Flying into Leh, the cold desert land, over the magnificent Himalayas is a beautiful and scary experience at once. Leh Palace illuminated by huge halogen lamps looks like a bewitching castle on a hilltop set ablaze in the dark nights of the Leh. Drive in the city is as exciting as the wonders it has in its lap with the long isolated winding road that opens up into a sheer expanse of arid flatness in burnt sienna. There is blinding sun at the top and perhaps at the first impression, a visitor is not likely to appreciate the blessings of the land fully.
A historic town that served as the royal capital of the Old Kingdom, Leh boasts of a nine-storey palace built by King Singge Namgyol in 17 century. It is a miniature replica
of Patala Palace in Lhasa. The ruins of Leh palace overlooks the entire city of Leh and the Indus valley and signifies Ladakhs rich heritage.
Above the palace is the Namgyol Tsemo (Red temple). The ruins of Tsemo Gompa (victory palace) a part of the earliest royal residence built by King. Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century. The associated temples are kept locked except during the morning and evening hours, when monks from Sankar Gompa climb the hill to light the butter-lamps placed in front of the images.
The Fort Road follows to Skara, another pretty and prosperous suburb of Leh town, and one can admire the earthen ramparts of Zorawar Singh's fort, now housing army barracks.
Bon and Buddhism rule the lifestyle and culture of the people here. The Chortens (Stupas) and enchanting Gompas (Monasteries) adorn the city with their presence. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and there is an ominous beauty in the stark surroundings of Ladakh. The Hinayana Buddhist way of life lends a benevolent spirit to the very air of the region.
Places of Interest
(2km), is associated with spituk monastery that also serves as the residence of head priest- Kushak Bakula.
4 km from Leh market, was built with assistance of Japanese with the purpose to spread Buddhism. The sculptures Bhuddha and other paintings on the walls of the round shaped temple attracts every visitor.
The historic mosque is situated in the heart of Leh town just below the Leh Palace.It was built in AD 1666-67 consequent to an agreement between the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and then ruler of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal.
In the some direction is Choglomsar a centre for Tibetan Buddhism, culture a history. There is a Tibetan refugee settlement camp, a handicrafts centre devoted largely to carpet weaving and the Dalai Lama's prayer-ground (Jiva-stal).
-Ladakh Ecological Centre
At Karzoo above Changspa has a Craft shop, an exhibition hall, a library and evening programs of documentary films for the tourist.
Benind the main bazaar, Chang Gali popular among travelers, has interesting small shops selling curios and jewellery. Down the bazaar,are the Tibetan markets where one can bargain for pearls, 'turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli and many other kinds of semi-precious stones and clothes.You can visit Zangsti, old coppersmith quarter,the Moravian Church.
At Changs-Pa the massage parlours, open air restaurants and dance party clubs offer relaxation and entertainment to the exhausted trekkers and fun lovers.
A variety of Indian, Western, Chinese and ,Tibetan cuisine is available around Leh market at many restaurants.
(40 Km) Hemis monastery, the wealthiest and biggest gompa of Ladakh, built in AD 1630 during the reign of Sengge Namgyal, flourished under the Namgyal dynasty. Annual festival is held in Summer (june or early july)commemorating Padma Sambhav's birth anniversary. Once 12 years, Tangkha (scroll painting on silk or brocade) the largest in Ladakh, is ritually exhibited.
(69 Km) Situated on the banks of the Indus, Alchi monastery is looked after by monks from the Likir monastery. It is a religious enclave built a thousand years ago. It has a display of rare Kashmiri and Tibetan style woodcarving, frescos and stucco art.
(8 Km) standing atop a hillock, Spituk monastery commands a panaoramic view of the lndus Valley. Many icons of Buddha and five Tangkhas are found in this 15th century monastery. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms and an awe inspiring image of Mahakalal. Spituk festival is held during winter between November and March.
(17 Km) situated an the Leh-Kargil road, Phyang monastery was built by Tashi Namgyal in the after half of the 16th century AD. The gampa belongs to the Red Hat sect of the Buddhists. Hundreds of icons of Buddha are kept on wooden shelves. Phyang annual festival is held in late July or early August.
15 Kms upstream from Leh, Shey Palace is believed to have been the seat of power of the pre-Tibetan kings. A 7.5 m high copper statue of Buddha, plated with gold, is installed in the palace. Shey is also the first capital at Ladakh.
(19km) Thikse monastery offers a spectacular view. It is one of the largest and architecturally mast impressive gompa that has extrardinary images, stupas and wall paintings of Buddha. It houses an important collection of Tibetan books in its library.
(17km) Beyond Choglamsar is the Stak monastery built in 18th century. The palace of last king of Ladakh, Kunsang Namgyaj. It has a museum which has a unique collection of ornaments from the royal family and exquisite Tanghas.Stok is also residence of the present royal family. (All distances are in kilometers and from Leh market)
(22km) situated across the Thikse monestry, Matho was built in 16th century,has a collection of old Tangkhas.Its annual festival of oracles ia held in March.
Set on a small hill, Leh Palace towers above the town. It once the thriving royal residence of the ruling Namgyals and is said to have served as the model for the Potala, its more illustrious cousin in Lhasa and one-time residence of the Dalai Lama. A millennium-old, seven-storeyed structure in mud and stone, it is mesmerizing to wander through the crumbling remnants of royalty and watch the brilliant Thangkas on its soot-stained walls.
Located in a tiny village on the outskirts of Leh, this palace has been the Ladakhi royal family's residence for the last 150 years since the Dogra armies invaded the Leh Palace. One may have a chance encounter with the royals here too. It houses a museum, which is said to have the best collection of exquisite Thangka paintings in the whole of Ladakh. The other things housed here are crown jewels, dresses, coins, peraks encrusted with turquoise and lapis lazuli as well as religious objects.
-The Gompa Run
Gompas or traditional Buddhist monasteries and chortens or the smaller, whitewashed stupas form the ever-present features of the stark expanse of Ladakh. The two popular Gompa routes are: -
The Leh-Manali Highway covering Shey, Thiksey and Hemis, and
The Srinagar-Leh Highway covering Spituk, Basgo and Alchi. One may also cover Ridzong and Lamayuru on this route.