Ladakh: A slice of paradise
Few places in the world, let alone in India, can boast a combination of breathtaking natural beauty, culture, tradition, flora, fauna, and sense of adventure like Ladakh can. Flanked by the imposing Karakoram and Himalaya ranges, Ladakh is one of the Union Territories of India. Known for its ancient monasteries, some of the highest motorable roads in the world, the stunning Nubra Valley, and the celebrated Pangong Lake, the natural beauty of Ladakh, is on the must-visit list of many Indian and foreign tourists alike, and with good reason.
Ladakh is a land teeming with options to indulge the desires of every thrill-seeker. There’s far more to adventure activities in Ladakh than bike trips on Bullets. From camel safaris to quad biking in the pristine sand dunes of Nubra valley, to rafting in rugged Zanskar or the fascinating Chadar trek—in which you walk on a thin sheet of ice, Ladakh has options galore to keep travelers’ adrenaline levels buzzing. One can also go on treks to spot the elusive snow leopard, or chart an expedition to trek Stok Kangri, which is the highest mountain range in Ladakh. Visitors can camp by the beautiful Pangong and Tso Moriri lakes or pitch a tent in the lap of the towering mountain ranges all over the region and gaze upon millions of stars to unwind after action-packed days.
Natural Beauty
Ladakh remains largely untouched by modern civilization and its many pitfalls, which is a major part of its abiding appeal. The Zanskar and Ladakh mountain ranges are steep snow-covered colossuses that can intimidate even seasoned mountaineers, but their sheer, stark beauty never fails to bind travelers in a mystifying spell.
The Pangong Lake is, arguably, what firmly imprinted Ladakh in the minds of Indian tourists. Featured in a prominent scene in the hugely successful 2009 movie ‘3 Idiots’, the water of this lake changes color through the day: from azure to sapphire to the palest baby blue. The effect of the sun’s movement reflected in the water is truly mesmerizing. The lake can be reached after a five-hour drive on rugged, treacherous mountain roads from Leh. The lake, despite being saline, freezes completely in winter and is open for tourists only from May to September. Even though its salinity does not support many life forms, it serves as a breeding ground for several rare birds like the Bar-headed Goose and Brahmini ducks.
The Tso Moriri Lake is another superbly picturesque destination with its surroundings of blindingly blue skies, lush greenery and mountains with white tops.
The Khardungla Pass is widely touted as the highest motorable road in the world at an elevation of a mighty 5,359 meters above sea level. It is a hotbed for seasoned bikers who wish to test their skills and their appetite for adventure. The Khardungla Pass is also famous for rows and rows of fluttering colorful flags which are said to guard travelers from evil spirits.
Ladakh is also famous for the Nubra Valley, replete with sand dunes and monasteries, which offer tourists a glimpse into the colorful history and culture of the region. Nubra Valley is also home to the two-humped camel.
For the spiritually inclined, Ladakh is host to an array of monasteries. These monasteries are both spartan and grandiose, large and small, easily accessible and difficult to reach. Notable among these are the Hemis, Spituk, Thiksey and Alchi Lamayuru monasteries. The Hemis monastery is the largest in the region, and is situated on the western Bank of the mighty Indus River. Founded in the 17th century, it is adorned with exquisite murals and statues, and houses a splendid collection of Buddhist artefacts. The Hemis festival, which is held on the 9th and 10th days of the Tibetan calendar, are a delight to experience, with the sacred mask dance being a highlight.
The Thiksey monastery is regarded the most beautiful of all in the region, situated 17 km to the south of Leh. Fashioned after the Potala palace of Lhasa in Tibet, it is spread over a hilltop and has 10 temples in its 12-storey structure. It is best known for the 40-foot Buddha statue seated on a lotus.
The Alchi Lamayuru monastery, built in the 12th century, is different from most others as it is built on flat ground and not a hilltop. It has three primary structures with figurines of many Buddhist deities, including a four-armed statue of the Bodhisattva. The temple also has a sculpture of Rinchen Tsangpo, the famous builder-monk.
Ladakh is also a veritable paradise for adventurous foodies. Its cuisine goes beyond the generic momos and noodle soups, with dishes like Skyu, Tingmo, and Butter Tea, which offer a delightful sampling of the region’s natural fare. Skyu is a soup-based dish in which wheat dough is kneaded into pasta-like shapes and simmered with root vegetables. Tingmo is a stew made with vegetables or meat and is a unique mixture of both spicy and sweet tastes. Butter tea is made by adding salt and yak butter to boiling milk and tea leaves, and is a panacea for the harsh cold weather of the region. It may be an acquired taste for some, though locals consider it an everyday essential. Ladakh food will have you drooling.
Culture and People
The Ladakhi populace mostly consists of Dards of Indo-Aryan ethnicity. Migrants from Tibet, who brought their cultures and traditions along with them, live mostly in the central part of the region. A large Muslim population can be found in the eastern end of ladakh and the Nubra Valley. Ladakhi men usually wear a thick woollen robe known as ‘Goucha’ which is tied at the neck, under the armpits, and looped at the waist using a colorful sash called ‘Skerag’. The women also wear a robe known as the ‘Kuntop’ with a colorful shawl ‘Bok’, in which babies can be carried. They also wear a hat known as ‘Perak’ which is characterized by three, five, seven or nine turquoise-colored rings which signify the social standing of the wearer. Shoes are known as ‘Papu’, made of yak hair or wool, richly decorated and have a sole made of yak leather.
The indigenous people of Ladakh hold on to their traditions and culture very strongly. Festivals are a very important aspect of the culture here and a uniquely exhilarating experience one must have in their lifetime. Notable among these are the Hemis Tse-Chu, Dosmoche, Losar, Tak-Tok, and Yuru Kabgyat festivals. The Hemis Tse-Chu festival spans two days in July, featuring varied mask dances and a sacrificial offering on the last day. The Dosmoche festival, held in February, is celebrated to ensure the wellbeing of the locals. The Yuru Kabgyat festival, held in July, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also showcases several dance dramas. A highlight is the demolition of a statue which denotes the liberation of inner demons. Naropa Festival: ‘Kumbh of Himalayas’ takes place to celebrate the life of a buddhist philosopher.

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