The secrets echoing among the tall Himalayan and Karakoram ranges with the Zanskar and Indus Rivers cutting through the valleys, the land of Ladakh has always been a paradise for the wandering soul. The occasional streams carrying the water from melting glaciers, only add to the immense beauty of this region.
The High- Altitude Desert, the Land of High Passes, an Ex-Buddhist Kingdom…
These are some adjectives commonly used to describe Ladakh. The coarse mountainous terrain and the evident traces of forgone lake system speak volumes about the evolution, the present- day Ladakh has gone through, since the Neolithic age. The original inhabitants were of the Indo- Aryan and Tibetan origin and the culture is an amalgamation of Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism.
The mouth- watering local delicacies mainly borrow from the Tibetan dishes; Thupka, which is noodle-soup and Ngampe- Roasted Barley flour, are among them and form a part of the staple diet here. One food preparation native to the Ladhakis is the Skyu, which is a combination of pasta and root vegetables.
The local blend of butter, water and green tea leaves, Gurgur Cha, although a bit different from the normal Indian- style tea, is sure a natural warmer against the extreme cold of Ladakh.
Festivals and celebrations are an integral part of Ladakh’s cultural fabric. Occasional festivities mark the importance of several events like harvesting or Losar- the Ladakhi New Year. The traditional dance- Cham, is a way of expression and its masks and story on how good triumphs evil, commemorates any celebrations in the area. And if you are not wary of liquor, such occasions call for a special alcoholic drink, Chang, made out of fermented barley.
Festivals here are a colourful affair, which in its wake can leave you mesmerized. Some of the yearly festivals are the Hemis Festival, a three- day monastic festival marking the birth of the founder of Tibet’s Tantric Buddhism; Dosmochey is the pride of February and the occasion is organized in the Leh Palace and is the indicator of start of a new Tibetan Calendar.
The Losar celebration is special in its own way. It is celebrated in the eleventh month of the Tibetan Calendar and interestingly, two months ahead of the Tibetan New Year. The best time to be a guest in Ladakh would be in the month of September, by being party to the Ladakh Festival. The colourful costumes and the traditional happenings are a feast to the eyes.
The charm is not just limited to the fun fair. The beautiful terrain of Ladakh is blessed with some of the most beautiful natural and not- so- natural wonders.
The Buddhist- connection is evident in the number of monasteries and Gompas that dot the landscape of Ladakh. Some of the most famous among them are- Lamayuru, Alchi, Shey, Diskit, Hemis, Thiksey.
Pangong Lake, a natural saline water reservoir at the height of 14,270 ft. above the sea level, with 60 per cent of it as part of China, surrounded by towering mountain peaks, is a blue jewel in the desert. Next up in the list is Tso Moriri, a fresh water lake at an alarming height of 15,000 ft. above the sea level. Drive down from Leh to Tso Moriri and witness the stark change in the landscape- from deserted mountains to fresh lush green vegetation.
Leh, the largest town in Ladakh, is home to the magnificent nine- storied Palace turned Museum- the Royal Leh Palace, which was built in the 17th Century by King Sengge Namgyal. The panoramic view from here covers the whole of Leh, Stok Kangri and Indus River. Also close- by is the Shanti Stupa which was constructed by the Japanese.
Isolation, defines the Zanskar Valley, at the height of more than 12,000 ft. above sea level, it is inhabited by a few thousand people and remains cut out from the rest of the world for more than eight months a year sue to extensive snowfall. The mountains and gorges have the Zanskar river flowing through them, which is in fact, the source of the name of the valley.
Have you ever experienced the true force of gravity? Here is an opportunity. The Gravity Hill or the Magnetic Hill can pull up any vehicle with its ignition off, a rare visible phenomenon one shouln’t miss.
A hundred or so kilometers away from Leh, is the Valley of Flowers. The route from Leh to the Nubra Valley passes the Khardung La Pass, which is the highest motor-able road in the world, at the height of 18,380 ft.
The high passes and the treacherous terrain is an exciting outlay for the adventure lovers. Get on a bike or a bi-cycle and go tracing the high roads till you can! At the stop overs, engage in some thrilling adventure sports like para- gliding or skiing or even river rafting in the famous River Indus.
Ice- Hockey is a favorite sport of the people here, while you are here, you may want to spend a day in fresh snow, playing hockey with the locals. Archery and Polo are the other sports the Ladakhis enjoy.Some must- do’s include a visit to the Leh Market, a ride on the back of a Camel and of course, a Yak!