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EXPLORING THE HIMALAYA: LEH – LADAKH

Ladakh is the northernmost and sparsely populated region of India and, with its location in the Himalayas, a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. As soon as you land at the airport of the capital Leh, you enter a different world. Wherever you look you see the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas stretching out in front of you. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll be overwhelmed by a sense of calm and wonder. A holiday in Ladakh, India is certainly adventurous, but the region has a lot to offer for nature lovers and adventurers. There are several sights to discover in and around Leh, such as palaces, monasteries and other shrines. The capital Leh is also the perfect base for multi-day treks in the Himalayas.

But those who want to learn more about the population and its history can also immerse themselves in the local culture of Leh and Ladakh. I visited this breathtaking region in India for a week and really felt completely relaxed here. I can recommend a visit to Ladakh to anyone traveling through Northern India! In this blog I take you through the highlights of my trip in Ladakh and Leh and share my tips for the best things to do in the Leh area.

LEH, THE GATEWAY TO THE HIMALAYA MOUNTAINS

The Indian city of Leh is located at an altitude of 3,500m, in a beautiful valley surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. Upon arrival you immediately notice that you don’t hear any honking cars, like in the rest of India. Not only is Leh an excellent base from which to explore the rest of Ladakh, India, but it also guarantees a unique cultural experience in its own right. As you walk through the streets of the center, you will feel like you are in another time. The original Tibetan inhabitants still wear colorful robes according to their traditions, which protect them from the cold temperatures. During my stay in Ladakh in early November, the temperature during the day did not rise above 10 degrees and at night it dropped below freezing. As you leave the main streets and enter the narrow alleys, you will pass shops and restaurants where you can taste typical Ladakhi meals such as skyu, thukpa and momos. Definitely recommended!

THE SIGHTSEEING OF LEH

Of course, the Himalayan Mountains are in themselves one of the most important sights of Ladakh, but there are also a number of nice highlights to discover in the capital Leh.

LEH PALACE

Northeast of the center is Leh Palace, which towers majestically above the city. This former residence of the Royal Family of Ladakh, and one of Leh’s main attractions, is now a museum showcasing the rich history of the region. In addition, the palace alone is worth the visit for the panoramic views over the valley and surrounding mountains.

SUNRISE AT TSEMO GOENKHANG

For early birds, a walk to Tsemo Goenkhang at sunrise is recommended. Located above Leh Palace, this shrine is the perfect place to enjoy the sunrise. You are surrounded by thousands of Tibetan prayer flags that give the mountain color. Yet another important cultural attraction in Leh is the Shanti Stupa, within walking distance of the city center. This Buddhist stupa is intended to promote world peace and serves as a place of meditation, prayer and reflection. With more than a few breathers during the walk up the mountain (and I’m in good shape) we were the only visitors upon arrival at the top at this stupa.

WHAT CAN YOU DO IN LEH LADAKH?

As an adventurer, you will definitely get your money’s worth during your trip to Ladakh! The vast Himalayan mountains in Ladakh offer a variety of activities and attractions. Whether you want to take day trips or spend several days on an organized tour, the choice is entirely yours. Below I share the activities I did during my stay in Ladakh.

DISCOVER THE KHARDUNG LA PASS

Do you want to soar to extreme heights and brave one of the world’s highest roads for motorized traffic? Then the Khardung La pass is your answer. From Leh, Ladakh, you can hire a taxi yourself and drive to the top of this mountain pass, which is located at almost 5,400m, in about an hour and a half. Interestingly, this mountain pass was once part of the ancient trade route between India and Central Asia. You must have a strong stomach, because in our case the mountain pass was largely snow-covered, the hairpin bends were extreme and we can describe the driving qualities of our driver as “quite special”. It is important to take into account any symptoms of altitude sickness and take the necessary precautions (see the tips for this at the bottom of this blog). Both the road there and the panoramic view from the top are something you will never forget!

THE THIKSEY MONASTERY: A BUDDHIST GEM IN LADAKH

Not far outside Leh, more than half an hour’s drive, the Thiksey Monastry rises high above the Indus Valley. The best time to visit this monastery and the beautiful Ladakh region is from May to September. During this season the roads are normally passable and the weather conditions are favourable. Despite visiting the sights in Ladakh in November, I was still able to visit this spiritual gem. As you travel to the monastery by taxi, you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery, the valley, the small villages along the way and the impressive Himalayan mountains.

PANORAMIC VIEW

Once you are inside the monastery walls, there is a remarkably relaxing atmosphere. You can leisurely stroll around for a few hours and enjoy the panoramic view from the hill on which the monastery is located. I especially marveled at the beautiful Tibetan architecture and colorful murals in this 15th-century building. One of the most prominent sights of Thiksey Monastery is the impressive Maitreya Buddha sculpture. This gracefully colored work of art has a height of no less than 15 meters. The work of art, also known as the Buddha of the Future, can be admired inside one of the many temples and above all radiates a feeling of peace.

HIKING IN LADAKH: EXPERIENCE THE NATURAL BEAUTY OF THE HIMALAYA

Ladakh is known as a region of unparalleled natural beauty, and is especially loved by adventurous travelers. In the center of Leh you will find numerous travel agencies offering trips to explore everything Ladakh has to offer. Whether you want to take a day walk in the Leh area or hike for several days in the Himalayas. You can also visit the highest saltwater lake in the world, take a camel ride in the desert and spend the night in remote mountain villages. Putting together your own multi-day adventure on the spot is easy to arrange. For seasoned hikers, there are options to book multi-day treks in Ladakh and the surrounding regions.

If you want to take it a little more slowly, the Sham Valley trek from Leh is recommended. This 3-day trek is also suitable for less experienced hikers. You walk through enchanting mountain deserts surrounded by silver-white mountain peaks. However, I strongly recommend that you prepare well for these trips. Make sure you have the right equipment and acclimatize to the altitude of the Himalayas to avoid altitude sickness. With these well-prepared adventures you can experience the overwhelming nature of Ladakh and enjoy the untouched beauty of the Himalayas.

RESTAURANTS IN LEH, INDIA

Due to Ladakh’s remote location and the strong influence of Tibetan Buddhism, Leh has developed its own culinary identity. This one is definitely worth exploring. In and around the center of Leh there are numerous restaurants where you can taste Ladakhi cuisine. If you delve into one of the small alleys next to the main street, you may pass my favorite restaurant, Yak Boy Restaurant, where their menu includes delicious Chow Mein and Momos (a kind of dumpling with meat or vegetables). Please note that communication with the staff is mainly hands and feet and the menus are not in English, so be surprised sometimes. If you’re looking for snacks, there are many street vendors and restaurants where you can enjoy local delicacies. If you prefer international dishes, such as pasta, pizza or burgers, you will also find plenty of options in Leh.

A tip for a cafe in Leh, where there is a relaxed atmosphere, is Lehvenda Café. In addition to a good cappuccino or Americano, you can expect a tasty Arrabbiata pasta and a richly topped pizza on the menu. Especially on cold evenings, this café is an ideal place to relax in one of the comfortable sofas.

THE BEST TRAVEL TIME AND CLIMATE FOR LADAKH

THE WEATHER IN LADAKH

The climate of Ladakh is a dry climate and due to its location at an altitude of 3,500m, it is a lot colder here than other parts of India. It is good to take this into account during your visit to this part of India! In summer it is very pleasant and sunny during the day in Ladakh, but it cools down considerably at night. In the winter months you can count on low temperatures well below freezing and lots of snow.

THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL FOR LADAKH

If you want to fully enjoy all the activities and sights that Ladakh and the capital Leh have to offer, it is advisable to plan your trip between May and September. This is the best time to travel to Ladakh. During these months, temperatures average between 20 and 30 degrees, the sun shines brightly in the sky and the sky is often clear blue. Please note that nights can be treacherously cold, sometimes even below freezing. It is therefore wise to check with your hotel whether the rooms can be heated properly.

Autumn, especially September and October, still offers pleasant temperatures during the day, especially if you have an active day program planned. As mentioned, I was in Ladakh at the end of October/beginning of November and it was still wonderful during the day. However, the weather conditions were so variable that not all higher sights in Ladakh were accessible. Snowy roads caused our day trip to the Khardung La Pass to be postponed by a day. In the winter months, Ladakh is largely covered in snow and most tourist activities are limited. So if you want to get the most out of your stay in the Himalayas, I recommend traveling to Ladakh during the summer months.

WHAT CLOTHING DO YOU NEED?

If you travel to Ladakh, it is important to bring clothing that is suitable for the weather conditions and the activities you want to undertake. Despite the hot days in the summer months, it is still wise to wear layers of clothing, especially if you go into the mountains. Think of a good winter coat, sweaters, thermal underwear, sturdy walking shoes and warm socks. Outdoor activities expose you to the elements and the weather can be unpredictable. That is why it is useful to also put a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen, rain gear and scarf in your backpack or suitcase. In any case, make sure that your clothing is comfortable and suitable for both hikes and visiting the sights in Ladakh, such as temples. This way you are dressed appropriately for every situation.

HOW TO GET TO LADAKH?

If you want to travel to Ladakh from Europe, flying through Delhi airport is your best option. In just an hour and a half you fly from the hustle and bustle of Delhi to the serene tranquility of Leh. Also within India, there are airports in other cities such as Srinagar and Mumbai with direct flights to Leh. To find the cheapest flight to Leh, it is advisable to compare the options between this and possibly other cities. Besides flying to Leh, there are also more adventurous travel options, such as traveling by bus or renting a motorbike. However, keep in mind that while these options may be more economical, travel times to reach Ladakh can be long and the roads are challenging.

HOW SAFE IS LADAKH AND WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

Ladakh, India, is generally considered a safe travel destination. The region has a low crime rate and the local population is known for its hospitality and peacefulness. Unlike other parts of India, where you sometimes have to be alert to ‘scams’, I found this burden to disappear during my stay in Ladakh. Partly for that reason, I found a visit to Ladakh really refreshing!

ALTITUDE SICKNESS IN LADAKH

Ladakh, and its capital Leh lie at an average altitude of 3,500 meters above sea level, and many of the sights are even higher. It is essential to realize that altitude sickness is a risk in this region. Therefore, make sure you acclimatize to the altitude gradually and keep a close eye on symptoms such as mild headaches, shortness of breath, severe dizziness and nausea. If you notice one or more of these symptoms, it is wise to rest and drink plenty of water. Especially in the case of severe altitude sickness, it is important to descend to lower altitudes to avoid further complications. Always contact a doctor if you experience serious complaints, because it is very important to take altitude sickness seriously. If you are going on a trek, first stay in Leh for a few days before heading to the higher areas. Therefore, allow enough time for your visit to Ladakh!

MOBILE DATA IN LADAKH

If you are traveling to Ladakh from another part of India and you have an Indian SIM card, check with your provider that it also works in Ladakh, as this is not always the case. Currently, only postpaid Indian SIM cards can be used in Ladakh, due to the region’s strategic location bordering China and Pakistan. If you don’t have a working SIM card, you can easily buy one from Leh. However, it is useful to have dates in advance when you land at Leh airport.

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