Introduction to this journey of discovering Ladakh
India holds fascination for the diversity of its vast regions – from high in the Himalayas, the Indo-Gangetic plains, colourful Rajasthan and the beautiful tropical south. On this journey, we head north, almost as far north as you can go to explore the four corners of Ladkah. This story introduces the reader to a two-week journey as we prepared to explore the territory of fascinating Himalayan Ladakh. View map here
Where is Ladakh?
Ladakh lies in the east of the state of Jammu and Kashmir; the capital being the desert city of Leh (pop. 30-31,000). Ladakh map with Leh and four directions . Leh is the central hub where the only commercial airport, which is on the Ladakh military air force base, sees daily morning flights in and out of greater India. The flights can only occur in the mornings due to the afternoon mountain winds, and the approaches offer some of the best scenery of any aiport approach. This remote city functions as the commercial centre and busy market town of Ladakh. It is very quaint, with its maze of lanes, and the old town bazaar is in keeping with the trading routes of old. The people are diverse and friendly with a mix of modern and traditional within families as Ladakh opens further to exploration by travellers and trekkers alike. Only open to tourism since the early 1970s Ladakh holds a fascination for those with a keen eye and a sharp lens to capture its wonders, its people and its geological landmarks.
Ladakh has a strong army presence all around the region due to the borders of Tibet (China) and Pakistan. Vast and fascinating – with its high mountains, contoured geology, desert regions, deep fast river valleys and the world’s highest motorable passes – it draws travellers from all over the globe. People come to explore on motorbike, car, bus, foot (trekking) and even horse treks along sealed highways and rough roads, well-used trails and tracks, into its treasury of interior valleys. However you arrive, by air or road, this amazing region offers so much to the intrepid traveller. Because of its altitude, remoteness and terrain, it is a destination that many will not explore in person; therefore, in this series, I will endeavour to bring to the armchair traveller, the hopeful explorer of fascinating destinations and the interested reader, as much of its beauty, its people, culture and its photographic potential as I can in experiences, words and pictures.
When to visit Ladakh
The best time to travel Ladakh is June to October when the monsoon rains have subsided and the colours in the region are at their best. Cut off by road from the rest of India from November to March, it is advisable not to travel the high passes into Ladakh due to black ice and dangerous wet and snowy road conditions from early-mid October until May. Even when the snow melts, and before the monsoon comes, the risks of driving these inlet passes is high. Most hotels, restaurants and guest houses are closed from about mid-October until April and even May. Many of the campsites are closed for longer periods of time due to the extreme weather conditions and below zero temperatures experienced in this region. Give consideration to your travelling time and consult a travel company for advice. Flying into Ladakh offers amazing views of the high mountains, glaciers and valleys, and local travel can be easily arranged with safe drivers and well-informed guides for an amazing journey and fulfilling experience. Book your travel with Lotus India Journeys – read more here
And now we are underway: Flying over the Himalayas from Delhi into Leh
The excitement rises as the flight takes off in the very early morning from Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi and the Indo-Gangetic plains of India are left far below. The foothills of the Himalayas are swathed in soft mist giving them a mystical appearance as they give way to the higher mountains and huge glaciers which seem to reach up to the windows of the aeroplane as it wings its way to Leh. In the valleys, between these high peaks, a lake appears and we try and guess its name and position having studied the maps in preparation for this tour. As we approach Leh, the valleys between massive brown rocky mountains become green with crops and trees, and the villages look welcoming and exciting with their ancient architecture that has served this land and its people for centuries. Crops are harvested in this autumn season leaving patches of fawn and gold in the fields. Cut grass sits atop the flat rooves of the houses drying in the warm sunshine to feed the stock in the approaching cold winter. Ancient and modern monasteries and stupas (monument representations of the enlightened mind) sit atop rocky outcrops stretching up into the sky and seen from all angles as we circle around in preparation for landing. We land in Leh and prepare to disembark into the high altitude of 3,500m (11,480ft) above sea level.
Acclimatising and preparing to explore
Our group of 6 travellers plus our Indian travel organiser Suresh Read more here settle into the Grant Himalaya hotel below the 16th century Leh Palace to allow ourselves to acclimatise to the altitude. It is a great time to rest awhile – especially if you have jet lag from flying into India from afar as we did from New Zealand and the USA. In the late afternoon, we visit Leh palace to be wowed by the powerful Buddhist statues in the gompa (meditation hall). One great statue protects travellers so seeing it is a very poignant moment before we embark on our wider travels. We meet two young men from Motueka, New Zealand who are also wowed by it having never seen the likes before – they are going white water rafting and trekking so are happy with the blessing of protection on their travels. We explore this ancient palace with its nine stories having housed the royal family at the top and stables and storerooms below, centuries before we visit here. Modelled on the Tibetan Potala, it sits on the top of a ridge and hangs like a veil down the mountainside. The view over the city of Leh to the Zanskar mountains across the Indus river and the valley below is panoramic, while the view in the other direction to the Ladakh range is commanding. We visit the nearby newer Shanti Stupa and enjoy the serenity and views from a slightly lower but still elevated perspective over the valley below with its mountain ranges all around. Excitement rises as we settle to sleep and anticipate the four journeys that lie ahead – one in each direction of the remote and far reaches of this region at the top of India with its rich history of caravans and trading routes. Read more here – Grand Himalaya Hotel, Leh
And on into the journey
There are 5 further stories in this series – watch for updates and as they are posted I will also link them here