Leh Ladakh - The roof of India
Leh Ladakh is the largest town in Ladakh. It is also the main entry and exit point for travelers. Tourism India has been working hard to make Ladakh more accessible. With the continuing problems in the Kashmir area, and Ladakh being part of the Jammu and Kashmir State, it gets bad press, even though Ladakh is perfectly safe.
Leh's city view is dominated by the Leh Palace, build in similar (but quite a lot smaller) style as the Potala in Lhasa. The palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. It was later abandoned when Dogra forces took control of Ladakh in the mid-19th century.
The royal family moved to Stok Palace. The Palace is nine storeys high. The upper floors were accommodated by the royal family while the stables and store rooms were in the lower floors.
The palace, a ruin, is currently being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. The palace is open to the public and the roof has great views of Leh and the surrounding areas. The mountain of Stok Kangri in the Zangskar mountain range is visible across the Indus valley to the south, with the Ladakh mountain range rising behind the palace to the north.
Leh is an old city, older then the Leh Palace. It has been a stop over for caravanserais on their way from China to India. The region is primarily Buddhist but there are significant groups of Muslims, Hindus and Christians living in Leh. Although Leh has a tradition of respect between the different religions, there were some conflicts in modern times. After a visit of the Dalai Lama in 2003, where he appealed for religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence, Leh and Ladakh returned to the tradition of respect between religions.
Most of Leh is easy to walk but there are rickshaws and taxies available. The guesthouses offer tours to Thikse, Hemis and other gompas. Leh Ladakh is also the best place to organise a trekking in Lahaul and Spiti although this can be arranged in Manali too. Apart of the ongoing roads to Srinagar and Manali, the roads are usually in so so condition.
Leh has an airport connected to many destinations in India. Should you fly to Leh, get a day or two to get used to the altitude of 3500 meter.
In that way, traveling overland might be a better deal. There are buses from Manali but should you insist, you can even take a bus from Delhi. I found it a better deal to take a bus first to Malali and after a night there continue to Leh in two days. Cycling take a few more days.
There are two roads to Leh: the Leh Manali Highway which crosses the Rhotang Pass and the Taglang La Pass.
The Rhotang Pass is usually only open from June to October depending on the snow condition of the pass.
If you want to travel to Leh in other times of the year, you can go through Srinagar and fly out. However, be aware many hotels have limited service in the off season.
Where to Stay
Leh has plenty of cheap guesthouses. If you don't want to book in advance, which is OK as long as you do not arrive during the Ladakh Festival. During that time, usually in August, there will be no rooms available unless booked in advance. But that said, I was in Leh during the Ladakh festival and had no problems to find a guesthouse.
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