Ladakh- Exploring in and around Leh

Nestled in the Karakoram ranges and Himalayas is picturesque Ladakh known for its snowcapped hills, scintillating pristine lakes, beautiful valleys with meandering rivers and cold deserts. Whether it’s the landscape which changes every few kilometres or the exotic wildlife that it is home to or the picture-perfect postcard vistas- Ladakh doesn’t cease to amaze. Leh is the capital city and the perfect base to explore places in and around.

The people of Ladakh, primarily Buddhists, are deeply spiritual, which is evident from the several monasteries that dot the length and breadth of Ladakh. They live in small hamlets tending to their domestic animals, spinning prayer wheels and have learnt to make the most in the hostile weather conditions.

We visited Ladakh in 2012, and although eight to nine years have since passed, we still have fond memories of this paradise. We stayed in Ladakh with our children (a ten-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son) for a week exploring its various attractions. Join us as we take you to Ladakh through a series of travelogues:

  1. Exploring in and around Leh.
  2. Nubra Valley Gems
  3. Lamayuru -The Moonland of Ladakh
  4. Camping at Pangong Lake

In addition, we share with two more articles

  1. Monasteries of Ladakh
  2. 12 Things to do in Ladakh.

We begin with our first travelogue exploring Leh and the places in and around it.

After landing in Leh, we drive to our hotel which is going to be the base from which we will explore Leh and the places around it. We have been cautioned to take the first couple of days easy and not be in a frenzy to undertake road trips to high altitude places. At 11500 feet, the air is thinner, and it takes extra effort to breathe. Acclimatisation to this high altitude is essential or else one can fall ill and even need hospitalisation!

So, we decide to trust our guide Dorjey who has helped us plan the itinerary. First, we explore Leh and the surroundings which are close by and then undertake longer trips to the Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake.

Hall of Fame

First on our list is the Hall of Fame- a memorial cum museum made by the Indian Army. Located 4 km for Leh, it is on the Leh-Kargil Road. It is a reminder of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives during the several Indo-Pak wars that the country has faced.

Hall of Fame, Leh @Rafiq Somani

An exhibit depicting the panoramic view of Ladakh region is on the floor. Busts of several martyrs with their heroic deeds enumerated on posters can be seen. The weapons carried by the army men, their uniforms, pictures of these brave soldiers, stories of their valour and heroism are all proudly displayed. We have tears in our eyes reading the stories and seeing the photos of these Bravehearts. It is because of them that our children and we can sleep peacefully unafraid of attacks by foreign nations. In another gallery are the various facts about Ladakh, its people, culture, wildlife and so on.

When we step outside, we see the Indian tricolour on a pole fluttering in the wind and a tank on display. The vistas of the surrounding hills, some of them snow-capped, with the Spituk Monastery can be seen. On a sandy hill, we can see the word Landon written. It is the name of a school that one can see below it, on the foothills. 

Spituk Monastery from Hall of Fame @Rafiq Somani

Shanti Stupa

Our next stop is Shanti Stupa- a white dome-shaped structure which has the relics of the Buddha and provides a breathtaking view of the surroundings. It was constructed in 1991 to mark the completion of 2500 years of Buddhism. As we enter, we see a monk beating a drum in a rhythmic pattern. We then see an altar with a golden Buddha statue, and a sense of peace and calm descends. We see The Nampgyal Tsmo fort and monastery on a hill from the terrace of the stupa. As we exit the stupa, we notice a Ladakhi child playing happily without any toys or distractions. Her peach and plum complexion, innocent eyes and a smile are infectious.

Statue at Shanti Stupa @Rafiq Somani
Nampgyal Tsmo Fort and Monastery from Shanti Stupa @Rafiq Somani

Our first day in Ladakh has come to an end on a good note. The next morning, we are in for a piece of sad news. We realise that our daughter has taken ill. She is complaining of a stomachache. Was it something she ate, or is it the acclimatisation challenge? Not wanting to take any chances we decide that Rafiq and my son will go sightseeing while I will stay back at the hotel with my daughter.

They visit the Shey Palace, Druk White Lotus School Thiskey Monastery and Stok Monastery. Thankfully, they have clicked lots of pictures and on their return show them to us and share their experience.

Shey Palace

They show me photos of the Shey Palace like the rock carvings of the 5 Dhyani Buddhas, the large prayer wheels and different angles of the monastery.

Shey Palace @Rafiq Somani
Rock Carvings of 5 Dhyani Buddhas Shey Palace @Rafqi Somani

Druk White School

Seeing pictures of the Druk White Lotus School, my daughter’s face lights up. She is feeling better but has not fully recovered. The school featured in the movie 3 Idiots, and we had told them we would be visiting Aamir Khan’s character Rancho’s School before the trip. They were looking forward to seeing it. My husband tells her that he will take us to the school once she is better.

Thiksey Monastery

My husband next, shares pictures of the Thiksey Monastery, which is the largest monastery in Ladakh. I see photos of the monastery on a hill, a giant prayer bell, the colourful Tibetan Buddhist wall paintings, the surroundings as well as the interior prayer hall. The piece de resistance is the 15 metres tall statue of Maitreya Buddha with an elaborate, colourful crown, prominent eyes, elongated earlobes with earrings. I wonder if it looks so beautiful in the picture seeing it face to face would have been even better. But for now, I am contented watching the pictures.

Maitreya Buddha, Thiskey Monastery @Rafiq Somani

Pictures of the Stok Palace and Museum, which is the residence of the former royal family, are shared next by my husband. A structure with an impressive façade in white with windows painted in maroon with a black outline. The balconies from where the royals must be looking at the goings-on outside.

Stok Palace and Museum @Rafiq Somani
Stok Palace and Museum @Rafiq Somani

We pray that our daughter recovers fully so that we can visit the other attractions of Ladakh. Read on to find out what happened next in the Gems of Nubra Valley travelogue.

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