Leh is a pretty little town in the Himalayas. After a long Breathtakingly beautiful drive from Manali, we relax and hit the bed early. We get up late in the morning. We needed this sleep badly! After suffering sleepless night in Sarchu – blame it on AMS – we had a refreshing slumber.
On the Previous day, Deleks, our Man Friday in Leh had confirmed that we should take things easy till we get properly acclimatized. This is very important. “Drink lot of water” he told us as we saw him off in the evening with confirmation that the taxi to take us around Leh would be at hotel at 10 AM.
Coffee – Nescafe not the filter coffee – kick started the day for us. Hotel Namgyal Palace – where we stayed – is a new hotel in Leh with good and spacious rooms. Not a “Star” hotel but a decent hotel with good sheets, towels and excellent service. The room had French windows, which gave a glimpse of the colourful garden.
The breakfast was light – a cup of serial and two toasts. We wanted to keep it light as it was first day and we did not want to take chances. The packed lunch was already in the car. We could feel the rarefied Leh atmosphere with less oxygen when we climbed ten steps to reach the parking lot. We were already feeling tired!
Zigmet, our driver is a young bloke. A Ladakhi who stay in his village, which is 15 KMs from Leh. We get into the Toyota Innova to start our tour of Mountain town.
Leh is a small town. It is the largest in Ladakh. A big valley town on the banks of Indus and surrounded by mountains. It could be as big as a small suburb in a Metro. What immediately struck us was the cleanliness on the roads. The roads were spic and span and we could hardly see any rubbish. Ladakhis are very friendly and are able to converse in Hindi quite well.
Let us take you on a trip around the town. Please click on the pictures to see them in larger size.
Prayer Wheels – You find them at many places in Leh.
Our first stop is Stok palace on Leh – Manali road. The sun is bright and is playing hide and seek behind the clouds. The mountains are bright with the tallest peak in Ladakh range – Stok Kongri (the tallest peak in the pic) – basking in glory.
It is a pleasant drive to the palace. The roadside is interspersed with white “Chortems” of all sizes and huge prayer wheels. We halt to take pictures of beautiful Chortems built by Dalai Lama. As we exit the Leh town, we are now driving through military area. Armed forces have a huge presence in Leh.
Chortems on the way to Stok Palace
Seven stupas built by The Dalai Lama
Beautiful landscape of mustard fields with a Ladakhi house on the way to Palace
The Stok palace is on a small hillock overlooking a green valley next to Indus River. The setting of the palace is very romantic – the ranges of the Himalayas as the backdrop, the river in the foreground with green fields with a dash of yellow in between.
A slow climb – no exertion please – of few steps lead us to the entrance of the palace. This is the palace where present Maharajah and his family live. A four storied mud structure, it has a colourful and carved entrance. The windows are colourful to. Not an architectural rave, it makes up as a pleasant place. The palace has a museum. The balconies of the palace provide you a panoramic view of Indus valley.
The Palace on the hillock
Colourful balconies of the palace
The central courtyard….
“Thiksey Monastery is the next stop” says Zigmet.
Touted as “Mini Potala palace”, the monastery is located in a beautiful setting. The best part of monastery hopping in Leh is that you will get to see the different landscape. Thiksey again is on a small hill. Thanks to good road, the car is able to climb up till the entrance. But the climb from here inside quite steep. We had to stop couple times with gulps of water before we reach the courtyard.
Thiksey Monastery – Striking resemblance to Potala Palace of Tibet
Colourful entrance to the monastery
The monastery looks deserted with very few monks as most of them had left for Nubra where The Dalai Lama is camping. Thiksey being the second largest monastery in Ladakh, is well maintained.
The courtyard leads to the two shrines. The walls are painted with Buddhist tangkhas and look very colorful. The Piece-de- Resistance was the 40 feet statue of “Maitreya – the Future Buddha”. It is a beautiful sculpture with a pleasing face of Maitreya. Notice the intricate work on the crown.
We climb up to the terrace of the monastery to get the awesome views of the surroundings.
Colourful walls of Tangkhas in inner courtyard
Colourful balconies of the monastery
Captivating image of Maitreya Buddha
Intricate workmanship on the crown
The Murals in the Buddha temple
Panoramic view of Indus valley from Monastery
We are feeling tired and when we go back to the car it is a big relief. After gulps of water, we now move towards Shey palace – the old palace of maharajah – a mud palace being restored by Archaeological survey.
The palace is on a steep hill and is tough to climb if not properly acclimatised. We climb, but stop at least three times. The palace is in dilapidated condition and being restored. There is shrine inside with a 30 story tall statue of Buddha.
It is nearing lunchtime and we are also tired. The lunch is on the banks of Indus river. It is a pleasant place. Thank god there weren’t hordes of tourists in this place – as there is no boating in the river – the place is very quiet and we could hear the sound of water flowing over pebbles. The water is very cold. Every year the Ladakhi government conducts “Sindhu Darshan” festival at this place. A peaceful lunch and a bit of rest, we were raring to explore the other parts of the town.
On the way we notice this Ladakhi man with prayer strings. We stop over and he obliges us with a nice picture.
The Sindhu ghats
Our next stop is the “Hall of fame” museum. This place on Kargil road was a pleasant surprise. Excellently curated by Army, it brought tears to our eyes as we saw the pictures of martyrs who had laid down their lives in various wars for the country in the region.
The galleries depicting the Kargil war and Siachen are well done. Apart from exploits by the army and air force, it also showcases the flora and fauna of the region. The touching moments are when we read the last letter by Capt Vijayant Thapar who laid down his life in Kargil war and was awarded Maha Vir Chakra. This is one place no visitor to Leh should miss.
The war memorial and roll of honour of brave men from Indian army who laid down their lives for the country
Our last stop before calling it a day is the City Palace.
This one jetting out of the heart of city is again a mud palace. Being restored by Archaeological Survey of India, it is in better shape than Shey palace. The rooftop of the palace provides a panoramic view of Leh town. A climb from the palace is the “stand alone” gompa – Tsemo Gompa that gives you breathtaking views of Leh and surroundings. Ideal during sun set.
City Palace or Leh Palace
The entrance to the palace
Leh town as seen from palace
The trail to the Tsemo gompa
We come back to the hotel – we still miss out Shanti Stupa – tired after a day long visits to lovely sights of Leh. We call Badri Prasad – our man friday in the hotel – for a cup of coffee. The coffee was never refreshing more!
By Air – One can reach Leh by air from Delhi. There are many flights operating out of Delhi. These flights are notorious for delays/cancellation due to weather condition in Leh.
By Road – Leh is accessible through breathtaking road journeys either from Manali or from Srinagar in Kashmir. Both these journeys will take minimum of two days. If you are travelling from Manali you can either travel in shared taxis or the buses operated by Himachal Pradesh Transport Corporation. to Srinagar, bus services have been stopped but you can travel in shared jeeps.
There are many good stay options in Leh including Ladakhi home stays.
a) Take it easy in Leh. Ladakh should be savoured slowly. If you are arriving by air to Leh, use day 1 for resting and acclimatisation. This is critical.
b) Leh is a small town with a busy market place which can be comfortably seen by walking. Carry water with you always.
c) One can take a numerous tour packages to Leh and Ladakh. You can also customise your tour package – that is what we did – in consultation with the tour operator. If your trip to Ladakh is not arranged through a tour operator, you can hire a cab at the taxi stand in Leh town to visit Leh and its surroundings.
d) Leh and surroundings require minimum of two days of exploration. The life in Ladakh is laid back. Make sure you do the sightings in leisurely manner. The second part of Leh – covering Pathar saheb, Zanskar, Basgo Monastery, Magnetic hill – will be covered in an another post.
e) All monasteries require removal of shoes when you enter. Please respect local sentiments.
f) Check out traditional Ladakhi cultural programmes in Shankar Gompa next to city palace.
g) Leh is also the place where you should try some good tibetan/ladakhi cuisine. Also you can get to at set some great international cuisine. Let your culinary adventure begin. Make sure you also taste the rice beer of Ladakh which is tasty. Check this out on this blog