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Exploring the Stunningly Beautiful Regions of Ladakh

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Historically, Ladakh as a region encompasses a patchwork of several inspiring landscapes. However contemporary Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, the Lahaul and Spiti to the south, the Vale of Kashmir regions to the west and the trans-Kunlun territory of Xingjian to the far north. Ladakh’s USP is its remote mountain beauty and culture.

Its strategic location at the cross roads of important trade routes was considered extremely significant in the old times and has been a melting pot of various cultures, faiths and beliefs. Replete with sights and sounds of exciting traditions, rich heritage and affluent history, visiting Ladakh is like coming up close and personal with a lifestyle quite distinct. Always abuzz with cultural festivities, outdoor recreational activities and general tourism, this popular vacation destination is frequented by people from far and near.

One of the privileges of working for a travel company is the opportunity to explore such stunning regions. We do take immense pride in our destination knowledge and we always keep ourselves updated by visiting the regions we promote on fairly regular basis. I had one of the most enjoyable experiences recently when I visited Ladakh. Leh is largest town in Ladakh and very busy as you might expect it to be.

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Bustling with markets, small guest’s houses catering to backpackers and several street cafes, it’s probably best to spend only a day or two to help yourself acclimatise before heading out the wonderful hidden villages where you will be able to have a true Ladakhi experience.  Ages ago you would only see Tibetan style houses with mud brick walls but today when you walk from the palace towards the town centre you will find more four whlee drives, billboards in various foreign languages and restaurants serving Italian breads and Israeli breakfasts.

To connect with the essence of the place and its people and the culture, a network of sophisticated home stays occupying three storied Ladakhi houses strung across several villages close to the regional capital of Leh. These home stays are located at Shey, Taru, Nimmu and Likhir. The ground floor was traditionally where the cattle was kept, the first floor is where there is an elaborate dining room and also where the family live. The bedrooms occupy the second floor and as per the Ladakhi design, the bedrooms are in the four corners thus each of the offering incredible views. Most of these houses have three bedrooms with European mattresses, full bathrooms with hot water and minimalistic yet tastefully decorated cedar wood furniture.

The dining experience is something one simply cannot miss out on. You dine either in the Ladakhi kitchen or on the terrace depending on the weather as it can be windy and cold in the evenings. Food is very much local but you can also expect fresh salads and pastas as well. Table is laid with impeccable china, beaten brass cutlery and burnished brass bowls. Guests are looked after by English speaking guides and hostesses. 

I found that walking was the best way to achieve intimacy with the region and trust me this landscape is like nothing you have ever seen before. Guests can walk for miles every day talking with monks, meeting with rinpoches and enjoying picnics complete with tables and chairs in orchards of walnuts, apples and apricots. I spent couple of days at the Nimmu village house.  My guide was able to suggest several hiking options – a short half an hour walk through the village or a two hour hike through the village to a monastery from where you could get superb views of the Ladakh range.

I signed up for both of the walks and thoroughly enjoyed them. The people are more Tibetan than Indian and always have a smile on their face, children are keen to talk and generally extremely friendly. You will feel extremely safe while travelling through Ladakh and that’s something that is very important and makes you a lot more comfortable with the place. The following morning we drove up to the entrance of the Zanskar canyon for an adventurous and exciting rafting trip down the Zanskar River, through the rugged canyon and to the shores of the village of Chilling where you can see the confluence of the river Indus and Zanskar.

On day three we drove to the tiny village of Nhey where my guide had arranged couple of mountain bicycles. We cycled downhill to the Basgo Fort, a small fortress dating back to the 15th century with two large temples and a small shrine. We continued cycling till we arrived at our village house at Nimmu for a sumptuous breakfast by the River Indus. After a bit of relaxation we drove for an hour to arrive at Likhir, which is at an altitude of around 4000 meters.

The next day after breakfast we headed out to Alchi which is one and a half hour drive. Alchi is a fascinating monastery, which is the only one in Ladakh to be built on flat ground, unlike the others which were always on hilltops. The temple was founded in the 11th century and is particularly interesting for its Indian and Kashmiri influences. We returned to Likhir for an overnight stay.

After a picture perfect experience in these gorgeous villages, I travelled through Khardungla Pass, exploring the Nubra Valley to arrive at Diskit where we can arrange a unique style of camping for our guests. Nubra Valley is bizarrely beautiful valleys and is the northerly most point that a tourist can visit in India close to the borders of Pakistan and China.

Around 150 kms from Leh, you climb up on an endless boulder strewn road that takes you though the highest motorable road at 18380 ft. The road between South Pullu and North Pullu as the extreme weather makes keeping the road drivable nearly impossible. When you arrive at Khardung La don’t forget to take a moment and take in the incredible views of the Karakoram Range.

You later arrive in the valley where the climate is slightly milder than that the rest of Ladakh. The valley has strangely mixed landscape of sand dunes and green oasis villages that tumble down the hill slopes. Herds of yak, double humped Bactrian camels and goats graze side by side. We set camp at Hunder from where one can easily explore the Diskit monastery, the oldest in the valley that hangs from a cliff. I returned to the picturesque village of Nimmu before I returned to Leh airport for a flight to Srinagar.

I was slightly pressed for time on this occasion and hence wasn’t able to visit the beautiful lakes of Ladakh – Pangong and Tso Mo Riri.  The dramatic 150 kms journey to Pangong Lake can be done as a day trip.  On a sunny day the lake looks beautiful sporting a turquoise colour. Only 20% of the lake is in India whilst major portion is in China.

If you are contemplating a visit to Ladakh, the best time is from June until September. This is the region’s summer season and it is exactly at this time that Ladakh is an unparalleled paradise, with clear, stunning views and warm and sunny weather. Wherever you lay your eyes at this time, you are bound to find keen trekkers heading for some adrenaline rush through Ladakh’s various peaks, and other leisure visitors enjoying the natural beauty, serene atmosphere and company of extremely friendly locals around.

You can enjoy other aspects of Ladakh here.