Ladakh

Part fantasy, part reality… Ladakh, is where, the forces of nature conspired to render a magical unrealistic landscape… a landscape of extremes… desert and blue waters… burning sun and freezing winds… glaciers and sand dunes. Ladakh is an authentic land, faithful to ancestral customs where life is characterized by intense spirituality. Rich traditions of Mahayana Buddhism still flourish in the purest form in this region, which has often been referred to as Little Tibet.
Leh is the capital of Ladakh and is famous for its monasteries, the Hemis Monastery being the largest. Nubra Valley, Tso Moriri Lake and Pangong Lake offer truly amazing landscapes high up in the Himalayas. Major attraction of Nubra valley is the highest motorable road Khardongla pass, majestic peaks and glaciers, enchanting valleys and villages. Chadar or Zanskar Trek, Parang La Trek and Kang Yatse Trek are great opportunities for Adventure tourism.
The only two roads into the area are the Zoji-La Pass from Srinagar (open June-October) and the high altitude Manali-Leh Highway from Himachal Pradesh(April December). Leh can be reached by air from Delhi.
Eco tourism in Ladakh encourages Homestays, a system where tourists who are trekking in Ladakh, instead of bringing tents and supplies that often has to be carried by horses or donkeys,stay with local families in the villages they pass. This is seen both as environmental since the pack animals can sometimes eat all the limited vegetation, and as socially responsible since it puts money directly into the local villages.
Best time to visit: June to October, January to mid- March for Chadar Trek
Languages spoken: Ladakhi
Climate: Pleasant summers and very cold winters with snowfall

Adventure tourism: River Rafting, Double humped Camel Safari, Zanskar Trek, Parang La Trek , Kang Yatse Trek
Natural Wonders: Diskit and Samstanling Gonpa, Panamik hot spring (Nubra Valley), Tso Moriri Lake, Pangong Lake, Sand dunes at Hunder

Holy Places: Hemis Monastery, Thiksey Monastery, Spituk Monastery, Stok monastery and Shey Monastery

Majestic Ladakh :: Hall of Fame and The Last Post

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As we entered inside the museum we were briefed by an Army Personnel. This two storey museum is maintained by the Indian Army and divided into various sections for displays. A section of the ground floor portrays the facts, culture and history of Ladakh. It has a souvenir shop where you can get t-shitrs, coffee mugs, caps, pashnima shawls etc. Enthusiast may shoot photos in Ladakhi attire in the photo shop and take the print for a nominal charge. Finding no interest in it, we went to another section of the same ground floor. The walls here are occupied by the pictures of Kargil War 1999. It transported us to decades back. The displays on the walls gave us a vivid portrayal of how Indian Army fought the war.

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Majestic Ladakh : Shey Palace and Stok Palace in Leh

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The upper floors of the palace house museum and monastery. While in the palace, you may come across with members of royal family. I did! It was for informing that photography inside the museum is not allowed! The rooms of the palace open to the visitors are the king’s room, queen’s room, palace gompa and a room that displays a Ladakhi Kitchen. Among all, the best I found was the royal Ladakhi Kitchen. It is the traditional kitchen of royal family which displays utensils, ceramics, clay pots and clay stoves with chimney. Dining area inside the kitchen is beautifully decorated with low height tables. It’s a no photography zone! A staff of the palace was with the visitors to discourage photography inside. But there are some parts of the palace where you can take photographs.

It was my great experience to visit these royal palaces in Ladakh. By PALACE what comes primarily to our mind is a grand royal residence which is made in timeless elegance. But the palaces of Ladakh are not of such kind, yet they stand high to show their presence in the glorious past of a kingdom that lost in time!

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Majestic Ladakh : Royal Palaces in Leh

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Like every other travelers in Ladakh, we too spent our second day in Leh. It is advisable to spend a day or two in Leh for acclimatization before going to any places of higher altitude like Khardung La or Pangong Lake. Leh has many great places to offer to its visitors including stunning landscape views, palaces, monasteries, stupas, war memorials and river Indus at Sindhu Ghat. We decided to visit the palaces and gompas on our second day in Leh and first to visit by us was the Leh Palace and Namgyal Tsemo Gompa.

Leh Palace of Namgyal Dynasty

The erstwhile royal residence of Leh locates around 2 Km from the main market place. Though the Palace locates on a hill top overlooking the Leh town it can be reached by car. As we reached the Palace we saw wandering young monks on bike!

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Majestic Ladakh : Fotu La to Lamayuru, Alchi and Likir Monastery

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Long ago when I saw a photo of ‘Moonland’ I was very much impressed and keen to see the place. But where it is? Though “Moonland’ does not have any Indian postal code or a milestone but it locates none other than in the mystical land of Ladakh, a village called Lamayuru! The moonlike landscape of ‘Lamayuru’ is popularly referred to and called by the traveler as ‘Moonland’!

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Majestic Ladakh : Kargil to Fotu La

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The monastery is placed at the centre top of a brown mountain cliff and appears as if suspended in the middle of it. A narrow road with many steps will take you inside to this wonderful cave monastery. This monastery has many elegant frescoes. This is one of the old Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh region.

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Majestic Ladakh : Kargil

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But that war is not the sole identity of Kargil. It was famous even before- famous for centuries among the silk route traders. This land was a transit point of the traders and caravans on their way from Kashmir and Punjab through Leh to China, Tibet and Yarken. The trade route though was closed many decades ago but the place has not yet lost its importance. Even today the travellers choose this small town as their favourite and most convenient place for night stay while going to Leh from Srinagar or when returning from Leh to Srinagar.

We were travelling to Kargil from Sonamarg. Enroute, we passed through the treacherous mountain pass Zojila and the second coldest inhabitat place in the world- Drass. Kargil is about 60 Kms from Drass. We crossed beautiful pasture grounds and Majestic Mountain peaks on the way from Drass.

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White water rafting, Leh and Khardungla… Top of the World!

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And then it happens. We are warned that it is a really rough patch ahead and to be rowing as hard and fast as we can as we hit it. Before I know it, the rapids are upon us and …. I can see it happening in slow motion… our raft just rises up from the right front end and keeps rising. The two members on the right side fall on us taking all of us under with the raft overturned right on top of us. I tell myself there is no need to panic. The guides are trained and our protective gear is on therefore all I have to do is come up to the surface even if under the raft and breathe from the air pockets under it. Easier said than done. I come up and try to breathe and I can’t. Just swallow some water from my mouth so resolutely, I close my mouth and try to breathe in through my nose. No luck. It is as though the air had suddenly turned solid.

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Majestic Ladakh : Kargil War Memorial, Drass

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Kargil War Memorial is a monument established to commemorate the victories of Operation Vijay during the Indo-Pak war of 1999 and also to pay homage to war Martyrs who laid their lives while safeguarding our country against the Pakistani intruders. The memorial is made of pink sandstone at ‘ground zero’ with the backdrop of Tololing Range. On its rear wall, names of the martyrs are inscribed on golden plate.
I read therein the quote, “Beneath this earth young warriors sleep” and few lines from a poem of Martyr Ram Prasad Bismil (He was a great freedom fighter participated in Mainpuri Conspiracy of 1918, and the Kakori conspiracy of 1925 against the British Empire, and was sentenced to death by British Raj) at the bottom of the wall,

Shaheedon Ki Chitaon Par
Lagenge Har Baras Mele
Watan Par Mar Mitne Walo Ka
Yahi Baaki Nishaan Hoga

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Sarchu to Nimmu – taking in the famous Tso Kar

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There is a fair amount of traffic on this route… even though it is so demanding a journey. The day is getting brighter and the scenery more compelling. All of a sudden I spot a dog sized something on the corner ahead. Its gait immediately gives its identity away. It is a Himalayan Snowcock. Lo and behold!

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Majestic Ladakh : ZojiLa- The Most Treacherous Mountain Pass In The World!

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Wait a minute! It has a history of war too. Don’t raise your brows! Yes, it has. Kashmir was then an independent Kingdom and Maharaja Hari Singh was its king. It was the year 1947-48. The king was finding it difficult to decide with which country to join his territory, India or Pakistan, or to remain independent. The king chose to remain independent but his wishes were short lived and dashed in October 1947 as Pakistan sent Muslim tribesmen invader into the territory of Kashmir who were then approaching to the capital Srinagar fast. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, ceding Kashmir to India on 26th October. Thus the first war between India and Pakistan broke out over Kashmir in 1947. India referred the dispute to United Nation on 1st January 1948. During this war Pakistani invaders seized ZojiLa in 1948 while they were on the verge of capturing Ladakh. On 1st November, Zojila pass was recaptured by Indian forces under Operation Bison. On 1st January 1949, a ceasefire was agreed with only two-third of the whole Kashmir under Indian control and the remaining with Pakistan (we call it now as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or P.O.K). In the ceasefire lines, LOC (Line of Control) was drawn up which was formally established in 1972, after a third war between India and Pakistan in 1971.The Line of Control remains the de facto border between the two countries.

We spent enough time at the pass looking at how other vehicles were negotiating the road at the mountain edge that has no barrier. The road is so narrow and vicious that it is known as one of the most dangerous passes in the world. But the route is a lifeline that keeps the people of Ladakh connect with the rest of the world. However it remains closed for more than six months in a year for blockage due to heavy snowfall. The road reopens in late spring. ZojiLa at an elevation of 11649 feet above sea level is considered to be the second highest pass after Fotu La on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway.

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Majestic Ladakh : The Journey Begins!

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Now let’s begin the journey. Yes it starts with this prologue. For me, the journey actually began much before I stepped into the land of Kashmir to enter into Ladakh.

The Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu, said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It is true for travelling to the top of the world, Ladakh! The first step undoubtedly would be to know a little bit about Ladakh.

It started, for me, four months before I actually travelled the region- through numerous articles, blogs and travel stories. Before going to Ladakh it was much essential for me to know about the places to go and activities to do in Ladakh, its history, culture, religious institutions and the mystics.

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