Friday, September 12, 2008

On Top of the World in Leh

The land of Lamas and monasteries, festivals and dances, Leh is situated on the banks of the river Indus at a height of 11,000 feet. The defiant beauty of its barren landscape and rugged terrain, its unique flora and fauna, its culture and people offer the tourists a memorable holiday and an experience of a lifetime.

But remember that traveling to Leh is not for the faint-hearted or the feather-brained. You need to be fighting fit and have all your wits about you to savour the mind-blowing experience. Surrounded by the imposing Karakoram in the north and the majestic Himalayas in the south, the cold rocky desert-like area is awe-inspiring to say the least.

With a population of 10,000 people, mainly Buddhist, some Muslim and a small Christian community, Leh bears the distinct stamp of being the administrative, commercial and cultural capital of Ladakh.

Getting There

The best way to get to Leh is by air. Indian Airlines operates regular scheduled flights to Leh from Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and Srinagar. The nearest airport is at Leh, 4 km from the town on Fort Road. Alternatively, you can approach Leh by road also. There are two routes to get to Leh, one via Himachal Pradesh and the other via Srinagar. Ladakh is approachable from Srinagar and Manali by road.

What to See

Leh Palace

This 16th century nine-storey palace was built in the medieval Tibetan architecture style. Within the palace there is a thousand-armed deity of the Tara goddess.

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa

This Gompa was built in 1430. It has some ancient manuscripts, splendid paintings and a two storey high statue of Buddha. Above this is another gompa, which is in ruins. The trek up to this Namgyal Tsemo Gompa is laborious, but once you get there the view is spectacular.

Sankar Gompa

A 17th century gompa, this is the residence of Kushok Bakul who is the head of the Gelukpa (yellow hat) order. There are some very interesting paintings in the Du-khang, which is the main prayer hall located here. Shanti Stupa Built by the Japanese Buddhists, this gompa was inaugurated in 1985 by the Dalai Lama. It is a tough climb to the top of the stupa, which is decorated with panels depicting scenes from the life of Buddha.

Ladakh Ecological Development Group

This place promotes cottage industries, does work on ecological issues like preserving solar energy and promotes organic farming. It has a popular library and a good shop where you can buy local handicrafts. It is located close to the main market.


Ladakhis have a penchant for fairs and festivals. The Festival of Ladakh takes place in August/ September and a variety of contests like a dance contest and an archery contest take place. Then there is the Hemis Gompa, which is one of the biggest events of the year and takes place in June. Besides these, there is the Lamayuru Festival takes place in April/ May each year and the annual Sindhu Darshan Festival held on the banks of the river Sindhu in the month of June.

Natural beauty, festivals, a rich culture Leh has all this and much more. There are myriad opportunities for mountaineering and trekking too so if you have a passion for the wild and the unexplored, climb towards Leh. You will feel on top of the world!

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