Ladakh is an amazing moon-like land with unique culture. I strongly recommend to all who love mountain climbing, Buddhism, and flabbergasting experiences to visit the region. There is a lot of information in Internet so I will not go into much details.
All the region is situated 3000 m. above sea level (9850 feet) with amazing views of the Himalaya Mountains. The climate is dry and the variety of plants is not big, mainly grass. People are Buddhists (Vajrayna or Tibetan Buddhism) and are very close to the Tibetans. That is the reason why Ladakh is called Little Tibet and is closely related historically and culturally with Tibet itself.
You can reach Ladakh in three ways. Have in mind that if you choose to travel on land you can do it only 3-4 months of the year because most of the time the highland roads are blocked from snow.
- The first way is with airplane from Delhi to Leh (the capital of Ladakh) – you can do this all year round
- The second is through Kashmir, Srinagar or the Muslim Region. The road is better and though it is longer, is opened for more months
- The third is through the state Himachal Pradesh or the famous route Manali-Leh. You have to consider though that the roads are terrible and very often there is no asphalt. Sometimes rivers rise their levels and start pouring directly on the road. This is the highest road for vehicles in the world and there are four mountain passes that are around 5000 m. (16 400 fee) altitude and one of them is on 5300 m. (17 400 feet). This road is somewhat dangerous because of the many landslides and the possibility of experiencing altitude sickness. It takes around 20 hours driving from Manali to Leh which is the favorite route of the Indian tourists. This year (2015) for example the road was open on 20 June and usually it closes October. We recommend it because of the breathtaking views. The main city Leh is pretty small and you can go around it in 2-3 hours walking. Places worth visiting are: the old fort, Shanti stupa and the monastery, situated on a cliff next to the city. Leh in itself is quite pleasant.
N.B.!!! In high season (July-August) prices are very high. Here are some examples: dried fruits (apricots, raisins, etc.) cost 300 rupees (5 euro) per kilo. In a village just 50 km. away from Leh, we bought a kilo of dried apricots for 120 rupees (2 euro). Most people come to Ladakh to not only visit the many ancient Buddhist monasteries found here and get a taste of the authentic people’s culture, but also for the treks, so many mountaineers buy dry fruits.
Raisins for example are much cheaper at the local shops (that resemble minimarkets) than at the specialized shops.
The price for using Internet or Wi-Fi is 30 rupees per hour and at the more touristic places it can reach 50-60 rupees.
Tibetan jewelry and souvenirs are 2-3 times cheaper in Manali and Dharamsala.
Restaurants in the tourist part also have very high prices. One good and relatively cheap place is called “Chinese Bowl” on Changpa Street and is full most of the time. Prices at the old part are lower.
People come here to immerse in the Tibetan culture and the Buddhist monasteries are big attraction. Have in mind that because of this they are full of people most of the time and even if you go there at 6:30 a.m. for the morning ceremony there probably will be at least ten more tourists. Regardless the atmosphere in each monastery is unique.
A must see is the monastery at Thiksey which is very impressive. Other prominent places with monasteries are Hemis, Alchi, Likir, Lamayuru, Ridzong, Padum.
There are at least a dozen more monasteries in Ladakh that are smaller and not so popular.
Landmarks that can be reached with car:
Pangong Lake – after the premiere of the Indian blockbuster “Three idiots” this lake becomes extremely popular in India and local tourists flood in. Some local people told us that the lower part of the lake is calmer and there are almost no people, but there is no public transport going there. The lake is 100 km. long and part of it is on Chinese territory. Foreigners need inner lane permit because of the border proximity.
Tso Moriri Lake – not so visited, but remote (8-9 hours away). Here you also need a permit.
Nubra valley is another popular among Indian tourists place. People come here to see two-hunched camels that walk on the sand dunes at Hunder. Some people shared with us that this is a fake attraction in their opinion. If you go there you will go through a pass that is 5600 m. (18 380 feet) above sea level and you can visit Diksit Monastery. Permit needed.
Aryan valley – worth visiting to see the ancient Aryan Tribes living here, called the Dard people – they are very different from the Ladakh people. Permit needed.
One can’t issue a permit by him/herself. It costs 560 rupees (10 euro) and you need to use a tourist agency as an intermediary which will cost you 100 rupees more. The permit is valid for a certain number of tourist places located near the border. It’s issued for one day and is valid for a week.
From Leh there are buses going in all directions, but they are infrequent. For example buses going from Pangong Lake to Nubra Valley leave two times a week. Most of the tourists combine with each other and hire a jeep using local tourist agencies. For shorter distances there are minibuses leaving frequently. There are no rickshaws at the city. Hitchhiking is OK but is slower than in Punjab or Himachal Pradesh. Have in mind that on some roads located at the more distant valleys only a car or two may pass by in a whole day. If you want to start hitchhiking from Leh you have to hop on a mini bus at the bus station and go to Skalzan – costs 10 rupees (5 eurocents) and leaves every 5-10 minutes.
There are many hotels at Leh and some of them are quite cheap. The price is from 200 to 1500 rupees. There are almost no hotels outside of Leh, but everywhere you go you can accommodate at what they call “homestay” – usually this is the house of a local person. The price varies from 400 to 800 rupees. If you are with a tent you can usually pitch it anywhere you want. The price at the camp sites is 150 rupees. Camping in Leh is little bit more complicated. Try the northern regions, direction Shanti stupa, or near the river bend. You can also ask at any hotel if you can use their yard, but many of them don’t have any or they can ask you to pay.
Typical for the region: momo – dumplings with vegetables or sheep’s meat, thukpa – noodle soup with vegetables or sheep’s meat and thentuk – another kind of soup with flat noodles. Ladakh bread is done with yeast, unlike chapatas.
These are the traditional dishes you can try at the restaurants. There are also others which are very often made with tsampa – baked flour. You can also find yak’s milk and cheese. The tea is traditionally made with milk, butter and salt.