LADAKH – THE LAND OF LAMAS
Situated at an elevation of 2750 – 7672 meters above the sea level, Ladakh is a newly made union territory that forms an alluring part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. Widely known as the ‘Land of Lamas’, Ladakh is dotted with beautiful monasteries and colourful prayer flags everywhere. It is a beautiful blend of Indian and Tibetan culture. The city is famous for its breathtaking landscapes, highest mountain passes, surreal glaciers, sprawling cold deserts, crystal clear skies, out of the world lakes, rich wildlife, thrilling adventure activities, and colourful festivals. Still unadulterated by modernity, it is a magnificent wonderland in the lap of Himalayas. No wonder, Ladakh is a dream destination for many bikers and adventure lovers. Not just that, the history of the land is dipped in rich culture and heritage. It’s fascinating forts and palaces still stand proudly in ruins boasting of its bygone Royalty.
There are a lot of interesting facts about Ladakh you may love to know and I can talk endlessly about this fascinating land. To know more about this Land of Lamas, please check my post ’20 Interesting Facts About Ladakh’.
Ladakh has a long list of varied experiences the land offers to its visitors. Here is a list of top 15 of them.
1. Buddhist Monasteries
Monasteries in Ladakh are not just places of worship, they are also known for their architectural excellence, meditational centres and even institutions for learning Kung Fu. They teach a simple art of living and the energies that surrounds the place are bound to give you some heady spiritual dose. Tucked in the mountains and hillocks, they make you wonder how they construct these masterpieces. Ladakh is dotted with a lot of monasteries and they all give you a glimpse of the rich Tibetan culture that prevails in Ladakh. From the fascinating Thankas and old architectural statues and artworks, to the breathtaking views of the land and surreal landscapes, these monasteries will never fail to provide you with an experience of a lifetime.
To get more details on these monasteries, please check my post ‘Top 15 Monasteries of Ladakh’, and decide for yourself which ones you wish to explore.
2. Magnetic Hill Point
Magnetic Hill Point holds a phenomenon that defies gravity. It is a slope where even if you turn off the engine of your vehicle and let it stand in a neutral mode, it will start moving and can go upto the speed of 20 km/h on its own. Now, the amazing thing is that the vehicle doesn’t go downhill, it rather climbs uphill on its own. Well, have I tried it? Yes, of course, and I do testify this phenomenon being real. The magnetic hill point is so notorious for its magnetic force that the airplanes flying over this area increase their altitude to avoid magnetic interference. So, you see, this is one place you can’t afford to miss in Ladakh. Not just that, the place itself is quite picturesque and you can click your favourite memories.
3. Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame is a museum constructed and run by the Indian army in memory of the brave Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the country in Indo-Pak wars. The museum showcases various guns and weapons used in the Kargil war, as well as the seized weapons of the enemy. Pictures and biographies of the brave soldiers adorn the walls of Hall of Fame. In one section of the museum talks about the Siachen Border, and the tough life of the soldiers maintaining security of the country in that area. It showcases their tough training pictures, the kind of clothes and equipments they use. There’s a projection room on the ground floor where you can watch a documentary on ‘Operation Vijay’. Another section of the museum displays items related to the rich Ladakhi culture, the history of Ladakh, its vegetation and wildlife. You’ll find a souvenir and gift shop where you can shop for some local stuff. You can also get a photoshoot done wearing the Ladakhi attire at the photo shop at quite a minimal price. Outside the museum is the Indian Flag hoisted, proudly swaying with the wind and singing tales of patriotism and valour.
4. Leh Palace
Leh is the joint capital and largest city of Ladakh. If you love ruins and historical places, Leh Palace is for you. Constructed in 1600, this nine story building is a dive into a rich and royal history of Ladakh. The palace was built with locally available material, like wood, stones, waterproofing clay and sun-dried mud bricks. Its huge walls and intricately carved wooden balconies are amazing examples of medieval Tibetan architecture. The palace was once the residence of the royal family, who was forced to abandon it when the Dogra Dynasty took control of Ladakh. The palace today stands in ruins and much of it is in crumbling condition. However, these ruins still tell a tale of a prosperous bygone era. The palace museum holds a rich collection of jewellery, crowns, ornaments and ceremonial dresses. There are more than 450 years old paintings made with crushed gems and stones.
5. Shanti Stupa
Located atop a steep hillock at a dizzying height of approximately 3609 metres above the sea level, this beautiful white-domed structure is one of the most magnificent Tibetan structure ever built. Shanti Stupa was built by Japanese Buddhists and Ladakhi Buddhists in 1991 to promote world peace and prosperity. Today, it stands as a symbol of friendship between the people of Japan and Ladakh The stupa holds the relics of Buddha at its base that were enshrined by the 14th Dalai Lama. This place has an ethereal feel to it. As you reach the top after a steep climb of 500 steps, you’re greeted with the cool mountain winds and a feeling of peace and serenity. Shanti Stupa also offers panoramic views of the city.
6. Sangam Point
Sangam point marks the confluence of two rivers – Indus and Zanskar. Indus is one of the longest rivers in Asia, originating from Tibet. Zanskar is formed in the Zanskar valley. The two rivers can be seen separately at the Sangam Point. The waves of the shiny blue Indus River mixing with the muddy green waters of Zanskar , with barren and rugged mountains at the backdrops, is such a spectacular sight to witness.
7. Khardung La
This place is indeed a biker’s delight. Elevated at a height of 5,359 metres above the sea level, Khardung La claims to be one of the highest motorable roads in the world. The place has an exceptional scenic beauty. Driving on this long stretch of road with snow covered mountains around is something that is bound to mesmerise you. The winds here are very cold and for bikers, it may numb your fingers. So, please take extra care to be fully equipped for this journey.
8. Zorawar Fort
Standing tall and strong over the glorious Leh Palace, Zorawar Fort is one of the major landmarks of the city. It was built by General Zorawar Singh as a military post for the Dogra and Ladakhi soldiers. Today, it is converted into a museum that preserves the remembrance of Ladakh’s glorified past. The fort houses many artefacts of the bygone era including armours, guns, weapons, shields, utensils, jewellery and lanterns. A lion-headed pistol of Maharaja Gulab Singh is also displayed in the artefacts room of the fort. The history room contains all the information about the entire life history of General Zorawar Singh. Then, there is a war room that was used as a secret headquarter for the Dogra and Ladakhi army. On the other side of the fort, there is a temple, a mosque and a fresh water spring. Overall, it is one of the best places to visit for history buffs.
9. Jama Masjid
Located in the heart of the Leh city and perfectly blending with Ladakh’s predominant Buddhist culture, Leh Mosque or locally known as Jama Masjid is the largest and the oldest mosques in the city. Developed in 1666-67 A.D. as a part of a contract between the ruler of Ladakh and the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the mosque contains a memorial called Shahi Hamdan. It is dedicated to Mir Syed Ali Hamdani who was a Muslim Sufi Saint. Initially the mosque had a domed constitution, but it was changed a few years back. The new building has a lovely architecture of intricate carvings and beautiful adornments. The mosque is open on all days from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Only men are allowed in the mosque.
10. Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is a beautiful Gurudwara constructed in the memory of the first Sikh Guru – Guru Nanak Dev Ji. There is an interesting history associated with this place. According to a legend, when Guru Nanak Dev Ji was deeply immersed in meditation, a demon tried to kill him by throwing a huge stone on him. But as soon as the stone touched him, it became like a soft wax with no harm to Guru Nanak Ji. The demon in rage kicked the stone and his foot got stuck in it. He realised his mistake and asked for penance for his deed and Guru Nanak Ji forgave him. That boulder with the imprint of the body of Guru Nanak Dev ji and the footprint of the demon is worshipped in Gurudwara Pathar Sahib. The Gurudwara is maintained by the Indian Army and people belonging to all religions are equally welcomed here.
11. Pangong Lake
Pangong Lake is one of the highest brackish water lake cradled in the lap of Himalayas in Ladakh. Pangong is not just a lake but also a fluid border between India and China. Yes, you read that right – a fluid border where the lake is divided between two countries. Pangong is 134 Kms long and 5 Kms wide at its broadest point. 50% of this length is owned by China, 40% lies with India and 10% of the lake is a disputed land. Drive to the Pangong Lake is itself an amazing experience. It is a 5-hour dramatic drive from Leh, where the scenes change from the crowded city to the less crowded villages to the mountain roads surrounded by rocky terrains. Pangong is not just a tourist spot to visit, it’s an out of the world experience. When you stand in the Himalayan Kingdom at a height of 14,270 ft. above the sea level, with the screeching Pangong lake on one side and the towering Himalayas on the other, and the Himalayan cold winds penetrating your skin, it feels like being a part of the stunningly beautiful panorama.. like being a part of the nature around you. Well.. that was my experience at this magical place – a terrific beauty – that’s what Pangong is! Definitely a must visit! Boating or diving in the lake is not allowed. An Inner Line permission is required to visit Pangong.
Bonus Point: Pangong is the same lake shown in Bollywood movies like ‘Three Idiots’ and ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’.
– If you plan an overnight stay in a lake-side cottage here, make sure you carry oxygen cylinders from Leh city (easily available) to be on the safer side. Pangong freezes at night and considering the land around the lake is barren, oxygen levels drop drastically and you may experience shortness of breath.
– There are no petrol pumps, no mobile network, no wifi and not much snacking options here. So, please plan accordingly.
12. Tso Moriri
Tso Moriri is located at an altitude of about 4,522 meters above the sea level and is one of the most serene, calm and beautiful lakes in India. The lake is 29 kilometers long and up to 5 kilometers wide at its broadest point. It is known to be the largest high altitude lake in India. The multi shades of the blue colour and the picturesque landscape around gives this place a romantic feel. With its rich flora and fauna, it is also known to be the highest agricultural fields in the world. Although an untainted and a beautiful place to visit, there are certain things you need to keep in mind while visiting Tso Moriri. There is only one cemented accommodation available. Facilities like medical aid, electricity, hot water and western toilets are hard to find. Oxygen level is pretty low here and further drops at night. There is no mobile network, no wifi and not much snack shops. If you are ready to pay this price to see an ethereal place like Tso Moriri Lake, then the adventure awaits you. The best time to visit this place is from May to August. Since the lake is very near to the Actual Line of Control, you need to get an Inner Line Permit to visit Tso Moriri.
13. Nubra Valley
When in Ladakh, you simply cannot miss this beautiful valley. Nubra Valley is located at an altitude of about 10,000 feet above sea level, between Karakoram and Ladakh ranges of Himalayas. This broad valley surrounded by lofty mountains is famous for its age-old monasteries, marvellous sand dunes, remote villages, hot springs and double humped camels. The breathtaking views and the delightful hospitality of the locals here is quite a delight. The best time to visit Nubra valley is from September to June.
14. White Water Rafting
White water rafting in Ladakh is one of the most adventurous and thrilling activity. Exciting rapids combined with the nerve chilling winds and freezing waters, along with the dramatic landscapes of Ladakh at the backdrops, is an unforgettable and once in a lifetime experience. So, if you love extreme adventures, the white water rafting adventure awaits you in Ladakh.
15. Tibetan Market
Best known for its host of stalls and shops selling a variety of Tibetan handicrafts, Tibetan market is cheap and cheerful place for your shopping needs. From the hand-spun rugs, carpets and shawls to souvenirs like prayer flags, prayer wheels and prayer bowls to jewellery, crystals and handicrafts – they have it all. Exploring this market is fun even if you don’t wish to buy anything. As for me, I bought a Rose Quartz crystal (crystal of love as they call it), a bracelet made from yak horn, a prayer wheel, a prayer bowl, and a few other souvenir gifts for my near and dear ones.
I hope I was able to convince you to plan your next adventure trip to Ladakh. Please leave a comment below about your thoughts on this beautiful Land of Lamas. Thank you for reading.