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A mystical land with rugged terrains, snow capped peaks chainting monks, chiming monastery bells and colourful costumes, In Tibet, Ladakh is commonly called La - Taj and Maryul Red Land It was called Kha Chan Pa Snow Land by the old Chinese traveler Fa Hien Ladakh has been the dream of adventure lovers and those in search of peace and solitude. For this reason travelers call it " Little Tibet "  Situated between 30 degree to 36 degree east latitude and 76 degree to 79 degree north longitude, with altitudes ranging from 2750 m at Kargil to 7672 m at Sasar Kangri in the Karakoram, Ladakh is spread over an area o 96,701 Sq.Kms bounded by  the great Himalayas and Karakoram Range, Ladakh remains closed between November and June every year as Srinagar Ladakh and Ladakh manali highways receive heavy snowfall.

LEH

A historic town that served as the royal capital of the Old Kingdom, Leh boasts of a nine storey palace built by King Singge namgyal in 17 century . It is a miniatur replica of Potala Palace in Lhasa.

Above the palace is the namgyal Tsemo . The ruins of Tsemo Gompa a part of the earliest roy7al residence built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century. The associated temples are kept locket except during the morning and evening hours, when monks from Shankar Gompa climb the hill to light the butter lamps palace in fromt of the images.

MONASTERIES

Alchi Gompa


Location: 70-km From Leh, Ladakh Region, J&K
Significance: The Du-Khang, The Sumtsek

Driving past  on the nearby Srinagar Leh highway you;d never  guess that the culuster of low pagoda roofed cubes 3 km across the Indus from Saspol, dwarfed by a spectacular sweep of wine coloured scree, is one of the most significant historical sites in Asia, Yet the Chos Khor or religious enclave at Alchi 70 km west of Leh harbours an extraordinary wealth of ancient wall paintings and wood sculputre miraculously preserved for over nine centures insides five tiny mud walled temples, The site's earliest murals are regarded as the finest surviving examples of a style that flourished in Kashmir during the "second Spreading" Barely a handful of the monasteries founded during this era escaped the Muslim depredations of the fourteenth century.

Alchi is the most impressive of them all the least remote and the only one you don't need  a special permit to visit nestled beside a bend in the milky blue Rive Indus amid some dramatic scenery

Shanti Stupa


Location: Leh, Ladakh Region, J&K
Also Known As: Peace Pagoda
Opened In: 1983 By Dalai Lama

A relatively new addition to the rocky skyline around Leh is the toothpaste white Shanti Stupa above Changspa village, 3km west of the bazaar. Inaugurated in 1983 by the Dalai Lama, the "Peace Pagoda", whose sides are decorated with gilt panels depicting episodes from the life of the Buddha, is one of several such monuments erected around India by a "Peace Sect" of Japanese Buddhists.

The Dusky Beauty

The site of the Stupa is particularly atmospheric at dusk, when the drums played at evening Puja seem to set the pace of growing shadows as the sun sinks behind the mountains in the west.

HOW TO GET THERE
The Shanti Stupa can be reached by car, or on foot via a steep flight of five hundred steps, which winds up the ridge from the end of Changspa lane.

Spitok Gompa


SPITOK gompa rising incongruously from the end of the airport runway, makes a good half- day foray from Leh, 10km up the north side of the Indus valley.  A break in the monotony appears 1km before Spitok in the from of the Museum of Ladakh, Culture and military Heritage, a self-congratulatory montage of Indian military achievements in Ladakh, with tributes to the heroic road builders who risked their lived to open Ladakh to the world. There are also a couple of token rooms for 2000years of Ladakhi history.

The fifteenth century monastery, which tumbles down the sides of a steep knoll       to a tight cluster of farmhouses and well-watered fields, is altogether more picturesque. Approached by from the north, or from the south along a footpath that winds through Spitok village, its spacious rooftops command superb views. The main complex is of less interest than the Palden Lumo chapel, perched on a ridge above. Although visiting soldiers from the nearby Indian army barracks consider the deity inside the temple to be Kali Mata, the key- keeper will assure visitors that what many consider to be the black- faced and bloodthirsty Hindu goddess of death and destruction is actually Yidam Dorje Jigjet. Colored electric lights illuminate the cobwebbed chamber of veiled guardian deities whose ferocious faces are only revealed once a year. If you have a torch, check out the 600-year-old paintings on the back wall, partially hidden by eerie chaam masks used during the winter festival.

Lamayuru


Location: 130-km West Of Leh, Ladakh Region, J&K
Main Attraction: Lamayuru Gompa & Trekking
First Monastery Dates Back To: 10th Century

The First Monastery Of Lamayuru
The first Lamayuru monastery was built under Rinchen Zangbo at the end of the 10th century, under orders from the king of Ladakh , who altogether had 108 Gompas built in west Tibet. It was built on the broken mountain in the valley and consisted of five buildings, of which only the central building stands today. One can still see some remains of the four corner buildings to the west.

The Gompa has an impressive 11-headed, 1,000-eyed image of Chenrezig. In its heyday up to 400 monks lived in the monastery but today there are only 20 to 30 who belong to the yellow hat sect. Many Lamas from Lamayuru now go out to other parts of Ladakh as teachers

Lakkir Gompa


Location: 6-km North Of Leh-Srinagar Highway, Ladakh Region, J&K
Also Known As: Lu-Khyil
Founded In: 1065 AD
Founded By: Lama Duwang Chosje

Five kilometers to the north of the main Leh-Srinagar highway, shortly before the village of Saspol, the large and wealthy gompa of Likkir, home to around one hundred monks, is renowned for its new 75-foot –high yellow statue of the Buddha-to-come which towers serenely above the terraced fields. A pleasant break from the bustle of Leh, the village of Likkir now offers a small but adequate choice of accommodation which, along with the sheer tranquility of the surroundings, tempts many travelers to linger a few days.


About Likkir Gompa
Founded in 1065 by Lama Duwang Chosje who was given the land by Lachen Gyalpo, the fifth king of Ladakh , the Gompa originally belonged to the Khadampa sect. In 1470 the Gompa was converted by Lawang Lotos, a monk from central Tibet, into the Gelug-pa monastery that is still here today.

The Gompa was extensively renovated in the 18th century and there is little sign of the antiquity related to the site. The impressive Du-khang is devoted to the three Buddhas - "Marme Zat" (past), "Shakyamuni" (present) and "Maitreya" (Future), while the Gon-khang, decorated with lavish murals of "Yamantaka" and "Mahakala" contains the statue of the wrathful protector, "Tse-Ta-Pa".

The Trek
Most visitors to Likkir continue on an excellent two-day hike from here to Temisgang via Rhidzong, which provides a good and comparatively gentle introduction to trekking in Ladakh. For those with less time on their hands, a short acclimatizing three to four hour walk from the Gompa leads to the top of the ridge west of Likkur, providing great views of the Indus Valley.

Thak Thok Gompa


Thak Thok gompa shelters a cave in which the apostle Padmasambhava is said to have meditated during his epic eight-century journey to Tibet. Blackened over the years by sticky butter-lamp and incense smoke, the mysterious grotto is now somewhat ustaged by the monastery’s more modern wings nearby. As well as some spectacular 35-year-old wall paintings, the Urgyan Photan Du-khang harbours a collection of multicolored yak-butter candle-sculptures made by the head lama. for a glimpse of “state-of-the-art” Buddhist iconography, head to the top of Thak Thok village, where a shiny new temple houses a row of huge gleaming Buddhas, decked out in silk robes and surrounded by garish modern murals.

Apart from during the annual festival, the village of Sakti is a tranquil place, blessed with serene views south over the snowy mountains behind Hemis. Accommodation is available in the J&K Tourist Bungalow. There are also plenty of ideal camping spots beside the river, although as ever you should seek permission before putting up a tent on someone’s field. Nine buses a day leave Leh for Sakti.    

Stok


Location: Southeast Of Leh, Ladakh Region, J&K
Main Attractions: Stok Palace & Museum, Stok Gompa


Built nearly 1580 by great scholar saint chosje Jamyang Palkar during the reign of king Jamyang Namgyal. The Stakna monastery is 45 Km south of Leh, founded on a hill shaped Stakna (Tiger nose). Easily accessible from Leh town.

  Stok gompa twenty minutes’ walk up the valley, boasts a collection of dance- drama masks, and some lurid modern murals painted by lamas from Lingshet gompa in Zanskar, the artists responsible for the Maitreya statue in Tiske.


Stok Palace
At the top of a huge moraine of pebbles swept down from the mountains, the elegant four-storey Stok Palace stands under the shadow of the intrusive tower, above barley terraces studded with threshing circles and white washed farmhouses. Built early in the 19th century by the last ruler of independent Ladakh , it has been the official residence of the Ladakhi royal family since they were ousted from Leh and Shey two hundred years ago.

Pangong Tso Lake


Pangong Tso is a lake in the Himalayas situated at a height of about 4250 m (13,900 ft). It is 134 km (83.3 mi) long and extends from India to Tibet. Two thirds of the length of this lake falls in the People's Republic of China. It is 5 km (3 mi) wide at its broadest point. In winter, the lake surface freezes completely despite being salt water.

Pangong Tso can be reached in a five-hour drive from Leh, most of it on a rough and dramatic mountain road. The road traverses the third-highest pass in the world, the Changla pass, where army sentries and a small teahouse greet visitors. The spectacular lakeside is open during the tourist season, from May to September. A special permit is required to visit the lake. While an Indian can get his individual permit at Leh, non-Indian nationals need to be in a group of at least four. For security reasons, no boating is allowed. There is a small hostel as well as campsites and houses with primitive guestrooms in the village a few miles towards Tibet.

The lake is in the process of being identified under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance. This will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia under the convention

Tso Moriri Lake


Famous for the large herds of kiang, or wild ass, which graze on its shores, the lake of Tso Moriri, 210km southeast of Leh, lies in the sparsely populated region of Rupshu. The area has only recently been opened to foreigners so you need a permit to travel here, which most visitors do via a jeep safari out of Leh.

Nestling in a wide valley flanked by some of the highest peaks in Ladakh– Lungser Kangri (6666m) and Chanmser Kangri (6622m) - the twenty –kilometer-long lake is home to flocks of migratory nangpa or bar-headed geese, as well as occasional herds of pashmina goats and champs of nomadic herders. Located on the shores of the lake at an altitude of 4000m, Karzok – the only large village in the area – is a friendly place with a small gompa, but the ill effects of tourism with its accompanying litter are beginning to show. To help protect the fragile ecosystem, a new directive stipulates that no habitation can be built within 700m of the shoreline. Visitors should bring their own food supplies and make sure they take all rubbish away.

Nubra Valley

Nubra Valley is situated about 150 km north of Leh, the capital town of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India. The common way to access this valley is to travel over the Khardung La from Leh where one will first encounter the Shyok valley. To enter the Nubra valley, one must cross over the Shyok river via a small bridge and pass through a military checkpoint. An "Inner Line" permit is required to pass. The Nubra valley contains the small towns of Sumur and Panamik. Sumur has a Buddhist Gompa or monastery while Panamik is noted for its hot springs.

Before the region passed into the administrative hands of Leh Nubra's ancient kings ruled from a palace in in Charasa, toping an isolated hillock opposite Summur home to the valley's principal monastery. Further up the Nubra River the host springs of Panamik .

Nubra Valley unfolding beyond the worlds' highest stretch of motorable road as it crosses the Khardung La can be visited with a seven day permit which gives you enough time to explore the stark terrain and trek out to one or tow gompas. The Valley's  mountain beckbone looks east to the Nubra River and west to the Shyok River which meet amid silver grey sand dunes and boulder fields. To the north and east the mighty Karakoram Range markes the Indian border with China and Pakistan. In the Valley its relatively mild though dust storms are common whipping up sand and light debris in choking clouds above the braod riverbeds.


Kargil

Administering the  Valleys of Suru , Drass, Wakha and Bodkarbu, Kargil lies midway between the alpine valleys of Kashmir and the fertile reaches of the Indus Valley and ladakh. The region is politically part of India, ethnically part of Baltistan and geographically an integral part of Ladakh.

Until 1947, Kargil was an important trading centre linking Ladakh with Gilgit and the lower  Indus Valley. There were also important trading link between the villages of the Suru Valley and  the Zanskar Valley and even 20 years ago it was not uncommon to see yak trains making their way for Padum all the 3way into Kargil Bazaar . Kargil next to the roaring Suru River, is the second larget town in Ladakh.

What to See and Do

Kargil mainly serves as an ideal base station for adventure activities like trekking, mountaineering,
camping, river rafting etc. In high Himalayan Valleys. It is also a base for taking shorter excursions to Mulbek where the chief attraction is a 9-m high rock sculpture depicting the future Buddha. Kargil also offers some interesting walks along the river bank and up the hillside. The best among these is the one leading to Goma Kargil along a 2-km long winding road which, passing through some of the most picturesque parts of the town, presents breathtaking views of the mountain stream. A stroll in the bazaar might lead to a shop selling flint and tobacco pouches, travelling hookahs and brass kettles - handcrafted items of everyday use which find their way into the mart as curios. Most shops deals in common consumer goods, but some specialize in trekking provisions. The showroom of the Government Industries Centre near the riverbank displays and sell Pashmina Shawls, local carpets and other woolen handicrafts. The apricot jam produced here serves as a rare delicacy. Kargil's dry apricot has now become a souvenir item, which can be purchased freely in the bazaar.

Situated 45 kms East of Kargil on the road to Leh, Mulbek (3230 m) in an area dominated by the Buddhists. It is situated along either banks of the Wakha River, which originates. Many monuments of the early Buddhists era dot the landscape and are accessible from the road.

Shergol : Another picturesque village of the Wakha River valley, Shergol is situated across the river, right of the Kargil-Leh road. The main attraction is a cave monastery which is visible from a far as a white speck against the vertically rising ochre hill from which it appears to hang out. Below this small monastery is a larger Buddhist nunnery with about a dozen incumbents. The village is accessible by the motorable road that branches off from the Kargil-Leh road, about 5 km short of Mulbek. Shergol is a convenient base for an exciting 4-day trek across the mountain range into the Suru valley. It is also the approach base for visiting Urgyan-Dzong, a meditation retreat lying deep inside the mountains surrounding the Wakha River valey.

Zanskar


About 20 kms. South of Rangdum stands the Pazila watershed across which lies Zanskar, the most isolated of all the trans Himalayan Valleys. The Panzila Top (4401 m) is the picturesque tableland adorned with two small alpine lakes and surrounded by snow covered peaks. As the Zanskar road winds down the steep slopes of the watershed to the head of the Stod Valley, one of Zanskar's main tributary valleys, the majestic "Drang-Drung" glacier looms into full view. A long and winding river of ice and snow, the Drang-Drung" is perhaps the largest glacier in Ladakh, outside the Siachen formation. It is from the cliff-like snout of this extensive glacier that the Stod or Doda River, the main tributary of river Zanskar, rises.

Zanskar comprises a tri-armed valley system lying between the Great Himalayan Range and the Zanskar mountain; The three arms radiate star-like towards the west, north and south from a wide central expanse where the region's two principal drainage's meet to form the main Zanskar River. It is mainly along the course of this valley system that the region's 10,000 strong, mainly Buddhists population lives. Spread over an estimated geographical area of 5000 sq. kms. High rise, mountains and deep gorges surround Zanskar. The area remains inaccessible for nearly 8 months a year due to heavy snowfall resulting in closure of all the access passes, including the Penzi-la. To-day, Zanskar has the distinction of being the least interfered with microcosms of Ladakh, and one of the last few surviving cultural satellites of Tibet. Within the mountain ramparts of this lost Shangrila stand a number of ancient yet active monastic establishments. Some of these religious foundations have evolved around remote meditation caves believed to have been used by a succession of famous Buddhist saints for prolonged meditation in pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment.

 

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