Explorations

Ladakh

Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, it is a high-altitude desert located at the western edge of the Tibetan plateau. Its awe-inspiring landscape has been modified and sculpted into its spectacular shape by wind and water over the millennia. The moon-like scenery is extraordinary: stark and barren but interspersed with isolated settlements of green oases full of swaying poplar trees, apricot orchards and cultivated farmland. Despite the rugged terrain and high altitude, the people of Ladakh exhibit a natural joie de vivre and their customs and lifestyle are a continuum from the past. Ladakh’s rich Buddhist heritage is on display at the numerous Gompas (Monasteries) that dominate the area. Perched high up in the mountain ridges, these enchanting medieval monasteries, surrounded by fluttering prayer flags, are still places of active worship and hold treasure troves of superb artifacts, images and ancient frescoes.

Surely we all must have heard at some point in our lives of a now seemingly clichéd adage that goes as such, “It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters the most.” Clichéd or not, the adage holds true to every word it says for one of the most spectacular drives in the country. You see, it’s not just Ladakh, but driving up to Ladakh that makes it a very special place. The road from either Manali to Leh or even Srinagar to Leh covers an approximate 500kms, and is dotted with quite a few high altitude passes with some touching 18,000ft and above in height. That apart the arid and dry terrain makes up for a grand view as you drive by.

We offer treks, jeep safari’s, white water rafting & festival tours in Ladakh.

We conduct fixed departures to Ladakh, do see our fixed departures category for details.


Do write to us with your plan and we will customize an itinerary for you.

Adventure

Trekking

With its geographical location and topography, Ladakh offers some of the most interesting Himalayan treks. The treks vary in days, from week long to even month long treks. The treks cross high altitude passes, some reaching as close as 18,000 ft. Keeping Leh as the epicenter, treks branch off in various directions, following mostly trails along valleys. Winters is also an ideal time to go trekking around Ladakh, though of course, the weather elements are at their challenging best during this time. Some of the most endeavored treks around the region are listed below –

  1. Trans - Zanskar Valley Trek
  2. Markha Valley Trek
  3. Nubra Valley Trek
  4. The frozen river trek on the Zanskar river (winter trek)
  5. Lamayuru to Alchi Trek
  6. The Rupshu Valley Trek
  7. Stok Kangri Trek (Trekking Peat which summits at 6,000 mts)
Rafting

River rafting in Ladakh takes you through its picturesque landscape, consisting of deep canyons, snow-covered peaks, hilltop monasteries, hillside villages, and unique wildlife. The best time for rafting in Ladakh is from June to October. The two major rivers for rafting in Ladakh are listed under –

  1. Indus River – The Indus River as well as its major tributaries in Ladakh offers a wide range of rafting options. One of the best stretches on the Indus River is the one between Spituk and Nimu or Saspol. However, those new to river rafting must go for the easiest stretch upstream from Spituk up to Karu.
  2. Zanskar River – The Zanskar River in Ladakh has on offer some of the most difficult, but exciting, rafting options. One of these stretches is the one between Padum and Nimu, through a gorge in the Zanskar Mountains. However, rafting done on the Zanskar is mainly expeditions style, where in one is on the river for days at a stretch.
Mountaineering

The major climbing areas are Zanskar, Ladakh, Kishtwar and Eastern Karakoram. The mountains in the Kisthwar reigon are not very high, however are fairly technical such as Sickle Moon (65752mts) & Eiger (6001m). Zanskar is the most famous region with peaks such as Nun ((7135m), Kun (7077m), White Needle (6500m) and Z peak series. Ladakh in recent times has become quite popular with the famous trekking peak, Stok Kangri (6153m) almost being attempted 40-50 times every year. Eastern Karakorums with the maximum virgin peaks still holds the restricted access status. Mt Plateau (7287m), Saser Kangri II East (7518m), Apsara Group, Teram Kagri Group are few of the virgin peaks in this region. With recent opening up of Baltistan numerous new peaks have opened up for climbing.

Hot Spots

Pangong Tso (4,250 mts / 13,900 ft)

A lake situated in the Ladakh Himalayas at a height of 4,250 mts, Pangong Tso is one of the highest brackish water bodies in the world. It is 134kms long and extends from India into Tibet. In-fact two thirds of the lake is in Tibet while one third of it lies in India. The lake is 5kms wide at its broadest point. In winter the lake surface freezes completely despite being salt water. The road to Pangong Tso traverses the third highest pass in the world, Chang-La (5,360mts / 17,585ft), where army sentries and a small tea shop greet visitors. The spectacular lake side is ideally open (weather gods permitting) from May to September.

Tso-Moriri (4,595 mts / 15,075 ft)

Located in the Changthang plains at a height of 4595mts, Tso-Moriri is one of the highest water bodies in the world. Changthang’s most striking feature is the absence of a consistent slope, which would enable water to drain away. Rather the undulating land forms itself into huge basins, in to which the snow-melt streams flow, and finding no outlet settle in to the greater brackish lake. Tso-Moriri which is a fresh to brackish water lake is spread over an area of 120 sq.kms. With a maximum depth of 40mts. Wet meadows and borax loaded wetlands covering around 10 sq.kms. Border its northern and southern shores. While the lake is in its liquid form during summers, come winters the entire lake freezes up in the sub-zero conditions.

Nubra Valley (3,000 mts / 10,000 ft)

With an average height of 10,000ft Nubra Valley is a mix of desert sand dunes and lush green villages tumbling down the hill side. Making their way through the middle of all this, are herds of Yak and the double humped Bactrian Camels and an occasional small whirlwinds of dust. The Valley is one of those rare places on earth where you can see the splendid beauty of a desert complete with double humped camels, sand dunes, rolling mountains, flowing streams and snow Peaks. The Valley was also named by scholars as “Ldumra” which literally means ‘The Valley of Flowers’ for the countless wild flowers that grow in this country side. The road to Nubra from Leh, crosses over one of the highest passes in the world – Khardung La at 5,359 mts / 17,582 ft.

Dha Hanu (3,000 mts / 10,000 ft)

At the confluence of the rivers Shayok and Indus in the Kargil region west of Leh live a people known as Drok-pa. They are racially and culturally distinct from the rest of Ladakhis. Their religious practices more so resemble the animist practices of the pre-Buddhist religion Bon than that of Buddhism as practiced in the rest of Ladakh. Their ancient traditions and way of life are partly preserved through their songs and hymns. One of these is a description of an ibex hunt and the ibex is sacred to them. Another recalls their migration from the Gilgit region further west in Pakistan, an event which must have occurred well before Gilgit came under the influence of Islam. Their language is said to be akin to that spoken in Gilgit and by immigrants from Gilgit settled in Dras south of Kargil. Their facial features, however, as well as their head and dress ornaments are the most striking and first noticeable as one encounters them. Whereas Ladakh’s population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin, they are of pure Indo-Aryan stock, believed perhaps to have descended from the army of Alexander of Macedonia. Today they number around two thousand inhabitants settled in five villages.

Cultural Delights

Shey Palace and Monastery (3500 mts / 11,550 ft)

Shey is a town in Ladakh that has the old summer palace of the Royal Family of Ladakh. Located on a 15kms drive from Leh towards the Hemis Monastery, the palace was built more that 555 years ago by Lhachen Palgyigon the then king of Ladakh, as summer palace for the royal family. It is the oldest palace in Ladakh. Above this palace is an even older fortress. As of today the palace and the fortress are in ruins, however the Shey Monastery is still in use today. The monastery or ‘Gompa’ as monasteries are known in Ladakh, has the largest statue of the ‘Golden Buddha’. The Druk White Lotus School, whose patrons are none other than the His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Richard Gere, is also located in Shey.

Thiksey Monastery (3,550 mts / 11,647 ft

Thiksey Gompa is a Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) Buddhist monastery in the Indus Valley located at a 25kms drive from Leh. It is noted for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lahsa, Tibet. The main point of interest in this Gompa is the ‘Maitreya Buddha’ temple inaugurated by H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama in 1980. This temple contains a 15mts high statue of the ‘Maitreya Buddha’. It is also noted for it’s collection of ‘Thangkas’ and other Buddhist wall paintings. Founded in the 15th century, this 12 storey Gompa painted in red, ocre and white has 60 residential lamas, plus a nunnery and a total of 10 temples. From the rooftop of the Gompa, one can get excellent views of the Indus Valley Flood Plains to both sides, upstream and downstream of the Indus River. On a clear and bright day one can also see the Matho Gompa, Stok Palace and the Shey Palace.

Stok Palace and Monastery (3500 mts / 11,550 ft)

The Stok Palace is situated in the Indus Valley at a 17kms drive from Leh. It is the current residence of the royal family of Ladakh. The museum in this palace contains shrines, crown jewels, ceremonial dresses and artifacts of the royal family. The Stok Gompa founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus dates back to the 14th century. It is a subsidiary of the Spituk Gompa and belong to the Yellow Hat Sect (Gelugpa) of Buddhism. One of the major attractions of the Stok Palace is the library which has a complete set of ‘Kandshur’, the 108 volumes of Buddha’s teachings. A new temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara, was added to the monastery here some time back. The central image inside the temple is that of Avalokitesvara with his 1,000 arms and 11 heads.

Hemis Monastery (3,650 mts / 12,000 ft)

Located within the Ladakh region of the western Himalayas, at a 40kms drive from Leh and at an altitude of 12,000ft, Hemis is one of the highest settlements in the world. The Hemis Gompa is believed to have been established in 1630 by Lama Tagstang Raspa and built by Palden Sara under the patronage of King Sengge Namgyal on a site previously sanctified by construction of a caved hermitage from the 12th century. This monastery is the oldest one in the area belonging to the Kargyu School. The Gompa is a unique example of a monastic complex of this period which manifests in its structure the geomantic principle which underlie religious construction of this type. The Hemis national park, abode of the elusive Snow Leopard is the highest national park in the country at this altitude.

Alchi Monastery (3,500 mts / 11,550 ft)

Alchi is a tiny hamlet situated 67kms from Leh along the Indus river. Its claim to fame is the presence of one of the oldest monasteries of Ladakh, the Alchi Gompa, built by the famous translator Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo. Nestled in a secluded tree lined spot beside a bend in the milky blue Indus, amidst a dramatic scenery, the Gompa harbors an extra-ordinary wealth of ancient wall paintings, wood sculptures, miraculously preserved inside 5 tiny mud-walled temples for last 900 years! The paintings, some of the oldest surviving in Ladakh, reflect artistic and spiritual details of both Buddhism and Hinduism as prevalent in that era in Kashmir. The sites earliest murals are regarded as the finest surviving examples of a style that flourished in Kashmir. Unfortunately, only a few monasteries escaped the Muslim Depredation of the 14th century, Alchi being the most impressive of them all.

Lamayuru Monastery (3,510 mts / 11,515 ft)

‘Moonscape’, the word that now describes the picturesque landscape backdrop to which the monastery is set. It is only upon getting there that you see for yourself to believe and understand what the word ‘Moonscape’ truly means. Lamayuru is a Tibetan Buddhist Gompa located in the Kargil district at a height of 3510mts. Founded by the Indian Scholar Maha-Siddhahcarya Naropa in the 11th century (allegedly on the site of dried up lake) after years of meditation, Lamayuru is one of the largest and oldest Gompas in Ladakh with a permanent population of 150 residential monks. It has in the past housed up to 400 monks, many of which are now based in Gompas in the surrounding villages. Lamayuru is host to two annual masked-dance festivals.

Likir Monastery (3,500 mts / 11,550 ft)

The name Likir means "The Naga - Encircled". The reason behind this naming of Likir Gompa of Ladakh is that it stands surrounded by the bodies of the two great serpent spirits, the Naga-rajas, Nanda and Taksako. The monastery is situated at a distance of approximately 62 km to the west of Leh town. Lhachen Gyalpo, the fifth king of Ladakh, offered the site where the monastery now stands, to Lama Duwang Chosje. The Lama, a great champion of meditation, blessed the site offered to him, after which the construction on the monastery was undertaken. The Likkir Monastery of Leh Ladakh was founded in the later half of the 11th century, around the year 1065. It belongs to the Yellow Hat Sect, founded by Tsongkhapa. It consists of a number of shrines inside its complex. Presently, it serves as the residence of approximately 120 Buddhist monks. The monastery also has a school, in which almost thirty students study. In the 15th century, Likir Gompa came under the influence of Lodos Sangphu. A disciple of Khasdubje, he made efforts to see that the monastery flourished and prospered.