For travelers, Tibet has always been a fascinating place. A paradise of pure air in the heights of the Himalayas, an authentic place and difficult to access. We imagine steep cliffs, Buddhist monasteries dominating immense valleys, monks in their reddish robes…
What if I told you that there is another place, easier to access, with very similar characteristics in India? Well believe it, because that place exists and is called Ladakh, a region was belonging to the state of Kashmir in northwestern India but now it is a territory. A desert in the heights, on a plateau dominated by mountains from six to seven thousand meters and scattered Buddhist villages. Here the majority religion is also Buddhism and its similarity with Tibetan culture (even food) is more than evident.
Many Tibetans, due to the conflicts with China, had to emigrate to this remote area of India. The result is a fascinating place that will not leave you indifferent, where you can experience multiple adventure activities. From rafting down the Zanskar river and the mythical Indus to climbing the highest motorized mountain pass in the world (Umling La 19,300 feet.) and descending it on a bicycle, snowboarding on sand dunes, riding a Royal Enfield through the vast deserts and climbing the great lakes in height, ascend great peaks of more than 7,000 meters above sea level or contemplate a Mandalas ceremony in a Buddhist monastery.
Tourism in Ladakh: Attractraction
Leh, the capital
The capital of the Ladakh region is located in a privileged place. There are several ways to get to it. The most common is through a commercial flight from Delhi. Of course, given the great difference in height between the capital of India and Leh (located at almost 3,500M) it may be that the first day you suffer from altitude sickness. So hydrate and take it easy the first and second day, and take aspirin just in case.
If you have time, it is advisable to reach this city by road, either from Manali or from Srinagar. Of course, it is not a path suitable for people with vertigo unless you want to have a heart attack. Even better, you can rent the mythical Royal Enfield and explore these spectacular landscapes through the spectacular mountain passes. The pass to cross from Manali reaches 5,300 m and the road is not paved in many sections. So both for this pass and for Srinagar (not as high, but even more terrifying) it is better to have some skill behind the wheel. And patience…
But I assure you that it will be worth it.
Once in Leh, you can spend a few days doing some sightseeing by visiting the Buddhist stupas and the main palace or going to nearby Buddhist monasteries.
But I know that you like adventure. And adventure in Ladakh is not lacking. There are many agencies that offer different packages, all at similar prices. On many occasions there is no choice but to do the activities with them because a special pass is required, but not all of them.
Now I describe some of the best, which you can hire from Leh
Rafting on the Zanskar River
The Zanskar River is a tributary of the mythical Indus River, which gives the country its name. With cold waters and a cloudy color, its waters run turbulently between walls of bare rock. In little more than an hour you can access the starting point of the rafting (28 kilometers upstream).
The activity lasts about 4 hours, with category 2 and 3 rapids. There are no great risks in this section, so it is a good option for beginners in this exciting sport.
If you are looking for a closer place to start this sport, do not miss this rafting activity in the Zanskar River.
Mountain Bike Descent from Khardung La Pass
Imagine that you are going to do a descent on a Mountain Bike from a mountain pass in the Indian Himalayas. Now imagine that this pass is the second highest motorable pass on the planet, at 5,600 meters above sea level. Would you dare to go for only 10 Euros? I think it’s clear that you can’t let this unique opportunity pass you by.
The pass is located in the Ladakh mountain range, north of Leh, and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. The Siachen Glacier is located halfway, in the Nubra Valley. After an hour and a half of ascent in a van, between 2 and 4 hours of descent await you (depending on how daring you are and how fast you are at the handlebars) along a road that crosses scandalous landscapes. A third of the way is unpaved. The rest of the way back to Leh is paved and generally in very good condition.
Snowboarding over dunes in Hunder (Nubra Valley)
In the spectacular Nubra valley and at 4,000 meters above sea level is a town called Hunder. This town is famous for its “silver dunes” where it is even possible to practice snowboarding. If you don’t feel like sliding down the dunes, just taking a walk at sunset will be an unforgettable experience.
To get here it is necessary to cross the aforementioned mountain pass, Khardung La.
Markha Valley Trekking
One of the most popular treks in Ladakh is the Markha Valley trek. The fact that it is popular does not mean that it is very crowded, you can enjoy the tranquility of nature and sleep in villages lost in the depths of magical valleys.
This trek can be done with or without a guide depending on your experience in the mountains. It does not have much loss but you reach a maximum height of more than 5,000 meters above sea level, so if you do not have previous experience it may be a good idea to hire a guide. Normally, it is done in about 5 or 6 days to allow a good acclimatization. I did it in just 4; Of course, there were difficult moments due to the height. So my advice is that if you are not very used to the altitude and want to play it safe, hire a guide.
The path is clear, since it always runs through the Markha valley following the river, except in the final section towards the mountain pass where the slope increases considerably. You don’t need to bring a sleeping bag or a tent if you don’t want to (not even food or water) since there are towns every several hours where you can stay overnight, and they serve you dinner, breakfast and a ration for the next day for 1500 rupees Indian. They are called homestays, highly recommended to experience how the locals of these remote towns live, which can only be reached by donkey after several days of travel.
The route begins in the town of Chilling (at about 3,300 masl) and from here goes up the Markha valley upriver. You can stop at Skyu or Markha itself, located at 3,800 meters above sea level. The latter is a small town located on a promontory next to the confluence of two rivers, with green meadows and spectacular views of the bare mountains. There’s even a small school, a stupa and a Buddhist temple (you’ll see many along the way, some even perched on top of huge rocky crags). A stop here is almost mandatory.
From Markha, you can reach the Nimaling camp (4,700 masl) in a single stage. But if you’re not in a hurry you can rest halfway in Hankar or Tchachungstse camp (although they didn’t rent tents here when I went there), since the climb to Nimaling is hard and you may want to rest beforehand. Half of the stretch is flat and it is already possible to see the magnificent Kangyatse (6,400 masl) that will accompany you all the way to the camp.
In the Nimaling camp you can rent a tent and sleeping bags, so if you do not want you do not have to carry them. It is in a privileged place surrounded by Yaks, marmots and other animals, at the foot of the Kangyatse and with incredible views of the valley. Of course, you will need warm clothes because the nights can be very cold here. This is a meeting place for mountaineers. If you feel strong and are experienced (you must also have equipment: crampons, ice axes…) from here you can make the ascent to Kangyatse.
Your last leg (if you don’t want to make another stop somewhere in between before heading back to Leh) is the climb up the Kongmaru La mountain pass, at 5,130 masl. It has no difficulty; Of course, take a deep breath and go up slowly to avoid altitude sickness. From Gongmaru La begins the descent to Shan (3,670 masl) through some spectacular rocky gorges.
The route can be done in the opposite direction, although it is harder because there is no time to acclimatize: in the first stage the unevenness is pronounced.
Ascent to the peaks Stok Kangri, Kun or Nun
If trekking to Markha wasn’t enough, or if climbing big peaks is your thing, there are 3 mountains that will quench your thirst for climbing. In progressive level of difficulty they are Stok Kangri (6,153 m), Kun (7,077 m) and Nun (7,135 m).
For the first one, great experience or technique is not required, but previous acclimatization is required. It can be uploaded in a couple of days. The other two already require more experience and physique and the expeditions last more than a week. Whichever you choose, it will surely be unforgettable.
Jeep or Royal Enfield Tours
From Leh there are numerous tours that cover the various areas of Ladahk. For certain places (such as the Nubra Valley or Pangong Tso) permits are required. Tours are conducted by off-road jeep and can last several days. If you like to drive a motorcycle, you can do it on your own by renting a legendary Royal Enfield. Of course, you will have to obtain the necessary permits previously where applicable.
Driving on these roads in the vastness of Ladahk, admiring the huge valleys, visiting stupas and Buddhist monasteries, is difficult to explain in words. Rather go for it and judge for yourself.