Places To Visit In Ladakh
Places to Visit in Ladakh
The picturesque valley of Ladakh, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, once had a large system of mountain-fed seasonal lakes, but has eventually turned into a cold desert. However, this change has not robbed the region of its scenic beauty and otherworldly charm. In fact, the cold barrenness only adds to its mystique, and this makes the unique places to visit in Ladakh even more interesting.
Ladakh literally translates to ‘Land of High Passes'. It is situated between two great mountain ranges – the awe-inspiring Karakoram in the north and the majestic Himalayas in the south. The altitude across this region varies greatly, ranging from 9,000 feet (2,700 metres) at Kargil to 25,000 feet (7,600 metres) at Saser Kangri. And unlike other valleys, Ladakh gets most of its natural water from snow.
Ladakh is a favourite destination among all kinds of travellers and with good reason. There is an abundance of beautiful places to visit in Ladakh. If you are a thrill-seeker, the mountains and surrounding landscapes in this region can give you the adrenaline rush you are looking for – treks, white-water rafting, paragliding, rappelling and more. Road-tripping through Ladakh is a fantastic way to explore this challenging, yet stunning land with its long and twisting roads and haunting emptiness that is hard to find elsewhere.
On the other hand, if what you really want is a quiet, peaceful trip, Ladakh has plenty of monasteries that can help you get in touch with your spiritual side. The region is also a goldmine for history buffs, with evidence of Ladakh's origins tracing back to Neolithic times.
If you are planning a trip to this beautiful destination, here are some of the most popular and exciting places to visit in Ladakh.
Head to Zanskar Valley if you want to be awed by the never-ending stretch of road that blends seamlessly into the horizon. This valley is part of the 100-kilometre-wide Tethys Himalayas and travellers almost always visit this place along with Suru Valley because of their topographical proximity. The best time to go sightseeing in Ladakh, especially if you want to experience the best of this land, is during the summer months. This is because the roads connecting the region and within it are open; this also makes travelling conditions better.
The valleys see a significant variation in temperature as there is no vegetation or woodland to shelter it from extreme weather conditions. But the adrenaline-pumping activities that you can indulge in at this time of the year make Ladakh a popular tourist spot for adventure junkies. Try to tame the rapids of the Zanskar River through rafting expeditions or take a trek through the Tethys ranges, if you are looking for something challenging.
Located in the Changthang region to the east of Ladakh, Pangong Tso is one of the highest saltwater lakes in the world at an altitude of 14,000 feet. A road trip to the lake involves a six-hour drive southeast of Leh. It is the perfect place for wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers as it serves as a near-perfect breeding ground. Don't forget to take your camera along because you are likely to spot kiang (large wild asses) and marmots (giant squirrels), both of which are native to the region, plus brahminy ducks, bar-headed geese, and other migratory birds.
Another interesting fact about Pangong Tso is that it is surrounded by land on all sides, in contrast with other lakes of such volume that usually drain into some river or ocean. The pristine water and unorrupted surroundings make for excellent photo opportunities. If you are a Bollywood fan, one look at Pangong Tso will make you realise why it seems so familiar. It featured in movies such as 3 Idiots and Jab Tak Hain Jaan. Its location on a plateau also makes it great for camping. So, if you are booking a Ladakh holiday package through Cox & Kings, you can have them set up the experience for you.
While most people planning a trip to Ladakh are familiar with Pangong Tso, we suggest you head to this lesser-known gem amidst the mountains for a truly marvellous experience. The largest high-altitude lake in India, its waters are fed from the melting ice caps of the mountains and springs in the vicinity. When the light is just right, the surface of the lake reflects various hues of blue-green against the backdrop of purple mountains and is an amazing sight to behold. So make sure your phones and camera are charged before visiting this hidden gem in the list of Ladakh tourist spots! A short trek from here will take you to hamlets that are hauntingly beautiful with surreal landscapes devoid of colour.
Karzok Village is located on the banks of Tso Moriri and offers fantastic views of the lake from its elevated grounds. The village is home to the 300-year-old Karzok Monastery, which is highly revered by the locals, and its sacred status extends to Tso Moriri. The monastery holds the two-day Gustor Festival, which celebrates the victory of good over evil. It represents the ninth-century assassination of the heretic Tibetan king, Lang Dar Ma, by a Buddhist monk. You can see cultural performances by masked dancers; with the masks signifying the guardians or protectors who ward off evil spirits.
Also known as the ‘Pass of Lower Castle', the road to Khardung La is the highest motorable road in the world. It is about 40 kilometres north of Leh and is one of the highest points of India at 18,000 feet. The road is stable and asphalted up to a certain point, after which it becomes broken and a bit bumpy. But once you get there, you will be able to visit the breathtaking Siachen Glacier and get a panoramic view of the town of Leh. All these features make Khardung La one of the most visited Ladakh tourist spots, often drawing daredevil roadies to the place.
Fun fact: Khardung La is also historically significant as it once served as an important caravan route that connected Leh to the city of Kashgar in western China.
Hemis National Park
Spread over an area of 4,500 square kilometres, this famous Ladakh tourist spot is home to a dozen protected and endangered mammals and around 75 species of rare birds. The animals include Tibetan wolves, snow leopards, Asiatic ibexes, Eurasian brown bears, and red foxes. Bird species include golden eagles, brown accentors, robin accentors, Himalayan vultures, streaked rose finch, Tibetan snow finch, and lammergeyer vultures, making it a birdwatcher's paradise. It is one of the most popular Ladakh tourist places not only because it is the only wildlife park north of the Himalayan ranges but also because it is the largest and highest in southern Asia. So, pack a camera and head to this gorgeous park; you're bound to get some amateur (yet brilliant) wildlife photographs that you can brag about.
There is an abundance of monasteries in Ladakh due to the region's high Buddhist population. But the Hemis Monastery is not just an excellent monastery to visit; it is one of the best places to visit in Ladakh. This Tibetan monastery of the Drupe lineage is the largest monastic institution in Ladakh and hosts a two-day mask festival every year. This event commemorates the memory of Guru Padmasambhava, an important Buddhist luminary. An interesting fact about this monastery is that it has 200 smaller branches within, housing over 2,000 monks. It is an ideal place to visit if you want to learn about the Buddhist way of life. You can reach Hemis Monastery via road, but the route is hilly and is generally open only during autumn, in the months of June to September.
At 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) above sea level, this is one of the best tourist places in Ladakh to visit if you are looking to experience untainted, aesthetic beauty. This tri-armed valley is a disputed land lying 150 kilometres north of Leh and is best reached on a sturdy SUV or jeep. The valley is cut deeply by the Shyok and Nubra rivers, which provide a welcome relief from the stark and arid landscape. The flatlands of this cold desert are convenient for people looking to set up tents and camps. There are buildings in ruins, shallow creeks, and hidden rivulets to discover while camping, which only add to the beauty and charm of this fascinating place to visit in Ladakh.
The name brings to mind the armed encounters that took place in the late 1990s, but that doesn't mean it can't find a place on our list of places to visit in Ladakh. Needless to say, it is a disputed territory and lies along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, making it perfect for the adventurous at heart! Some famous Ladakh tourist places in the area are Tololing, Tiger Hill, Mushku Valley, and Batalik. The state government of Kashmir is making every possible effort to promote tourism in the region, thanks to which you can see hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants across the state.
This architectural splendour was constructed in 1991 and was the face of Ladakh tourism for a long time. The perfectly white semi-circular dome, with its many carvings and painted colours, is a treat for the eyes. Not only is it stunningly gorgeous, it is as peaceful as you can expect a tourist place to be. Literally translated as ‘peace dome', it is a place where monks come to meditate. As a tourist sightseeing in Ladakh, you can ask permission for a meditation session, or simply enjoy the beautiful sunset and sunrise along with a panoramic view of the dry and barren landscape.
One of the most interesting places to visit in Ladakh is Magnetic Hill or Cyclops hill, which lies on the Srinagar-Leh-Kargil highway and has a wooden board instructing a place to park your cars. From there, the cars apparently start moving up the highway at speeds reaching 20 kilometres per hour. This has been described as the ‘phenomenon that defies gravity'. This myth has been propagated with such conviction that people visit the place solely to witness this ‘magic'. The reality, of course, is very different; this is only an optical illusion. The setting of the place and the backdrop of the mountains create the appearance of a hill, and the cars seem to be moving up when in reality they are descending. Nonetheless, the mystery surrounding this Ladakh tourist place is fascinating and strong enough to warrant a visit.
Spituk Gompa or Pethup Gomba is a Buddhist monastery and is situated in one of the most desolate and lonely places in Ladakh. It is only 9 kilometres from Leh, but the exciting thing is that it is atop a hill and may require some courage and skill to climb. If you can muster the guts to climb to the top of this hill, a magnificent sight awaits you at this Ladakh tourist spot. This beautiful monastery was built centuries ago, and the bricks seem to hang precariously over a cliff-like protrusion, offering a view of the Spituk village below. You can also check out the gigantic statue of Goddess Kali inside the monastery, which is worshipped by the Buddhist monks and common people of Spituk village. This three-tiered spirit shrine is definitely not for the are fainthearted. Do not miss this gem amongst the top places to visit in Ladakh.
Lamayuru Moonland is about 100 kilometres from Leh, immediately after Fotu La, the highest pass on the Leh-Srinagar road. One of the most beautiful places to visit in Ladakh, it is called ‘moonland' because its landscape resembles the moon's cratered surface. It is a pleasure to drive across; the experience is almost unearthly. Thousands of tourists flock to this place for the experience. Founded in the 11th century by a Buddhist priest, this plain looks like a monastery that was built inside a cave. It used to consist of five buildings, but the structure is in ruins today. However, that does not reduce the strange appeal of this Ladakh tourist spot and makes it a favourite among kids who feel they have taken a trip to the moon!