Ladakh is bounded by world's two mightiest mountain ranges the great Himalayan and the Karakoram, It lies athwart two others The Ladakh and the Zangskar range. It lies at altitude ranging from about 2,750m to 7,673m. The temperature in summer goes upto 27C and in winter it drops down to minus 20C.
It leaves the first time traveler awestruck by its geographical and cultural difference as they land at Leh. The features of Ladakhi people, their clothes and dialects are similar to Tibetan and Mongoloid then Indian. The Mons from Kullu and Tibet were the first population immigrants to Ladakh as shepherds' nomads and settled down near Indus River. Later drads and others immigrated to Lower Ladakh.
Due to cultural and geographical similarities Ladakh is popular among tourists as Little Tibet. Buddhism is the dominant religion in Ladakh while Kargil district is dominated by Muslims and Buddhist. The approach to Ladakh is invariably marked with many walls that are long upto 2 to 3m, decorated with engraved stones bearing the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum" and Chortens which symbolizes Buddha's mind. The Villages and Mountains are ornamented with gompa or monastery residing thousand of Buddhist monks, hermits and Nuns .Islam came to Ladakh from central Asia and Kashmir after 15th century AD.
Approach to Ladakh
By Air: There are daily flights operated between Delhi & Leh and thrice weekly between Srinagar & Leh.
Srinagar to Leh - Ladakh from Kashmir Valley via Kargil is approx. 434 Km, which remains open for traffic from early June to November. The most dramatic part of this road journey is the ascent up the 11,500 feet / 3,505 m high Zoji-La, the pass in the Great Himalayan Wall that serves as the gateway to Ladakh.
Manali to Leh - Since 1989, the 473 km. Manali- Leh road has been serving as the second overland approach to Ladakh. Open for traffic from around mid-June to early October. This high road traverses the upland desert plateau of Rupsho, altitude ranges from 3,660m to 4,570m. A number of high passes fall enroute among which the highest one known as Taklang-La is world's second highest motorable pass at an altitude of 17,469 feet/5,235m. Sarchu which is midway between Manali & Leh is an important place for overnight stay for travelers taking this fascinating & challenging journey. At Sarchu Himalayan Saga operates a 25 swiss cottage tent camp from 10th June to 15th Sep every year.
Leh is the headquarter of Leh District, and the largest town of the region. It is located to the north of the Indus River at an elevation of 3600m above the sea level. The town is dominated by the nine-storey Namgyal Palace and Namgyal Tsemo (victory peak), built by Tashi Namgyal on his victorious in reunification of the Upper and Lower Ladakh.
Leh became the capital of Stod (upper Ladakh) during the reign of King Graspa Bum- Lde, who ruled Ladakh from 1400 to 1430 AD. In the later period, Leh became an important center for trade in Central Asia. Leh remained merely a headquarter of Ladakh district until 1974, when Ladakh was opened for foreign tourists. Since then period Leh became the centre for tourism related activities in the region.
The Nubra Valley means Ldumra (the valley of flowers), situated in the north of Leh. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 ft. above the sea level.
The main attraction in this area are Bactarian Camels (Shaggy double hump Camel) around sand dunes in Hundur village, Deskit & Samstanling monasteries and Khardung la Pass (18,380 feet.) above sea level.
Nubra valley can be visited from Leh involving 2 – 3 days of tour.
Kargil, the headquarter of Kargil district, is around 204 Kms. to the east of Srinagar and 234 Kms. to the west of Leh. It was a transit point of caravans on their way to and from China, Tibet, Yarken and Kashmir till 1949, but since 1974 tourism has replaced as centre for tourism related activities.
Tourists traveling between Zanskar, Leh and Srinagar have to make a night halt here, before starting for the second day of their journey. Kargil is located on the bank of the Suru River which flows at around 10,000 ft. high.
Here people were followers of Buddhist religion till the 14th century AD. Presently, Kargil is inhabited by Muslims of Shia sect.
The landscape of the Suru valley is wonderful, especially when it gets dotted by flowers in the summer. It expands from Kargil town upto the Penzi La watershed, from where the Suru River rises.
Suru valley has a large population, mainly of Tibetan-Dard Muslims, who converted to Islam in the 15th century. The beauty of the region is enhanced by the peaks of Nun (7,135 m) and Kun (7,035 m) Massif.
The Kartse Khar is an ancient village with a 7 m tall rock carved statue of Maitriya Buddha. All this is evidence of the presence of Buddhist community in the valley in the past. There are many other rock carved statues and stupas around in Suru valley.
Panikhar is the best station for undertaking mountaineering expeditions to the various Peaks surrounded the valley. Tanyol, the approach base for climbing Mt. Nun, is just 6 Kms. further up the valley along the road. A short walk up the hill slopes from here takes one across the Sentik Ridge to the base camp on the rim of the ice plateau.
Another very interesting hike is to the Nun- Kun view saddle (3810m) in the Parkachik ridge. This requires 3 hours of walking along verdant slopes overlooking the fertile valley below.
Drass is around 60 kms to the west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar. The place has beautiful pasture grounds. Drass is the second coldest inhabited place in the world, where the temperature goes as low as - 50 in winter. Drass has become famous in recent years because of Pakistan’s misadventure in the Tiger hill and Tolloling areas.
One can have a lovely view of Tiger hill from Drass village. Drass’s inhabitants consist mainly of the Dards stock, an Aryan race believed to have originally migrated to these villages of the western Himalaya from central Asian steppes. They speak Shina, which is very much unlike the Ladakhi dialects spoken elsewhere in the Ladakh region. The favorite pass time of the inhabitants of Drass is Polo.
Zanskar valley lies to the south west of Leh, surrounded by the Himalayan and Zanskar ranges, which is the most isolated of all the trans- Himalayan valleys. Zanskar comprises of two main valleys of Stod (Doda Chu) and Lunak (Tsarab Chu), which converge below at Padum. The valley has an area of about 5,000 sq. kms and an elevation of 13,154 ft. The area remains inaccessible for nearly seven months in the year. All the high passes are closed in the winter and the river freeze on the surface. In winters one can make a trek through the Zanskar valley, on the frozen river to reach the Indus River at Nimoo village near Leh and this is known as the Chadar trek.
Zanskar valley can be visited from Leh or Srinagar via Kargil and requires traveling for two days one way to reach Padum the headquaters of Zanskar valley. Padum can also be reached from Manali by a trek over Shingo La. Zanskar has lot of beautiful Buddhist monasteries like Zongkhul, Bardan, Stongde, Karsha, Phuktal and Sunni Palace and most of monasteries can be visited in a day or two by Jeep from Padum.
Padum is around 464 kms from Leh and 234 kms away from Kargil. Once the Capital of the Zanskar valley, today it is the administrative headquarter of the region and probably the most populous settlement of Zanskar. There is a small market along the main road with hotels, restaurants and many shops.
The town has a newly constructed Mosque. Stakrimo Gompa is on a hill side and the 10th century monument carved on a huge rock near the river bank, provides epigraphic evidence that the region was influenced by Budddhism since ancient period.
Dha & Hanu
Dhahanu is situated to the south west of Leh, around 163 Kms. passing through the beautiful villages of Kaltsey, Domkhar, Skurbuchan and Achinathang. There are many small villages but only two villages of Dha and Hanu are open for tourist. Being on lower altitude Dhahanu is warmer than Leh. The main attraction of Dhahanu region is the Drokpa Community considered to being as last race of Aryans confined in the valley.
The feature of villagers are considered as pure Indo Aryan and said to 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. A tour of this region can be done from Leh in two days with overnight in a tent.
The Tsomoriri Lake is a beautiful mountain bounded expanse of water, around 240 Kms. from Leh in Rupshu Valley. The Lake is located at 14,000 ft. near and on its banks is a small village, Karzok. The Karzok Monastery of 19th century houses Shakyamuni Buddha and other statues. The Nomadic people are most outstanding feature of this lake area, which graze herd of goats and yaks.
Tsokhar (the salt Lake) around 76 kms from Tsomoriri is also a beautiful lake in this area. Both of these lakes can be visited from Leh in 2 – 3 days or while traveling from Manali to Leh or vice versa. This area is also famous among trekkers, with the most famous trek being from Spiti valley to Tsomoriri Lake over Parang La.
Pangong is 40 miles in length and nearly 2-4 miles in width, located at a height of 4267 m. The first view of the lake is breathtaking because of striking colours of its water especially towards evening, when it is deep blue.
A tour to the lake can be organized as a day excursion from Leh or with an overnight stay at Tangste. Travelers are not allowed beyond Spangmik and to pitch tents near lake for an overnight stay.
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