To travel is to take a journey into yourself – Danny Kaye
Ladakh’s awe-inspiring rugged topography, its harsh weather, and its penchant for getting variegated in the middle of all things incorrectly political belies the fact that here in the midst of so much chaos lives the most tranquil of people. Ladakh can be a memorable experience for a number of reasons, but if you leave her people out you miss the best that she has to offer.
As soon as you arrive in Leh, you would think for some unforeseen reasons your flight was redirected to Tibet. The similarity is conspicuously striking. Even the imposing Leh Palace standing 9-storey tall over a high ridge at the far side of the town has a passing likeness to the Potala Palace at Lhasa.
Where is Ladakh?
Flanked by Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) to the west and Akshay Chin (Chinese occupied Kashmir) to the east and north and the remote Lahaul Spiti valleys of Himachal Pradesh to the south east, Ladakh is the remotest part of the Indian Territory. Google map says Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is about 1269 Kms from the capital New Delhi.
Historically this was a separate country with its own culture that was influenced by Tibet. The dominant religion of Ladakh Buddhism is also a Tibetan influence. However, post Indian independence the territory became a part of India and was merged with Kashmir to form the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir.
Best time to go
June to September are the best months to visit Leh and the rest of Ladakh. The high altitude passes leading to Ladakh are snow covered for the remaining months of the year. You can fly in but the weather remains bitterly cold. There is no such thing as summer in Ladakh as even if there is some respite during the day, temperatures plummet at night. Make no mistake this is one of the harshest of places that you will ever visit.
How to reach Ladakh
Leh is a remote point in the Ladakh valley and is reached by either road or air. There are two road routes to Ladakh, both are under the supervision and watch of the Indian army. One route goes via Kargil and the other (pictured above) via Manali. Both are picturesque but at the same time physically draining. The Manali route is shorter and you have major towns on the route as well.
The views of the longer route, however, are worth dying for. If you want the best of both worlds, go for the onward journey via Kargil and make the return journey via Manali. The alternative would be to take the morning flight from New Delhi. It takes about an hour and a quarter.
A word of caution for those who have no prior experience of visiting high altitude places. It is mandatory that you spend at least a day doing light walk in Leh acclimatising to the high altitude and getting used to the lack of oxygen. Leh is at a height of 11500’; that is more than a third to the summit of the tallest mountain on earth. AMS is a fact and happens to people who tend to be too enthusiastic on their first day. If you have had prior experience to high altitude climbs you would have a better time on your first day.
Staying in Ladakh
Homestays are a good option for backpackers. Apart from that, Leh is littered with small hotels which offer warm food and a bed for the night at varying prices. Don’t think you can get too much of a royal treatment as amenities can be basic. Having said that, there are some star accommodations like the Grand Dragon Ladakh.
What to see in Ladakh
Leh is just the stepping stone into a vast repository of natural rugged beauty that is Ladakh. There are many places to visit and make your travels a memorable one. Such as the Khardung La pass which is at a height of 17582 feet making it one of the highest motorable passes in the world. You should also visit the Leh Palace that is visible from all points in the town and which itself offers a breathtaking view of the town. Hike to the Tsemo Fort or better still to the Phuktal Monastery to experience the audacious engineering feat of the ancient Ladakhis.
Ladakh is a treasure trove for adventure seekers, philosophers and backpackers who want to leave everything behind. If you love Ladakh photographic safari should be one of your priorities on the trip.