Ladakh is a favorite haunt of the adventure lover, offering the best hikes and water sports. For those with a spiritual quest, then the special meditation sessions in the Buddhist centers are for you. The colorful festivals with the mask and peacock dancing will enthuse you if you are lucky to be in Ladakh during the festive season. Located on the east of Srinagar, Leh is the headquarters of Ladakh district.
Leh rose to prominence in the 17th century when King Sengge Namgyal shifted his court from Shey to Leh. Subsequently Leh became an important trade center on the famous Silk route. The avid interest in Leh tourism began in 1970 when Leh was opened to tourists.
For those interested in adventure tourism and sports in Leh, you have abundant options to have fun and exercise. Leh is one among the few trekking places in north India that offers wonderful trekking trails. Polo is popular in Leh. But if you are in Leh Ladakh during the Ladakh Festival, you can enjoy other sports as well. Archery competitions are held during the festival and it is exciting to watch archers from Ladakh and other parts to participate in the event. River rafting is another exciting sport that one can enjoy, especially down the Zanskar River.
There are many beautiful tourist attractions in Leh. The Shanti Stupa is one of the finest monuments in Leh, which preserves the relics of the Buddha enshrined by the Dalai Lama himself. The steep climb to the stupa is worth the effort as it provides breath taking views of the beautiful Leh valley. If you are interested in the ancient history of Leh, then you should visit the Leh Palace. The Namgyal Tsemo Gompa is a fascinating monastery that houses a three-story high Buddha image and ancient manuscripts.
How to Reach Leh
Nestled in the snow capped Himalayas, Leh is one of the favorite tourist destinations in the Northern India.
Leh is directly connected to Delhi through regular flights and it takes about 65 minutes to reach Leh from Delhi through flight. Direct flights also operate once a week from Leh to Srinagar and twice a week to Jammu and Kashmir. However, as the weather is unpredictable, a 2 to 3 hours hold-up is normal, especially on the early morning departures.
The nearest railway station to Leh is in Kalka from where you can take a bus or taxi to Manali via Shimla. There are regular taxis and bus services in Manali to and from Leh.
The two popular routes to Leh are from Srinagar via Kargil on the Srinagar-Leh Highway and from Manali via Sarchu and Dharchu on the Manali-Leh Highway. These routes are only open from June to October. The respective night halts on the two routes are Kargil and Sarchu. There are regular bus and taxi services to Leh. Leh Bus Stand is barely a kilometer from the city. Although, the roads to Leh are well maintained, it is a long and tiring journey of two days. However, the picturesque locales compensate for the monotony.
Shopping in Leh will be a fascinating experience if you wish to take home souvenirs and curios from this enchanting land. You will find exquisite things even from across the border like Burma and Afghanistan besides the traditional Tibetan items while shopping in Leh.
While shopping in Leh, you will find a range of beautiful carpets and rugs with traditional Kashmiri and Persian motifs. The popular attractions from Tibet are the jewellery made from semi-precious stones, the native Thangka paintings and traditional items like Thangka paintings, small prayer wheels, music bowls, Ladakhi carpets, rugs, shawls and stoles. You will also be fascinated by the rubies form Burma and the Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan.
T-shirts with ‘Free Tibet’ printed in them and painted masks are also interesting souvenirs to take home from Tibet.
Tibet is famous for its metal ware. If you are an art connoisseur, then the commonly found cymbals with special religious motifs that are used during meditation, decorative copper and brass trumpets and sonorous bowls made of nine metals like cymbals will all be fascinating collector’s items. If you are fond of fancy jewellery, then you can pick up the most exquisite ones like chunky shell bangles worn by Ladakhi women and exquisite unpolished turquoise and silver jewelry. For those with a sweet tooth, there are a number of German bakeries in Leh to cater to European tastes.
The main shopping area is the Main market. Other places worth checking out are the Ladakh Art Palace, Lhasa Embroidery and the government emporiums in the main shopping area. Tibetan Refugee Market on Old Leh Road is another ideal place for shopping in Leh.
Best Time to Visit
Leh is one of the two districts of Ladakh in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which experiences arid and extremely harsh weather conditions. The best time to visit Leh is between the months of June and September, which is the local summer season. Leh is accessible by mountain passes through two routes, one via Srinagar and the other via Manali, both of which remain open only between June and September. Leh is also accessible by air, as you can fly to Leh airport from several of the main cities in India.
During this time, the temperatures are cool but moderate and the day temperatures might go up to 33 degrees Celsius. The skies are clear, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains and valleys. Tourists are advised to carry light woollens as these will suffice. Any other time in Leh, such as the months between October and April, is characterized by extremely harsh climate, with temperatures lowering to sub zero levels. Snowfall is common, which often gives rise to frostbites. Sporadic rain is also quite common all through the year, so tourists are advised to carry raincoats or umbrellas and waterproof gear.
Leh is a small city and very accustomed to international tourist footfall. Therefore it is easily navigable by all. The city is very small – so, tourists are advised to make use of their walking skills. Indeed, most of the tourist destinations within the city can be covered on foot through the day. The roads are peaceful and perfect for a stroll, while there are many trekking paths that start from the city.
The most popular way of travelling through the city, for tourists who do not prefer to walk, is by the various jeeps and local taxis which ply between all the local tourist destinations as well as the ones outlining the city. These jeeps might be a little expensive, but tourists are advised to make good use of their bargaining skills. Other private taxis and cars are also available within the city and for tourists who are travelling to and from Leh by air, it is most important to book a private taxi for the airport as it is situated a little away from the main city.
Leh, being an important international destination, has plenty of eateries and restaurants all across the town which sell mouth-watering food at all price ranges. While there are many modest but hygienic establishments for tourists with limited travel budgets, there are other moderately priced eateries that serve Tibetan and local cuisine to continental and Italian options.
Some of the more expensive and sophisticated options are Chopsticks, La Pizzeria, Summer Harvest Restaurant, Penguin Garden Restaurant, Bon Appetit Restaurant and the French Bakery. These restaurants mostly serve international cuisine.
Local cuisine is much more affordable and is available in places such as the Amdo Restaurant, Lamayuru Restaurant and Gesmo Restaurant. Some places such as the Booklover’s Retreat, the Dolphin Bakery and the Pumpernickel German Bakery are wonderful for an evening of tea and cakes. Tourists are advised to try out the local delicacies of Sku, Thukpa, momos and the strong local brew of Chhang.
How Many Days are Enough to Travel
Travelling to Leh is a slightly cumbersome affair, despite being tremendously popular. It takes two days to travel to Leh and two more to travel back comfortably. The average traveller also needs a minimum time to acclimatize oneself to the altitude and weather of the city in order to travel around comfortably.
Besides, travelling to Leh most of times involves long camping trips or travelling by car to nearby areas and passes such as the Khardung La and the Nubra Valley or the Sham Valley. Because of this, an average trip to Leh has to be of ten days or more. For a more flexible and comfortable stay at the hilly city and experience of the enchanting landscapes of Ladakh, it is advisable to stretch the itinerary to about 15 days or more.
Often international tourists stay here for a longer duration and volunteer for the many NGOs and organizations around the area. Volunteering along with traveling the area is one of the most cost-effective and beautiful experiences that tourists can opt for in the area, as in these cases, the food and lodgings are provided by the organizations themselves, giving the travellers more of a chance to spend their money on things they would like to do.
Leh is a well-loved tourist destination which offers a splendid experience of the upper Himalayas and poses as a treat for sore eyes with its beautiful scenery of rugged mountains and valleys. Many of the tourists who visit Leh go for trekking or hiking trips. Adventure can be found in Leh in the forms of eco-tourism, trekking, mountain biking on bicycles and motorcycles and white water rafting. This is the most popular thing to do in the city. Apart from this, Leh is famous for its rich produce of sea buckthorn and apricot juices, jams and jellies, and picking up one of these is essential for any tourist visiting the city.
The city is also famous for its rich collections of authentic Kashmiri and Pashmina shawls and original Tibetan silver jewellery. Interested tourists are advised to make good use of their bargaining skills while shopping for these items. The most popular pastimes in Leh is to roam around and explore the rich Buddhist cultural heritage of the region within the many monasteries, temples and Gompas that are situated in town. Tourists should not give any of these a miss in order to experience the magic of Leh more intimately.
- Hinal Shah