LEH- The Heart of Ladakh
Leh, once the capital of Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh and a crossroads of the ancient silk route is now the heart of the Leh district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Located at an altitude of 3524 metres (11,562 ft), it is dominated by the ruin of Singge Namgyal's nine storey palace- a grand building in the tradition of Tibetan architecture, built in the same style and about the same time as the Potala Palace . Adjacent to the palace is the Namgyal Tsemo, a fort built by king Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century and the Gonkhang -Temple of the Guardian Divinities.
Down in the main town, some exciting sites to visit are the Cho-Khang also known as Gompa Soma and the imposing mosque dating from the late 17th century, behind that is the old town of Leh recently added to the World Monuments Fund's list of 100 most endangered sites, which is a cluster of old and vernacular style houses situated around the foot of the palace hill. However, the pleasure of visiting Leh is not only confined to the purposeful visiting of sites but a stroll along the main market, observing the varied crowd and peering into the little antique shops selling curios and jewellery and the line of women from the nearby villages sitting on the edge of footpath with baskets of fresh vegetables and fruits brought to be sold. Apart from these, some exciting places to see around the Leh city is the Changspa village, an agricultural suburb of Leh with clusters of budget hotels and guesthouses, lying below the hill on which stands the picturesque Shanti Stupa, a Japanese Stupa dedicated to world peace, Sankar Gompa- a Buddhist monastery belonging to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and Moravian Church built by the Christian missionaries in 1885.
There are several attractive destinations within 10 km radius of Leh too. Starting with Skara, another prosperous suburb of Leh which has a Zorawar Singh fort built in 19th century by the great Dogra general Zorawar Singh, then we have Sabu - a model village nestled between two southward stretching spurs of Ladakh range about 9 km away, next in the line there is Choglamsar- another suburb with a majority of Tibetan refugee settlement with many attractions like a children's village, a handicraft centre and the Dalai lama's prayer ground called Jivey tsal (garden of peace) and Mahabodhi International meditation centre. Going further ahead on the Leh-Manali highway we have the multi award winning Druk White Lotus School near Shey village. And on the Leh- Srinagar road we have the famous Spituk monastery almost 2 kms from the Leh airport, which strikes every guest eyes on their first arrival in Ladakh by plane.
Leh serve as an ideal base to commence tours and treks to the different valleys of Ladakh and also have day trekking route like Leh-Sabu village and Leh to Gyamtsa.
WHEN TO VISIT LADAKH
Ladakh is open to tourist throughout the year; while best time for tours and trekking is the summer season from May to September and can extend up to October sometime.
Tourist can also visit Ladakh during winter season, Leh Town have many centrally heated hotels. Matho, Stok and Spituk monasteries celebrate scared mask dance festivals in winter season. Most famous is Matho monastery mask dance festivals because two oracles make public appearance during the mask dance festivals. Frozen River trek on Zanskar River and Snow leopard trek during the winter season of January to Mid-March is the most adventure. During winter national high way to Leh-Srinagar and Leh- Manali remian closed due to heavy snowfall on passes.
HOW TO REACH LADAKH
By Air : - Air India operates regular flight to Delhi-Leh-Delhi, twice a week between Jammu-Leh-Jammu and once a week from Srinagar-Leh-Srinagar.
Jet Airways, Go-Air and Kingfisher also operate daily flight between Delhi-Leh-Delhi.
Note: Those travelling by air are strongly advised to rest for at least one or two days in order to acclimatize to the high altitude.
By road : - There are two overland routes
1) Leh - Srinagar (434 kms) national high way 1D, remains open from early June to November.
2) Leh - Manali (474 kms) national high way, remains open from mid June to early October.
You might think that the Ladakh region remains snow laden all year round, but comes summer it is pleasurably warm, and spring is incredibly colourful and vivid.
To help you plan your trip to Ladakh, here are some average temperatures for Leh:
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
The earliest inhabitant of Ladakh was mix of nomadic from Tibetan plateau and small group of early Buddhist refugees from northern India called the Mons. Later in 5th and 6th century, these groups were frequently accompanied by Indo-Aryan race origin known as the Dards. They migrated Southeast alongside the Indus valley, bringing with them the idea of irrigation and settled agriculture. With the passage of time, Mons, Dards, Tibetan and other races too met and inter-mingled. It ultimately forms a new community with its own characteristics.
Tibetan-Buddhism in Leh and Zansker, and Islam in Kargil are the dominant religion. However, some other religions like Christianity and Hindu are also present in small number. The principal language of Ladakh is Ladakhi, a Tibetan language. Educated Ladakhis usually know Hindi, Urdu and often English. Within Ladakh, there is a range of dialects, so that the language of the Chang-pa people may differ markedly from that of the Purig-pa in Kargil, or the Zangskaris, but they are all mutually comprehensible.
Ladakhi culture is quite similar to Tibetan culture so the Ladakhi food has much in common with Tibetan food, the most prominent foods being Thukpa, Momo, noodle soup; and Tsampa, known in Ladakhi as Ngampe, roasted barley flour. A dish that is strictly Ladakhi is Skyu, and Chhutagi both like a heavy pasta dish with root vegetables and mutton. As Ladakh moves towards less sustainable, cash based economy, foods from the plains of India are becoming more common. Like in any other parts of Central Asia, tea in Ladakh is traditionally made with strong black tea butter and salt.