The land of high passes, enchanting skies, and endless landscape. Ladakh is an experience beyond words could describe. I’ve cherry-picked a few of the best places to visit in Ladakh.
Bordered by Tibet at the east, Himachal to the South, and Jammu and Kashmir to the west, Ladakh is a Union territory of utmost importance.
The roads extend to about 1,800 km here. Border Roads Organisation maintains the majority of them. Having historically connected India with the Silk Road, the strategic importance of this region is well known
If you are someone who has barely any hope in terms of geography like me, then people here would come to help. They explained Ladakh to me without a second thought, in their faint Ladakhi accent.
Tribes such as the dard, brokpa, mons and so on with their traditional attires and distinguished culture gave me a completely different insight into the Indian culture.
Interacting with them also helped me explore the offbeat and untouched spots in Ladakh!
1. Sand Dunes at Hunder
I was amazed to find out that one of the most popular attractions in the Himalayas was a desert.
And the crowd that swarms here for a night of magical stargazing? Even more unbelievable!
Ladakh is a high altitude desert. And reaching Nubra valley, I felt like I had stepped into an entirely different version of Ladakh which makes it one of the must-visit places in Ladakh.
I had camped at Hunder amidst the rustic golden dunes. At night I was blanketed by a sky full of stars and some good folk music they had put on for the campers.
The jeep ride across the majestic sands was beyond thrilling! On the way, I also spotted the rare double-humped Bactrian camel.
A rare breed that can be spotted only around this region in Ladakh. I had never seen them before and the idea of a desert ride on the camel got me all riled up!
2. Leh Palace
Unlike any other palace I’ve seen before, the Leh Palace located on top of the Tsemo hills is a good example of the architectural contrasts in Ladakh. It is very often compared to the infamous Potala Palace in Lhasa.
I was walking up from the Leh market to reach this spot, and on the way I could see the clouds covering the palace, giving it a very mystical touch. The structure is made out of stones, mud, and wood just like the medieval times,
The idea seemed impressive to me as they had thought it over, used the basic available materials and created a palace out of it! Once I had entered the palace, the idea became clearer as it was built in a way that it provides a comfortable coolness in harsh summers and warmth during the chilling winters. The interiors were a complete contrast to the exterior built. The royal touch was evident at each of the nine stories of the building.
Ceremonial jewelry, royal dresses, crowns adorned with timeless gems and stones, murals depicting the glorious past, all of these were a feast to my eyes!
3. Sangam at Nimmu
Most of them miss this spot as it won’t be as happening as all the other activities conducted at Ladakh.
This unfamiliar beauty of this place is what dragged me to it. A confluence of two rivers at Nimmu – Indus, one of the longest rivers in Asia, and it’s tributary Zanskar. River rafting is a very common activity here. An experience that would for sure leave you mind-blown! From feeling the strong currents of the chilled waters to the adrenaline pumping way of rafting through tiers of rocks, I was just as excited from the beginning to the end of the 14 km long stretch.
This was a completely different experience due to the color of the waters which made the confluence very visible and hence it is one of the must-visit places in Ladakh. The sparkling emerald waters of Indus converging with the dirty greens of Zanskar makes for a spectacular sight.
This quaint village bordering with Pakistan is a change in the air. From the barren desert lands, this village paves way for fresh greenery.
This is the closest village I was permitted to near the Line of Control. And, it is one of the beautiful places to visit and experience in Ladakh. The lush greens made me feel like I was back home. If you had to know how the warmest of welcomes is like, let me introduce you to the villagers of Turtuk!
The kindest of people I encountered on my trip. The majority of the population are Muslim and it is among the last few towns that follow the Balti culture.
Yet another thing that caught my fancy about this village is the expanse of apricot and peach fields! Most of the cuisine is also fruit-based, due to the abundance of these resources.
I was asked to try a few of the freshly plucked fruits and the stews prepared out of it! Once you have the fresh fruits from the hills you’d so not feel like going back to all those synthetically produced edibles.
5. Khardungla La Pass
For someone who’s watched numerous travel-based movies, this place will be as familiar as it could be. A biker with a full packed backpack and a Tibetan flag fluttering between the bike handles. A quickened pulse on the view of the mountains ahead of you.. remains an image afresh in my mind.
One of the World’s highest motorable roads is the Khardung La Pass!
With a staggering altitude of 17,582 feet, I had difficulty catching breath if I stopped at a spot for beyond 20 min.
The oxygen levels reduce as you keep going higher, and so taking the right amount of precautions was on my priority list here.
Mountains draped in snow, winding roads, and the tea stops every here and there, this place is considered a rite of passage among motorbikers.
6. Lamayuru Monastery
My understanding of Tibetan culture barely touches the tip of the iceberg. Most of it comes from the beliefs of the localities and the teachings at monasteries.
Each village in Ladakh has a legend that never fails to fascinate me. There is a tiny village between Kargil and Leh – Lamayuru. Fondly nicknamed as “Moonland” due to its moon-like terrain.
A monastery amid the Moonland would then make it to my list. One of the most beautiful monasteries I have seen in my life is the Lamayuru Monastery!
Paintings and endless stories narrated by the pillars and frescoes, the monastery is a story that still lives through. There are caves nearby which have statues and shrines as well.
7. Pangong Tso Lake
Having watched the movie ‘3 Idiots’, going to this lake was totally on the list for a filmy person like me! Pangong Tso Lake is one of the most popular destinations in Ladakh.
What makes this lake fall in my list out of all the high altitude lakes in Ladakh is the chameleon nature of this lake. The hues of this lake keep changing as the day goes by. Shifting between shades of sky blue, algae green to crimson red, it’s the most fascinating view and is a must-visit place in Ladakh.
During winters, the lake transforms into a solid ice ground. The people around were telling me about how ice skaters used to come from all around the world to experience it
This is a must-try experience for those who love ice skating!
Watching the snow-capped peaks fall as a backdrop to this magnificent lake, it made my stroll a treasured memory.
8. Shanti Stupa
Japanese Buddhists made this white-domed marvel to mark their celebration. 2500 years of Buddhism and peaceful lives that they have been practicing, the stupa is symbolic of all these.
This is also a vantage point, and so I got an unforgettable view of the valley below.
I had visited the Stupa at around 8 pm. There is nothing I could compare the night glory of the Stupa with! All the lights adorning the dome, the Bokeh effect of nightlights from the valley below. If I could, I would revisit this place just to get the view again.
9. Magnetic Hill
About 30 km from Leh is this hill that defies gravity!
A board placed right at the Leh-Kargil-Baltik highway by the Border Roads Organisation informs the people about the magnetic properties of the road. I got to know the spot where I could put my car to neutral and feel being pulled up the hill.
This is also probably why aircraft also increase their altitude on reaching this spot to escape the magnetic interference.
Even though a lot of them have pushed these probabilities aside by calling it an optical illusion, still this has certain beliefs attached to it by the localities. It’s one of the must-visit places in Ladakh!
Interestingly enough, they believe that this road is a stairway to heaven and the ones deserving it could make it up to there!
10. Hemis Monastery
The largest monastery in Ladakh. Adorned with rare collections of Thanks paintings, scriptures, golden stupas and so on, it is one of its kind.
Constructed around the period 1672 AD, this is where young Lama’s are further trained.
I had come to this place solely to witness the Hemis festival that was happening here. There was something exquisite and serene about the festival.
This was during the last few days of the trip. I had the delicious traditional dishes from the festival to the full content of my heart. I enjoyed the music and dance they were performing. Even, I sat along with some teachers while they spoke of their learnings, and purchased a little prayer flag from the flea market to fix it on my bike.
Be it the Jeep and Bactrian camel safari at Hunder, rafting at Sangam, biking, and trekking up to Khardunga la pass, or even ice skating at Pangong Tso Lake…
Ladakh seems to have the answers to all those trying to quench their thirst for adventure! Well, these are not just the places to visit in Ladakh there’s much more to explore!