A First Timer's Guide to Ladakh

Photo of A First Timer's Guide to Ladakh 1/19 by Nupur Pradhan
Confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers
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Rugged landscape at Pangong Lake
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Leh Airport
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Prayer Flags by Indian Army at Khardung La
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Ladakh Landscape
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The town of Leh
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Our snow covered road
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Thiksey Monastery
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View from the hotel

Ever wondered how heaven looks like? Take a trip to Ladakh to get your answers! Situated in the northern most state of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh has a strong military presence due to its proximity to Pakistan and China Borders.

A strong Buddhist influence is visible through the culture, food, people and architecture. The district capital of Leh acts as a base town for numerous treks and excursions around the area.

The beauty of Ladakh comes from its barren lands, water bodies and deserts, making it one of the most diverse and beautiful places in India.

A quick guide to must see places

Hemis Monastery – Of countless monasteries here, few stand out for their history/heritage, architecture, surrounding or simply the road that leads-up to it. The popular ones include Hemis Monastery, Thiksey Monastery and Likir Monastery.

The Hemis Monastery (prime attraction) is believed to be in existence since the 11th century and is one of the important monasteries. The annual Hemis Festival dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava is held in the month of June.

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Pangong Tso (lake) - 25% of the water of Pangong Tso lies in India and rest in China. The road to the lake crosses through Chang La – 2nd highest motorable road in the world – and also dangerous to drive on. The scenery around is breathtaking and worth every moment. Once at the lake, one can see the mountains belonging to the Chinese territory from the Indian side. The LOC between India & China passes through the lake; compelling tourists to get an Inner Line Permit. Small restaurants are set up for the hungry travelers. There are also tents available for overnighters on the banks of the lake. Note: Prior booking is a must.

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Shanti Stupa - A symbol of World peace, stands atop a hill overlooking Leh town; built by Japanese and Ladakhi Buddhists. The Stupa holds the relics of Buddha at its base. It is one of the most visited places in Leh offering a panaromic view of the town and the Himalayas surrounding it. Option: Climb a few hundred steps to reach the stupa & tire yourself or take a comfortable cab ride to the top.

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Leh Palace - Ladakh was a glorious state under the Namgyal Dynasty rule. One fine example is the ‘Leh Palace’ or ‘Ancient Palace’ built in the 17th century. It is inspired by the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet and is 9 storeys high. The material used is mainly mud bricks, poplar wood, mud mortar and wooden rafters. The Archaeological Survey of India is doing a fine job trying to maintain its beauty after all these years.

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Khardung La – The HIGHEST motorable road in the world, also, has the highest café in the world. Maintained by the Border Roads Organization, it is a WOW experience travelling through it. Though it is difficult to stop for a long time due to strong winds, make the most of your time by posing in front of the placard that mentions the details.

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Nubra Valley – Gem of Ladakh - the valley has abundant plantation, rivers flowing through it and massive deserts. Nubra is warm and sunny compared to the rest of the district. One can go upto Hunder and Dikshit villages near the Indo – Pak border to ride on the double humped bacterian camels, indigenous to the region. Along the highway that leads to Nubra, at one particular point, one can see the Pakistan side of Himalayas and just beside them the Chinese ones. This is the closest a civilian can get to the Siachen Glacier.

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Hall of Fame - Ladakh is majorly controlled by the Indian Army. The area has seen many wars including the famed Siachen Glacier battle. It is only apt to build a memorial to commemorate the efforts of the Army in keeping us safe. The ‘Hall of Fame’ is a national pride. Entire history and details of every battle fought and army men lost is mentioned in there with photographs. A must visit for all Indians. A small shop selling souvenirs is available for those interested in taking home a memory of the Indian Army.

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Adventure – Global Hub for trekkers, Ice Hockey (Canadian Team comes here for Practice) and white water rafting. The Markha Valley Trek is one of the most famous and takes around 5 – 8 days to complete. The other popular trek is the Chadar (Blanket) trek on the frozen Zanskar river. During winters, the river is so frozen that it forms a thick blanket of ice. Adventurists use this opportunity to trek across it and is considered a high risk activity. The Zanskar river also offers the best of white water rafting areas to the lovers of the sport. Amateur enthusiasts can be a part with designated guides


-Ladakh is in the middle of Himalayas. It is very cold all round the year. The summer temp is around 4 – 10 degree C

-There are hardly any trees in the region. The oxygen level thus is extremely low. If you are suffering from asthma or any other ailment, please avoid.

-Keep your medicines along with you 24/7. Keep an oxygen cylinder along with you if need be.

-LISTEN to your guide. That is why he is called a guide. The atmosphere in Ladakh is not something we face every day. A simple task like climbing a few steps may exhaust you. Take an entire day’s rest on the Arrival day if you want to enjoy your trip.

-The Army is strict. They will go out of their way to keep you safe but ‘Rules are Rules’.

-There is a tourist ward at the local hospital in Leh town should you feel unwell. Go immediately without any delay for prompt treatment.

-A few tourist places require permit. Please contact a travel agent before visiting. They will arrange it for you.

Where to Stay:

-Hotel Omasila – A family run hotel, it has one of the best views of Himalayas. The kitchen cooks delicious veg & non-veg meals and serves them hot. Just a 15 min drive from the airport and 2 min drive to the main market. The Shanti Stupa is visible from the hotel porch. + 91-1982-251789 www.hotelomasila.com

-Ladakh Sarai – It is Ladakh’s premier eco resort. 7 km away from the town, it is nestled in a beautiful grove of willow, poplar, apricot and apple trees +91-1982-244063 www.ladakhsarai.com

-The Grand Dragon Hotel – It is the only star luxury hotel in Ladakh. The hotel blends traditional architecture with luxurious accommodation. +91-9797840786 www.thegranddragonladakh.com

Where to Eat

Leh town is filled with travelers across the world, also with multi-cuisine restaurants. German Bakery is a popular hangout place. Go to Tibetan Kitchen for authentic food. All the restaurants are walking distance of each other.


The main bazaar road is a heaven for shopaholics. Anything and everything is available. From cheap stalls to originals, there is a shop for everyone. Trust the shopkeeper who sells Pashmina. They are all almost closest you can get to an original. A lot of Tibetan jewellery is on display and remember to bargain as they put up exorbitant prices. A lot of souvenirs can be bought including key chains, miniature yaks, Buddhist prayer wheels, tee shirts, prayer scrolls etc.

Bike Hire / trip

A trip to Ladakh is incomplete without a bike ride. Rent one in any of the many shops available in the bazaar or ask your hotel/guide to arrange one for you. The beauty of Ladakh truly comes alive on two wheels.

The hotel offers one of the best views

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