the lofty, barren mountains in varied hues, the snow capped peaks and fortress-like monasteries which encompasses this quaint cold desert town lends a vivid canvas to the innumerable roadside cafes, restaurants and beer bars, the carpet and curio shops.

 

One glimpse of the picturesque countryside with innumerable prayer flags flutter in the gentle breeze, 'Juley' the local greeting, having a soft sweet ring, the crisp clean environs acts as a soothing balm transporting you to a magical world  - the Land of Lamas.

 

Word of caution: - 'Don't be a Gama in the Land of Lama!'

 Orientation

General Zorawar’s Fort

At a trekking distance of 30 mins from Leh city bazaar stands this fort, a historical monument with a fascinating history, which was owned by a controversial warrior General Zorawar Singh. The General is remembered here for his continued struggle with the Chinese rulers over Ladakh. Had Gulab Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Jammu, not sent this trusted general to conquer Ladakh in 1834, then the north eastern tip of India would have in all probability, been part of China.

 

Apart from the valuable and wealthy treasure of the Maharaja, the fort also houses spectacular collection of coins and specimens of all new stamps issued by the state.

 

Leh Palace and Tsemo gompa

In the early 16th century, Ladakh was divided between two brothers, with their capitals at Leh & Shey and Basgo, respectively. Bhagan, the king of Basgo, made war on his cousins at Shey and deposed them, uniting Ladakh and took on the title Namgyal, ‘The Victorious’, the name of the dynasty in power until the Dogra invaded this land in 1834.

 

Tashi Namgyal, the younger son of Bhagan, built the Temple of the Guardian Deities (Tsemo Gompa) on the hill above Leh, later known as the Namgyal Tsemo Hill. The earliest known portrait of of Ladakhi king is that of Tashi Namgyal – it exists as part of a court scene beside the guardians that adorn the walls. The temple is part of a fort, the first royal residence to be built in Leh.

 

The fifth and the greatest king of the dynasty was Sengye (‘Lion’) Namgyal who built the nine-storeyed Leh Palace, an imitation of the great Potala in Tibet. It was he who had the capital shifted from Basgo to Leh, an indication of the growing importance of Leh as a trading post on the busy Nubra trading route by then.

 

The architecturally striking Leh Mosque, in the main Bazaar is worth visiting. The Sunni Muslim Mosque is believed to stand on the land granted by King Deldan Namgyal in the 1660s, his grand mother was the Muslim Queen of Ladakh.

 

Monastery circuit

South-east of Leh, along the Indus are the monasteries of Shey, Thiksey, Hemis, Stakna and Matho and the Stok Palace. It’s not possible to visit them all in a day’s trip. A visit to Shey, Thiksey and Hemis is ideal and adequate to cover the monastery experience.

 

King Deldan Namgial (1620 - 1640) built Shey palace in the beginning of the 17th century AD. The main image in the monastery is the 3- storey statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, made of copper guilt and made by King Deldan Namgail in the memory of his father Sengye Namgail. The statue is the only of its kind in the region.

 

Thiksay Gonpa, 18 Km from Leh is the most beautiful of all monasteries in Ladakh, belonging to the Gelukpa order. The Gonpa was first build at Stakmo by Sherab Zangpo of Stod. Later Spon Paldan Sherab, the nephew of Sherab Zangpo founded the Thiksey Gompa atop a hill to north of Indus River in 1430 AD. It houses sacred shrines and many precious objects for one to see. Eighty monks are in residence. The successive reincarnations of the Skyabsje Khanpo Rinpoche act as incumbents of the monastery. Sacred dances are held at the time of the Gustor ritual, which is performed every year from the 17th to 19th day of the 9th month of Tibetan Calendar. Although there was a very large temple built in ancient times at Thiksay by Rinchen Zangpo, now it is in ruins. What remains of the building and walls can be seen at the site of the temple which was called Lakhang Nyerma , dedicated to the goddess Dorje Chenmo.

 

47 Km from Leh on the west bank of the Indus and 20 minutes from Thiksey, lies the Hemis Gompa monastery belonging to Dugpa Order, built on a green hillside surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, is hidden in a gorge. It is the biggest and wealthiest monastery in Ladakh and is a must for visitors. Sacred musk dance is performed on 9th and 10th day of the Tibetan 5th month. A stay in Hemis over night enables you to attend early morning prayers, a moving experience and strongly recommended.

 

Matho is situated at a distance of 26 km Southeast of Leh on the opposite bank of the River Indus. There is a monastery, which belongs to the Saskya Order. A Lama Dugpa Dorje founded it about five hundred years ago. Shrines and also a sacred temple dedicated to the guardian deities are to be seen there. A festival called the ‘Matho Nagrang’ takes place there every year on the 14th and 15th day of the 1st Tibetan month. All the monks perform sacred dances and two gods known as the Rongtsan make their appearance.

 

The Stakna monastery lies at a distance of 25 Km from Leh on the Right Bank of the River Indus. The monastery formed part of the one of the many religious estates offered to the great scholar saint of Bhutan called Chosje Jamyang Palkar in about 1580 AD by the Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial who had invited him to Ladakh. The monastery was built on a hill shaped like a tiger’s nose and so its name was given as Stakna (Tiger’s nose). The most important image in the monastery is that of the sacred Arya Avalokitesvara from Kamrup (Assam). There are about 30 monks in residence.

 

Stock Palace

15 Km South of Leh at the West Bank of river Indus is the Royal Palace dating from the 1840s when the invading Dogra forces deposed the king of Ladakh. The Palace is a rambling building where only a dozen of the 80 rooms are used. The Palace Museum (3 rooms) is worth visiting. It is a show piece for the royal ‘Thankas’ (many 400 years old), crown jewels, dresses, coins, parkas encrusted with turquoise and lapis lazuli as well as religious objects. The monastery founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus in 14th century, a short distance away, has some ritual dance- mask (Guru Tseschu) held on the 9th and 10 th day of the 1st month of Tibetan calendar.

 

Spituk

8 Km from Leh, the monastery standing on a conical hill with 3 chapels was founded in the 11th century by Od-de the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub Od, when he came to Maryul. He introduced a monastic community. The Principal statue is that of the lord Buddha.Within this status there is a sacred image of Amitayus, about the finger length in height, presented to King Takspa Bum-Lde by the great Tsongkhapa. Every year from the 27th to 29th days of the Tibetan 11th month the sacred dance associated with the festival of the Gustor are held. Stok Monastery, Sankar monastery and Saboo monastery are branches of Spituk Monastery. The incumbents of all these monasteries are the successive reincarnations of Skyabsje Bakula Rinpoche. The monastery is belonging to Gelugpa Order. There are about 100 monks in the monastery of Spituk.

 

Around Leh

Nubra Valley

This valley is popularly known as Ldumra or the valley of flowers. It is situated in the North of Ladakh, between the Karakoram and Ladakh ranges of Himalayas. Nubra lies at average altitude about 10,000 feet above sea level. The climate, of the areas being gentle, soil fertile and the vegetation of the area is comparatively thicker than those of the other areas of Ladakh. Shrubs, bushes and trees grow in abundance wherever there is source of water. Due to this reason Nubra has acquired its apt name - Ldumra.  The Shyok River meets the Nubra or Siachan River to form a large valley.  Nubra is a broad valley surrounded by lofty mountains from all sides. The valley assumes greater attractions at the confluence of both the rivers. Major village via Kardong, Khalsar, Tirit, Sumur, Tegar Pinchemik, Titisha and Panamik all fall along the traditional silk route. The caravans travelling to Central Asia and Kashmir through Nubra valley would stay in these villages. Panamik was the most important place for stopover for the Caravans. It served as last major transit village where the Caravans had the facility of exchanging en-route conditions and gather other important information. Before negotiating the Saser and Karakoram pass towards Central Asia. The famous hot spring of Panamik also served them as a source for drinking water, bathing and therapeutic purposes. Panamik still has its old world charm and potentiality to serve as a host to the travellers. All the areas adjoining, including the Iantsa Gompa and the Murgi waterfall just across combined with spectacular scenic view heightens its beauty and hospitality.

 

Major attraction of Nubra is the highest motorable Khardung La (18,383ft.), the majestic peaks and glaciers, enchanting valleys and villages. Diskit and Samstanling Gompa, Panamik hot spring, the double humped camel safari, river rafting, trekking and sunbathe at Hunder are also a great source of attraction for the tourists.

 

Pangong Tso

This lake is situated at an elevation of 14,000ft, lies in the Eastern sector of Ladakh, at a distance of 154 km.from Leh across ChangLa (17,000ft.). It is one of the largest and most beautiful natural brackish water lakes in the country.

 

You will be amazed by the size of this blue-green spectacle, get this – the remaining three-fourths of this 40 mile long lake is inaccessible as it lies across the border, in China.

 

Tso Moriri

This lake is situated at an elevation of 15,000 ft. above the sea level, at a distance of 240 km. from Leh, in the south-east sector of Ladakh. It is shaped like a pearl and contains large mineral deposits. Situated on the South West Bank of this lake is the Korzok village with the Korzok Gompa and its inhabitants the nomads (Changpas), these are most     interesting and prominent characteristic of this lake.

 

The 15-by-5 mile lake is a breeding ground to birds like the bar-necked goose and the brahminy duck. The surrounding area is home to wildlife and if one is lucky,will spot a herd of kyang (wild ass) racing across the plains.

 

Suru Valley

The Suru Valley is formed by the catchments area of the Suru River, which rises from the Panzella glacier. On its way to the confluence with the Indus River at Nurla, it is joined by numerous tributaries, including the Dras River which flows into the Suru River at Kharul.

 

Suru Valley forms the mainstay of Kargil district, lying nestled along the north-eastern foothills of the great Himalayan Wall. The upper valley reaches of the valley, particularly around the Sankoo bowl, the Panikhar expense and the higher stretch beyond, present a spectacle of breathtaking features-majestic mountain ramparts crowned by snow capped peaks, undulating alpine slopes draining into wild mountain streams of foaming cascades of pristine water, gigantic glaciers descending along the Himalayan slopes to the river bed in riverine formation. The beauty of this region is further enhanced by the sheer contrast provided by the towering peaks of Kun (7035 m) and Nun (7135 m) which loom over the skyline in their crystalline majesty.

 

The general topography is as rugged and mountainous as most of Ladakh. However, the Suru Valley is relatively more fertile. It extends from the Panzella glacier to south of Kargil town, where the Suru River merges with the Botkul River rising from the Botkul glacier.

 

Zanskar Valley

Truly one of the most desolate and coldest place to be inhabited in the Himalayas, Zanskar is known for its spectacular scale, hardy mountain folks and extreme winter when the Zanskar river freezes to from the "chador" over which mail runners operate.

 

A long and winding river of ice and snow, the ‘Dhang-Drung’ is perhaps the largest glacier in Ladakh, outside the Siachen formation. It is from the cliff-like snout of this extensive glacier that the Stod or Doda River, the main tributary of river Zanskar, rises.

 

Zanskar comprises a tri-armed valley system lying between the Great Himalayan Range and the Zanskar mountain; The three arms radiate star-like towards the west, north and south from a wide central expanse where the region's two principal drainage's meet to form the main Zanskar River. High rise, mountains and deep gorges surround Zanskar. The area remains inaccessible for nearly 8 months a year due to heavy snowfall resulting in closure of all the access passes, including the Penzi-la. Today, Zanskar has the distinction of being the least interfered with microcosms of Ladakh, and one of the last few surviving cultural satellites of Tibet. Within the mountain ramparts of this lost Shangrila stand a number of ancient yet active monastic establishments. Some of these religious foundations have evolved around remote meditation caves believed to have been used by a succession of famous Buddhist saints for prolonged meditation in pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment.

 Getting there

Location / Distance

Eastern region of Jammu and Kashmir.

 Fast Facts
Name Leh Ladakh Best Time To Visit May to October
Location Jammu and Kashmir   North   India   Destination  
Open From 0000-00-00  To 0000-00-00 Type High Altitude Cold Desert
Temperature Summar   30-40°C      Winter   -14-0°C      Rainy   15-20°C
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