WITH surreal landscapes and picture-postcard views, Ladakh is a remote paradise that has a lot to offer. But here are 5 things that one just cannot miss!
For those who love the road, conquering the world’s highest drivable road — at a staggering 18,380 feet — is sure to be their biggest high. Built in 1976, this narrow roadway was opened to automobiles only in 1988. Situated almost 39km from Leh town, the ride is far from smooth with loose dirt, tiny rocks and occasional mounds of snow covering the terrain. However, nothing deters biking and cycling enthusiasts from taking up this challenge. Hundreds of travelers from all over the world get together each year to head out on automobile, motorbike and cycling expeditions. Some even practice on similar terrains within Leh for several days before heading up to Khardung La.
This route plays an important role aiding the delivery of supplies to the Siachen Glacier. As per historic details, Khardung La is known to lie on a caravan route that extends from Leh to Kashgar in Central Asia. During World War II, an attempt was made to transfer war material to China through this route, but proved to be futile. Today, it’s a traveler’s delight and a biker’s dream. Owing to the influx of tourists, there is a cozy cafe that serves hot coffee and Maggi noodles providing much needed respite, even at this altitude. There’s even a souvenir store here that offers curios like T-shirts and mugs.
Caution: Altitude sickness is very prevalent in a region like this, and is a serious health concern for travelers not previously acclimatized to high altitudes. It is recommended that one get acclimatized first and then take on this journey.
Pangong Tso (meaning lake in Ladakhi)
Aristotle once said ‘beauty is the gift from God’; Pangong Tso certainly holds him to his words. An endless water body draped in numerous shades of blue, this lake is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in Ladakh. The stillness of the lake allows you to click a perfect reflection, making it a haven for photographers. Spread over 134km in length, it extends from India to China. But it is known to be a disputed territory as the Line of Actual Control passes through the lake and 60% of it lies in China. Although, the lake doesn’t see much vegetation, you can spot the black-necked crane and a handful of ducks on occasion. In an odd occurrence, the lake freezes completely during winter, despite having saline water. Situated at a height of about 14,270 feet, it is well worth the five-hour journey through a frighteningly narrow dirt road marked with avalanche warnings. In the past few years, it has gained immense popularity after being featured in the climax scene of Bollywood flick 3 Idiots, which has helped increase tourism here. There are food stalls that serve dodgy Chinese, so try and stick to Maggi noodles as they seldom go wrong with it. They also serve hot and cold beverages.
White water rafting
If you enjoy adventure sports, white water rafting is sure to be on your list. There are many destinations in India that offer white water rafting, but Zanskar River definitely figures on top of the list. Stretching over 25km, the route from Chilling to Nimmu is a popular choice. A two-hour ride from Leh town, this route engulfs Grade III+ rapids with the occasional whirlpool. However, don’t be discouraged; it instils an incredible adrenaline rush. The ride lasts for two and a half hours, and comes with scenic rock formations in the background and gushing river water ahead. But be rest assured, even with tired arms, the excitement will urge you to continue rowing! For the brave-hearted, take a quick dip in the freezing water or float for a few minutes in between rapids.
Located at the heart of Nubra Valley, the Diskit Gompa is the oldest monastery in the valley, and a sub-gompa of the Thiksey gompa. Founded 500 years ago, the monastery belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. A long trail of steps leads to a simple prayer hall that houses a statue of the Maitreya Buddha with walls draped in colorful murals and Tibetan patterned silk. The temple complex displays typical Tibetan box-style architecture and is home to hundreds of monks. Legend has it that a Mongol demon—known to be against Buddism—was slain here, and his spirit often revisits the monastery. It’s also said that his wrinkled head and hand lie somewhere within the monastery, but are yet to be found. Any ghost busters want to plan a trip?
What sets this monastery apart from the many others spread out in Ladakh is a magnificent 106-foot statue of Maitreya Buddha. The statue’s towering size can be seen from a distance; marking your arrival to Diskit. Erected in April 2006, the statue lies below the monastery, inside the premises of the official residence of the Chief Lama of Nubra.
Ladakh offers a wide variety of cuisines, namely Ladakhi, Tibetan, Chinese, Indian and Continental. But there are a few places that have earned a spot in the must-visit list.
Pumpernickel Bakery (off Zangsti Road): From apple crumble to chocolate coffee cake, this quaint bakery and cafe produces some of the most best croissants, breads and cakes in Leh town. In addition, they offer generous portions at affordable prices. For example, a slice of cake costs Rs. 50 only
Summer Harvest (corner of Fort Road): Their menu includes Indian, Chinese and Tibetan dishes. Try the deep fried mutton momos, and Kashmiri rogan josh (lamb cooked in red sauce). More of a high-end restaurant for Leh standards, it has cable TV that attracts sports fans during dinnertime. The vegetarian food here is fairly average.
Gesmo restaurant (Fort Road): This restaurant is well-known among travelers for their yak cheese pizza. But their momos are also probably the best in town. They also house a bakery with homemade cookies and breads. It is a great place for a good ‘ol American breakfast of pancakes and cereal. They have a useful notice board here that allows travellers to connect with others, as well as look up details of tours around Ladakh.
Please note: A permit is required to enter some of the places mentioned above. Ensure to check the details in Leh itself.