Leh -The Journey Within

I had heard it from avid travellers just like I was-they said-“when you travel to Ladakh, your perception about travelling changes”. What they said went far- far beyond those words. It was in reality a journey that changed me as a person! Approaching the ‘Rooftop if the World’, the semi-desert like Ladakh valley with its sudden sights of flowering sandy dues, myriad colored hills made of semi-precious stones, as I was told by the guide book I refereed to, and the landscape that defies any simple geographical explanation, was a code of nature yet to be fully unraveled.

 A paradise for geologist and paleontologist-a challenge par excellence for adventure hunters, and the ultimate journey of spiritual high; Leh was not what picture postcards tell you about. It’s not what a camera can catch, but what a soul and a spirit of an adventurer can see with the mind’s eyes. Unlike many other cities you may have traveled to remember, this is one of the hardest places to traverse through and not your typical holiday destination. Be prepared for some roughing out on treacherous roads whose destination will make it all seem worth it. Do be cautious of the time of year you choose to travel in. July to September, is great, and summer months are the only time albeit highly bright and sunny that makes one of the coldest places on this planet, bearable for travelers.

1. Leh Palace

Leh, India

The grandeur of the original Dalai Lama’s palace in Tibet has inspired this magnificent structure gracefully draped across one of the cliffs facing the city of Leh. The high seat of the Buddhist religion, it invites great attention from believers and architecture enthusiasts alike. A 16th century building, it overlooks the Stok Kangri and Ladakh ranges. The interiors will greet you with a typical gompha style Tibetan art, thangkas, murals and exhibits of dresses worn in ceremonies. The look alike of Potala, reminds you of how diverse are some of the places in the subcontinent of India.

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2. Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa Rd, Leh, Jammu and Kashmir 194101

Built as a chorten, or a white dome stupa-it is a climb up 500 steps, so those with knee problem, be aware of this challenge. Do try to reach the top as this is one of the vantage points above Leh city-about 5 km away that gives you a panoramic view. A modern structure built jointly by Japanese and Indian Buddhist as a landmark to celebrate the 2500 years of Buddhism.

3. Hall of Fame

Leh-Spituk highway south of Leh, Leh, India

A tribute to the Indian army men who guard the world’s highest borders-beyond that it’s a tribute to heroism and struggle of the human race against many odds like high altitude and severe weather conditions in which they have to guard the borders of their motherland. One cannot leave the place unmoved by their obvious sacrifice and valour. The place that symbolizes the dichotomy of Ladakh-a place filled with the peaceful teachings of Buddhism sadly saw a gruesome war. A must-see if you want to peep into the life of soldiers serving in the toughest terrain in the world.

4. Lamayuru Moonland

Village Lamayuru, District Leh Ladakh, Ladakh, 194106, India

When in Ladakh be prepared for almost celestial experiences-be it the night sky that is the clearest and a vivid indigo blue or the land itself that reminds you of the surface of the moon and one such place is Lamayuru, that falls on the way between Kargil and Leh. The spectacle is worth capturing in a thousand shots on camera. A marvel for geologists who are unable to decipher the reason why the surface looks this way. Go on practise Jackson’s moon walk if you please-there could be no place better suited for it.

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5. Magnetic Hill

Leh-Kargil-Srinagar national highway, Leh, India

Challenging Newton could not have been done in more spectacular of ways-here is that hill where when you park the car on a spot marked, it automatically gets drawn uphill-this pulling effect can be felt by all who are in the car-with the engine switched off. Locals say that the hills in the ranges there hold magnetic material that has this effect. But some say -even water dropped there travel upwards!!!

6. Gurudwara Sri Datun Sahib

Ladakh Ice Hokey Stadium, Near Jama Masjid,, Keylong-Leh Rd, Leh, 194104

Get amazed at the simple yet enchanting story of how one of the greatest apostles of Sikhism planted the tree names Meswak, Very close to Leh town and blessed the city. Today called as Datum Sahib. Very close to the Leh Market and the Jama Masjid, you can simply walk to this location.

7. Sindhu Ghat

Leh, India

The colour of the river stuns you with its vividness. The water reflecting the blue of the sky. The ghats have been constructed in such a way that you could go close to the water. Keep a good hold over the children though the currents are pretty low here, you can never be too careful around water fronts.

8. Spituk Monastery

8 Km From Leh, Leh, India

Close to Leh and easy to traverse, it’s one of those places that a culture buff has to visit and your undying thirst for seeing more and more monasteries will begin here. Built in the 11th century, it not only has some stunning Thangkas, murals and one of the most impressive idols of the Buddha but also an idol of Kali that is unveiled once a year during their annual festival called as the Gustor. You know you are in the land of the lamas, when you see the hundreds of Mani stones, the fluttering prayer flags and the sounds of chants mingling with the unstoppable winds that travels the vistas. The monastery is eight kilometers from Leh and built at a height of 3300 meters.

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9. Hemis Monastery

Hemis, India

Sakymuni Buddha’s place of pride for sure-here the copper statue of the great sage is one of the rare things to find. Visited by culture enthusiasts from the world over it is a 13th century Gompha or monastery that is the richest in the whole of India. Buddhists come here especially during the Hemis festival that sees the showcasing of their priceless thangkas and artifacts lovingly kept in it treasure house of Buddhist paraphernalia. Colourful and majestic, Hemis will take you about two hours to reach from Leh , but will be a day trip worth its while.

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10. Gurdwara Pathar Sahib

Leh-Kargil Road | Ropar, Leh, India

You will find this much travelled to pilgrim centre on the road to Leh, from Srinagar but in case you take flight to Leh, you will have to travel 25 kms from the city down the highway. A trip that will enchant you with the story of the demon who was converted to pious ways by one of the greatest teachers Guru Nanak Dev ji, whose presence here is marked on stone and is thus a much-revered centre for all Sikhs. A 16th site that talks about how the seer travelled from Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet down to Leh.

11. The Blue Lotus

Adjacent to Post office, Main Bazaar Road, Leh-194101, Jammu & Kashmir, 194101

In the mood for Thai, Malaya or Indonesian food-you simply have to head straight for this stunning three storey restaurant with the most exhaustive of menus. Should suit all palettes and they have catered to what Indians called Chinese food, as much as some stellar Thai curries , great on a really cold evening-would avoid the rush hour though.

12. Chopsticks Noodle Bar

Fort Road, Leh, Raku Complex | Fort Road, Leh, Leh 194101, India

For one you will be stumped by its almost home like stetting-very simple, unpretentious a no-frill eatery that serves great tasting Ladakhi food freshly cooked. One can vouch for it as they themselves say -they do not have fridge for storage due to erratic electricity!! Great place for all kinds of momos and noodle soups. For that perfect comfort food place head here-especially on very cold evenings here at Leh Town. Recommended highly is the Thai Tuna Pasta salad.

13. Babylon German Bakery

Changspa, Leh 194101, India | Changspa, Leh 194101, India
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14. Lamayuru Restaurant

Near Hotel Yaktail, Fort Road, Leh 194101, India

When in Leh you cannot but eat here-one of the highly rated in terms of customer satisfaction. It is the authentic Tibetan restaurant where the chef’s hold over local delicacies is evident in the menu as well. A must come for all hardcore Tibetan food enthusiasts. You could however also try their typical Indian dishes that people from the main land need from time to time! The chef here named Gesmo is from Nepal and cooks with much gusto all his signature dishes.

15. Ladakh Fine Foods

Changspa Road Leh Ladakh, Leh 194101, India

Run by Achey Kunzes and Chosang-the place not just promotes authentic Ladakhi food but also sells local produce to help promote cottage industry here. The owners engage with each guest and despite the place being rather small, you will manage to get space there for a truly unique homely experience. Do try their famed menu to get a taste of real Ladakhi food. But their apricot preserve and organic coffee for gifting .

16. Ladakh Himalayan Retreat

Behind G.N.N. Public School | Fort Road, Leh 194101, India

When in Leh you would have too many choices when it comes to where to stay but only a few can balance it out for your budget to look good and give you all the necessary comforts. This hotel gives you adequate space, clean surroundings, and is just a short walk away from the main attractions of the city. They are also recommended for their intercontinental menu for breakfast and stunning views from the patio sit outs. Do insist on rooms that have an opening for you to enjoy the afternoon sun.

17. The Empyrean House

Upper, Karzu Rd, Leh, 194101

Close to Soma Gompha and barely a walk away from the Shanti Stupa , you are pretty close to all the famous eateries and can venture out on foot to most places around. The airport is a mere 5 kms away and the rooms they give with attached bathrooms are super comfy and spacious. Something very homely about the manner in which the guest house is run. A touch of Ladakhi hospitality for you to savour .

18. Gomang Boutique Hotel

Upper Changspa Road, Leh 194, India

When in Leh, you can always fall in need of that extra blanket or some extra hot water, or some emergent need that you kids could have in terms of a snack -all that is possible at the Gomag as this is highly recommended for couple travellers and those with families. 100 m from Drepung monastery and 3 km from the Rinpoche airport, you are barely any distance from the city centre as well. Rooms come with proper seating area, a well-equipped bathroom and stunning views of the garden and valley.

19. Thiksey Monastery

Thiksey Villay, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey, Leh, Jammu and Kashmir 194101

Thousands of prayer flags that create colourful vibration-the sound of prayers and gongs marking end or beginning of a chant-the many murals and frescos that line the walls with their brilliant colours as well as the residence of a hundred monks, a nunnery and a 40 feet tall statue of Maitreya Buddha. The many prayer wheels that keep spinning on the flanks of the walls-the little children from poor families who are given food and lodging as well as an education here-are all part of the wonderful experience this monastery is all about. The views around, being almost away from Leh , makes the location and its view simply spell binding.

20. Matho Monastery

Thiksey Villay, Leh Manali Highway, Thiksey, Leh, Jammu and Kashmir 194101

Located right behind Thiksey monastery, it has its own set of Avalokiteshwar and the huge collection of artefacts associated with the religion including scriptures in original handwritten version. Jewels, the murals on the walls and the priceless tangkas, but what sets Matho apart is its association with the oracle form of belief in Buddhism. Each year during the annual festival, monks perform deadly feats and oracles spell out the future of the village and that of the monastery. Be prepared to go off the highway to Leh for this drive and get amazed at the diversity amongst Buddhism and its many forms. 26 kms from Leh, you could hire a cab to reach there.

21. Phugtal Gompa

Jammu and Kashmir 194302, India

One of the only ones to be trekked and is not accessible by any vehicle. It houses 70 lamas who come here for Buddhist studies and meditation. Cliff hanging structure that faces the river Langnuk. While trekking up to the cave location of the monastery, you could take a break at two scenic villages of Cha and Anmu and meet the locals. An unforgettable aspect of Leh -the hospitality of the people -yours to experience first-hand.

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22. Nimmoo

Leh, India

Drive along the Indus and come to the vantage point on the highway from where you can see the confluence of the Zanskar and the Indus -the colours are distinctive and makes for a postcard style picture if taken in the afternoon when the sun is really bright. The location for rafting expedition -you can see this spot while on your way to Pathar Sahib Gurdwara.

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23. Moti Market, Leh

Moti Market Opposite of ITBF gate Leh-ladakh Jammu and Kashmir, 194101

The plethora of shops selling handcrafted beads and semi-precious jewellery will stun you with its variety. As the name suggest these are stalls that are lines up along the street and you can find your heart’s content of the finest in beads, rosaries and you name it! Don’t miss out on the turquoise sold here.

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24. Stok Palace

Stok Palace, Stok 194101

Built in 1825 by the Namgyal rulers, this stunning palace houses some of the most priceless artefacts that one can see in the museum. The Stok place is a mere 15 kms from the city of Leh, and also has apportion that has been converted into a heritage hotel. A highlight of the palace is its library and the 108 original kangyurs or the original teachings of Lord Buddha kept here. Best time to visit would be during festivals which you would have to check on from the calendar days marked by Buddhist when the mask dance here is worth a see.

25. Main Bazaar Rd

Leh 194101, India

For all the best collection of locally made thangkas and the finest in handcrafted rugs and souvenirs to take back home-it has all the necessary trappings to keep you busy through the afternoon shopping for pashmina wood shawls, yak wool stoles and also metal craft and typical Buddhist take aways like prayer flags, rosaries, handcrafted small thangkas, lamps and the likes.

Last updated at Oct 03, 2018