EXPLO RE KALEIDOSCOPIC TRANS HIMALAYAN RANGES OF LADAKH
Everyone’s dream place, rider's paradise, land of high passes, the land of lamas and many more names to address Ladakh. The rugged Himalayan terrains, unpaved roads of the mighty Himalayas pose a challenge to any conventional form of travel. It requires you to give up the luxury of a hotel suite and find comfort in the house of a local, to skip fine dining and have the spicy, home-cooked specials by the road, to forget the throbbing nightlife in the serene walls of monasteries and to ditch the easy route to take the road less travelled. The love for the destination has to be exchanged for the love for the road, and it will be worth every turn with be worth the adventure. But make sure that. You are healthy and fit enough to traverse on these stubborn roads with blind cuts on your heavy vehicle. You have numerous options here to explore either on foot, local buses, riding, cycling and what not. The options are endless. But are you ready to experience and explore the grandeur of the mighty Trans Himalayan Ranges? Leh, the main city is situated at 3500m above sea level nestled in the great Himalayan, Karakoram, Zanskar and Ladakh ranges. How beautiful, is to be surrounded by snow capped ranges 360 days in a year. Ladakh is mainly known for remote mountain beauty, significant monasteries and stupas. Ladakh is often referred as "Little Tibet '' due to its geographical proximity and strong links to Tibetan culture. Welcome to the land of Snow and sand.
Who doesn't want to disconnect from this chaotic world or lifestyle and live a life without any worries? who doesn't want to lie down under celestial display? who doesn't want to get lost in wilderness? who doesn't want to walk deep into the woods? who doesn't love to relax in the lap of mountains? Be it camping on the banks of Indus River or having a relaxing time at bonfire, you will love the vibe.
The earliest population of Ladakh has been asserted to be that of Dards or Brokpas. Many ancient accounts by the Greek historians, Herodotus and Megasthenes, and the admiral of Alexander the Great, Nearchus have confirmed the existence of the Brokpas (Dards) in Ladakh. After the independence of India in 1947, Ladakh was made a part of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Leh, which is currently the capital of Ladakh, was initially chosen as the headquarters of Ladakh Division then. However because of some protests, Leh and Kargil were announced to jointly serve as the divisional headquarters. On 31 October 2019, Ladakh was declared a separate Union Territory which is to be administered by a Lieutenant Governor. Ladakh has gained a lot of popularity for being the only cold desert in India apart from bordering the World’s highest saltwater Lake Pangong Lake. Riding up the highest motorable road in the world, Khardung la is a dream come true for many. The Hunder sand dunes, frozen river trek and snow leopards all find their only home in Ladakh. That's why you must plan a trip to this place or trek through some hidden ranges of Chadar Trek, Stok Kangri Trek, Markha Valley Trek, Nubra Valley Trek. and if you are someone who is so much into history, you must visit the ancient monasteries enclosed by beautifully carved walls. It is therefore believed that one feels at their spiritual best when in Ladakh. Off course the majestic mountains and the challenge of roughing it out, has made Ladakh a favorite with mountaineering enthusiasts. But make sure to acclimatise.
Best time to explore and experience Ladakh:
April to September is the best time to explore Ladakh. Majority of the people flock to this place during this time. During these months, which is April and May it is the best time to explore the outdoors, do a bit of sightseeing and then indulge in a few adventure sports. Also make sure to wear protective warm clothing while participating in adventure sports as the sun’s rays can be very harsh on your skin as well evening and early mornings temperatures drop a lot. From the mid may major roads start opening as the snow starts to melt. May end you can even go for your long awaited rad trip or bike trip. You will get to explore some of the scenic views of snow clad mountains flanked on either side of the highways. There’s also some great passes to see along the way to enter Ladakh and Leh. And also August is just great for going on some amazing long treks, crossing rivers and camping under millions of stars.
September mid to October Mid, perfect time to spot some autumnal shades. When whole Ladakh turns into gold. he climate is also good for outdoor activities. Most adventure sport companies operate during this season. September to October is also a good time for exploring Ladakh. There are many campsites set up during this time around the lakes. The best place for camping in Ladakh is near Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri and also great time to explore some hidden or lesser known places like Turtuk and tsoker. Perfect time to make your long road trip happen.
November to march, is the oldest and freezing of all. From January onwards a few tourists began to make their way to Ladakh. These are adventure seekers who attempt the famous Chadar Trek. The climb up the mountain involves walking across the frozen Zanskar Lake. This is an experience to treasure if you are a thrill seeker. A highlight of a winter visit is seeing the changing of colours of the lakes from icy white to sparkling blues. he Pangong lake and others will freeze over. But the roads to the lake and Nubra Valley over Khardung La Pass and Chang La Pass are kept open. It's the best time for adventure enthusiasts. So what are you waiting for, gear up for some upcoming adventures.
Places to explore in Ladakh:
Pangong Tso, one of the most famous place in Ladakh and dreams since the movie 3 idiots got commercialised. This place deserves to be on your itinerary of places to visit in Ladakh. You will be mesmerised by the crystal clear blue chilled water. Its name from the Tibetan word, “Pangong Tso”, which means “high grassland lake”. You could spend hours in contemplation here, and still not have enough of its beauty. Pangong Lake is also known to change colors, appearing blue, green and red at different times. You can witness and immerse yourself in this blue beauty. It is on the elevation of 4,225 m. It is 134 km long and divided into five sublakes, called Pangong Tso, Tso Nyak, Rum Tso and Nyak Tso. Majority of its part is in china as in 60% of the lake. And regarding accommodation, you can stay in nearby camps provided with hot piping delicious food.
Thiksey Monastery, is the largest gompa in middle of Ladakh (on leh- Manali connectivity) and a must-see place near Leh. One of the main attractions of Thiksey Monastery is the Maitreya Temple which was constructed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970. The temple has a 15m tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is the largest statue in Ladakh covering two-storeys of the building. Thiksey Monastery belongs to the Gelug or Yelloe Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhist. It is also known for its annual Gustor Festival held in the month of October/November in which a trade fair is held at the base of the monastery wherevillagers from all over Ladakh come to barter and trade items and socialize. You can get some uninterrupted view of the snow capped mountain at one side and a brown col desert on other side. The best time to visit Thiksey Monastery is during the Gustor Festival in the month of October/November. During the festival, one can witness the traditional Cham Dance. Its a must place in your itinerary. You will learn about buddhist culture, history, paintings and many more highlights of ancient times too.
Khardung-la pass, its is one of the most historic pass. It is a high mountain pass in the northern part of India, 96 km east of Leh, though much more by road. It is India’s highest motorable pass in India. It is the gateway to Nubra Valley and nestled in the Karakoram range, Khardung La is 40 kms away from the mainland of Leh. The pass is also a gateway to the Siachen glacier. The roads were opened in 1988 for vehicles to pass through. Cruisers and Himalayans considered to be the best means to travel here, to experience the rugged beauty of the journey. The Khardung La Pass, a major tourist place in Ladakh, is maintained by the Border Roads Organisation. Also, here is a tip its better to take precautions beforehand. Because of the high altitude, you will probably suffer from Altitude Mountain Sickness, or AMS, because of the extremely low oxygen & air pressure. It is best, therefore, not to spend more than 20 minutes there. It is better to acclimatize by staying 3-4 days in Leh before travelling to Khardung La Pass.
Markha valley, it is one of the most popular treks in Ladakh, but it’s still a hundred times more authentic than other treks. The Markha trek goes alongside a river called Markha, a tributary of the Zanskar. This river is surrounded by big, rocky terrains with some Tibetan settlements nearby. The scene is too pretty and raw. Its the paradise of trekkers. Its nine day trek, but make sure acclimatise when you drive in let at least for 2-3 days ad soak in the beauty of leh. From lush green to yellow barren landscapes, passing alongside Indus river. And most of the villages you will pass by have preserved and maintained monasteries, ruined forts and temples. Amongst them, the Tacha monastery is an eye and heart catcher that lies between the mountains. The trail goes through Hemis National Park, all its treasured fauna, mountain sheep, argali, rabbits, snow leopards, can be spotted at every camping site. Oh not to forget, its a calling for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers to capture some of the best snaps.
Nubra Valley, known for double humped camel and cold sand deserts. Situated about 150 km from Leh, Nubra Valley is known as the Orchard of Ladakh. The valley seems parched and dry. However, the valley mainly consists of prime farm land on the banks of Shyok and Nubra Rivers . The valley is predominantly Buddhist and boasts of several centres of Buddhist learning. Ensa, Samstemling, Diskit and Hunder monastery are famous Buddhist monasteries. The cold desert between Diskit and Hundur are another attraction for tourists. Tourists throng the cold desert to watch the sand dunes and for joyrides on the Bactrian camels. You can stay in the homestays provided thats the best accommodation there and enjoy some home cooked authentic Tibetan food.
Tso Moriri lake, shall we name it has hidden paradise surrounded by high technical snow clad peaks? It is situated at an altitude of 4,530m on the Changthang plateau of Union Territory of Ladakh. The lake also known as Lake Moriri or Mountain Lake is the largest high altitude lake that lies entirely within the boundaries of India. It is 26 kilometres in length and 5 kilometres in width at its maximum. The lake is part of the Ramsar Wetland sites and hence it is also known as Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve. Also you need to obtain inner line permit pas and this is mandatory for both domestic as well as international tourists. Remember to keep a few copies of the permit as you will need to submit one copy at every check point on the route. You can go on a stroll for miles with uninterrupted views and cold air with a cup of hot coffee or either Tibetan tea.
Hemis National Park, all the wildlife enthusiasts and photographers it’s you’re calling now. Hemis national park is named right after Hemis monastery. You can witness some rare species of wildlife and that is the reason behind its global recognition. Bharal and snow leopards are examples for the unseen animal collection found in Hemis National Park. The park is located on the west bank of the Indus River. This national park was found in 1981 and it grew into 4400 sq.km in 1990. And it became the largest national park in South Asia. Argali or the Great Tibetan Sheep, Shapu etc are the supporters of the prey base for the predators in Hemis. Asiatic Ibex, the Tibetan Wolf, the Eurasian brown bear and red fox are some of the endangered species found. The park is located about 5 kms from Leh and Leh Airport is the closest airport to the park. And the best time to explore this park is from Mid-June to Mid-October. But the best season to spot snow leopards is of course, in late winter. Nature and wildlife enthusiasts, this is especially for you, plan our trip now.
Diskit Monastery, it is a major tourist attraction in the Nubra Valley, not just for its incredible location, but for the 106 feet Maitreya Buddha statue which is located just below the monastery. It is situated at an altitude of 10,308 feet, 15 kilometers northwest off the Khalsar-Panakil route, right at the edge of the desert in the Nubra Valley. It stands atop a hill at the edge of a road, which links Partharpur. The interiors are stunning, adorned with intricate frescoes & wall paintings. The prayer hall, called Dukhang, is home to enormous drums & beautiful images of the Buddhist guardian deities. And if you are video enthusiasts, make sure to make some stunning time lapse video or either go for drone shots.
Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, is another historic monastery set in the coarse background of the snow-capped Himalayas. It has views of the rough terrains and lovely snow-clad mountain top. It has an assembly hall and a temple with large frescoes, painting and the attractive statues of Buddha in different positions. And there is gold idol of Maitreya Buddha or the future Buddha which measures to be tall as a three storey structure is the quaint feature of the gompa. You can truly feel the spiritual blend appears on the walls of the monastery has attracted hundreds of travelers across the world to the monastery for so many years. The pagoda is open on all days of the week from 07:00 am to 09:00 am and then from 05:00 pm to 08:00 pm. And entry charges are 20 rs per person.
Magnetic hill, the one of the most famous and well known gravity hills as it possesses impeccable magnetic properties. So don’t be scared if your vehicles move suddenly. This small stretch of road, located about 30km from Leh City, is unique because of its outright defiance of gravity. A part of the Leh-Kargil Highway, this road attracts stationary vehicles upwards. When left with the engine off, a car can roll up at a speed of 20km/hr on this hill. Due to this extraordinary phenomenon, it has been given many names like ‘Mystery Hill’ and ‘Gravity Hill’. Situated at a height of 14,000 feet above sea level, the Sindhu river runs on the eastern side of this hill. Also, you can do some astro photography here too. And the best time to visit is between July and October. The roads are clear during this time and the drive will not be a hassle. And its a must visit place in your itinerary.
Zanskar valley, one of the best places to visit in Ladakh. Zanskar is a small district in Kargil, located in the eastern section of Ladakh. Zanskar Valley is one of the most enchanting places to visit in the Himalayan region specially for its off roading adventures trips. Zanskar Valley is eternally famous for its high snow capped mountains and surrounding landscape, featuring geographical attributes that are unique to this region. Its 105 kms from the main Leh. You can plan lot of adventure activities, such a different levels of rafting. The best time to visit Zanskar Valley is between the months of June to September. During this time, the weather is most decent for travellers who visit the valley. December to January or February, the only way for you to reach the valley by doing Chadar trek.
Local food you must try in Ladakh: without any doubt food plays one of the major roles when you explore different cultures and traditions. Since Ladakh is rich in culture and history, eating food in Ladakh you must try the local food out here.
Momos, without a doubt, is the most popular dish in Ladakh. It is a dumpling filled with meat or vegetable wrapped in dough. While momos stuffed with minced meat enjoys popularity among locals. Its really juicy and you can taste the authenticity of Ladakh. You can eat these dumplings are either steamed or fried and served with dipping sauce. Momos are served to guests on special occasions such as Losar festival which is the new year of Ladakh.
Thukpa, is the staple food of people of Ladakh and it is majorly cooked in all the households as warm delicacy. It is a soupy noodle dish with assorted vegetables (for vegetarians) and minced meat (for non-vegetarians). The noodle is made of wheat or barley flour. The broth, rich in spices, not only satiates the taste buds but also warms the body. There are different types of thukpa (known as thentuk, pakthuk, etc.) served in different parts of Ladakh.
skyu is a soup-based traditional speciality. You must have heard it for the first time though! But this is majorly famous among trekkers and locals. The dish contains vegetable and dough kneaded into flattened thumb-sized balls. These flattened balls are then put in a pot with water and vegetables and cooked on low heat. Skyu is also served with meat. The dish is high on calories and fills the stomach. Skyu is mostly consumed in winter when temperature drops below freezing point.
Tingmo, it's pretty famous one actually. These are bun-shaped Tibetan bread is steamed and served with vegetables, meat. Tingmo is a delicate, soft and fluffy bun that is prepared from wheat flour without putting any filling. It is best served hot and is mostly served with meat. It is a staple food of Ladakh and is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And its very filling and warm.
Chhurpe, made from the milk of dzomo, is used as an ingredient to create flavourful delicacies in Ladakh. It is white and is added to thukpa to bring out flavour when vegetables or meat are not available in winter. Chhurpi is also added to tsampa (roasted barley flour) and mixed with Tibetan butter tea to prepare kholak which is then eaten with vegetables or minced meat. It is the powerhouse of vitamins and proteins.
Butter Tea, cannot be missed even once. It's the most basic thing for starting off the day, a normal salty tea with warmth. People of Ladakh drink it all day as it not only provides warmth but also keeps the body hydrated in a cold, high-altitude area. Known as gur-gur chai, the tea is prepared with butter, milk and salt.
Chhang is Ladakh’s local beer and is served as a traditional drink to the guests. Barley is fermented to produce chhang which has an alcohol content of 5% to 7%. Chhang is consumed during festivals, weddings and other important functions. Not just that it has particular significance as well. Such as, If the pot of chhang is accepted, then it means that the girl’s family is ready for nuptial knots.
khambir is a local whole wheat brown bread with a thick crust. The round-shaped fermented bread tastes best when it is served freshly baked. Khambir is served for breakfast with butter tea. People also eat it with vegetables or eggs. Khambir could be eaten even after a week’s time and is one of the popular staple food in Ladakh.
How to reach Ladakh:
By airways: The quickest and simplest way to reach Ladakh is by air. It is also the only means of transport with year-round access to the place, busy sometimes exceptional circumstances. The only airport is located in the town of Leh, called the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport. Many domestic airlines offer regular flights to Leh, from Jammu, Srinagar, Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Kolkata and from other urban hubs across the country. These include Go Air, Indigo, Vistara, SpiceJet and Air India. While shorter routes such as Jammu or Delhi have direct flights, longer routes could sometimes have a single stop along the way, usually at Delhi. The Leh airport is also a military base, so expect a higher level of security and carry printed copies of your documentation and paperwork for a hassle-free experience.
By railways: the nearest station is located 700 km away in the town called Tawi. Stations like Chandigarh and Pathankot are the other closest options, but they are even further away. Even if you do choose to take a train from your departure city to any of these stations, you’ll have to hire a taxi, jeep or private vehicle to complete the rest of the journey — which could take up to three days.
By Roadways: the best one for the adrenaline junkies. The only catch is that the routes are only accessible during the months of May to October, while winter sees Ladakh cut off from most places outside.
You can opt for buses, cars or jeeps or even motorbikes, for a road trip to Ladakh.
Bikes have become a favourite amongst those visiting the region, as it is said to be one of the more exhilarating journeys one can ever take. There are two possible routes — one from Srinagar and the other from Manali. You come across some Himalayan beauties like scenic towns like Sonmarg, Drass, Kargil, Lamayuru and the Zoji La Pass. The route from Manali is 490 km, passing through the Rohtang Pass, Keylong, Bharatpur, Upshi and Karu.
This is perfect for the those who want to experience some heart throbbing adventure with the most precious views and to do tick Mark in the ride list.