While Leh-Ladakh offers a host of options for places to explore, it pays to prioritize and short-list the best ones basis your interest. Although, it’s difficult to recommend the best options for you without knowing your specific interests, I have listed some of the sightseeing options that I’ve enjoyed the most during my visit.
Though the tourist season for Ladakh starts by mid June, the best time to visit Ladakh is the first 2 weeks of July. While the Srinagar-Leh Highway opens up by the end of May, the Manali – Leh Highway opens up around mid of June and navigating through that may be a challenge till June end. The chances of Rohtang Pass and Bara-lach La being closed are higher in June than in early July. Being stranded as you wait for the snow to be cleared is a very frustrating experience. I would therefore recommend that you head to Ladakh via Srinagar and return via Manali. The gradual increase in altitude on the route via Srinagar (as compared to the Manali route where there’s a sudden increase) offers travelers enough time to get acclimatized to the high altitudes. In case you don’t get a chance to acclimatize, you may fall sick. If you come back via Manali, you will be able to better enjoy sightseeing options like Tso Moriri as your body would’ve already been acclimatized. Also, if you go via Manali (towards Rohtang Pass to Leh-Ladakh), you would need to get a permit from Manali SDM in case you have a non-Himachal Pradesh vehicle. This rule, however, does not apply to vehicles that come from Leh-Ladakh towards Manali making the return journey via Manali a hassle free one.
One of the prime attractions at Leh-Ladakh is the Pangong Tso Lake, a lake that was made even more popular by the scene in the movie '3 Idiots' where Kareena Kapoor rode a scooter along the banks of the lake in her red wedding dress. An interesting fact about Pangong Tso, a brackish water lake, is that about 60% of it actually lies in China and that the Line of Actual Control passes through the lake. One can travel to Nubra valley, back to Leh and then travel to Pangong the next day. In case of a time crunch, however, you can travel directly from Nubra valley to Pangong. There are three routes to travel to the lake: via Khardung la, via Wari la, or via Agham Shyok Road. I recommend Agham Shyok as it involves the least amount of travel time (approx. 6 hours).
Located at an altitude of 3600 meters in the Indus Valley and about 19 km east of Leh in Ladakh, Thikse Monastery is a 12 storey-complex that houses Buddhist stupas, thangkas, statues, etc. The major point of interest is the 15 meter high statue of Maitreya in the Maitreya Temple.
Another major attraction is the temple of Goddess Tara that has the Goddesses’ 21 images in glass covered wooden shelves. The monastery also has 12 temples, an assembly hall, and is home to about 120 monks. The morning prayers attract a huge number of locals and tourists as it’s close to Leh. The tourists also enjoy the place as it provides a clear view of Indus Valley and other monasteries such as Shey, Matho, etc.
To get the best experience of the place, follow the instructions laid out on the yellow notice board. Place your car on neutral gear right at the spot marked by white paint. It will seem that your car with people and baggage is actually moving uphill on its own. Do not worry – there isn’t any Alien Spaceship that’s pulling you uphill against the gravitational pull. The layout of the area and the surrounding slopes create an optical illusion that makes you believe that one is going uphill when in reality, one goes downhill.
Located on a hilltop in Chanspa, the Buddhist white-domed Shanti Stupa is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Leh. Besides its religious significance, the Shanti Stupa is mostly popular because of the scenic view that it provides of the city and the village of Changspa against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains. The best time to visit the Stupa is during Sunrise & Sunset.
Located at the altitude of 4522 meters, Tso Moriri Lake is the largest high altitude lake that’s completely within India in Ladakh. The snow covered mountains and the barren hills in the backdrop of the lake make the entire region very picturesque. As compared to the Pangong Tso Lake, Tso Moriri Lake attracts much lesser crowd, making it perfect for those like me who love to enjoy the beauty of the lake in some solitude. One can reach Tso Moriri directly from Pangong Tso via Changtang region. Besides having good roads, this route offers one of the most beautiful drives in Ladakh.
The Zanskar River originating from the Zanskar Ranges meets the Indus River originating from the Himalayan Ranges in the Nimmu Valley, providing a spectacular sight for the travelers. One can distinctly identify the Zanskar and Indus Rivers that are shiny blue and green respectively. The setting for this is very close to the sleepy village of Nimo in Leh, a village that also has several monasteries and orchards.
The nine storey royal palace that overlooks the town of Leh, Thikse Palace, was modeled on the basis of Potala Palace in Lhasa. The roof of the palace provides a scenic view of Leh and the Surrounding areas that include Stok Kangri in Zanskar mountain range, Indus Valley, etc. The Palace museum has a wide collection of jewelry, ornaments, ceremonial dresses and crowns.
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