Mountains and Monasteries of Leh

View of Leh from Leh Palace

Leh, Ladakh is one of the most scenic and photogenic places in India. Leh was the ancient capital of Ladakh and now in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. Leh has a lot heritage sites and monasteries and is mainly dominated by Buddhism. The best time to visit Leh would be between April to September. I have myself visited Leh 4 times. It is not only a place where people go for treks and expeditions but also a great place for sightseeing and interacting with locals. One word of advice when visiting Leh is to rest on the day of arrival since Leh is 3500m above sea level. One can get high altitude sickness so it is best to acclimatize slowly at this altitude.

Trekking in Ladakh

Descending down unnamed 6000m

For those interested in trekking, there are a number of good and challenging treks out there from the Markha Valley trek or even more challenging Zanskar trek. Some trails can be wild and remote while others such as the Markha trek have home-stays but one has the option of camping as well. Markha trail is quite popular and one of the easier treks in Ladakh. If one is more adventurous then one could climb a 6000m trekking peak in Ladakh but again this should be combined with a trek. Some of the popular and straightforward trekking peaks in Ladakh are Stok Kangri and Kang Yatse II but these should not be taken lightly because even though they are classed as entry level climbs, it can be quite a strenuous 12 to 16 hour round trip from the base-camp of these peaks. One would need a high level of fitness.

I myself have done a number of treks in Ladakh from the Markha trek with climb on Kang Yatse II to trekking in Zanskar region. Trekking in Zanskar was very challenging especially when on one of days we had to cross the river 21 times in freezing water. Days were long ranging from 6 to 9 hours. There were a few crazy narrow trails with a steep vertical drop down the gorge. This route in Zanskar is very wild and remote and there is a very small chance of seeing other trekkers unlike in Markha. We crossed around 18 high passes within 3 weeks.

Himalayan Hare

Back in the July of 2016, I did another camping trek in Markha for 32 days. Here we ascended 5 peaks in total, 4 peaks over 6000m and one peak below 6000m plus crossing of two high passes at around 5850m. Two of the climbs were technical and required use of ice axe, crampons, fixed rope as the last pitch was snow covered at an angle of maybe 40 degrees.

One of the other challenges is booking your trek and although there are a number of trekking agencies in Leh but only a few are reliable such as Wild East Adventure run by Nawang Namgyal. Another company that runs treks and climbs in Leh is Project Himalaya run by a New Zealand guide Jamie McGuinness. These guys will take you along some really wild and remote trails. Avoid agencies that offer climbs to Stok Kangri or similar peaks in 5 days or less. This is not possible and will result in death unless you are completely acclimatized upto lets say 5500m. When trekking the general rule is to ascend 300m a day and rest after every 1000m ascent.

Apart from trekking, one could do mountain biking and rafting. I myself have not done any mountain biking but one of the popular biking routes is from Manali to Leh via various 5000m passes.

Where do visit?

Khardungla Pass

For those not indulging in adventure activities, one can visit the various monasteries around Leh. The most popular ones to visit are Lamayuru, Hemis and Thiksey monasteries. Hemis and Thiksey are near to Shey and both can be visited in a day while Lamayuru is a 4 hour drive from Leh and will require an overnight stay. Other places of interest is Pangong Lake near the Chinese line of control. Permits will be required to visit Pangong except for Indian Nationals but again consult with the hotel or driver as rules keep changing. Nubra Valley via Khardungla Pass is also an interesting place to visit while in Leh. The Khardungla is a high motorable pass at around 5359m. The locals claim it to be the highest motorable pass in the world but this is not true. Nubra is around 150km away from Leh and is quite scenic due to its surrounding mountains, sand dunes and one can also see camels in this high altitude cold desert.

Where to stay?

There are a number of hotels and home-stays in Leh catering to tourists and travellers alike from those on a budget to 4 or 5 star hotels. If someone is looking for peace and quiet away from the main tourist crowd and traffic then I would recommend Botho Guest house located in Shey which is just 15km away from Leh. 

Botho Guesthouse

The owners are quiet friendly and provide a great level of hospitality at a budget price. If one does not mind the crowd then there this nice hotel in the Changspa area of Leh called Hotel Omasila however it is quiet pricey. The views from this hotel are great so paying a bit extra is worth it apart from getting a great service.

What to eat in Leh?

Kitchen tent

There are a number of coffee shops and restaurants that cater to Western tourists serving pizzas and pastas, Israeli cuisines, burgers and so on. Then there are those eating spots that cater to locals or those on a budget and are equally good minus the wifi. Il Forno is a nice place for not only for Indian food but also oven baked pizzas. One should also try the Godfather beer which is quite strong.

Shopping in Leh

Leh has a number of shops selling books, groceries, electronics, local handicrafts etc. When purchasing handicrafts, try to negotiate as best as you can because the prices are generally exaggerated. For anyone wanting to invest in traditional Ladakhi fashion, there is Jigmat Couture as they design custom quality clothing for the luxury market.