Situated at the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, Ladakh is bound by the mighty Karokaram mountain range in the north and the Great Himalayas in the South. Landscape of Ladakh has been modified and sculpted into the spectacular shape by the wind and the erosion over the centuries. Its altitude ranges from 9000 to 25000 feet. And is traversed by other mountain chains, the Ladakh range and Zanaskar range. It is rightly called “the broken moonland” and “land of endless discovery”.
For nearly 900 years, from the middle of the 10t h century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom, its ruling dynasties descending from the kings of old Tibet. The kingdom attained its greatest geographical extent and glory in the early 17th century under the famous king Singge Namgyal, whose domain extended across Spiti and western Tibet right up to the Mayum-la, beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.
Gradually, perhaps partly due to the fact that it was politically stable, Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. For centuries it was traversed by caravans carrying textiles, spices, raw silk, carpets, dyestuffs, narcotics, etc. to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Khotan. On this long route, Leh was the midway stop, and developed into a bustling enter pot, its bazars thronged with merchants from distant countries.
The weather of Ladakh remains cold and chilly for most part of the year and the best time to visit is from June to September.
- Winters (October to May) are very cold frost bites and snowfall is common occurrence, making it a very inhospitable climate for visiting the place. During this season, the mercury level comes down to very well below 0°C and the whole area is covered with snow.
- Summer (June to September) is the best time to visit as it is the only season when the passes are open. The temperature is cool and can go up to 33°C. Summers are the ideal time to go to Leh as the skies are clear and offer panoramic views of the mountains. The average day temperature ranges from 20° to 30°C.
- Monsoon is not confined to any particular season as sporadic rainfall may occur at any time.
Ladakh is open for tourists only during the months from June to September as during the rest of year, the passes remains covered with snow and travelling is not possible.
Place of interest in Ladakh
Pangong is 40 miles in length and nearly 2-4 miles in width at a height of 4267m above the sea level What strikes the eye in coming first in view of this lake is the lovely colour of its water, espacially towards evening, which is of the richest deep blue, over the whole expanse, at morning time, it is of a lighter a very brilliant colour. The water of the Lake is not that salty as sea water.
A long narrow basin of inland drainage, hardly six to seven kilometers at its widest point and over 130 km long, it is bisected by the international border between India and China. Spangmik, the farthest point of which foreigners are permitted, is only some seven km along the southern shore from the head of the lake, but it affords spectacular views of the mountains of the Changchenmo range of the north, their reflections shimmering in the ever-changing blues and greens of the lake’s brackish waters. Above Spangmik are the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Pangong range.
Spangmik and a scattering of other tiny villages along the lake’s southern shore are the summer homes of a scanty population of Chang-pa, the nomadic herd people of Tibet and south-east Ladakh. The Pangong Chang-pa cultivate spares crops of barely and peas in summer. It is in winter that they unfold their tents (rebo) and take their flocks of sheep and pashmina goats out to the distant pastures. As 75% of the Lake is in China and only 25% is in India.The landscape on the way to Pangong is spectacular.
Situated about 40 km southeast of Leh, was established at the instance of King Singge Namgyal, in 1672 AD. It is the biggest and best-known ‘Gompa’ of Ladakh. Hemis is best known to tourists for the colorful festival held in July. Sacred masked dances performed by the resident Lamas are held to eulogize the triumph of good over evil. Hemis is also associated with the Hemis National Park, also the abode of the snow leopard, Tibetan kiang, ibex, serow and Tibetan antelope. Amongst the avian fauna population found in the Hemis national park are the snow partridge and golden oriole.
This palace was built way back at the beginning of the 17th century AD by Singay Namgyal. It consists of nine stories and sits atop a hill, majestically overlooking Leh city. The care and reconstruction responsibility has been taken over by the Archeological Survey of India.
Situated 17 kms south-east of Leh, Thiksey gompa was built some 600 years ago and consists of 12 levels ascending a hillside. The gompa contains 10 temples; below the monastery itself are chapels and “houses” stretching down the hillside. After entering the main courtyard to the immediate right and up several steps is a new temple containing a large Buddha statue. This Buddha figure, 15 meters tall was constructed in 1970 to commemorate a visit to Thiksey by the Dalai Lama. The statue is the largest Buddha figure in Ladakh and took four years to construct. The statue is made of clay and covered with gold paint. Inside, the statue is filled with both the Kandshur and the Tandshur – volumes of Buddhist canonical texts.
Just across the river, south of Leh lies Stok, the village with which the deposed royal family was compensated for the loss of the throne. Stok Palace, where the royal family now lives, houses a museum of artifacts associated with the dynasty.
Stok gompa is a subsidiary of Spituk and both were founded by the same lama, Nawang Lotus, during the reign of King Takpa Bumbde. The oldest parts of the gompa are some 550 years old though the main Dukhang is only about fifty years old. A door on the left side of the courtyard opens onto the gompa’s library. This room has a complete set of the Kandshur, the 108 volumes of the Buddha’s teachings. The central image in this library is of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha). To the left of the Dukhang is a new temple which has a new and large image of Avalokitesvara with his 1,000 arms (to demonstrate his enormous strength) and 11 heads. On either side of this image are numerous small stucco images of lamas and Buddhas.
This palace looming over a small community below was built in the 16th century AD by Jamyang Namgyal and his son Singay Namgyal. This palace also houses a three storey copper gilted image of Maitriya Buddha, which was built by Singay Namgyal in memory of his father. The village below is also a big attraction to travellers, especially photographers, due to it’s quaint streets and small houses. This area also consists of a temple that is now considered one of the most endangered monuments in the country.
125 km west of Leh, Lamayuru monastery was founded in the 10th century. According to a popular folktale, Lamayuru was once a lake. A Lama once blessed the place so that it caused the waters of the lake to recede up to the mountains and left the place for the monastery to be built. This monastery is in utter ruins and only its main hall stands to this day housing numerous Tankhyas. The Yundrung Kabgyad festival is held here annually during summer on the 28th and 29th days of the second Tibetan month. Lamayuru has some fascinating caves carved out of the mountainside and is set on a high cape overlooking the village and valley. The monastery is also known as Yung Drung (meaning ‘Swastika’) and is worth seeing, if only for its beauty that surmounts that of any other gompa of the region
52 km from Leh, it was founded in the 11th century by a sect known as Klu-Kkhjil (water spirits) and was rededicated to another monastic order (the yellow sect) in the 15th century. The original Gompa was destroyed in a fire and the present-day Gompa was rebuilt in the 18th century. It is home to huge clay images of Lord Buddha, several old manuscripts, a rich collection of Thankas, old religious and domestic costumes, implements and other such things. It is said to flourish in the 15th century under lhawang Lodos Sangphu. Today, the monastery also belongs to Gaylukpa School. An annual festival is held from the 17th to 19th of the twelveth month, known as Likir festival.
Spituk lies some 5 kms south of Leh. Spituk gompa was built about 550 years ago by Gyalpo Bumide, although one temple, dedicated to Mahakala was built about 900 years ago. The Spitok is probably derived from the Central Tibetan language and means “Effective as an Example”, referring to the fact that this was the Tibetans’ first monastery in Ladakh. Ancient thankas are preserved here, some having been taken from the Potala Palace and Lhasa after the Chinese invaded. The head lama of Spituk is also the head Lama for Ladakh.
Situated on the shores of the River Indus, Alchi Gompa is more than thousand years old. One of the walls of the monastery features thousands of miniature paintings of the Buddha along with three large sized images that are made of clay and have been painted brightly to be the highlights of the place. However, this place does not serve as active religious center anymore and monks only look after it from the Likir.
The name Nubra is applied to the region comprising the valley of the river Nubra and that of the Shayok, both above and below their confluence. The route north of Leh crosses over Khardung-la. From the top, one can see all the way south over the Indus valley to the seemingly endless peaks and ridges of the Zanskar range, and north to the giants of the Saser massif.
The Diskit Village is located slightly off the little hamlet of Khalsar. Dotted with apricot plantations, Diskit is amongst the larger villages in the region, and home to the 350 year-old Diskit Gompa – the oldest, and the largest monastery in the Nubra Valley.