Spectacular, enthralling, epic. Words fall short when it comes to describing a trip to the land of high passes – Ladakh. Just like everyone else, a trip to Ladakh found its way to my bucket list and I am glad it did. Located in the northern most state, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh is truly the crown jewel of India. Majestic mountains, high passes, meandering rivers, placid lakes, enchanting desert and the humbling monasteries, the place has it all. For an adventure junkie a trip to Leh ladakh can truly be the trip of a lifetime.
Driving on treacherous terrains crossing some of the world’s highest passes makes for a thrilling experience like none other. But that is not all, rafting in the mighty Indus and Zanskar rivers or camping in the Nubra valley desert are not any less exciting. The turquoise waters of lake Pangong Tso and the soothing hymns and bells of the monasteries can calm even the most chaotic of minds.
I can go on and on but here are my 10 most favorite experiences of the magical trip.
The First Impression
Unless one is driving to Leh from either Shimla or Srinagar, a day is needed to get acclimatized to the high altitude and the perfect way to spend day 1 in Leh is visiting this gorgeous stupa located 10-15 minutes drive away from Leh city. The climb of 500 or so steps got my body ready and set the tone for coming days. Even from a distance the stark white colour of stupa stood out in the brown background of the typical Ladakhi mountainous terrain and once on top, I get the most mesmerizing views of the Leh city and farther areas. As evening set in the golden glow of sun setting on the horizon rewarded us with the most breath-taking views as far as eyes could see. If this was any indication of the days to come, we knew we were in for a great trip.
Top of the World: Khardungla Pass
Making way through treacherous meandering roads and various hairpin loops to the highest motorable road in the world, Khardungla Pass was no mean feat and I can easily say that my heart was in my mouth on more than one occasion. It is difficult to spend more than 10-15 minutes here due to high altitude sickness but don’t forget to click the mandatory pictures for your Facebook and Instagram accounts. Though it is now claimed that even at an altitude of 5602m, Khardungla may actually not be the highest, but the grandeur of majestic Himalayas and the raw beauty of nature is a humbling experience in itself. It may not be the highest in the world but it’s definitely the highest road I have ever been to! One can’t help but have immense respect for the border roads organization guys who maintain these roads all through the year.
Cold Desert: Nubra Valley
What comes to mind when we think about a desert? Scorching sun, heat, sand and camels, right? As usual Ladakh surprises you. Yes there is sun and sand but the temperatures easily reach sub-zero. Welcome to the cold desert of Nubra Valley. A long ride crossing through Khardungla Pass almost 150km north of the town of Leh brings you to this wonder land. One of the most fascinating experiences for me was riding on the back of double humped Bactrian camels. These are a critically endangered species, the ancestors of which were probably abandoned here centuries ago by caravans from central Asia when Nubra valley formed a part of the ancient silk route for traders from south to central Asia.
Night at the Camp
As soon as I saw the cute little tents that were to be our night camps I fell in love with them. But as night set in, I could hear the loud whistling and howling sounds of the wind blowing through the desert. The cute little tent now stirred and swayed with every gush of wind. Even though I woke up perfectly safe to a gorgeous morning, the night at the tent was a thrilling one indeed.
The Enchanting Pangong Tso
Kareena in 3 Idiots, Anushka in Jab Tak Hai Jaan and countless other actors have shot and been left spell-bound by the beauty of Lake Pangong. The tiredness of a long car ride suddenly disappears as you come across one of the most stunning lakes present all over the world. No need to crowd at the shooting point, walk along the lake and everywhere you are met with divine views. Even though we were supposed to return back same day, we decided to spend the night in one of the tents along the bank of Lake Pangong and I do not regret the decision. As day passed we were greeted with the most exquisite shades of turquoise, blue and green at different times of day. It was probably the most calming and serene day of my life.
On our way back from Pangong I was lured by a frozen lake we had crossed on our way earlier. The lake was frozen solid and we followed people who could be seen walking over it. The paucity of crowds is one of the best parts about Ladakh and I found a quiet corner for myself and spend few moments just listening to the silence and appreciating the marvels of Mother Nature.
Cruisin’ Down the Highway
For those who struggle through killing traffic and pollution of Delhi, Mumbai or any other metro, a journey on the epic roads of Ladakh seems straight out of heaven. Clear blue skies, gorgeous vistas and never ending roads, a trip through Ladakh is surely a trip to remember.
Where the Great Rivers Meet
Blue Zanskar and the greenish Indus, two majestic rivers merge to form one near the town of Nimmu. Since I was there in summers, Zanskar River was more turbulent compared to the placid Indus. I could not help but get excited about rafting opportunity. Four people from my group agreed to come along. Tackling through turgid rapids we thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular landscape with deep gorges and towering mountain peaks around us.
Closer to God
A large number of Buddhist monasteries can be found scattered throughout Ladakh. Not only do they provide captivating views being present at an altitude but also there is some kind of serenity and peace that can be experienced in the monasteries. The soothing hymns and chimes of bells have a power to calm even the most disturbed soul.
Whether you are a professional photographer or an amateur, Ladakh provides more than ample photo-ops at every nook and turn. Empty your memory card and carry a spare one. Not doing so is my only regret of the entire trip.
So, these are the best places to visit in Leh Ladakh. Don’t wait, plan a trip because a trip to Leh Ladakh is definitely one of the most fulfilling of all and will leave you with a camera full of photographs and a truck load of memories.