An incredible trip to Leh-Ladakh
Barren mountains to lush green valleys, age old palaces to picture-perfect monasteries, high mountain passes to glimmering blue lakes – Ladakh has everything to please a traveler’s heart and eyes. Its a land like no other where the landscape changes every few kilometers leaving its visitors pleasantly surprised. Enticed by its beauty, we visited this mystical land with a 10 day long relaxing itinerary. After all Ladakh is not a place to be explored hurriedly.
So here is our itinerary cum travel guide to help you plan that ultimate trip to one of the most scenic places in India and probably the world. This is part 1 of the 2 part Ladakh series where we will detail our experience and itinerary. For detailed information on how to plan the trip, please read part 2 here.
Day 1: Reach Leh
The flight to Leh was mostly uneventful till the snow clad peaks and barren mountains towering over the green valleys came in to view as we neared the airport. As the flight descended to land at the beautiful little airport surrounded by majestic mountains, it felt like entering in to a different world altogether. We had nothing planned for the day as it was very much required for us to get acclimatized to the high altitude first. So we spent the day treating ourselves to some yummy food at the guest house along with the splendid view.
Day 2: A day for the palaces and monasteries
A trip to Ladakh is never complete without a visit to its ancient palaces and charming monasteries. There are plenty of them in Ladakh and it is absolutely up to your taste which ones you choose to visit. We decided to visit Thiksey and Hemis monastery and selected Shey palace and Stok palace in the day’s itinerary. Where Shey palace provides stunning views of the valley, Stok palace is the one where the royal family still lives. The latter also houses a collection of royal clothing, crowns and many other precious artefacts and provides stay option to enjoy a royal experience.
Want to see more? You can include Spituk and Stakna monasteries in this day’s itinerary.
Day 3 and 4: Nubra Valley
The journey to Nubra valley took around 6 hours with a little halt at Khardung La famous as the highest motorable pass in the world. Though this fact is not correct with other existing mountain passes higher than this (one being in India itself), that does not lessen the excitement of visiting this magnificent place at 17582 ft. Moving further on the meandering mountain roads passing through varying landscapes of barren lands and green valleys dotted with little streams, we finally reached Hunder (one of the villages in Nubra Valley) where we had planned to stay for the night.
With long stretch of sand dunes surrounded by barren mountains, a river flowing through the valley with patches of green at both sides and herds of Bactrian camels vanishing in to the horizon carrying tourists, Hunder looked straight out of a postcard quite unbelievable to the eyes. Everything looked magical here whether it was the shadows of clouds cast over the barren mountains or the small puddle having a surreal reflection of the surrounding. We enjoyed our time exploring the beautiful surrounding, had super fun doing the camel ride and ended our day watching a romantic sunset from the valley.
The next day we visited Diskit Monastery before returning to Leh. The monastery has a huge and magnificent statue of Maitreya Buddha and provides 360 view of the surrounding valley. Definitely a place not to be missed in the Nubra valley.
If you are on a tight schedule, head to Pangong lake directly from Nubra instead of coming back to Leh.
Day 5: Day trip to Lamayuru (via magnetic hill, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Sangam)
Lamayuru comes on the way from Leh to Kargil and is very famous for its unusual moon like land formations locally called as the Moonland. The beige colored rock formations carved in to the brown mountains over a vast area gives the place a very other-worldly demeanour. Moving on the serpentine road through the moonland leads to one of the most scenic monasteries of Ladakh named the Lamayuru Monastery. Not only the moonland or the monastery, but also the drive to Lamayuru is a spectacular one where the barren landscape is dotted with mountains of different colors due to mineral deposits.
On the way back from Lamayuru, we also visited Sangam which is the confluence of Zanskar and Indus River, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib and magnetic hill. The visit to the Gurudwara was amazing as we got to know the story behind it and also experienced langar (Free meal provided in Gurudwaras ) for the first time. The whole place is maintained by Indian Army and we strongly recommend visiting it.
The visit to magnetic Hill was an interesting one as our driver showcased the phenomenon by stopping the vehicle engine. And we were quite amazed to see the vehicle automatically moving uphill. Apart from this, the place also provides great photo opportunities.
Do you know there is no magnetic force behind the vehicles moving uphill? Yes, it is just an optical illusion where the downhill slope looks like an uphill one. Do not believe us? Try pouring some water on the road and see which way it goes 🙂
You can also visit Alchi and Likir monasteries on the way back from Lamayuru.
Day 6: Visit Pangong Tso
It was the famous Bollywood movie “3 Idiots” that introduced us to the beautiful Pangong lake and we instantly fell in love with its magical blue shades. We remember ignoring an all decked up Kareena Kapoor in the climax mesmerized by the lake in the background. As typical Bollywood movie fans, we also visited the Druk White Lotus school (better known as Rancho’s School) on the way to Pangong Lake. The school authorities take tourists inside the school campus in groups and show the spot where the famous movie scene was shot (remember the peeing scene in the climax ? ;))
The journey to the lake took around 6 hours and we passed through another high mountain pass named Chang La. We made a stop at the pass to have some hot Maggi and tea in the only shop available there and also packed some snacks for the road. The view of horses grazing by the streams, the passing herd of beautiful pashmina goats and cute little marmots peeking out of their holes were enough to keep us engaged throughout the rest of our journey. And then there we were marveling at the sight of one of the most beautiful mountain lakes. We had piping hot egg Maggie at the “3 Idiots shooting point” that tasted super delicious in the cold weather and moved towards Spangmik where our tented accommodation was booked. We spent the evening strolling around the lake shore and clicking many beautiful pictures.
Day 7: Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri
The best part of the route from Pangong to Tso Moriri is you get to drive along the shore of Pangong Lake for almost 30 kilometres and see the stunning lake to your heart’s content. Also, this road is quite adventurous as its a dirt track for most of the journey and there were rarely any vehicle or tourists to be seen. The whole route is very scenic and probably the best in Ladakh to witness nature in its purest form. We saw lots of marmots, wild asses and many colourful birds as part of this journey. We also made a stop at one of the beautiful lakes named Kiagar Tso on the way to Tso Moriri. Finally after around 8-9 hours of drive, we reached Korzok village near Tso Moriri where we had planned to stay for the night.
Later in the evening we explored the area around the lake and were quite smitten by its beauty. On a clear sunny day the lake looks deep blue in colour reflecting the surrounding mountains and the fluffy white clouds. Though its not that touristy like Pangong lake due to its remoteness, but its definitely one of the most picturesque lakes we have ever seen.
Have an additional day? Stay overnight at Hanle before moving to Tso Moriri. Though a bit remote, this place provides the best views of the night sky and Milky Way and is a photographer’s paradise.
Day 8: Tso Moriri to Leh via Tso Kar and Tanglang La
Before leaving, we walked to the shores of Tso Moriri in the morning passing through the green farmlands brimming with beautiful birds. It was a bit cloudy and the water of the lake looked crystal clear with a little shade of green very different than how we had seen it the day before. We took a few pictures and bid adieu to the magnificent lake to start our journey back to Leh.
Driving mostly on a dirt track covered with small pebbles we finally reached the beautiful salt water lake called Tso Kar. The lake looks a bit whitish in color because of the salt deposits on its shore and is famous for bird watching. We were lucky to see a few black necked cranes there. Moving further on the Manali-Leh highway, we passed through beautiful vistas of tall burgundy colored mountains standing like guards at both sides of the road to picturesque villages and a gushing Indus river for company.
If you do not intend to visit Tso Kar, then you can take the direct route to Leh which is less longer than the route via Tso Kar.
Day 9: In and Around Leh
We had reserved this day to see things around Leh and that included visiting the Leh palace, Shanti Stupa and Hall of Fame along with a visit to the Leh market.
Hall of Fame is actually a tribute to the Indian army with a museum that provides information on the various operations of the army including the wars fought, equipments and weapons used, the living conditions of the soldiers in difficult terrains and also a section displaying the names of army personnels with the stories of their bravery and honours received. One can easily spend an hour or two here going through the various sections and reading on the information displayed. The place also has a war memorial named Vijay Sthal which has names of the war heroes carved on planks. It was more of an emotional place where the saga of struggle and bravery gave us goosebumps and we felt extremely grateful to our brave soldiers for sacrificing their comfort for our safety.
Shanti Stupa is a beautiful white dome structure sitting on the top of a hill overlooking Leh city. The stupa has colourful art work all over it and looks magnificent when the lights are illuminated after sunset.
we paid a short visit to Leh palace before dropping at the market for a little shopping. The best buys at the Leh Market are the little souvenirs and dried apricots which were cheaper and extremely tasty. Shopping some colourful jewellery from the Tibetan market is not to be missed too with a bit of bargain for the best price.
Day 10: Fly back from Leh (to Bangalore)
9 days flew away and it was time for us to return to our city abode leaving the beautiful place, but with the promise to come back in the future again. We do not know how people remember Ladakh, whether they remember the various shades of Pangong lake, the silver sand dunes of Nubra valley or the awe-inspiring high mountain passes. Because if you ask us, we will always remember Ladakh as the land where the shadows of clouds play hide and seek with the lofty mountains.
For more information on trip planning, please refer part 2: All you need to plan your Leh-Ladakh trip