For Gold, Peace, and Freedom


Travel to Leh Ladakh in India

January 28th, 2010

leh-ladakh.jpgTravel in Ladakh is one of the most fascinating experiences. Situated between the Himalayas and the Kunlun range, it is a popular destination for a solitary, leisurely, relaxed holiday. Ladakh is also one of the major trekking regions in India. Leh is the most important town in the area with an airport. The first thing that strikes you there is the immovable silence in these untouched pristine mountains. You feel small and inconsequential traveling in the lap of such high and great mountains; it is one of most sparsely populated regions in the world. The expansiveness and starkness of nature here are things that hold you in awe. There is the deepest blue in the sky, with a sun that burns you, and shade that makes you feel cold. It is extremely dry with no moisture whatsoever in the wind. So do not forget to carry sunscreen lotions and moisturizers when you travel!

The average height of the peaks here is 6000 meters. Traveling in Ladakh is traveling in a snow desert, as it is usually referred to. The Himalayas make a rain shadow area here leading to almost no rainfall. The major source of water then becomes snowfall, and the little streams you cross while traveling that are formed by melting snow. These streams actually freeze at night, and start trickling again during the day! The best time to travel to Ladakh is the summers, with many festivals and archery competitions arranged by local people. However, one can also travel there in winters, in subfreezing temperatures, to watch locals play ice hockey, a favorite sport. Most residents are Tibetan Buddhists or Shia Muslims, and the region is very similar to Tibet, even culturally; this is why it is also called ‘Little Tibet’ by many.

While you drive you see many small and large monasteries dotting the landscape. Most of these monasteries are ancient, with sloping (not vertical) walls merging into the hill. They are all constructed on hillsides and not the hilltops since this provides protection from the wind. Old monasteries do not have glass windows (some of the new ones do); you will find only a curtain inside the window niche. Inside is dark since there is no electricity; the only source of light is candles and lamps. Many of the monasteries have the oldest documents tucked inside cupboards.

The Pangong Lake, the largest saline water lake in the world, with a length of 134 km and a maximum width of 5 km also lies in the region, and stretches on to China. It is the favorite destination for many bikers traveling between the months of June and September every year. The serene waters in the Lake surrounded by absolutely untouched mountains will bring peace to your soul that is incomparable. One needs a permit to go to the Lake, but it is easily available at Leh. While traveling if you are fortunate enough, you will see Chiru, the endangered Tibetan antelope, hunted for its fine and warm wool (shahtoosh). It is possible that you will come across people on your trip, who will ask you if you want shahtoosh shawls and stoles; please do not buy them since the antelope is in the highest danger of becoming extinct.

You can travel to Ladakh either by plane (and land in Leh), or you can decide to travel by road. In which case, there are two routes you could take. One is the Srinagar route, the other Manali route. That is how most travel agents or tour operators will refer to them. The Srinagar route is open from June to November, and is preferable in case you land at the Srinagar international airport. The Manali route is open from July to October, and affords beautiful views of snow-covered Himalaya peaks. I would however suggest that you land in Delhi, and take a road trip to Ladakh via the state of Himachal Pradesh, which is beautiful in itself. But that is a really long trip, close to a thousand kilometers one way. Another thing to do is to reach Manali, from where almost every travel agent or tour operator runs vehicles to Leh Ladakh.

This article was sent to us by Nidhi Varma, who specializes in literature relating to travel and tourism in India.

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