Three places to see around Leh in Ladakh: the Buddhist murals in Alchi, the high altitude Pangong lake and the world’s highest motorable mountain pass, Khardung La.
Pangong Tso, High Altitude Lake
You’ve driven for hours through fields where the only other living things you see are wild goats and marmots, you’ve passed the third highest motorable mountain pass in the world (Chang La) and you’ve had to figure out a way to drive through the remains of a severe landslide. You’ve arrived on the shores of a high altitude lake that stretches from India to Chinese-controlled territory and you have dealt with a bored official at the checkpoint who gets his only job satisfaction from giving you hassle when checking your travel permit. You’re at 4250 metres altitude somewhere in East Ladakh, and you think you’ve arrived somewhere very far away, so you feel quite intrepid.
And then you see the tent village and the German tour bus, just as the jeep full of European and Israeli backpackers arrives, followed by four travellers you know from
Leh. So no, Pangong Tso is not really as remote and inaccessible I thought it was going to be, but it’s very beautiful. If you have been to Tibet and seen some high altitude lakes, you’ll know what to expect: clear blue waters, very blue skies, rocky shores, snow-capped mountains. If you haven’t seen one before, you won’t be able to stop going “I can’t believe it’s so beautiful here”. Accommodation is basic, so do not count on running water or electricity.
Khardung La, World’s Highest Motorable Mountain Pass
Khardung La is the world’s highest motorable mountain pass – maybe. Apparently there is another, higher pass nearby, although it is one that would be very difficult for foreign tourist to get to. Apparently some people with GPS have also measured less than the 5602 metres that is advertised on top of Khardung La. Who cares? It’s very high! You can’t stay too long because of the altitude, but there is also not so much to do anyway except to take some photos and have a cup of tea. Khardung La, or K-Top, is an easy half a day’s trip from Leh, and also a gateway to the Nubra Valley, the northernmost part of India a tourist can visit.
Alchi and its Buddhist Murals
Alchi is a small and incredibly pretty Himalayan village about 60 km from Leh, and home to unique Buddhist murals. The 11th century Kashmiri Buddhist murals have suffered badly due to neglect and the harsh mountain weather, and soon you might not be able to see them at all: while some have been restored, some are clearly not going to survive.
Alchi is an easy daytrip from Leh (although in Ladakh 60 km of road means a good few hours of driving ) but the cute guesthouses, nice restaurants and bakeries and the gorgeous views made me wish I could have stayed a few nights.
Ladakh Travel Permits for Foreign Tourists
An Inner Line Permit is needed to visit most of these places. Almost any of the travel agents in Leh can get one for you. Each permit should include four names so if you’re travelling alone, the travel agents will group you together with others.
Officially, you should travel together with the others on the same permit, and if you don’t, there might be trouble at checkpoints. Keep several copies of the permit, especially if going to Pangong Tso, because each checkpoint will keep one copy and there are lots of checkpoints on the way.