India

Ladakh – a little Tibet in India

monks in Ladakh

It is a long bus ride all the way from Manali to Ladakh. General busses usually stop in a lovely town called Keylong over night and the next day you can continue to Leh. And the second day journey is really a challenge!

The road takes you over the high and empty mountain plains. Crossing the Taglang La Pass at 17 582 ft, it is actually the second highest motorable road. The views you get along the way remind you of a moon landscape where nothing grows and no one could survive. The temperatures are very high in the day time but drop low below zero when the night falls.

Keylong – Leh road Ladakh
the Keylong – Leh road – 14 hours in the bus

Arriving to Leh with an awful headache from the sun heat and the altitude I am grateful for a few people waiting at the bus station offering a homestay and with a little bit of bargaining I get a lovely room just for myself in a house of one very nice family with two teenage girls. Every evening they sit in the living room, relax and drink their special ladakhi tea. I had an opportunity to taste it – it is a tea with salty butter – interesting, not my favorite though.

In Ladakh there’s lots of activities you can do, Leh itself has a few places to visit, such as Leh Palace, Sankar Gompa, Shanti stupa or the mosque JamaMasjid. Or you can just hop on a bus and visit one of the nearby villages with its budhist monasteries (gompas), palaces or just perfect examples of local Ladakhi houses and domestic animals running around. Ladakhi culture is very close to Tibetan and budhism is the main religion here. You can watch the monks chanting or holding morning and evening prayers (puja).

Thiksay gompa Ladakh
Thiksay gompa

a typical ladakhi house
a typical ladakhi house

If you want to travel a bit further to see the beauties of the Ladakhi nature you might have to book a trip with one of local travel agents that usually gathers a number of clients for each jeep trip. To travel the local roads it is necessary to take a jeep as they are not maintained. They are only used by the travel agents and the Indian Army as this is the border area. To visit some of the areas tourists need to apply for a 7 day permit (the agent can organize it for you) to access them.

Khardung La
Khardung La

It is worth to see places like Nubra Valley, crossing the Khardung La Pass – 18 340 ft it is the highest motorable road in the world. After Khardung La the road descends down to the Valley which welcomes you with mild weather, several beautiful monasteries, gardens full of apple and apricot trees and sand dunes where you can even ride a camel.

camels in Nubra Valley
camels in Nubra Valley

Other popular places to visit in Ladakh are:

  • the lakes Tso Moriri & Tso Kar where you can even meet some nomadic people
  • Pangong Lake with beautiful shades of blue which stretches across the border into Tibet
  • one of the local villages like the one in Alchi are perfect examples of life in Ladakh
  • and of course … Zanskar

As for trekking Ladakh is a pretty safe place, the only danger you would face is getting lost or the altitude sickness. So, make sure you have a good map and that you took enough time for acclimatization and if any of the symptoms of AMS occurs find a place to stay which is in the same or lower altitude.

Those who are afraid of getting lost can hire a guide with ponies or yaks to carry your baggage and you can easily do that through one of the agents. But is it a real adventure then. The area is very popular with tourist so you don’t have to be afraid that you would find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere. Places to sleep you can find in most of the villages. For more remote places such as Zanskar I would recommend a larger group of people. Make sure you check the political situation if you decide to drive there through Kargil.

Stok Kangri Ladakh
mountain range view from Leh – the highest mountain (on the left) – Stok Kangri 20,089 ft is also possible to climb for those who are quite fit and well acclimatized

The Ladakh festival:

The summer in Ladakh is very short and the major tourist season depends upon whether Taglang La road is passable or not. It usually closes in mid September with the first snowfall. After that the only two ways to get there are either flying or taking a detour through Shrinagar (which happens to be extremely dangerous in last couple of months).

And just before the major season ends Leh holds the Ladakh festival every year 1st – 15th September. There you can see traditional ladakhi dance, mask dance, archery or even a game of polo. Most of it is held in the evenings on the polo ground in the centre of Leh. It is certainly an unforgettable experience.

traditional ladakhi dance
traditional ladakhi dance

When you are traveling to places with high altitude:

  • AMS, so called mountain sickness can occur as high as 3 000 meters;
  • It is best to take some time to acclimatize before you decide to go higher;
  • Remember to drink a lot as your body keeps losing fluids in high altitude, there are a few tricks local people would advise you to keep water in your body, such as eating garlic or any vegetables in general.

A number of tourists coming to Ladakh actually have problem with AMS, here is the list of its symptoms:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • vomiting
  • losing consciousness
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