Ladakh - The Land of Endless Discoveries!

The peaks of snow mountains on bright mornings part the dense clouds and soar into the skies. Beneath the skies like a world submerged, lies a lost kingdom. Ladakh, the roof of the world opened to tourists only in the last decade. At an awesome altitude, this highland is the bridge between the earth and the sky!

Part fantasy, part reality... Ladakh, is where, the forces of nature conspired to render a magical unrealistic landscape, a landscape of extremes, desert and blue waters, burning sun and freezing winds, glaciers and sand dunes, a primeval battleground of the titanic forces which gave birth to the Himalayas.

Ladakh is a region in India totally isolated from the modern world. An authentic land, it is faithful to ancestral customs where life is characterized by intense spirituality. Even an Indian traveler will probably find no similarities in the land and people between the ones he leaves behind and those he encounters in Ladakh. Rich traditions of Mahayana Buddhism still flourish in the purest form in this region, which has often been referred to as Little Tibet.

Ladakh lies at an altitude from 9000 ft to 25170 feet. At these heights, you are on the roof of the world! As the highest inhabited land in the world, it holds a fascination for many, while for some there is an enchantment of seeing mountains which had been under the sea for million of years. Ladakh is like a forgotten moment in time. It is common in Ladakh to come across villages carved out of veritable mountainside, stupas reaching the sky, monasteries virtually hanging from the cliffs and crags. Their interiors are filled with priceless antiques and art.

As the first rays of the sun hit the mountains, the monks blow the large copper trumpets from the rooftops of the monasteries. Below the monasteries, ritual articles are laid out, as monks in vestments and masks get ready for dancing in front of a gathering. As events build up, the music gets louder, incense is brought out and a group of monks in ceremonial dress come out to unfurl the large painted scroll. The night is alive with the illumination of shrines and buildings. A typical monastic festival in Ladakh takes place.

Ladakh means "land of high passes". Until the coming of the aircraft, the only access into this remote, high Trans-Himalayan kingdom was across several high pass crossings. From the west the Zoji La at 14,000 feet is the lowest. Taglang La to the southeast is 17,200 feet high and a military highway now crosses this coming from Manali. To the north is the Khardung La - at 18,200 feet, the only access into the Nubra valley and the Karakorams. Dead ends now, but important in centuries past, were the northern passes on the Central Asian trade route - Saser La and the Karakorum pass.

Ladakh's landscape has more in common with the lunar landscape than any other place on earth. Being in a complete rain-shadow region, cut off from the monsoon clouds by the Great Himalayas and a host of subsidiary ranges, it is a cold high altitude desert where the wind, water from the minimal winter snows, and chemical reactions within the rocks themselves, have carved a fantastic, sometimes grotesque, landscape
.

Leh
Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is breathtaking. The cold desert land, over the magnificent Himalayas is a beautiful and scary experience at once. Leh Palace illuminated by huge halogen lamps looks like a bewitching castle on a hilltop set ablaze in the dark nights of the Leh. Drive in the city is as exciting as the wonders it has in its lap with the long isolated winding road that opens up into a sheer expanse of arid flatness in burnt sienna. There is blinding sun at the top and perhaps at the first impression, a visitor is not likely to appreciate the blessings of the land fully.

Bon and Buddhism rule the lifestyle and culture of the people here. The Chortens (Stupas) and enchanting Gompas (Monasteries) adorn the city with their presence. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and there is an ominous beauty in the stark surroundings of Ladakh. The Hinayana Buddhist way of life lends a benevolent spirit to the very air of the region. Sightseeing of the historic monuments and major Buddhist gompas (monasteries) are the main attractions of Ladakh. The capital, since the construction of its nine-storey Leh Palace in the early 17th century, A few kms up the Indus is Shey Palace, the most ancient capital, with its palace and temples. Down river, Basgo, right on the road, and Tingmosgang, a short distance up a side-valley, both served as royal capitals when the Old Kingdom was temporarily divided into two parts in the 15th century. Leh offers many excursions such as Hemis Monastery which is one of the largest and famous monasteries belonging to Dukpa Order. Likir Monastery belongs to Gelukspa Order and Lamayuru Monastery belongs to Drigunp order are a splendid sight.

Kargil

The western parts of Ladakh comprising the river valleys, which are drained and formed by the Himalayan tributaries of the high Indus, constitute Kargil district. Prominent among these are the spectacular valleys of Suru and Zanskar, which lie nestled along the northern flank of the Great Himalayan wall. The smaller lateral valleys of Drass, Wakha-Mulbek and Chiktan constitute important subsidiaries.
This region formed part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Ladakh. In fact it is believed to be the first to be inhabited by the early colonizers of Ladakh, the Indo-Aryan Mons from across the Great Himalayan range, assorted Dard immigrants from down the Indus and the Gilgit valleys and itinerant nomads from the Tibetan highlands. Also, being contiguous with Baltistan, Kashmir, Kullu etc. these valleys are believed to have served as the initial recipients of successive ethnic and cultural influences emanating from the neighbouring regions. Thus, while the Mons are believed to have introduced north-Indian Buddhism to these valleys, the Dard and Balti immigrants are credited with introducing farming and the Tibetan nomads with the tradition of herding and animal husbandry.

Zanskar
The Zanskar valley is noted for its high ranges, fine Gompas and gentle people. The most isolated of all Himalayan valleys, Inaccessible for 8 months in a year, it is now popular destination with trekkers. Set in a plain where two swift flowing tributaries join to form the Zanaskar River. Padum the main habitation and the sub divisional headquarter. Close to the town area of ancient rock carving and two picturesque monasteries, the stagrimo and pibting gompas. And two hours trek from padum takes one to karsha and other interesting monasteries

Nubra valley

This valley of flowers is perhaps the most inexplicably beautiful place you can ever dream of visiting. Once a trading route through the Karakoram ranges from Tibet to Turkistan, it was only recently opened to tourists. The road to the valley, inaccessible for most of the year, is wild and treacherous, and at the same time breathtaking -with its arresting view of the stately Karakoram Mountains. There is only one road to Nubra valley: the road from Leh, through Khardungla pass, the world's highest motorable road. At 18,380 feet above sea level, this road is under snow cover all through the year. As you drive at that dizzy height, with a sheer fall on one side, you'll know what it's like to be driving through the mountains that are among the worlds highest

Tso-moriri
The drive to Tso-moriri seems eternal. Once you drive off the tarred road along the Indus you're faced with miles and miles of land running through the mountains with nothing on the way, save a few refreshment tents flapping away in the scorching afternoon wind. The drive to Tsomoriri is no doubt grueling and long; but where you reach at the end of it all is probably worth a hundred such journeys. When the lake is just round the next mountain, it yet can't be seen, but you know it's there as you are suddenly hit by a blast of chilled air. And the rough, dusty brown landscape starts easing out into shades of green; Small marmots peek over rocks at passing cars like a Disney animation, the snowcaps fade into view and the cold breeze continues to blow

Pangong Lake
The only thing India and China have in common: its blue, brackish waters extend across the
Indo-Chinese border. It was only few years ago that the government decided to allow tourists to visit this natural beauty. The Lake is 134 km long and only 40% of it lies in India, while the rest extends into China.
Its mesmerizing, serene beauty captivates everyone as it stays in your minds long after you're returned home -those white sands crunching under you feet, marmots peeking over rocks and dancing on small patches of green, the bar headed geese forming patterns in the heaving waters, the birds returning home as the golden orb (bigger than you've ever seen) dips into the water, your feet taking strange shapes as the transparent ripples coalesce at the surface - these images and sensations stay on long after memories of the rest of your trip have faded away.

Suru Valley
One of the most beautiful regions of Ladakh, the Suru Valley forms the mainstay of Kargil district. Lying nestled along the north-eastern foothills of the great Himalayan Wall, it extends from Kargil town, first southward for a length of about 75 Kms Upto the expanse around Panikhar, thence eastward for another stretch of nearly 65 kms upto the foot of the Penzila watershed where the Suru valley rises. Its composite population of about 30,000 -- mainly of Tibeti-Darad descent -- is Muslims who had converted their Buddhist faith around the middle of the 16th century.

Monasteries of Ladakh

Then there are the Buddhist monasteries (Gompa), treasure troves of images and artifacts, of which about a dozen are situated on or near the Indus River. Upstream of leh are the monasteries of Thiksey, Stakna, Hemis, Chemrey, Takthok, Matho, Phyang, Likir, Alchi, Rizong and Lamayuru.

 

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