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A proposed Union Territory (at the time of writing), much of Ladakh is over 9800 foot that stretches from the Himalayas into the Kunlun Ranges incorporating the fertile upper Indus River basin. After the contemporary borders were drawn up, the plateau of Ladakh came to be flanked by Tibet to the east, the vale of Jammu and Kashmir to the west, Lahaul and Spiti to the south and the Karakoram Pass of the Himalayas to the far north.
Little wonder, Ladakh turned into a landscape of barren, jagged peaks with picturesque gompas (Buddhist monasteries) perched precariously atop them. The prayer flags in primary colours fluttering alongside only make the all white dome-shaped stupas stand out in contrast. When the prayer wheel is rotated clockwise, it churns out chants that mingle with the passing wind and produce a melody that is as calming as it is haunting. Home to the monks robed in red, the insides of the gompas are a cheery departure from the stark, ochre and grey landscape in which it lies. Done up in a riot of colours with intricate murals and bright, golden-hued Buddhas, Ladakh is a piece of Tibet forgotten in time.
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On the former trade route between Turkestan and Tibet, the extremely fecund Nubra Valley splattered with yak and camel caravans until the Indo-Chinese war of 1967, is today regarded as Ladakh’s own ‘Valley of Flowers’. To the east of the Karakoram Range at an elevation of 10,000 foot above sea level, the Nubra Valley is easily the greenest region in Ladakh. You can get to this ancient caravan route through the Khardung La, world’s highest motorable road at 18,380 foot. Take in the lush beauty of this high-altitude landscape that opens up a canvas of bubbling brooks, flower gardens, fruit orchards, green pastures and desert sand dunes.
Nubra Valley brings in adventure enthusiasts from across the world who come here in the warmer months to find the valley covered in lavender and rose blossoms. Framed against the backdrop of frosted peaks, the little rambling villages on the hillside and the Buddhist monasteries make for some great photographs. Not to mention, Nubra’s location close to the borders of China and Pakistan, warrants an Inner Line Permit (ILP) before heading into the valley.
One of Ladakh’s extremely remote regions, you need to access Zanskar through Kargil. A part of the inner Himalaya region with extremely low rainfall, Zanskar has a very harsh climate. White-water rafting is extremely popular on the Zanskar with grade 4, 4+ and 5 rapids. Such rafting expeditions are typically organised from Leh. Rafting along the steep gorges of Zanskar is something you will remember for time to come.
Perched at a height of 13,154 ft, Zanskar Valley is a semi-arid region nestled in the northern flank of the Great Himalayas. What draws tourists to this area are the beautiful snow-capped mountains here, pleasant weather, Zanskar’s sparkling water bodies and a lush landscape. The valley lies 105 km away from Leh and is a hotspot for adventure sports like trekking, paragliding, water rafting, among others. Here, you can also opt for popular trekking options like Lamayuru to Darcha, Lamayuru, Padum trek. Centuries-old monasteries like Zongla, Zongkhul, Strongdey are crowded by tourists and one can even set camp at the scenic Penzila pass that separates Zanskar from the Suru valley.
A definite high-point of your Ladakh visit, the electric blue-coloured Pangong Lake at 14,271 foot is surrounded by jagged cliffs. Its location on the Indo-China border makes only a fourth of it falling on the Indian side. The highest saline water lake in the world, Pangong is known for changing colours from blue to green to red.
From Leh, it is a five-hour drive on the scenic Chang La Pass at an altitude of 17,798 foot. En route you can halt at a little camp and enjoy a yak safari. To take some strain off your journey you can opt to stay overnight at Tangtse, a barren little village at 12,959 foot. There are a few hotels and restaurants in the area. It is advised to leave for Pangong from Leh as early as 04:00 am to avoid the treacherous 5 kilometre ahead of the lake where water from melting snow fills up the passage between 01:00 pm and 08:00 pm making it inaccessible.
- A perfect blend of adventurous, thrilling and cultural experiences, handpicked by Thrillophilia’s outdoor experts
- Visit pangong lake; world’s highest saltwater lake that changes its colour from shades of blue to green to red
Cuisine of Ladakh
With striking similarity to Tibetan cuisine, the Ladakhi food revolves around a hot bowl of thukpa (noodle soup) and tsampa or ngampe (roasted barley flour) which can be eaten without cooking. Little wonder, it makes for a perfect, non-messy trekking meal. But a staple of Ladakh which is very much its own creation is the skyu, a pasta dish made with root vegetables and milk.
The one way Ladakhis have their tea is by adding strong green tea, salt and butter to the boiling water rendering it with a clear, soupy texture and taste. It might take you a while to get used to this ‘gurgur cha’ courtesy the bubbling sound the ingredients produce, but you might return home to try it out in your own kitchen. Ladakhis don’t let their surplus barley go to waste as they recycle them into a fermented alcoholic drink called chhang served on special occasions and festivals.
In the Main Bazaar there are several shops selling everyday food catering to tourists such as samosas, chana dal and puri among a host of sweetmeats. Whether you are in the Leh Old Town or the bus station area, expect Tibetan-style restaurants in the vicinity serving a hearty thukpa and steamed momo. An all-veg meal in this neighbourhood may be difficult to come by. Stop by for a baked honey and cheese bread at the German bakery; they have strong coffees as well.