The topography of Ladakh verges on the surreal, yet the emotions aroused by it in the minds of the onlooker is very much real. Craggy mountains overlook the cerulean waters of lakes whose origins are shrouded in mystery. The hymns emanating from the monasteries, perched precariously on mountain cliffs, pervade the air with a sense of spirituality.
At an altitude of almost 3,000 meters, this “land of high passes” throws constant surprises at you. You don’t seek adventure in places such as these, it throws itself at you. Deserts rest lifelessly against snowcapped mountains, occasional green patches are overlooked by enormous brown mountains, which often appear sagacious. This is the place for visitors who wish to see the pure, rugged face of nature. In this blog, we tell you some of the best places to visit in Leh Ladakh, the memories of which remain etched in your mind for a long time to come.
Here are the 20 Best Tourist Places to Visit in Leh Ladakh:
1. Leh Palace, Leh
Leh Palace, also known as ‘Lachen Palkhar’, catches your attention from a distance with its dun color forming a stark contrast against the light-blue skies. Built by the Buddhist kings in 1553, it once held the distinction of being the world’s highest building. It shares a striking similarity to the famous Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
While the exteriors of the Leh palace provide magnificent views of the Stok Kangri and Ladakh mountain ranges, the interiors of Leh Palace are beautifully adorned with old pictures and paintings which include Tibetan thangka or sooth paintings. The inside of the Leh Palace, though, contains an exquisite collection of jewelry, crowns, and ceremonial dresses.
2. Shanti Stupa, Leh
Shanti Stupa in Leh stands as a commemoration to the 2,500 years of Buddhism and seeks to promote world peace and prosperity. One has to drive about 5km from the Leh Airport to reach this monument, followed by a climb involving 500 steps. It’s a two-level structure, with the first level containing a Dharmchakra and a central image of Lord Buddha, and the second level depicting the various forms of Lord Buddha.
This white dome stupa, also known as Chorten, rests on a hill and is one of the famous tourist attractions in Leh city. Its beauty is embellished during the nighttime. This structure was built by the Buddhists of Ladakh and Japan, while the Ladakhis offered voluntary labor.
3. Leh Main Market, Leh
People who have visited Leh often talk of how wonderful its market is, and on a first-time visit to the market, one might think that the entire population of the region had assembled there. The market lanes are flanked by stalls selling everything from local handicrafts and souvenirs to Pashmina shawls and woolen clothes.
A special attraction is the Tibetan Refugee Market where one comes across all kinds of locks with unique carvings and artifacts. Elderly ladies displaying various handicrafts and jewelry is a common sight. However, regardless of whether you make a purchase or not, a visit to the Leh Main Market is desirable in itself, because it provides a unique glimpse of the local people and their lifestyle.
4. Jama Masjid, Leh
Jama Masjid, situated in the middle of Leh Main Market, is an oasis of tranquility amid the bustling bazaars surrounding the mosque. Built by Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD, the mosque is built in the Indo-Saracenic style and houses a magnificent courtyard. On Fridays, the mosque is filled with devotees who gather there to offer prayers.
Jama Masjid was destroyed by fire several times before being restored as many times, with the last restoration undertaken by Maharaja Pratap Singh. The mosque, which was created using 370 pillars of wood, is an architectural masterpiece.
5. Hall of Fame, Leh
One of the many attractions of Leh is the Hall of Fame. The structure of the museum is a sight to watch, while inside, the two large rooms showcase various aspects of Ladakhi history and culture. However, the museum mostly commemorates the Indian Army’s role in Ladakh and its various contributions to the region as a whole. Two examples are, its enormous contribution during the cloudburst relief in 2010 and the battles fought with Pakistan.
The museum is attached to an adventure park that consists of a baby assault course. However, if coffee or lime soda is what you fancy, the museum comes attached to a stylish Aroma Café.
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6. Chang La Pass
Hold on to your seats as your car negotiates the dangerous bends and curves in one of the highest mountain roads of the world, the Chang La Pass. At an elevation of 17, 590ft approximately, this pass is clothed in snow most of the time. This pass lies on the road to Pangong Lake from Leh.
Due to its proximity to the Chinese border, this pass is protected and maintained by the Indian Army. However, frequent snowfall often creates a little problem. Passes like these put you’re driving skills to the test and tell you what real thrill is all about.
7. Pangong Tso Lake
Pangong Tso Lake was made famous in the movie “3 Idiots”, where a certain shot of the film was shot. Situated at a height of almost 14,270ft and 5km wide at its broadest point, this lake is the most famous lake amongst other lakes of Leh Ladakh, is definitely a sight to behold. However, it’s worth knowing that despite containing saline water, it remains frozen during the winters.
This is the kind of place whose beauty can be absorbed gradually, in phases. Spend an entire day here, and you will see the waters reflect the particular time of the day. The migratory birds gliding over its waters is a lovely sight. During sunrise and sunset, the lake looks like a perfectly painted portrait.
8. Tso Moriri Lake
The waters of Tso Moriri shimmer under the sun and the clouds above take on curious formations. Located at an impressive altitude of almost 13,123ft, the lakes impresses visitors as much by its dimensions as by its ethereal beauty. The entire landscape here is charming and takes on a romanticized feeling.
Tso Moriri Lake is also part of the Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve and holds the distinction for being the highest Ramsar site in the world. The lake remains frozen from January to March. Although the lake lies at a distance of approximately 250km from Leh, the fabulous scenes that await you are worth it.
9. Tso Kar Lake
Tso Kar Lake is another of the many tourist attractions in Ladakh. It’s also called the “White Lake” due to its shores being covered in salt deposits from its waters. Located at an altitude of 15,280ft, it is the smallest lake found in this region.
This place is a haven for birdwatchers, while the areas surrounding it are home to rich wildlife. The various birds which visit this lake range from Brahminy duck to bar-headed geese, with the main attraction being the black-necked cranes. One of the mammals often spotted here are Kiangs, the largest of the wild asses. The area surrounding this lake is inhabited by Khampas, a nomadic tribe that lives in large tents during summers and solid stone huts during winters.
10. Khardung La Pass
Crossing the Khardung La Pass is what adventure in Ladakh is all about. Situated at an elevation of almost 18,379ft, this pass brings you some of the most incredible sights you will come across throughout your journey. It is the gateway to Nubra and Shyok valleys. Reaching the pass is as dramatic as arriving at it. A narrow road, punctuated by sharp bends, is flanked by steep cliffs covered in snow with boulders resting carelessly on them.
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11. Magnetic Hill
How do you defy gravity? By traveling to Magnetic Hill. Situated on the Leh – Srinagar national highway, just about 27km from Leh, the hill seems to attract vehicles towards it. It’s a mystery that, despite many efforts, has remained unresolved.
This gravity-defying phenomenon is not limited to vehicles. Water too is drawn towards the hill when poured on the ground. However, some say that it’s merely an optical illusion caused by the particular layout of the surrounding land. Whatever the cause behind it, it’s definitely a unique experience to be had.
12. The confluence of Indus and Zanskar
The waters of the Indus and Zanskar Rivers, the two great rivers of Ladakh, meet each other in a place called the Nimmu Valley. The emerald water of the Indus River merges with the cerulean water of the Zanskar River, making for an incredible sight.
One can’t help but stare at this incredible sight greeting your eyes, and absorbing the true beauty of it requires some time. Of course, it’s a photographer’s best delight and allows you to capture some lovely memories.
One of the sights which catch your attention in Ladakh is the monasteries, with several of them dotting its landscape. This is quite natural, considering that the majority of the people here are Buddhists. It’s also a legacy of the several kings and dynasties who ruled this region throughout the years.
Some of the famous monasteries in Ladakh are Hemis Monastery, Matho Monastery, and Diskit Monastery, besides others. These gompas are repositories of culture, heritage, and tradition. They also host various festivals throughout the year, which is also the time they attract tourists in large numbers.
14. Pathar Sahib Gurudwara
Pathar Sahib Gurudwara, located at a height of 12,000ft, is associated with an interesting history. This Gurudwara is visited by Sikhs as well as by Tibetan Buddhists, who consider Guru Nanak to be a Buddhist saint under the name of Guru Gompka Maharaj.
Its believed that, between 1515-18, when Guru Nanak was returning to Punjab after having traveled Sikkim, he rested here for a while. The imprint of the body of Guru Nanak as well as the footprint of the demon, whom Guru Nanak is believed to have transformed with its spiritual power, is on display. You may have visited various gurudwaras, but a visit to this one promises to be quite special.
15. Nubra Valley
Nubra Valley, situated 150km north of Leh, is one of the most interesting places to visit in Leh Ladakh. Lying 150km north of Leh, its landscape is both breathtaking and surreal. This place is home to famous monasteries like Diskit and Samstanling, besides offering unique experiences like a camel safari in Hunder Sand Dunes on camels with two humps.
The villages of Dah and Hanu are situated on the meeting points of the Indus and Shyok Rivers and inhabited by people belonging to the Drokpa community. Their physical features set them apart from the rest of the Ladakhi people, as they possess an Indo-Aryan look. Visiting their villages and understanding their lifestyles is an exciting and educative experience. The people here practice horticulture and grow apples and apricot which possess a taste that can’t be found anywhere else.
The beauty of Panamik village needs to be seen to be believed. Most famous for its hot water springs, the village is overlooked by snow-clad peaks and a craggy landscape. However, once here, you should take a dip in the hot springs, as the waters are believed to possess healing properties.
Lamayuru is a Moonland, and that term is hardly an exaggeration. A small village in Ladakh located midway between Kargil and Leh, the landscape of Lamayuru would have you believe that you had landed on the moon. Various houses are perched precariously on the rugged landscape and are quite a sight to watch from atop. The best way to get an incredible view of the village here is to climb the famously known “meditation hill.”
The Lamayuru Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the region and fascinates visitors with its murals, Mani stones, and the prayer wheels, which have existed for a long time. It is the prayer hall in the monastery which is generally accessible to travelers. The monastery can be visited during both summers and winters. However, visiting it during the winter is a special treat in itself.
17. Zanskar Valley
Zanskar Valley endears itself to visitors with its rugged landscape, lush pastures flanked by jagged peaks and the Zanskar River, whose beauty is timeless. It’s also the most isolated of all the valleys. The Chaddar trek along the frozen Zanskar River is one of the most popular adventure sports in Ladakh.
During the winters, large sections of the Zanskar River are frozen and most of the river is covered with a thick blanket of ice. This is when the Chadar Trek is undertaken along the frozen Zanskar River, a journey filled with unending surprises and adventure. The entire stretch of the trek takes you past villages, canyons, and gorges. The trek is challenging as ever, but the entire experience is worth it.
18. Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary
Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is the only area that represents India’s “Trans Himalayan Area”. Due to the rugged landscape and the sparse vegetation prevailing here, the wildlife to has undergone a tremendous change due to the adaptation process. Situated at an altitude of almost 14,846ft above sea level, it spreads across an area of almost 4,000sq. Km and consists of plateaus and high altitude water lakes.
One of the major attractions of Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary is the Kiang, or the Tibetan wild ass, along with the rare blacked-necked crane. The other forms of wildlife found are Tibetan argali, Tibetan wolf, Tibetan gazelle and wild yak.
19. Hemis National Park
Hemis National Park, also known as Hemis High Altitude National Park, holds the distinction of being the only national park in India north of the Himalayas. It’s renowned for being home to the highest density of snow leopards in the world. It is also the highest national park in India.
Apart from the snow leopard, the other animals found here are the Eurasian brown bear, the Tibetan wolf and the red fox, among others. The avian population here includes several Himalayan and trans-Himalayan birds of prey including the golden eagle, the lammergeyer vulture, and the Himalayan Griffon Vulture.
20. Indian Astronomical Observatory
The Indian Astronomical Observatory is one of the most interesting places to see in Ladakh. It boasts the world’s highest sites for optical, infrared and gamma-ray telescopes. It is operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore and possesses the third-highest optical telescope in the world.
Located at almost 15,000ft, this astronomical observatory located at Hanle in Ladakh is a wonder in itself. The second highest observatory in the world, it consists of the 2m class Chandra telescope. What makes this location perfect for sky-gazing are the clear cloudless skies and very little artificial light.