Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas is India’s most northern part, an old Buddhist kingdom that is now part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The name Ladakh means ‘the land of high passes’: Ladakh stands in the middle of some of the highest mountains in the world.
What Makes Ladakh Special
Most of Ladakh is higher than 10 000 ft from sea level and the road from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh, Ladakh’s capital, travels through over 17 000 ft high mountain passes. The Manali to Leh road and the alternative route to Leh from Srinagar in Kashmir are only open for traffic for six months a year. For the other six months, roads to Ladakh are covered in heavy snow and ice.
To say Ladakh is my most favourite place in India would be an understatement: it is difficult to find words to describe how unique and how beautiful it is. The peace and quiet one finds in Ladakh is impossible to find anywhere else in India.
Leh, Ladakh’s High Altitude Capital
Leh, Ladakh’s capital, stands on the ancient Silk Road trade route and was flourishing in the Middle Ages when traders passed through town on their way to and from Central Asia. In many ways Ladakh resembles Central Asia more than it does the rest of India: people’s features here are different, and so is the landscape with its high altitude lakes, mountains and desert.
Ladakh is a centre of Tibetan Buddhist culture, and around Leh several Buddhist monasteries keep the culture alive. Hemis is said to be the wealthiest and biggest of Ladakh’s monasteries and Thiksey is home to dozens of monks, as well as a stunning, gilded 15 metre high statue of Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha of the future. In the small village of Alchi, 40-odd miles outside Leh, rare Kashmiri Buddhist murals from the 11th century have survived military invasions but are now suffering of neglect and the harsh mountain weather.
How to Travel to Ladakh
Daily flights connect Delhi to Leh and there are also flights from Leh to Srinagar in
Kashmir, although Kashmir’s rapidly changing security situation can affect travel plans. Roads from Srinagar to Leh and from Manali to Leh are only open from around May to October, depending on snowfall. Not for the faint of heart, the road from Manali to Leh can be travelled on a motorbike, a bus or a jeep taxi, and some seriously brave people do it on a bicycle.
Tourists must have an Inner Line Permit to visit certain areas in Ladakh but these are easily obtained from travel agents in Leh. It is worth keeping in mind that Acute Mountain Sickness is a major risk when travelling to Ladakh.