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Ladakh - An Introduction

Flying into Leh, the cold desert land, over the magnificent Himalayas is a beautiful and scary experience at once. Leh Palace illuminated by huge halogen lamps looks like a bewitching castle on a hilltop set ablaze in the dark nights of the Leh.

   
 

Drive in the city is as exciting as the wonders it has in its lap with the long isolated winding road that opens up into a sheer expanse of arid flatness in burnt sienna. There is blinding sun at the top and perhaps at the first impression, a visitor is not likely to appreciate the blessings of the land fully.

Bon and Buddhism rule the lifestyle and culture of the people here. The Chortens (Stupas) and enchanting Gompas (Monasteries) adorn the city with their presence. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and there is an ominous beauty in the stark surroundings of Ladakh. The Hinayana Buddhist way of life lends a benevolent spirit to the very air of the region.

Location: In Ladakh that covers western J&K, India.
Significance: Capital of Ladakh
STD Code 01982
Best Season June-November

Climate - The days are dry and warm with cool winds blowing. The highest temperature is 25°C in summers and 10°C in winters while the nights are cool with temperatures ranging between 14°C and 8°C. There is heavy rainfall in winters. Recently, there has been increasing incidents of sporadic rainfall throughout the year.

How to Reach - By Air: Leh is connected by the regular domestic flights to and from Delhi. However, as the weather is unpredictable, a 2 to 3 hrs hold-up is normal, especially on the early morning departures.

By Train: The nearest railway station is in Kalka from where has to take a bus or taxi to Manali via Shimla. There are regular Tata Sumo and bus services in Manali to and from Leh.
By Road: Long, winding but well maintained roads are the next best option to a flight for Leh. The two popular routes to Leh are from Srinagar via Kargil on the Srinagar-Leh Highway and from Manali via Sarchu and Dharchu on the Manali-Leh Highway. These routes are only open from June to October.

   
 

However, it is a long and tiring journey of two days, the only comforts being the spectacular sights of the mountain country, alluring blue rivers and the passes over 13,000 ft that takes us to our destination. The respective night halts on the two routes are Kargil and Sarchu. There are regular bus and Tata Sumo services to Leh. Leh Bus Stand is barely a kilometer from the city itself.

What to wear - In summers, light cotton clothes are advisable while you will need heavy woolen clothes in winters. Wind-sheeters or raincoats as a safety against rainfall or snowfall and good waterproof shoes are needed while trekking. A warm sleeping bag will be an added advantage.

Shopping Attractions - Kashmiris displaying their beautiful carpets and rugs adorned with a mixture of Kashmiri and Persian motifs dominate the shopping areas. There are a number of German bakeries in Leh to cater to European tastes. Special Tibetan refugee markets are the other dominant shopping centers in Leh. The turquoise from Tibet, the rubies from Burma and the Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan along with the native Thangka paintings make up a shopping buff's day. T-shirts with 'Free Tibet' printed in them and painted masks and jewellery made from semi-precious stones or fake stones are other attractions.

Metalware is the Tibetan specialty as is the quartz that comes all the way from South India, which seems a little strange. Silverware, cymbals with special religious motifs that are used during meditation, decorative copper and brass trumpets, sonorous bowls made of nine metals like cymbals, chunky shell bangles worn by Ladakhi women and exquisite unpolished turquoise and silver jewelry are some of the highlights of the place.


High Altitude Lakes in Ladakh Pangong Lake - This lake is situated at an elevation of 14,000ft. In the Eastern sector of Ladakh, at a distance of 154km.from Leh across Changla pass (17,000ft.).This lake is one of the largest and most beautiful natural brakish lakes in the country and even Asia too.

   
 

Tso moriri Lake - T so moriri or mountain Lake is situated in the middle of the elevated valley of Rupshu surrounded by 6000 m peaks which completely surrounds the lake. The Area is rich in wildlife including the "Kyang" (wild ass), red fox and the rare snow leopard too.

T sokar Lake  - T sokar Lake is approximately 45 kms northwest of the Tsomoriri Lake at a height of 4485 m. It is also called "White Lake" because of salt deposited around it. The water of T so kar is so salty that salt is procured from its banks and sold all over Kashmir.


Ladakh Valley - Ladakh is bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram and lies transversely to the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range. In geological terms, it 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. Today, a high-altitude desert, Ladakh was once covered by an extensive lake system. The remnants of such a lake system still exists in the southeast plateaus of Rupshu and Chushul where there are drainage basins such as Tso-moriri, Tsokar, and grandest of all, Pangong-tso. Despite the rainfall by some stray monsoon clouds that cross over to the area, the main source of water remains the winter snowfall.

   
 

Drass, Zanskar and the Suru Valley to the north of Himalayas receive heavy snow in winter feeding the glaciers that melt in summers to form the streams used for irrigating the fields. For the rest of the region, the snow on the peaks is virtually the only source of water. Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet at Kargil to 25,170 feet at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Its frozen landscape is miraculous while its clear skies with glaring sun are welcome. Shooting stars are visible quite often in the area while silence and tranquility reign the area. There are wizened faces and rosy cheeks, and the dragons and Zen adorn every other human inhabitation, making Ladakh a quite place to visit. Also known as 'The Last Shangrila', 'Moonscape' and 'Little Tibet', the land is full of surprises.

Drass Valley - An enchanting valley formed by the Drass River that has its origin in the Machoi glacier near the famous Zozila Pass. River Shigar flowing in from the north drains a bordering part of the Drass Valley. In summers, due to the melting of snow, the volume of the river rises considerably. It meets the Suru River near Kharul, a short distance away from Kargil. The area is rocky with an occasional green patch formed by willow and groves. The short summer season in the Drass Valley begins in May, when the snows begin to melt. Inhabited by Brokpas who probably migrated to this tract from Gilgit several centuries ago, the chief occupation of the natives is growing mainly barley and other coarse cereals, as there is a lack of irrigation facilities in many parts of Drass. The soil is poor and unproductive and the agricultural production is also poor. As a result, food grains have to be imported from the Kashmir Valley while the scarcity of fuel causes it to be brought in from across the Zozila Pass.

Suru Valley - The average height of the Suru valley is 3,000 m. In the winters starting from mid-November and usually continuing till May, almost all parts of the valley is covered with a thick layer of snow. Formed by the catchments of the Suru River, that rises from the Panzella glacier and joins the Indus River at Nurla and the Dras River at Kharul, the general topography of the valley is as rugged and mountainous as most of Ladakh. However, it is relatively more fertile and extends from the Panzella glacier to south of Kargil town, where the Suru River merges with the Botkul River rising from the Botkul glacier.

Agriculture is the chief occupation of the valley people, which are blessed with a relatively longer summer, which begins in May. The main crops of the region are wheat, barley and millets along with the vegetables such as turnip, radish, peas and black peas. Grapes, apricots and melons are produced in fairly large quantities at Darchik and Garkoon along the lower course of the Indus through Ladakh that find a ready market in Kargil. Liquor is made from grapes.

Nubra Valley - Yellow and pink wild roses cover Nubra during early summers till August when a carpet of wild lavender enwraps it. A relatively warmer valley in Ladakh, it yields better crops and fruits, thus, earning the nickname of the Ldumra or the orchard of Ladakh. Diskit, one of the larger villages in the region, is dotted with apricot plantations and is renowned for housing the 350 year-old Diskit Gompa, which is the oldest and the largest monastery in the Nubra Valley. The road between Diskit and the pretty little Hunder Village winds through a gorgeous stretch of sand dunes. In Hunder, one can see the double-humped camels as one goes to visit the Hunder Gompa having some old frescos and a statue of Buddha. This monastery is also the best place in the village to catch a view of the setting sun.

Salt Lake Valley - One of the widest open areas in Rupshu, it has a length of about 20 km and a maximum width of about 7 km. The average height of the region is 5,000 m and can be approached from Leh across the Tanglang La pass. The main settlement of the valley is Thuggi while the two lakes here are - the fresh water Panluk Lake and the salt-water Tsokar Lake, which is 5 times the area of the former one. Named so because of the deposits of impure salt that occurs on the northern shore of the Tsokar Lake, Changpas collect it and use it to barter goods from other parts of Ladakh.

Shyok Valley - The valley of the Shyok River or the river of death, it was called so by the Central Asian traders who ventured on this treacherous route for centuries and perished. Rising from the Khumdang glacier, Nubra and Changchenmo rivers fill the waters of Shylok River. The river freezes in winters forming an easy access between the Khaplu and the Nubra valleys while in summers, as the snow melts in the uplands, the river overflows its banks and create a vast marsh. During this period, the Shyok River has to be crossed on rafts of inflated skin.

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