Redefining what breathtaking beauty truly means, Ladakh offers the most stunning views of the Himalayan wilderness, stretching from Siachen Glacier to the Great Himalayas. Previously a part of Jammu and Kashmir, it was declared a union territory in 2019 and has always been a treasured tourist destination. It is known as the world’s coldest desert with terrain unlike any other part of the country. ‘La’ means a pass and ‘Dakh’ means the land, defining how the region is the land of passes. Ladakh is divided into two major districts- Leh and Kargil. Leh is a popular destination for its attractions like historic monasteries, Shanti Stupa, cafes, and Leh Bazaar, while Kargil is majorly under the Indian army and has some monuments dedicated to the Kargil warriors. With some unmatched views, exploring the mountains in this region is truly a surreal experience. Every valley unearths a new terrain that is bound to take your breath away. Ladakh, a former Buddhist Kingdom, is a quaint town with glimpses of Tibetan culture at every corner. Also home to some mesmerizing Buddhist monasteries, as you explore this small town the freshness in the air and sound of prayer flags in the rushing wind simply transports you to a fairyland. The local community has ensured to keep the local culture alive keeping the sensitive environment in mind. The region is also popular for some of the thrilling treks and rafting experiences on the Zanskar River. A place blessed both naturally and culturally, Ladakh will unlock a new Incredible India for you. Here is a look at some of the major attractions in the union territory that you should not miss out on.
For those of us living in constant confusion about the difference between these twin locations, Leh-Ladakh here is something that might help you. Ladakh is divided into two districts: the district Leh and the district Kargil. The former district has a famous town, “Leh”, and is a great tourist attraction because of its beautiful monasteries nearby, Shanti Stupa, cafes, and Leh Bazaar defining the place’s culture.
Places to see in Ladakh
Beautiful images of camels across the mountain desert pop up when you google Nubra Valley but the actual scenery, however, reveals beauty beyond one’s imagination. Located about 140 km from Leh, the region includes majestic views of the Shyok and Nubra rivers, picturesque monasteries, and some adventure-filled activities. Part of the ancient Silk Route, the valley is known for its Bactrian camel rides against the backdrop of the mountains. The rarest of all camels only found in these regions, they have two humps and were used as the main modes of transportation for the Silk Route. Now it is a fun activity and photo opportunity as you explore the region through a camel ride. The 32-meter Maitreya Buddha statue located near Diskit Monastery in Nubra Valley is also well-known. The area is currently under military control because the route connects to the Siachen base camp, which is also the world’s highest battleground. The most popular route to Nubra Valley from Leh is via Khardung La so you can plan your trip accordingly.
Perched on top of a mountain offering a mind-blowing view of the valley, the Thiksey monastery offers a unique glimpse into Buddhist culture and teachings. With numerous stupas, artworks, and Buddhist artifacts spread across the place, it is best explored on foot with the help of a local. The Tibetan-styled monastery is about 19 km from Leh and houses a temple built to honor the Dalai Lama. Many come here to simply witness this architectural marvel with their own eyes and take some memorable shots of the place.
Another postcard-worthy destination of Ladakh, the Shanti Stupa shines brightly perched on a rocky hilltop due to its white-domed construction. A Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu Gyomyo Nakamura built the monument in 1991 to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of Buddhism and promote world peace. A sacred site for the Buddhist community, it also houses Buddha’s remains sanctified by the 14th Dalai Lama. It is also part of the peace Pagoda mission, which seeks to foster peace via Buddha’s teachings. Offering a panoramic view of Leh and the nearby town Chanspa, it is a mesmerizing sight best for capturing breathtaking moments with your camera. Many especially capture it in full moonlight when the stupa shines naturally under the bright moonlight. While the ride toward the monument is a thrilling adventure, the sight in itself is so peaceful that it instantly calms the mind.
This 17th-century palace is now an iconic destination for tourists for its splendid architecture and magnificent views. Also known as the ‘Lhachen Palkhar,’ it was built under King Sengge Namgyal’s patronage as his family’s home. The nine-story castle has now been converted into a museum housing some beautiful ancient Buddha relics, paintings, old utensils, and silverware used by the royal family. The rooftop also offers a panoramic view of Leh and the adjacent Zanskar mountain. Similar to the architecture of the Potala Palace in Lhasa (Tibet), it was majorly destroyed in the Kashmiri invasion and yet has been able to retain its grandeur of original construction. This 450-year-old palace holds the Galdan Namchot Festival where you can relish the local culture and traditions. Currently, under the Archeological Survey of India, it has been restored to its former glory along with other historic sites in the area.
Shey Monastery & Palace
A short drive will take you to Shey Palace or the Shey Monastery as it is commonly called. Originally the summer capital of Ladakh it is now mostly in ruins but offers the most astonishing views of the hillside. The main attraction in the vicinity is the Shakyamuni Buddha statue, which stands 39 feet tall. While exploring this region you can also see the Thiksey Monastery, Hemis Monastery, Stakna Monastery, and Matho Monastery. Many rock carvings of Buddha and murals are found across the palace. Another shrine is located 400 meters away that has the Shakyamuni Statue in a sitting posture. The Shey Monastery is an integral part of the Palace Complex and is one of the most well-known holy destinations to visit in Leh Ladakh. Built during the time of Ladakh’s king Deldan Namgyal in the 17th century, it attracts Buddhists from all over the world. The monastery, on the other hand, is not only famed for its religious significance but also for being one of Leh’s most picturesque locations
A car moving uphill without even any keys in the ignition may sound like a scene from a Hollywood movie, however, is quite prominent as tourists dig the myths revolving around Magnetic Hill. A white box with the words ‘Park your vehicle Here’ emerges ahead of the board, where people may park their cars in neutral and watch them go uphill against gravity at a speed of 10-20 km/h. This unique occurrence has given this place its name and also made it a popular tourist attraction. Many are found taking pictures or making videos of this rare sight within this short distance. There are many theories and concepts revolving around why it happens where nothing has been concrete. From the theory of optical illusion to superstition, everyone interested comes up with unique concepts as to why it may actually be happening. Nonetheless, it has given a not to be missed destination to the region of Ladakh where you can find many visitors stopping their cars to experience it.
In Ladakh, Sangam is the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. The two rivers converge at this location and can be viewed independently. The Indus River is a brilliant blue, while the Zanskar River is a bright green making it a surreal sight to witness. Sangam’s two rivers run in different directions depending on the season. During the summer, the Zanskar River swells and becomes raging, but the Indus River is calmer. Zanskar slows and virtually freezes in the winter, and the Indus flow is significantly lower. The Indus River, which originates in Tibet, is one of Asia’s longest rivers. The Zanskar River originates in the Zanskar Valley.
Situated at 5602 meters above sea level, Khardung La is the highest motorable road in the country. Serving as the entry point to Shyok and Nubra Valley, it is ideal for mountain biking enthusiasts and bike riders who want to ride on the highest motorable road in the country. The pass was constructed in 1976 and only later in 1988 opened to the public. The pass plays a crucial role in the transportation of supplies to the Siachen Glacier. Revealing some majestic views of the Karakoram range, this pass has now become a major tourist attraction for people visiting Ladakh. Historical notes show that the pass was also the quickest route to get to China during World War II. Tourists must get an Inner Line Permit in order to enter and travel through the pass. From October to May, the Khardung La pass is closed due to severe rains and snowfall
The Pangong Lake, one of the most prominent tourist attractions, stretches about 12 km from India to Tibet. This remarkable lake does not remain blue throughout the year or sometimes even a day shifting from azure to light blue to green and grey. The Pangong Lake’s temperature swings from -5°C to 10°C due to its height, and as a result, it freezes entirely in the winter despite its salinity. The shiny blue waters with the backdrop of the mighty Himalayan mountains make an interesting backdrop for pictures. Many Bollywood movies have been shot here and you’ll find some local props set up making perfect selfie points for your Ladakh picture gallery. Located on the Sino-Indian Actual Line of Control, it requires an inner line permit to visit this enchanting lake. Individual permits are easy to obtain for Indian nationals, while foreign nationals must obtain group permission. During the winter season, the lake becomes home to thousands of migratory birds making a halt in their journey. It is ideal for bird watchers and nature lovers to explore the region during that time as it adds a unique charm to the natural setting.
Situated along the banks of the river Indus, 2676 meters above sea level, Kargil has been known for its cultural and political significance. Playing an important role in the Indo-Pak war of 1999, the second-largest city of Ladakh is now home to various memorials and historical monuments. Many documentaries and movies have been made in the area due to the same reason gaining the attention of more tourists across the country. It is best explored via a day trip from Ladakh with the striking backdrop of the Himalayan mountain range and the Indus River running alongside.
Things to do in Ladakh
Home to numerous treks, Ladakh is one of the best places for trekking in the Himalayas.
The rugged trails and winding roads are perfect for mountain biking adventures.
Ladakh is home to many mountain peaks and is perfect for peak climbing.
The meandering roads of Ladakh make it the top motorbiking destination in India.
Ladakh is considered as one of the best places for Buddhism in India.
Ladakh is home to a number of exotic animals and bird species that roam around the land.
Top Hotels in Leh
Name & Type
The Grand Dragon
The Indus River Camp
The Bodhi Tree
The Gawaling Ladakh
Festivals of Ladakh
The local people celebrate festivals with great fervor and zeal, especially the natives who celebrate all the festivals as per the Buddhist calendar. It is ideally best to plan your vacations around one of these festivals and they showcase a very different side of the local culture and traditions. Like the Hemis Festival, which celebrates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. This festival is celebrated annually in the month of June or July. Then there is the Losar Festival which is celebrated in the 11th month of the Tibetan calendar which is 2 months ahead of the New Year. It is also very unique where the local culture comes alive. Another one of the most popular festivals is the Ladakh festival celebrated in the initial weeks of September where you can see the ceremonial costumes and beautiful masks parade all across the town.
Situated at such height and its extreme weather conditions have led the local people to create their own nourishing cuisine with foreign influences. The local restaurants serve everything from Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, and even Korean. Some of the most popular dishes to try here are Thukpa (noodle soup) Tsampa, known in Ladakhi as Ngamphe (roasted barley flour), and Skyu which is a heavy pasta dish with plenty of veggies as well as the very popular and delicious Momos which are steamed dumplings stuffed with vegetables or meat. The local Kahwa made of water, tea, and Indian spices is the best way to break the cold of the region. Some other drink offerings include tea, coffee, beer, and Chang which is an alcoholic beverage drunk, especially on festive occasions.
This spiritually magnificent and naturally abundant town surely offers some unique additions to your souvenir lists like prayer flags and paintings that will add that special emotional value to your trip. While exploring the city you will find many budget-friendly options that make perfect souvenirs for your friends and family back home. Local artisans sell handmade Tibetan artifacts and wares. There are also eye-catching Thangka paintings with their intricate handwork that make lovely art wall pieces and even have mediational means.
There are many Buddha statues available in the markets that are said to bring good luck to your home. You can also look out for prayer wheels, beads, and flags for chanting or adorning your vehicle; brass and copper ‘chang’ pots with intricate carvings, traditionally used to serve tea or alcoholic beverages, carved wooden tables or ‘choke’ that are painstakingly carved and painted in stunning colors or simply varnished, and bamboo work baskets and cradles of superior quality are some of the things to look out for while shopping in Leh Ladakh. Some of the local markets also sell beautiful silver and stone jewelry. This region is also known for its rugs and pashmina shawls. It is said that woolens are best purchased from high-altitude regions as they provide the best warmth. The main bazaar is lined with countless shops offering a variety of products and you can easily stroll and make your best choice
Best time to visit Ladakh
The best time to visit Rishikesh for white water rafting is September-June and November. Another good time to visit Rishikesh is from February to early May. The International Yoga Festival is organized in Rishikesh in the first week of March. It is not favorable to visit Rishikesh in summer (May-June) as the temperature during these months gets extremely high, making it unbearable for sightseeing in Ladakh.
How to reach Ladakh
Many want to travel to Ladakh via road to witness the majestic Himalayas in all their glory. The Leh Manali Highway is open from May to September and the 490 km long route passes through Rohtang, Darcha, Baralacha La, Gata Loops, Lachulung La, Tanglang La, Gya, and Karu, some of the most pristine villages of India. You can also reach Leh via the Srinagar highway open from May to October covering places like Sonmarg, Zozi La, Drass, Kargil, Mulbek, Lamayuru, and Saspol 434km long. This route is at a comparatively lower altitude reducing the risk of severe high-altitude mountain sickness. Many also opt for bike tours starting from Manali or even Delhi for a thrilling adventure. However, for travelers with less time, Ladakh is also well connected to other major cities via air. You might have to get acclimatized to the mountains in case you reach directly by flight.
Ladakh is a plastic-free union territory
Do not click pictures of locals without their permission
The top places near Leh are Hemis which is 28 km from Leh, Manali which is located 209 km from Ladakh, Mcleodganj which is located 249 km from Ladakh, Dalhousie which is located 248 km from Ladakh, Kasol which is located 230 km from Ladakh.