Leh was an important stopover in the trade route between India and China as early as the 1st century AD. In the 10th century, a kingdom was formed in the region by the Tibetan Prince Skyid Ide Nyima Gon. Several artifacts of the era are still found in the valley. During the 17th century, the Leh Palace and Jama Masjid were built. The area became a tourist destination owing to its climate and historical importance after India became independent. The ancient monuments and cultural pluralism of the land may have contributed to the booming interest of travelers.
Leh offers several locations that travelers find interesting. But make sure to acclimatize yourself before you start visiting them as even the most physically fit youngsters find it difficult to cope with the high altitude. The 4 century old Leh palace with an amazing nine-storied construction is prominent among them. Shanti stupa which was built as a monument for world peace is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Leh. The view from Khardung La and Nubra valley is breathtakingly beautiful. You have the opportunity to visit some Buddhist monasteries in Leh. Spituk and Sankar monasteries attract tourists with ancient artifacts and monuments in them. The cuisines of the land are unique because they are highly influenced by Tibetan culture. Make sure to try some before you leave Leh.
Top attractions in Leh
Overlooking the town of Leh, the astonishing structure of the Leh palace stands as a reminder of the rich history of the land. Constructed in the 17th century by Sengge Namgyal—the King of Ladak—the building is now converted into a museum. The palace is a huge construction with nine stories and is decorated with intricate stone carvings. But now much of it is destroyed. The large collection of royal jewelry, crowns, ornaments, dresses, and so on in the museum will give you an idea of the opulent life of the rulers 4 centuries ago. The most attractive of the collections is the Chinese Paintings. Though more than 450 years old, the art retains the bright colors as it is made by using powdered gems and stones. Namgyal Stupa, Chandazik Gompa, and 1430 Chamba Lhakhang are located here.
Khardung La Pass
At an elevation of 5602 meters, Khardung la pass is considered the highest motorable pass in India. Built-in 1976, the pass acts as a gateway to Shyok and Nubra valley and helps to carry supplies to the Siachen glacier. The location gives an exquisite view of the snow-capped Karakoram mountains reaching to the blue sky. Riding through the snow-covered paths is an exciting experience for the adventure enthusiasts. If you are planning a trip to Khardung La, make sure you get the Inner Line Permit as it is integral to travel through the region. It will surely be a memorable experience on your Leh tour.
Located in the ancient Silk Route, Nubra valley is one of the best places to visit in Leh. The region is a high altitude cold desert and one of the very few in the genre in India. The blue-toned Nubra and Shyok river add to the enchanting beauty of the land. The arid mountains adorn the backdrop of the valley. Riding on the back of a two-humped Bactrian camel is the unique adventure activity in this tourist destination. A visit to the 33-meter high idol of Maitreya, installed as the symbol of peace, is exciting. As the place is under military supervision, you have to get a pass to reach here. But the effort is worth it.
If you are interested to visit a Buddhist Monastery, Sankar Gompa is the best place to go to. You can enjoy the calmness and discipline of a monk’s life here. The monastery is famous for the amazing figure of Avalokitesvara with 1000 heads and 1000 arms. The double door leading to the assembly hall, three green drums and ornately painted walls are some of the few curious sights inside the building. The rules for the monks, mandalas, and Tibetan calendar are some of the depictions that adorn the wall. You can spend some time in meditation in the monastery and leave with a calmness that you have never known before.
Shanti Stupa is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Leh. The white-domed stupa was constructed in 1991 by the Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu Gyomyo Nakamura. Built as part of the Peace Pagoda mission of Nichidatsu Fuji, the monument aims at world peace. It is interesting to find many relics of Buddha and the photograph of the Dalai Lama at the base. The serene atmosphere creates a tranquil aura around the monument that will expel all the negative thoughts. The first of the two-level structure has a bright golden Buddha image sitting on Dharmachakra. The second level depicts the life of Buddha including birth, death, and the defeating of the devils. The exciting panoramic view and the sight of sunrise and sunset from this point are incomparable.
Located in the heart of Leh is the historic mosque which is the largest one in Ladakh. It was built in AD 1666-67 by Singe Namgyal as a tribute to his mother who was a Muslim. It also became the symbol of the partnership between the Mughal dynasty and the Kings of Ladakh. The double-domed structure constructed in the Turkish-Iranian architecture is a majestic construction. The intricately carved walls are beautiful. A unique feature of the mosque is that it only gives entry to men. Though the old mosque was largely reshaped into the new one in recent years, it stands as the symbol of religious forbearance of Leh.
Perched above a high peak, the Spituk Monastery is an inspiring sight. Located just 8 kilometers from the city center of Leh, it attracts tourists due to its history, enthralling sights, and curious collection of artifacts. The monastery was founded in the 11th century by Od-de, the elder brother of the famous Lha Lama Changchub Od. Almost 1000 years of heritage is apparent here. There are many invaluable Buddist artifacts like ancient masks, icons, antique arms, and a collection of Thanga paintings in display here. The greatest attraction of all is the giant statue of Kali which is unveiled only during the annual Gustor Festival. Also, the view of the lofty hills from the point is majestic.
Best Time To Visit Leh
Weather in Leh is predominantly cold. The Summer season which falls between April and June is considered the best time to visit Leh. The temperature at this time of the year sees a maximum of 15 degrees Celcius and a minimum of -1 degree. As the snowfall stops during this time it is ideal for visiting the Khardung La pass and such areas that are closed during other seasons. As travelers flock Leh in great numbers in summer make sure to book your hotel and travel facilities in advance.
However, if you are an adventure enthusiast who loves to see the snowfall, you have to visit the place during winter. Though the temperature in Leh will be in the negative range at this time, it is a unique opportunity to enjoy the famous Chadar trek.
How To Reach Leh
If you are planning a trip to Leh, the best way to reach there is by air. There is a domestic airport in the heart of Leh which serves flights from almost all major cities. The railway station is too far away and the roads leading to the area are closed except during the summer season.
- By Air: There is a domestic airport in Leh which is served by flights from Delhi, Srinagar, and Mumbai. The airport is named Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport after the late Rinpoche, considered the 19th incarnation. There are frequent flights to the airport during tourist season. You can hire a cab and reach your place to stay in no time.
- By Road: There are frequent bus services operated by Jammu & Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC). You can avail of the service from Pahalgam and Chamba which are at a distance of almost 800 kilometers from the destination. You can also enjoy a thrilling drive to Leh if you are a driving enthusiast. Recent years saw a surge in the number of motorcycle riders going to the region. But make sure the roads are open before you start the trip as they are closed during heavy snowfall.
- By Rail: It is difficult to reach the tourist destination of Leh by train as there are no railway stations close by. The nearest ones are Pathankot and Chandigarh which are nearly 740 kilometers away. You can get a cab or a bus from there. But it will take almost a day to reach Leh. Hence it is better to avoid it.