Nothing prepares you for Ladakh. So, when your flight glides through the snow capped mountains and circles the tiny town of Leh, make sure you have a window seat to grab the spectacular view.
You can stay here for 3 days, 5 days or even a month, but when you leave the charming place, you will be calmer and lighter (from all the climbing!).
With every other mountain top dotted with a monastery or a fort, you will be spoilt for choices on what to select and see as each comes with its unique platter of history.
But no matter what, make sure you cover Thikse Monastery, Hemis Monastery and Alchi Monastery. Thikse Monastery is the largest monastery in Ladakh nestled in the Indus Valley. The panoramic view of the valley makes it easier to climb the stairs. Take a minute to soak in the cool breeze and the greenery which greets you. The monastery has many artefacts such as wall paintings, swords, many smaller stupas and an important highlight called the Maitreya Buddha.
But before you stand in front clicking pictures with the statues flashing the peace sign, remember that Buddhists consider even the pictures to be sacred and they deem taking such pictures inappropriate.
The Hemis Monastery is the oldest Monastery in Ladakh and again boasting a serene atmosphere. Being the oldest, every inch is infused with the richness of Buddhism. The walls are adorned with extensive paintings (take note of the Circle of Life painting) and exquisite statues. However, some portions of the monastery are under renovation.
The third and final monastery one must see is the Alchi Monastery. Unlike the other monasteries, this is not a climb (phew!). A charming path dotted with shops (take a look here!), this is also an old monastery. The wall paintings here are so extensive that it looks like wallpaper! The tiny inner sanctums hold tall statues of Buddha which have intricate painting all over. Take a walk in this monastery to discover the mighty Indus River in the backyard!
Other than Monasteries, the Leh Palace and Shey Palace are also must-sees. While the Leh Palace is a newer palace compared to Shey Palace, created keeping in mind Leh’s strategic position on the Silk route, Shey palace was the original capital palace which overlooks villages and again, rolling mountains. The Sanchi Stupa is also located near the Leh Palace.
Take time to see the gorgeous Pangong Lake (now more famous for the 3 idiots movie). Leave early to avoid the crowds and possible blocking of roads due to melting of snow during the afternoon. You can take packed lunch to have a picnic!
Another place to visit is the Nubra Valley. Famous for the double humped camels (which roam free), stay at one of the many camps to enjoy sand dunes, camel safari, the Diskit monastery and the famous Shyok river.
In all your drives, Pashmina goats and yaks will be a constant sight and when fortunate, cute marmots (a type of squirrel) can be found on roadsides sunning themselves! Each village will have a beautiful prayer wheel. Take a second, make a prayer and turn it for a better life!
The Indian palate does not suffer with the wide range of Indian (albeit oily) dishes available. If you wish to go local, other than the Momos at the Tibetan Kitchen, try the Thupka (noodles in soup) anywhere!
If feeling like a nibble during shopping, try the local Kashmiri bread which is like a thick naan. Eat it hot! Israeli, Japanese and Korean food is also available as the tourists from these countries are many! So, if you feel like embarking on a food adventure, look no further!
Don”t leave without jams, apricot scrub and other organic produce from Dzosmos and the Organic Store on the main Leh Bazaar. Also check out the metal and wood handicrafts like medicinal bowls, incense holders and of course, the conversation starting traditional trumpet.
Thangka paintings, prayer wheels and Buddhist masks are also interesting buys. You can always find local specialities like the Incense bowl used in temples.
Woollens, like a Ladakhi Pashmina Shawl from the Tibetan Handicraft Community Showroom in Choglamsar, are also a good buy here.
From houses to hotels, there are many places that fit into every budget.
Hotel Lasermo has great service, cleanliness, hot running water, and delicious buffet meals, making it a great choice. A word of caution; resist the temptation of taking the upper floors. With no lift, climbing three floors in an oxygen starved atmosphere is no charm.
While staying at Numbra Valley, try the Royal Camp. Lasermo arranges bookings for you and is simply enchanting!
Ladakh can only be truly experienced when you actually drive along those mountain ranges or dip your feet in a cool stream near a village. It”s not just a destination. It”s a journey that the traveller in you must experience.