Ladakh is one of the most incredibly unique places in the world. It is located in the Jammu and Kashmir region in the North of India, sharing borders with China and Pakistan. Ladakh is famous for its unique landscapes – cold deserts, barren mountains, green valleys and Himalayan ranges on the horizon. It should definitely be on every traveler’s bucket list for India. Check out some of the best photos of Ladakh for travel inspiration.
The usual choice of base to explore Ladakh is the town of Leh, which is the largest town in the region. A beautiful town, Leh has all the amenities for tourists – good accommodations and restaurants. From Leh, you can make day trips to almost all the major attractions in Ladakh. You can also arrange multi-day treks and trips from Leh.
To visit many of the places in Ladakh, including Nubra valley, Pangong Tso Lake and Tso Moriri Lake, you will need Protected Area Permit. Get your permit either directly from the District Commissioner’s office or through one of the many authorised travel agencies in Leh.
The following travel guide to Ladakh focus on providing an overview of the top places to see and do during your travel to Ladakh.
Nubra Valley is a desert that’s comparable to those of Arabia. However, it is located at 4,000 meters above sea level and surrounded by snow capped mountains of the Himalayan range making for some stunning scenery. What’s more, the river valleys next to the Shyok river and the Nubra river (also known as the Siachan river) offers greeneries that make the scenery absolutely unique.
Nubra valley is about 150 km North of Leh. Although it is possible to take a bus from Leh, it is recommended to rent a shared taxi, or a private one if traveling in groups. A shared taxi can be as cheap as 15-20USD. A private taxi can cost about 100USD for a return trip. Be sure to check the government rates (http://leh.nic.in/pages/Taxi-list.pdf) for taxi beforehand.
Since the journey from Leh to Nubra valley takes about 6-7 hours, and since there are several other points of interests along the way, visitors usually make a day trip out of it. It is also possible to stay in Diskit, which allows for more time to explore the area. If you are planning a road trip to Nubra valley, and other attractions along the way, check out this blog. And here you can find some great packing cubes advice to assist you in preparing.
One of the highest motorable passes in the world, with the highest point reaching over 5600 meters, Kardung La is the entry to Nubra Valley from Leh. Surrounded by snow filled mountains all around, and sheer drops on the side of the road, Khardung La is breathtaking.
During May to July, Khardung La can get quite busy. You should start as early as 6 am in the morning in order to avoid the crowd. It is best to include the visit to Khardung La within a day trip to the Nubra valley.
Beware of altitude sickness, since driving to Khardung La pass means that your altitude increases quite quickly. It is also inadvisable not to stay here for too long as oxygen is low at that altitude.
Near the town of Leh, on top of the hill of Chanspa sits one of the most popular and easy to reach tourist attractions of Ladakh. The white-domes Buddhist stupa was built in 1991 to celebrate 2500 years of Buddhism. In addition to the religious and cultural significance, Shanti Stupa boasts a beautiful panoramic view of Leh, nearby villages and the surrounding mountains, which range from a barren brown and a snow white in color.
The Shanti Stupa (along with the Leh Palace) is perfect for the first day of your trip to Ladakh as it allows time to acclimatize in the high altitude before visiting places like Khardung La or the Tso Moriri Lake. Try to catch the sunrise or sunset from here as they can be extraordinary. In fact many visitors come to Shanti Stupa at least twice during their stay in Leh, to enjoy the view at different times of the day.
Pangong Tso Lake
One of the major attractions of Ladakh are its lakes and Pangong Tso Lake is an absolutely must-visit. The lake lies at an altitude of 4350m. It is a 5 hour drive away from Leh and is only open to visitors in the tourist season. Although the journey is quite long, the road passes through unique Ladakhi sceneries and two villages, so there are plenty to see.
You should consider spending the night at Pangong Lake in one of the campsites. Just make sure to acclimatise to the high altitude before spending the night at the lake.
Tso Moriri Lake
Tso Moriri Lake or the “Mountain Lake” is the highest lake in Ladakh at an altitude of 4,522 meters. Less popular than the Pangong Tso Lake, it offers more greenery and snow-capped peaks and a unique opportunity to do some bird watching. Like Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri also offers overnight accommodation in the form of guest houses, camp-sites and hotels.
The lake is about 240 km from Leh, and the journey takes 6-7 hours. You can reach the lake from Pangong Tso through the remote Changtang region which offers one of the most beautiful drives in Ladakh. Keep in mind that there are no petrol pumps in the area and so it is important to carry fuel when starting from Leh or Pangong Tso.
The glorious Leh Palace was once the residence of the royal family. Built in the 16th century, it housed the Namgyal dynasty who made Leh the capital of Ladakh. The palace is now in ruins after it was abandoned in the 19th century but is now being restored in order to preserve the historic site. It is a great opportunity to see Tibetan architecture as the builders modelled the palace based on another in Lhasa. The palace also contains numerous Buddhist relics and paintings.
Much like the Shanti Stupa, Leh Palace offers magnificent views of the surrounding, including the Stok Kangri to the south.