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Ladakh India, the road to Leh and more


Ladakh India is an amazing area to visit. Technically it is part of the Jammu-Kashmir State but it has little in common with Kashmir. Ladakh is often called the Third Tibet and the royal palace of Leh is sometimes referred to a replica of the Potala in Lhasa. That last statement is probably to much honor but Leh is certainly very special.

The Royal Palace in Leh Ladakh India
The Royal Palace in Leh Ladakh India

Ladakh India lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the western Himalayas to the south. This region is home to Indo-Aryan and Tibetan people. It is one of the most empty regions in India, if not in the world. That becomes especially clear when you travel over land from Manali to the Rotan Pass or from Leh to Kargil and Srinagar. This land has more in common with Tibet then with the rest of India. Not surprising, Tibet is at Ladakh's east border.

My journey into Ladakh started in Manali, a small town at the foothills of the Himalayas. Going north leads to the Rhotang Pass. The pass at almost 4000 meter altitude is the gateway to the Ladakh plateau. You ask me, it is wiser to come overland then to fly in to Leh, as you have better possibilities to get used to the altitude. Basically the road from Manali to Leh is the Leh-Manali Highway. Highway in this context has to be taken literally as it goes over some of the worlds highest passes.

Tanga La Pass 
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Road builders in Kashmir and Ladakh ladakh Ladakh Thikse   Giant Buddha of Thikse Gompa

Although the Rhotang Pass is only 51 km away it will take you the whole day, regardless you travel by bus or bicycle. You have to cover a serious amount of altitude difference and do not be surprised you won't be able to cycle the 51 km in a day. You have to cover 2000 meter altitude difference and the 51 km is only going up.

The pass is open from June to October (although trekkers can come earlier).

Rhotang Pass

At the pass there are tents which can be rented for the night.

But even if you are at the top of the Rhotang Pass you still have a long way to go. The 434 km will let you travel along the Chandra river but will also let you climb up to one of the highest passes in the world: Taglang La at 5359 meter and 21 curves. It's a long and very hard way. Trust me, it's a killer.

The road from Leh to Srinagar is no less difficult although you will climb less high.

View from the roof of the Leh Palace over the city
View from the roof of the Leh Palace over the city

An area lesser traveled that border Ladakh are Lahaul and Spiti. Lauhal and Spiti are more difficult to reach, roads are worse, accommodation sparse but for hikers this is an interesting area. Should you consider traveling in this area, the best option is to organize this in Leh. You will need guides and supplies, all can be arrange in Leh.

Leh

Leh is the largest town in Ladakh. It is a central place for many centuries and has a long and rich history. One of the best times of the year to visit Leh is during the Ladakh Festival which is usually held in August/September. It is a very colorful event where you can witness the ladakhi culture with music, dance, theatre and much more. Here is more about Leh.

There is plenty of cheap accommodation in Leh too:

Thikse monastery 
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Ladakh Festival in Leh Hemis monastery Ladakh Ladakh Hemis monastery   Ladies in Leh

Thikse, Hemis and other monasteries

Thikse is an interesting trip to make. Located south east of Leh, it has a beautiful 15th Century Yellow Hat Gompa. There's a big Buddha to be seen.

47 kilometer from Leh is another interesting monastery: Hemis. There is an annaul sacred dance festival in the monastery which is a must visit if you are in Ladakh India.

There are dozens gompas (monasteries) in Ladakh. Some are in excellent condition and have an active group of monks, others are in the hands of a few old monks and the traditions of such monasteries might die when the monks die. However, if you have limited time, visit at least Thikse and Hemis, two of the most important and active gompas in Ladakh India.

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