Ladakh is a land where desolate deserts, picturesque passes, verdant valleys and limpid lakes co-exist to paint a canvas of extraordinary raw beauty. There’s something to experience with every twist and turn; in every nook and corner. Ladakh is where the folks are friendly and the food is fabulous. It’s also where the sights are surreal. Guaranteed to leave you speechless, here’s a list of what you absolutely must-see in Ladakh. You’ll thank us later!
With its unmistakable white dome set in a symphonic contrast against the clear blue skies, The Shanti Stupa in Leh is one of the most popular monasteries to visit for both its scenic and serene views. Atop a hilltop in Chanspa, Shanti Stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base along with a photograph of the current Dalai Lama. The best time to visit is at dusk when the setting sun casts magic on the mountains in the horizon.
Thiksey monastery is the largest gompa in central Ladakh at a height of 11,800 feet. Home to a 49-foot tall statue of Maitreya Buddha seated in a lotus position, it boasts of architecture typical of the region. Dedicated to the Yellow Hat order of Buddhism, the 12-storey monastery has many Buddhist artefacts along with traditional thangkas, murals and wall inscriptions reflecting the teachings of Buddha. Within the Thiksey complex is also a temple dedicated to goddess Tara and a nunnery.
Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake is one of Ladakh’s most favourite treasures that spans India and China. Located at a height of over 14,200 feet, a five-hour drive from Leh town brings you to this pristine salt water lake where the crystalline waters reflect the surrounding desolate mountain-scape. Pangong Tso has been quite the intrigue amongst Bollywood enthusiasts who come here because of the lake’s portrayal in films like 3 Idiots and Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
The magnitude and landscape of Nubra Valley in northeast Ladakh is both intriguing and intimidating. Accessible for about three months in a year, the valley is a high altitude desert along the shimmering blue Shyok River. Some natural marvels of Nubra Valley are the Hunder sand dunes along with the hot springs of Panamik, both of which are a huge tourist draw. Unlike any other landscape anywhere else in the world, Nubra Valley is where you can see mountains, lakes and lowlands…all in a dessert! One of the must see places in Nubra Valley is the Diskit monastery. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
In the ‘land of high passes’, Ladakh’s Khardung La is the most majestic at a height of over 17,500 feet. The highest motorable mountain pass in the world, this 39-kilometre stretch is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys and the Siachen Glacier. Not for the faint-hearted the ride on Khardung La isn’t exactly a smooth one with several treacherous gravel patches caused by landslides. However, the surrounding views of snow-capped peaks and colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind will allay your fears.
Ladakh has many scenic pulls with the most literal being Magnetic Hill. A gravity hill on a part of the Srinagar-Leh highway, the phenomenon is best experienced when sitting in a vehicle. Put the engine in neutral and let magnetic forces take over. Truth be told, there’s nothing unexplainable about it. The Magnetic Hill is a natural optical effect caused by the specific layout of the hills that obstruct the horizon and the road that appears to be uphill as a matter of fact is downhill and thus the “pull”.
Dedicated to the Drukpa or Dragon order of Buddhism, Hemis is situated on the western banks of the Indus River. Deep-rooted in the history of the region, it dates back to before the 11th century. Within the Hemis complex is a museum that has a collection of sacred thangkas, ornate murals and other Buddhist artefacts. The monastery is the venue for the annual Hemis Festival honouring the Buddhist master, Guru Rinpoche and celebrations are marked with traditional mask dances or chams.
Lamayuru has the distinction of being the oldest monastery in Ladakh dedicated to the Drikung Kagyu order of Buddhism. Located on a barren stretch of the Srinagar-Leh highway, the landscape is often referred to as ‘moon-scape’ for its crater-like terrain of the surrounding village. The venue for Yuru Kabgyat, a two-day festival held at Lamayuru, Buddhists from far and near come to see the resident lamas in colourful masks dancing to drum beats as part of the rituals.
At 14,836 feet, Tso Moriri is the largest of the high altitude lake in the in the Trans-Himalayan region. A marvelous spectacle with its turquoise glacial waters reflecting the surrounding mountains, this declared Wetland Reserve is dedicated to conserving the endemic wildlife of the region including the rare species like Tibetan gazelles, snow leopards and Tibetan wolves. Tso Moriri is also birdwatching paradise with 34 species of avifauna spotted here.
Hall of Fame
The poignant Hall of Fame is a museum honouring the brave soldiers who had lost their lives during the Indo-Pak wars. Maintained by the Indian Army, this double-storey memorial features a wall with dedications to the fallen soldiers. There are also objects and articles from the Kargil war including enemy weapons and maps along with an anti-aircraft gun. The Hall of Fame also has a section detailing the history of the Siachen Glacier and showcases the natural and cultural wealth of Ladakh.
Three kilometres southeast of Nimmu village in Ladakh is Sangam Point, the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers from where they flow in to Pakistan. Both the rivers are distinct in appearance with the Indus appearing brighter than its muddy counterpart. The panoramic vista at Sangam Point is postcard worthy canyon-like rock faces guiding the flowing waters. Devoid of commercialisation, Sangam Point is nature at its best, raw and untouched.
Author: Devika Khosla
With the inability to sit still, she’s always going ‘somewhere’. Foodie, spa junkie, animal lover and traveler. That’s Devika’s story.