A spectacular high-altitude desert in the shadow of the Karakoram Himalaya and major repository of Tibetan Buddhism, Ladakh’s compelling allure lies in its remoteness and mysticism, its starkly beautiful and forbidding terrain, its remarkable people and its place along the legendary Silk Route. Away from everywhere else, it is a land in which Buddhist legacies are preserved: in its sentinel-like monasteries, unfaltering traditions and a people accustomed to staunch self-sufficiency and transhumance. For an adventure in Ladakh, fitness is prime in order to unravel the natural and cultural treasures stored amidst its rarefied heights.
Fly very early this morning and, visibility permitting, enjoy sensational views of the Karakoram Himalaya as the flight approaches Leh.
Situated at an altitude of 3,500m/ 11,500 ft, the acclimatization process must begin immediately. Breakfast and lunch, and regular liquid intake, must be followed by a few hours of sleep to avoid headaches, nausea and dehydration which are sometimes unavoidable. A gentle walking tour will be arranged late afternoon to help in adjusting to the altitude and local conditions.
During the walk, explore the town of Leh, set against the towering backdrop of Leh Palace. It’s generally busy central streets and lined with homes, markets, curio and produce shops and stalls, and restaurants the people you see are a mix of local inhabitants, domestic and foreign travellers and soldiers. The remote frontier feel is unmistakeable. During this time, visit the Central Asian Museum. established in 2011 by the Tibet Heritage Foundation.
(Three nights at Snow View Leh)
The Indus River valley, one the region’s principal physical and geographical features, cuts a wide swathe through the mountains as it passes Leh and heads south. On either side of its banks are clumps of willows, villages with stone huts and patches of cultivation against backdrop of stark mountains that change colours through the day and night with the light; moonlit lit nights offer awesome perspectives of the mountains vistas all around. On the lower reaches of the mountains are sited some of the region’s most famous monasteries.
Breakfast is taken early before the 45 minutes’ drive to Thikse monastery. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Potala Palace in Tibet, Thikse’s origins date back to the mid-15th century CE and, rebuilt through the ages, its main attractions is the 1970s image of the Maitreaya Buddha and, within it, the school for monks and nuns. For early morning visitors, participating in the prayer here is one of the many fine memories of travelling to Ladakh.
Further on is 11th century CE Hemis, Ladakh’s most iconic and wealthiest monastery.
Shey was once a capital during the 16th century in Ladakh and the site of the summer palaces of the Ladakhi kings. There are trances of the Chinese having visited here during the 10th century CE Tang dynasty era.
Return to Leh by late afternoon, with an opportunity to revisit the town centre.
A packed lunch will be arranged for the day’s excursion.
A day trip is made to Basgo and Alchi (140 km/88 miles roundtrip), two of the region’s greatest and most precious art treasures. Basgo is one of the oldest Buddhist sites in Ladakh which existed during the 11th-15th centuries CE. The relics of that era are the remains of the Basgo castle, and the temple’s main monastery that was a highly sophisticated art form, an inner sanctum with statues depicting ceremonial obeisance. Alchi is regarded as one of the most important cultural sites in the entire Himalaya, a cluster of villages revealing a monastic complex dating back to the 10th– 11th centuries CE; its sublime murals are a combination of Buddhist and Hindu artistic and spiritual detail.
Depart Leh this morning for Sumoor (124 km/77 miles/4.5 hours) in the Nubra Valley, a region contiguous to Ladakh but separated by high passes. The high point of the journey, and indeed on of thee highlights of the tour, is the breathtaking crossing of the Wari La Pass (alt 5,242m17,300 ft) over a series of switchbacks that mark the ascent and descent.
Your destination is Sumoor village (alt 3,334m/11,000 ft). Explored during the afternoon walk, it reveals an oasis of streams and green fields of wheat, barley and mustard in the middle of a barren, windswept emptiness whose most prominent feature is the 150 year old Samstamling monastery, a school for monks. The presence of Bactrian camels here for several centuries has confirmed Ladakh’s position along the old Silk Route. Another curiosity is the moving sand dunes in nearby Sumyur.
(Three nights Lchang Nang Retreat)
Head out today for further explorations of Nubra Valley, the morning’s excursion taking you to the village of Turtuk, close to the border of Pakistan. In an area dominated by the Buddhist faith and culture, Turtuk’s inhabitants are Muslim; originally belonging to Baltistan, the area coming under Indian governance when the local borders were drawn after the 1971 war. Its inhabitants have distinctive language, customs and clothing and a mosque dating back the to 16th century CE shows interesting Iranian and Turkish influences. Growing wheat, a variety of fruit and shepherding small numbers of livestock, Turtuk sees a flurry of activity of activity June through September before the weather closes in.
Later in the day, visit Diskit, headquarters of the Nubra Valley along the Shyok River, before returning to Sumoor late afternoon
This morning excursion takes you to the village of Panamik close to the Tibetan border, locally renowned for its therapeutic hot springs, and Intsa Gompa.
The afternoon at Sumoor is at leisure.
Drive back to Leh this morning by way of the awesome Khardung La (alt 5,327m17,582 ft), the world’s highest motorable pass.
The afternoon is at leisure.
(One night at Snow View Leh)
Early breakfast before transferring to the airport or continuing with an overland adventure to Zanskar, Kashmir or Manali.
We look forward to welcoming you to slow travel in the Indian subcontinent,
imaginatively and meticulously designed just for you.