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Home » Ladakh Tourism » Places of Interest in Ladakh

Ladakh Tourism >> Places of Interest in Ladakh

There are few places left in the world like Ladakh. It lies in the Great Himalayan rain shadow, so receives no monsoon during the summer, but hefty snowfall throughout its long (November - Late May) winter. In summer it is a high, arid fortress surrounded by vast peaks and trisected by the swift, snow - laden Indus and Zanskar rivers.

The landscape resembles that of neighbouring Tibet (This area is sometimes called " Little Libet") , as does the appearance of the people, their religion - devoutly Buddhist - and the magnificent monasteries perched imperiously on granite crags and steep hillsides.

High and mighty though Ladakh is, it is easily approached either by flying directly to the capital Leh from Delhi (allow 3-4 days for acclimatization) or by road from Manali in Himachal Pradesh ( a 02 days trip).

Leh stands at 3,521m/ 11,552 ft. and the surrounding flat areas are on a par. It is warm in the sun but the temperature drops at night, even in midsummer.

Trekking in Ladakh is as unique as the land itself. Leh, the divisional headquarters, is accessible from Srinagar, Delhi and Chandigarh by air and bus. Ladakh is the land of insurmountable mountains and fascinating monasteries. It lies on the tri- junction of the historic ' Silk Route' from Sinkiang to West Asia and to the plains of India. There are a number of interesting places and monasteries to visit in and around Leh. Some of the important places are: Leh Palace, the monasteries of Shey, Hemis, Alchi, Thikse and Lamayuru. Markha Valley trek over Gongmaru La and Gandha La is the most adventurous. Another trekking trail leads southwards from Alchi and after crossing Stapski La, turns around and reaches Nimu. Yet another trail towards north of Leh climbs over Khardung La and reaches the Nubra Valley.

For the purpose of trekking, the region can be divided into three - The area around Kargil, the Indus Valley and Zanskar.

Kargil
This area lies just behind the Zoji La Pass, and the center is Kargil, a small town with cobbled streets surrounded by apricot groves. Good panoramas of the Himalaya can be obtained on 03-04 day treks from Sanko to Drass via Umba, and on the more demanding Sanko to Mulbek via the Wakka La Pass at 4,930m.

Indus Valley
At an average elevation of 3500 m is sand-witched between the Zanskar Range on its South and the Ladakh Range on its North, This is the geographical backbone, and the historical heartland of Ladakh. All major sites connected with its dynastic history are here, starting with Leh, the capital city. The bulk of the population resides along the Indus. Its main attraction are the numerous Buddhist monasteries, quaint villages, fairs , festivals and bazars. Air and road communications converage at Leh.

Zanskar Valley
One of Ladakh's remotest regions. A 300 km long valley ringed by mountains, only accessible by high passes. The Valley of Zanskar is situated in the inner Himalaya and is higher than most areas of Ladakh. The climate is very Harsh and receives very little rain fall. The twin peaks of Nun-Kun, its Monasteries and its extremely rugged, awe-aspiring landscape are its main attractions.

Shyok Valley
The Shyok River receives the waters of the Nubra and Changchenmo rivers. It rises from the Khumdang glacier, which can be approached from Shyok. The Shyok River takes a southerly course after it is joined by the Nubra River. Thereafter the Shyok flows into the Indus at Keris.

The river freezes in winter, thus forming an easy access between the Khaplu and the Nubra valleys. In summer, as the snow melts in the uplands, the river overflows its banks and inundates the surrounding plain for many kilometers, at times creating a vast marsh. During this period, the Shyok River has to be crossed on rafts of inflated skin.

The Shyok Valley is the valley of the Shyok River -- the river of death. This is a Yarkandi (Central Asian) name, probably given by the Central Asian traders who ventured on this treacherous route for centuries and perished. The entire northern area -- the region of the Karakoram -- has names related to death. It is evident that this was a part of the ancient trade route from Yarkand (Central Asia) to Ladakh, where many died and only the hardiest survived. The entire route towards the Karakoram Pass is littered with the bones of these travelers.

Padum Valley
Padum the capital of the ancient kingdom of Zanskar, Padum (3505 m) is the present day administrative headquarters of the region. With a population of nearly 1500, Padum can be described as the most populous settlement of Zanskar, otherwise a very scarcely inhabited valley. Incidentally, it is only in Padum that there is a community of Muslims constituting nearly half the township's population, its origin in the area dating from mid 17th century. Lately, Padum has become a famous as a major trekking base and a popular tourist destination. Several places of tourist interest in the vicinity of the township can be visited in the course of entertaining walks. The nearest monument is a set of ancient rock carving on a huge boulder near the river bank, just below the old township. These dates from the 8th century and provide epigraphic evidence that the region was under the influence of North Indian Buddhism since ancient times. The Starrimo monastery with about 30 resident monks clings to a tree-covered ridge above the old town. Across the expanse of cultivation lies the old village of Pibiting, dominated by its picturesque hilltop monastery, a superb manifestation of stupa architecture.

How to Reach?
The 240 km long Kargil-Padun road, of which the first 90 km stretch is paved, remains opened from around mid July to early November. The J&K SRTC operates a thrice weekly B-class bus service from Kargil. However groups can charter A-Class or even Super-Deluxe buses to visit Zanskar, including the interior places of interest like Stongdey, Zangla and Karsha. Jeeps and Gypsy taxis can also be hired at Kargil. During June and early July, prior to opening of the road, it is recommended to walk into Zanskar from panikhar or Parkachik onwards. In June, the summer is at its height in the region and the climate is ideal for trekking along the route free from vehicular traffic of any kind and when the countryside is freshly rejuvenated into life after months of frigid dormancy.

Zangla Valley
Lying deep in the northern arm of Zanskar at the end of the 35 km. Long rough road from Padum, Zangla was being ruled by a titular king till his death a few years back. The old castle now in ruins except from a small chappel, occupies a hill, overlooking the desertic valley below. Nearby is the old Nunnery worth a visit for the austere life style of the small monastic community of nuns. An old monastery situated in the nearby village of Tsa-zar has exquisite frescos that should be missed. The village lies mid-way between Stongdey and Zangla. Zangla is the nodal point on the popular Padum-Strongdey-Zangla-Karsha-Padum round trip, which covers most of the cultural sites of Zanskar. The old rope suspension bridge spanning the tumultuous Zanskar near Zangla- a rare feat of folk engineering - is no more in use, but still visible. The river is now crossed by a temporary footbridge for approaching the left bank along which the trail to Karsha follows. Zangla is also the take-off point for the Padum-Markha valley treks.

The 240 km long Kargil-Padun road, of which the first 90 km stretch is paved, remains opened from around mid July to early November. In June, the summer is at its height in the region and the climate is ideal for trekking along the route free from vehicular traffic of any kind and when the countryside is freshly rejuvenated into life after months of frigid dormancy.

The tourist Complex at Padum provides furnished rooms. There is catering arrangement in the complex, while camping place nearby is available for budget tourists travelling with personal tents.

Rangdum Valley
The farthest and the most isolated part of the Suru Valley, Rangdum is an elliptical expanded plateau surrounded by colourful hills on the one side and glacier encrusted rocky mountains on the other. Situated 130 kms South- east of Kargil, it falls midway between Kargil and Padum. Due to its remoteness from inhabited parts either of Suru or Zanskar, the areas wild beauty is almost haunting, while its isolation is near perfect even as the unpaved Zanskar road traverses its length. The chief attraction of this area is an imposing 18th century Buddhist monastery with about 40 monks in residence. Perched picturesquely atop a centrally rising hillock which is entrenched around by the bifurcated course of a wild mountain stream, the Rangdum monastery has the aura of an ancient fortification guarding a mystical mountain valley. The villagers are descendents of the monastery's agricultural, serf-tenants, who do not own any land in the region. The monastery enjoys perpetual and unalienable ownership of the entire valley including the fields tilled by the villagers, the pastures, hills and even the streams. Rangdum also serves as an important trekking base. The most popular trek from here leads to Henaskut near Lamayuru, across the spectacular gorge of the kanji valley. This 5-day trek also forms the last leg of the two week long trans-Himalayan traverse between Kashmir and Ladakh.

How to reach ?
Sankoo, Panikhar and Parachik are connected with Kargil with regular bus services, in summer even twice a day. A bus ride from Kargil takes 2 hours to Sankoo, 3 hours to Panikhar and about 4 hours to Parkachik. Rangdum is serviced by the BI-week bus service to Padum, which increases according to demand. Some trucks plying between Kargil and Padum also offers a lift in the cabin for the price of a bus seat. Cars and jeeps taxis can be hired from Kargil for visiting different places in the Suru Valley, including Rangdum and Penzila,.

Phugthal Valley
The Phugthal complex spills out of the mouth of a huge cave high up in the sheer mountain face of a lateral gorge through which a major tributary of the southern Lungnak (Lingti-Tsarap) River flows. Perhaps, the most isolated monastic establishment of Zanskar, its foundation date back to the early 12th century ; at least one old chappel, among the several several of which it is composed, has frescos and ceiling decorations reflecting strong Indian artistic and iconographic influence. Phugthal is accessible from the Padum-Manali trekking route through a 7 km long trail that branches off from the Purney Bridge on the main trail. A visit to Phugthal, including Bardan and Muney monasteries enroute, makes a good 5-days round trek from Padum. Alternatively, one can add one extra day to Padum-Manali trekking itinerary to include a day-return visit to this unique monastic establishment inhabited by a resident community of about 40 monks.

How to Reach?
The 240 km long Kargil-Padun road, of which the first 90 km stretch is paved, remains opened from around mid July to early November. The J&K SRTC operates a thrice weekly B-class bus service from Kargil. However groups can charter A-Class or even Super-Deluxe buses to visit Zanskar, including the interior places of interest like Stongdey, Zangla and Karsha. Jeeps and Gypsy taxis can also be hired at Kargil. During June and early July, prior to opening of the road, it is recommended to walk into Zanskar from panikhar or Parkachik onwards.

Stongdey Valley
The monastery of Stongdey lies 18 kms. To the north of Padum, on the road leading to Zangla. An old foundation associated with the Tibetan Yogi, Marpa, Stongdey is now the second largest monastic establishment of Zanskar, inhabited by the resident community of about 60 Gelukpa monks. The sprawling whitewashed complex has a number of temples, each a repository of the region's rich monastic legacy. Stongdey can be reached by foot in about 4 hours along the recently laid rough road. The climb up to the monastery is rather strenuous, but it is worth the trouble for the breathtaking scenery of the valley available from here.

How to Reach?
The 240 km long Kargil-Padun road, of which the first 90 km stretch is paved, remains opened from around mid July to early November. The J&K SRTC operates a thrice weekly B-class bus service from Kargil. However groups can charter A-Class or even Super-Deluxe buses to visit Zanskar, including the interior places of interest like Stongdey, Zangla and Karsha. Jeeps and Gypsy taxis can also be hired at Kargil. During June and early July, prior to opening of the road, it is recommended to walk into Zanskar from panikhar or Parkachik onwards. In June, the summer is at its height in the region and the climate is ideal for trekking along the route free from vehicular traffic of any kind and when the countryside is freshly rejuvenated into life after months of frigid dormancy.

Sankoo Valley
A picturesque expanse surrounded by colorful rocky mountains, Sankoo is an upcoming township with a small bazaar (42 kms south of Kargil) and numerous villages around. Dense plantations of poplars, willows, myricarea and wild roses fill the bowl shaped valley, giving it the ambience of a man-made forest tucked within the mountain ramparts. Two side valleys drained by large tributary streams of the Suru river, the Kartse flowing from the east and the Nakpochu descending from the west, open up on either side of the expanse. The Karste Valley runs deep into the eastern mountains mass with a large number of isolated villages tucked within its course. The 4-day trek between Sankoo and Mulbek follows this valley; the route passes through some very beautiful alpine areas on the way the 4950 m high Rusi-la . The high altitude settlement of Safi and its mixed Buddhist-Muslim population is struck between the Rusi-la and the Shafi-la over which the final leg of the trek passes before entering the Mulbek valley. A southward diversion from the foot of the Rusi-la leads to Rangdum across the glaciated Rangdum pass where the Karste River rises. The 3-day trek to Drass across the Umba-la (3350 m) follows the western valley. Sankoo is a very popular among local picnic lovers who throng the area from Kargil town and other places. Locally it is also popular as a place of pilgrimage to the ancient shrines of Muslin scholar-saint, Sayed Mir Hashim, who was specially invited from Kashmir for imparting religious teachings to the region's Buddhist ruler, Thi-Namgyal of the Suru principality, following his conversion to Islam during the 16th century. The shrine is situated in the village of Karpo-Khar on the outskirts of Sankoo where the chief had his summer palace.

How to reach ?
Sankoo, Panikhar and Parachik are connected with Kargil with regular bus services, in summer even twice a day. A bus ride from Kargil takes 2 hours to Sankoo, 3 hours to Panikhar and about 4 hours to Parkachik. Rangdum is serviced by the BI-week bus service to Padum, which increases according to demand. Some trucks plying between Kargil and Padum also offers a lift in the cabin for the price of a bus seat. Cars and jeeps taxis can be hired from Kargil for visiting different places in the Suru Valley, including Rangdum and Penzila.

Drass Valley
Drass (3230 m), 60 km west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar, is a small township lying in the centre of the valley of the same name. It has become famous as the second coldest inhabited place in the world by virtue of the intense cold that descends upon the valley along with repeated snowfalls during winters. Winter temperature is sometimes known to plummet to less than minus 40 degrees.

The Drass valley starts from the base of the Zojila pass, the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh. For centuries its inhabitants are known to have negotiated this formidable pass even during the most risky period in the late autumn or early spring, when the whole sector remains snow-bound and is subject to frequent snow storms, to transport trader's merchandise across and to help stranded travellers to traverse it. By virtue of their mastery over the pass they had established a monopoly over the carrying trade during the heydays of the Pan-Asian trade. A hardly people enduring with fortitude and harshness of the valley's winter, the inhabitants of drass can well be described as the guardian's of Ladakh's gateway.

Drass is a convenient base for a 3-day long trek to Suru valley across the sub-range separating the two valleys. This trek passes through some of the most beautiful upland villages and flower sprinkled meadows on both sides of the 4500 mts high Umbala pass, which falls enroute. The trek to the holy cave of Amarnath in neighboring Kashmir, which stars from Minamarg below Zojila, takes 3 days and involves crossing of 5200 mts high pass. Drass also offers numerous shorter treks and hikes to the upland villages.

Note : All Tourists to Ladakh travelling from Srinagar by road are required to register themselves at the Tourist Registration Centre at Drass.

Suru Valley
One of the most beautiful regions of Ladakh , the Suru Valley forms the mainstay of Kargil district. Lying nestled along the north-eastern foothills of the great Himalayan Wall, it extends from Kargil town, first southward for a length of about 75 Kms Upto the expanse around Panikhar, thence eastward for another stretch of nearly 65 kms upto the foot of the Penzila watershed where the Suru valley rises. Its composite population of about 30,000 -- mainly of Tibeti-Darad descent -- are Muslims who had converted their Buddhist faith around the middle of the 16th century. The upper valley reaches of the valley, particularly around the Sankoo bowl, the Panikhar expense and the higher stretch beyond, present a spectacle of breathtaking features-majestic mountain ramparts crowned by snow capped peaks, undulating alpine slopes draining into wild mountain streams of foaming cascades of pristine water, awesome glaciers descending along the Himalayan slopes to the river bed in riverine formation, Quaint villages of adobe houses straggling dry hillocks surrounded by large tracts of lush crops downward the patches of alpine pastures uphill. The beauty of this region is further enhanced by the sheer contrast provided by the towering peaks of Kun (7035 m) and Nun (7135 m) which loom over the skyline in their crystalline majesty.

How to reach ?

Sankoo, Panikhar and Parachik are connected with Kargil with regular bus services, in summer even twice a day. A bus ride from Kargil takes 2 hours to Sankoo, 3 hours to Panikhar and about 4 hours to Parkachik. Rangdum is serviced by the BI-week bus service to Padum, which increases according to demand. Some trucks plying between Kargil and Padum also offers a lift in the cabin for the price of a bus seat. Cars and jeeps taxis can be hired from Kargil for visiting different places in the Suru Valley, including Rangdum and Penzila.



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