The most popular in Ladakh, this trek traverses mountain passes to isolated villages and monastic settlements in the fantastically lit lunar landscape of the Markha Valley. The trail climbs past ancient monasteries to the pastel alpine meadows of Nimaling in the shadow of Kangyatze Peak. From here we ascend to the Kongmaru La (5,150 meters, the highest point on the trek) with its impressive views of the Karakorums and K2. The trail ends at Hemis where we spend the night and visit the monastery. We meet our vehicles in the morning for the ride back to Leh.
Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, it lies athwart two other, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range.
In geological terms, this is a young land, formed only a few million years ago by the buckling and folding of the earth's crust as the Indian sub-continent pushed with irresistible force against the immovable mass of Asia. Its basic contours, uplifted by these unimaginable tectonic movements, have been modified over the millennia by the opposite process of erosion, sculpted into the form we see today by wind and water.
Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2750m) at Kargil to 25,170 feet (7,672m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Thus summer temperatures rarely exceed about 27-degree Celcius in the shade, while in winter they may plummet to minus 20-degree Celcius even in Leh. Surprisingly, though, the thin air makes the heat of the sun even more intense than at lower altitudes; it is said that only in Ladakh can a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time.
Ladakh is sandwiched between two vast mountain systems, the Karakoram to the north and the Himalaya to the south. Covering an area of about 60,000 sq km and ranging in elevation from 2600m to 7070 m, it is the largest and highest district in India. The Indus valley is the Ladakhi heartland, with the highest population density, and large amounts of agricultural land. Running parallel, roughly north-east south-west with it are a series of valleys and mountain ranges. North of the Indus valley is the Ladakh range, on the other side of which is the Shayok, and Nubra valleys.
Ladakh is the country's coldest, highest and the driest zone. Ladakh has a cool and generally dry mountain climate. Much of Ladakh is above 11,000 feet (3,350 M). Therefore, you can expect warm to hot days in the summer and cool nights. In winter the temp may drop as low as -35*C. There is occasional snowfall in winter caused by "Western Disturbances". Summer days are generally warm, 25-30*C. Annual rainfall does not normally exceed 10cm/3.5 in though over the past decade or so there have been occasional spells of unusually heavy rainfall.
Information on Ladakh before the birth of the kingdom (10th century) is scarce. Ladakh can hardly be considered a separate political entity before the establishment of the kingdom about 950 CE, after the collapse of the early Tibetan Empire and the border regions became independent kingdoms under independent rulers, most of who came from branches of the Tibetan royal family.
The earliest layer in the population of Ladakh was probably composed of the Dardi. Herodotus mentions twice a people called Dadikai, first along with the Gandarioi, and again in the catalogue of king Xerxes's army invading Greece. Herodotus also mentions the gold-digging ants of Central Asia, which is also later mentioned in connection with the Dardi people by Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander, and Megasthenes
The language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan dialect with written Ladakhi being the same as Tibetan. Tibetans can learn Ladakhi easily but Tibetan is difficult to speak for Ladakhis. Spoken Ladakhi is closer to the Tibetan spoken in Western Tibet. Ladakhi language is a shared culture platform which brings the Muslims and Buddhists together as one people of this Himalayan region. Ladakhis usually know Hindi and often English.
Ladakhi food has much in common with Tibetan food, the most prominent foods being: Thukpa, noodle soup; and Tsumpa, known in Ladakhi as Ngampe, roasted barley flour, eatable without cooking it makes useful if dull trekking food.
A dish that is strictly Ladakhi is the sky, a heavy pasta dish with root vegetables.
Flora & Fauna of Ladakh:
Ladakh's flora and fauna are more similar to those of Tibet than to the main Himalaya and are a product of the dry climate, cold winters and short growing season. The animals of Ladakh have much in common with the animals of Central Asia generally, and especially those of the Tibetan Plateau. Famous Destinations:
- Zanskar (also Zangskar ) is a region in Ladakh north-west India. It is famous for its stunning scenery and Tibetan-style Buddhist monasteries. It borders on Ladakh to which it is almost identical from an outsider's point of view, only being more remote and less densely populated, with less infrastructure.
- Nubra valley, north of Leh, located between the Ladakh Range and the Lofty eastern Karakoram mountains, lies Nubra, a region part green, part rocky and barren and part, rather surprisingly Desert and camels too. A region is very unique in itself.
- Pangong Lake, this vast lake, 150km long and 4 km wide, stretches from the northeast of Ladakh across the border of Tibet. There are some interesting birds around the lake shore including a few pairs of the very rare endangered black-necked crane.
- Tsomoriri Lake, this high altitude lake is situated in the Rupshu region of eastern Ladakh near the border with Tibet. The mountains to the east of the Lake are crowned by two of Ladakh's highest summits, the Lungser Kangri (6666m/21,870 ft) and to its north, Chamser Kangri (6622m/21,712 ft).
- Dha hanu, downstream from Khaltse along the lower Indus, live a group of people known as Brokpas, an isolated people of the purest Aryan stock who are racially, and in some ways culturally, very different from most Ladakhis. They are the only ones to have preserved their unique form of Buddhism which is mixed with the pre-Buddhist animistic religion, Bon.
Monasteries of Ladakh
- Lamayuru Gompa
Location 125 Km from Leh
Founded in 11th century by Mahasiddhacharya Naropa
- Alchi Gompa
Location 67 Km from Leh
Founded in 1000 AD by Rinchen Zangpo1000 AD
- Likir Gompa
Location 60 Km from Leh
Founded in the 9th century by Lama Duwang Chusje
Location 70 Km from Leh
Founded in 1831 AD by Lama Tsultim Nima
- Phyang Monastery
Location 26 Km from Leh
Founded in1515 by Chosje Damma Kunga
- Spituk Monastery
Location 7 Km from Leh
Founded by Od-de, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub Od in 11th century
- Namgyal Tsemo
Location in Leh town Just above the Leh Palace on a Hill
Founded by King Tashi Namgyal in 1430 AD
- Sankar Gompa
Location 1 Km north of Leh
- Shanti Stupa
Situated in Leh Town near Changspa
Founded by a Japanese Monk in 1984
- Chemrey Gompa
Location: 45 Km
Founded in 17th century by Lama Tagsang Raschen
- Hemis Monastery
Location: 46 Km
Founded in 1630 by the First incarnation of Stagsang Raspa Nawang Gyatso
- Stakna Monastery
Location 25 Kms from Leh
Founded by Chosje Jamyang Palkar in the 16th century.
- Thiksey Gompa
Location Thicksey Village 20 Km from Leh
Founded in 1430 AD. By Spon Paldan Sherab, nephew of Sherab Zangpo
- Shey Palace & Gompa
Location: 14 Kms from Leh
Founded by King Deldan Namgyal in the 17th century
- Stok Gompa
Location 14 km from Leh
Lama Lhawang Lotus in 14th Century
- Diskit Gompa
Location: Nubra valley 130 Kms from Leh Founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo in 14th century.
In Ladakh, every occasion marriage, birth, harvesting, the commemoration of head Lamas founding of the monastery, Losar (new year) and flowering is marked by feasting, dancing and the singing of folksongs that forms a part of its living heritage. Most of the festivals are held in winter but some popular festival takes place in summer too. The monastic festivals are the heart of all the festivals. They are performed by Monks wearing colourful silk garments and different facial mask.
- Hemis Festival
Hemis festival is one of the most famous monastic festivals in June to commemorate the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. The sacred dance drama of the life and mission is performed wearing facial masks and colourful brocades robes. The three-day festival takes place from 9th to 11th. Especially the monkey year festival, which comes in a cycle of 12 years. During it, the four-storey thanka of Guru Padma Sambhava is hung in the courtyard and other precious Thankas are also exhibited.
- Thiksey, Karsha and Spituk Gustor
Gustors take place at Thiksey, Spituk and Karsha in different months of the year. The festival takes place for two days. The celebration is to mark the victory over evils. The mask worn by the dancers represents the Guardians, Protectors and the Gods and Goddesses. The festival ends with the symbolic assassination of evils and burning of the effigy of evils.
Dosmochey is celebrated in Leh (Leh Palace), Liker (Lower Ladakh) and Deskit (Nubra valley) monasteries in February. The most famous among all is Leh Dosmochey, which is celebrated for two days in the courtyards of the Leh Palace. The monks from different monasteries perform the Chams every year turn by turn. The festival takes place in the end and starting of the Tibetan New Year. The monks of Takthok monastery prepares the offering with Thread crosses which binds all the evil, hungry ghosts and guard against natural disaster in the coming year. On the second day of the festival, the offerings are taken out of the town in a procession and burn it while people whistle to chase away the evil spirits.
- Matho Nagrang
Matho Nagrang is celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month of Tibetan calendar, at Matho monastery, the only monastery of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. During these two days of the festival, mask dances are performed by monks of the monastery wearing colourful silk brocaded robes and mask in different forms of God and Goddesses. The festival is famous because of the appearance of the two oracles during the festival after full month meditation in complete isolation. The two oracles appear in the courtyard accompanying mask dancers and predict future ¬¬events and people from far and away come to seek advice to perform a ritual to tackle disasters.
- Stok Guru Tsechu
The monks of Stok and Spituk monasteries also celebrate Stok Guru Tsechu for two days with mask dances performed. It is also held in Feb. around a week before the Matho Nagrang. During the festival, two oracle appears, but they are laymen from the same village prepared by monks to receive the spirit of the deities.
- Phyang Tsedup
Phyang Tsedup takes place in July / August. Like other monasteries, monks wearing colourful brocade robes and Mask in the form of different god and goddesses perform mask dances. The huge thanka of Skyoba Giksten Gonbo is hung in the courtyard during the festival.
- Yuru Kabgyat
The 2-day festival takes place in July in Lamayuru monastery around 125 km. from Leh. Monks like other monastic festival perform mask dances. During the festival, monks perform prayer and rituals to get rid of disaster and peace in the world.
- Losar Celebration
The Losar (New Year) celebration is followed by Galdan Namchot, the birth anniversary of Tsogkha pa who introduced Gelukpa School of order. During Namchot people illuminate their houses, monasteries and mountains and make offerings in the houses and monasteries.
The Losar festival is celebrated in the eleventh month of Tibetan calendar, two months ahead of Tibetan New Year. In the early 17th century, King Jamyang Namgyal decided to lead an expedition against the Baltistan forces in winter; therefore he decided to celebrate the festival two months before. Later it became a tradition and being celebrated in the eleventh month. The festival lasts for around a month, during which Gods, deities, ancestors and even the animals are fed without fail. Images of Ibex are made an auspicious symbol, walls of the kitchens are dotted and are believed to bring prosperity in the coming year. The Metho (procession of fire) is thrown out chanting slogans and chasing hungry ghosts and evil spirits, and they return with rocks of ice as an auspicious symbol and these are kept in the store. In some villages, there is a tradition of making Old men and women, from this snow which lasts for a week. Overall the Losar all children and young and olds enjoy and celebrate the festival. All family members get together to celebrate if someone missing will have their cups filled with tea by their name.
- Sindhu Darshan (Visit Indus) Festival
Sindhu Darshan is a three-day festival held from 1st to 3rd June, in Shey Manla around 8 km. from Leh on the bank of Indus river. For the first time, it was organized in October 1997, as a symbol of unity and Communal harmony and national integration. Whilst promoting domestic tourism in Ladakh. It is also a symbolic salute to brave soldiers of India who have been fighting not only with enemies in the in the human form but also in the form of nature.
LADAKH JEEP SAFARI
Manali to Leh
The 472 km overland journey is open for around three months in a year, from June to end of September. This trip can be extended to Nubra valley across Khardongla pass, the highest motorable road in the world or to Srinagar after crossing Zojila Pass. The Manali to Leh drive can be completed in two days with an overnight stay at Serchu or Darcha. Another option is to drive to Leh via Tsokar and Tsomoriri Lake but will have to arrange your tour through tour operator from Leh, who can send you a permit to enter Tsomoriri Lake with a local taxi.
The journey starts from Manali driving through the lush green and foggy Rohtang Pass (3980 m. The landscape surprisingly changes into the rugged brown of the rain shadow area of Lahaul. The landscape changes into the naked desert after crossing a few villages of Lahul with prayer flags on their roofs. You will start ascending Baralacha Pass and you can see surprisingly sprawling plain areas of Serhcu where you will spend a night in tented Camp. Further, there are many small passes before you cross Taklang La pass Taglangla at 5330m to reach Rumtse and Gya village. An hour drive from Runtse takes you to Upshi where you cross Indus river enter Indus valley with dotted villages on its bank and beautiful monasteries built on a hillside. You journey finishes at Leh making it a drive of a lifetime experience.
The Pangong Lake is 160 km from Leh, with spectacular view colourful mountains and Changla pass. The scenic view of colourful mountains throughout the journey makes your trip memorable.
The drive begins with a photogenic view of Thiksey monastery, famous for its architectural similarities with Potala Palace of Lhasa. The monastery covers an entire mountain ridge. Beyond this village, you will drive towards Changla pass, leaving the Leh Manali road on your right-hand side. The long easy ascent to takes you to Changla pass through its winding roads passing through Sakti Village. Stop at the Changla Pass for a quick photograph and drive down to the village of Tangtse, where you can enjoy a cup of tea. Leaving Tangtse for Pangong you pass through many small villages of Changthang and finally, you can have a sudden view of the lake. The Pangong Lake is dramatic, surrounded by colourful mountains and it's reflection makes the lake beautiful. The colour of the lake changes into different colour throughout the day. The division of lake between India and China makes it different than the other Lake. Therefore you are allowed to go up to Spangmik only.
Around 240 km journey to Tsomoriri Lake passes through Shey, Thiksey, Upshi and many small villages along the Indus river. The hot spring at Chumathang (3965 m) comes after driving for around 100 km with a hot spring Resort where you can bath in hot spring water which Ladakhis uses for healing. After an hour drive, you will cross Maya bridge and drive up to Tsomoriri (4555 m) through Puga village through a bumpy road. Puga is known for its sulphur and borax deposits. Full day walking tour of Tsomoriri Lake includes a visit to Karzok monastery and Nomad Camp above the village.
The Tsomoriri is the starting point for trekking to Spiti through its traditional route through Parang La (5580m) The "Changpas" nomadic people, has trade relation with Spiti. The Area is rich in wildlife including the "Kyang" (wild ass), red fox and the rare, highly endangered, snow leopard. Black-necked cranes and geese flock to the lakeside for breeding during the summer months. There are options to drive to Manali via Tsokar Lake and Serchu.
Nubra is located in the north of Leh around 120 km across the Khardong La (18,380ft). .Nubra means "Ldumra" which used to be an important station on the famous silk route leading from Leh to Kashgar through the two passes of Saser and Karakoram. The main attractions of this area are the Bactarian Camels (Double Humped Camels), Khardung-La Pass (world's highest motorable road at 18,380 feet) and the monasteries like Deskit and Samstaling.
The drive to Nubra Valley leads through Khardung-La (18380 ft), which is about 39 km from Leh. Camel Safari can be organized from Deskit to Hundar Village for 2 hours. This tour can be extended for 2 nights / 3 days by visiting Panamik village and Sumur.