Leh Palace :
Leh, a historic town that served as the royal capital of the Old Kingdom, is dominated by the nine-storey Leh palace built by King Singge Namgyal in the 17th century in the grand tradition of Tibetan architecture, which is said to have inspired the famous Potala in Lhasa built about half a century later. It rises from the edge of the town overlooking Leh. However, it is now dilapidated and deserted. It was the home of the royal family until they were exiled to Stok in the 1830s. Above the palace, at the top of the Namgyal hill, is the Victory Tower, built to commemorate Ladakh's victory over the Balti Kashmir armies in the early 16th century.
Shanti Stupa :
The Stupa is 3 km from Fort Road, Leh and located on the hilltop at Changspa. There is a very steep set of steps but there are great views from the top. One can also see the road to Khardong Pass from here. The Stupa was constructed in 1985 by a Japanese Buddhist organization, known as 'The Japanese for World Peace', to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism and to promote World Peace. A magnificent white-domed structure, the Shanti Stupa offers spectacular views of the sunrise and sunset. The stupa looks best at night, when it is beautifully illuminated with glittering lights.
A pretty and prosperous suburb of Leh town with a pretty village. From here one can admire the earthen ramparts of Zorawar Singh's
Hemis Monastery, 40 km southeast of Leh, was established at the instance of King Singge Namgyal, in 1672 AD. It is the biggest and best-known 'Gompa' of Ladakh. Hemis is best known to tourists for the colorful festival held in July. Sacred masked dances performed by the resident Lamas are held to eulogize the triumph of good over evil. Hemis is also associated with the Hemis National Park, also the abode of the snow leopard, Tibetan kiang, ibex, serow and Tibetan antelope. Amongst the avian fauna population found in the Hemis national park are the snow partridge and golden oriole.
Shey Palace :
situated on a hillock 15 km south of Leh, was built in 1645 by Deldon Namgyal as a summer residence for the kings of Ladakh. It is the oldest palace in Ladakh and above the palace is an even older ruined fortress. From the palace one can get the views of the ranges in the south to the Thiksey gompa and in the west to the Zanskar mountain ranges. Hundreds of chortens of all shapes and sizes stand below the palace and gompa.
Shey Gompa :
In 1655, in memory of his father, this same king built the two-storey Shey gompa adjacent to the palace. In this gompa he installed a two-storey high image of the seated Buddha., 12 meters high and worked of copper sheets gilded with gold.
Thiksey Gompa :
17 kms south-east of Leh, Thiksey gompa was built some 600 years ago and consists of 12 levels ascending a hillside. The gompa contains 10 temples; below the monastery itself are chapels and "houses" stretching down the hillside. After entering the main courtyard to the immediate right and up several steps is a new temple containing a large Buddha statue. This Buddha figure, 15 meters tall was constructed in 1970 to commemorate a visit to Thiksey by the Dalai Lama. The statue is the largest Buddha figure in Ladakh and took four years to construct. The statue is made of clay and covered with gold paint. Inside, the statue is filled with both the Kandshur and the Tandshur - volumes of Buddhist canonical texts.
Stok Palace :
Just across the river, south of Leh lies Stok, the village with which the deposed royal family was compensated for the loss of the throne. Stok Palace, where the royal family now lives, houses a museum of artifacts associated with the dynasty.
Stok Gompa :
Stok gompa is a subsidiary of Spituk and both were founded by the same lama, Nawang Lotus, during the reign of King Takpa Bumbde. The oldest parts of the gompa are some 550 years old though the main Dukhang is only about fifty years old. A door on the left side of the courtyard opens onto the gompa's library. This room has a complete set of the Kandshur, the 108 volumes of the Buddha's teachings. The central image in this library is of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha). To the left of the Dukhang is a new temple which has a new and large image of Avalokitesvara with his 1,000 arms (to demonstrate his enormous strength) and 11 heads. On either side of this image are numerous small stucco images of lamas and Buddhas.
Stakna Gompa :
Located roughly between Stok and Hemis, Stakna meaning "Tiger's Nose" was built some 500 years ago on the summit of a high rock in the middle of the Indus Valley. This is a small monastery housing some 35 lamas o f the red-hat sect of Buddhism.
Matho Gompa :
Matho gompa lies about 26 kms south of Leh on the opposite bank of the Indus River and offers spectacular views of the Ladakh range from its perch on top of a ridge. The monastery was founded by Lama Dugpa Dorjay in 16th century. Matho is the only Sakya-pa establishment in Ladakh.
Spituk Gompa :
Spituk lies some 5 kms south of Leh. Spituk gompa was built about 550 years ago by Gyalpo Bumide, although one temple, dedicated to Mahakala was built about 900 years ago. The Spitok is probably derived from the Central Tibetan language and means "Effective as an Example", referring to the fact that this was the Tibetans' first monastery in Ladakh. Ancient thankas are preserved here, some having been taken from the Potala Palace and Lhasa after the Chinese invaded. The head lama of Spituk is also the head Lama for Ladakh.
The mountain pass (la means pass in Tibetan) is situated 37 km north of Leh. Khardong La is supposed to have the highest motorable road in the world at an elevation of 18380 feet / 5570 m. It is the gateway to the Nubra Valley and used to lie on the ancient caravan trade route to Central Asia.
Nubra Valley (Deskit, Hunder, White Sand Dunes, Bactrian Camels, Panamik) :
The name Nubra is applied to the region comprising the valley of the river Nubra and that of the Shayok, both above and below their confluence. The route north of Leh crosses over Khardung-la. From the top, one can see all the way south over the Indus valley to the seemingly endless peaks and ridges of the Zanskar range, and north to the giants of the Saser massif. The villages are large and prosperous, and have thick plantations of willow and poplar. The altitude is a little less than that of Leh, varying between 10,000 ft (3,231 m) at Hunder, and 10,600 ft (3231 m) at Panamik. Summer temperatures vary between 15oC and 28oC. The main village is Deskit, 120 kms from Leh, which has a bazaar comprising of single line of shops, and a 500 year old gompa situated on a rocky spur above the village with a commanding view. From Deskit, the route follows the course of the Shayok to Hunder, past an area of rolling sand dunes, with their contours liable to shift with every gale. There is a small population of the shaggy double-humped Bactrian camels, which in the old days were used as pack animals on the Central Asian trade route. Today visitors to Nubra can use these animals for going on camel safaris. About 7 km from Diskit; Hunder is a pretty village, set among lots of trees and gurgling streams. It is the farthest point till where civilians are allowed.
the last village on this circuit, is a sleepy village, its inhabitants quietly going about their work in the fields. On the mountainside above the village, hot water bubbles out of the earth in thermal springs, reputed to have therapeutic qualities. Across the river, clinging to the mountains, are a few trees rooted among the rocks surrounding the tiny Ensa gompa.
Pangong Lake :
145 kms from Leh, is situated at an altitude of 14,100 ft (4,267m). It is 6 to 7 kms (4.5 miles) at its widest point, and over 130 kms (80 miles) long, and is divided by the international border between India and China only one-third of it lying in India. Spangmik, the farthest point up to which foreigners are permitted, is about 7 kms along the southern shore from the head of the lake. It presents a spectacular view of the mountains of the Chang-chenmo range to the north, their reflections shimmering in the ever-changing blues and greens of the lake’s brackish waters. Above Spangmik are the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Pangong range. Spangmik and a scattering of other tiny villages along the lake's southern shore are the summer homes of a scanty population of Chang-pa, the nomadic herdsmen of Tibet and southeast Ladakh. The Pangong Chang-pa cultivate sparse crops of barley and peas in summer. It is in winter that they unfold their yak wool tents called rebo, and take the flocks of sheep and pashmina goats out to the distant pastures.
On the way to the Pangong Tso, one crosses the second highest motor-able road in the world at 17,800 feet at Chang-La. The views all around are simply spectacular.
Hall of Fame :
West of Leh, it is a glorious museum constructed by the Indian army. You can see the memorabilia, images and weapons used during Kargil war and belongings of enemy soldiers found at the war site. Another section of this building is entirely dedicated to Siachen and its heroes.
Magnetic Hill :
Ladakh is also a place of astounding quirks of nature like Magnetic Hill, located 30 kms west of Leh on the Leh-Kargil-Batalik Highway. It is believed that it has magnetic properties, which attracts metallic objects and even moves heavy vehicles up to a speed of 20 kmph while their engines are switched off! A major tourist ‘attraction,’ the local administration has put up a huge board near the hill and marked a particular spot on the road where the vehicles move ahead on their own towards the hill.
Sangam of Indus and Zanskar :
Driving through a picturesque landscape, about 30 kms west of Leh, one reaches the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar river 4 km before Nimmu village. The confluence is a magnificent view of the two rivers having different colours and force. It is at an altitude of 10,823 ft.
Alchi (3500 m / 11500 feet) is a small village in the Indus Valley, 67 kms west of Leh. Abandoned centuries ago the gompa or monastery is known as Chos-kor, or religious enclave and comprises of five temples. The richest in paintings and images are in the Du-khang (assembly hall) and the three-storey Sum-tsek. Its murals, dating from the 11th century, pre-date the Tibetan style of painting seen in all the other gompas of the region. Unlike other monasteries, which are usually on a cliff top or cling to a mountainside, Alchi is at ground level and is nestled in the shade of a garden.
Basgo Gompa (Maitreya Temples), is situated about 40 km west of Leh. In Buddhist philosophy, the Maitreya represents the Buddha of the future. Its three sacred buildings, constructed in the fifteenth century, are the oldest surviving Chamba Lhakhang (Maitreya Temples). Within the main temple sits a 14-meter-high Maitreya Buddha.
Likir Gompa, west of Leh between Basgo and Ridzong, was established in the 15th century and is set on an isolated ridge. The road approaching the gompa makes a wide semi-circle around its base, affording beautiful views of the gompa from different vantage points. In the main Dukhang or main assembly hall, at the front on the left are two large chortens. Inside the chorten on the left is a statue of Avalokitesvara, a Bodhisattva whose name means "Lord of All He Surveys" and who is believed to be incarnated in the Dalai Lama. Numerous thankas hang from the columns and walls in the Dukhang.
Ridzong Monastery :
Rizong, situated a few kilometers up a side-valley from Uley-Tokpo, was founded only a century and a quarter ago by a devout layman-turned-lama, with the purpose of following the strict monastic rules of the Gelugs-pa sect.
The oldest monastery is that of Lamayuru, believed to have been a sacred site for the pre-Buddhist religion known as Bon. The main image is a large Vairocana (the Teaching Buddha) seated on a lion throne with a garuda (mythical bird) and sea monsters surrounding his head. Twice a year, all the lamas gather for prayers, accompanied by three days of masked dancing. These gatherings occur in the second and fifth months of the Tibetan calendar (corresponding usually to March and July). Lamayuru is 125 kms west of Leh at an altitude of 3510 m / 11600 feet.
The land of Aryans
Drokpa Valley : The main attraction of this region are the villages of Dha and Hanu where the Drokpa Community resides, considered as the last race of the original Aryans. Their features are pure Indo-Aryan and they have preserved their racial purity down the centuries. Their culture and religious practices are very similar to ancient pre-Buddhist religion known as Bon-Chos.
Dha-Hanu is situated to the north west of Leh, around 163 Kms, passing through the beautiful villages of Kaltsey, Domkhar, Skurbuchan and Achinathang. There are many small villages but only the two villages of Dha and Hanu are open for tourists. Being on a lower altitude Dha-Hanu is warmer than Leh.
Tso Moriri, Rupshu Valley, Korzok :
Tsomoriri (Official name: Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve), 240 kms south east of Leh is situated at a height of 4595 m / 15165 feet. Tsomoriri is the largest of the High Altitude Lakes to be situated entirely within India. It is 180 square kms in area and about 25 kms / 15 miles long and 7 kms / 4-5 miles wide. The Korzok monastery which lies on the western bank of the lake is one of the oldest settlements of the world. The area containing Tso-Moriri and other lakes, is known as the Rupshu Valley. Here, the Zanskar range is transformed into bare rolling many-hued hills, divided by open high-altitude valleys scoured by dust devils. It is a landscape quite unlike any other in Ladakh or elsewhere in India. This area is now open for foreigners for visiting.
Korzok, situated at 15,000 ft (4,572 m) with its dozen or so houses and its gompa, is the only permanent settlement in Rupshu, which is otherwise inhabited only by nomadic Chang-pa herdsmen. The Rupsho Chang-pa live in tents all the year round, moving according to an old established annual routine, between the pastures that exist wherever an occasional stream makes possible the growth of grass, which is said to be highly nutritious. The few barley-fields at Korzok are believed to be among the highest cultivation grounds in the world, although there is no guarantee that the crop will ripen every year. Despite its barrenness Rupshu’s hills support a sparse population of wildlife, and the animal most likely to be spotted is the Kyang, the wild ass of the Ladakh and Tibetan plateaus. More plentiful are marmots (ubiquitous to mountain slopes all over Ladakh), hare, and an unusual tail-less rat. The lakes are breeding grounds for numerous species of birds. Chief among them is the bar-headed goose, found in great numbers on the Tso-Moriri, the Great crested grebe, Brahmini duck, Black-necked Crane and Ruddy Shelduck.