Travel special: Why all roads lead to Ladakh

Jun 26, 2014, 09:10 IST | Kanika Sharma

Ladakh's arid landscape and turquoise lakes make it a unique travelling destination. Spellbinding and serene, it attracts all kinds of travellers, be it for calm or an adrenaline rush. the guide treads the world’s highest inhabited plateau for a 360-degree view

The sheer beauty of Ladakh, an ex-Buddhist kingdom has been taking everyone’s breath away lately. From the next ‘it’ film destination to a trekker’s delight, Ladakh has been basking in the spotlight across media and social media platforms as the youth hike up to visit ‘Little Tibet’.

A Buddhist monastery in Leh. Leh was the former capital of the Buddhist kingdom of Ladakh. The scenic place currently has 35 monasteries such as this.

Noting the trend, Milind Bhide, managing director and CEO of travel group Countryside Adventure Holidays, says, “The mystique of a high altitude dessert with snow-covered peaks and the famed monasteries have always been a big draw.” Karan Anand, head of relationships, Cox & Kings, notes, “Leh is the most common entry point to India’s far northern region of Ladakh. It has always been a popular tourist destination amongst foreign travellers since 1974.”

Ladakh is visited during the winter as well for the Chadar Trek where trekking is done on the frozen Zanskar river
Ladakh is visited during the winter as well for the Chadar Trek where trekking is done on the frozen Zanskar river

With respect to Indians, destinations like Ladakh notched up in people’s go-to lists when travellers began to think beyond sightseeing, when it came to travelling, informs Bhide. “As Indians began to shift from the standard vacation choices, Ladakh, with its many options of trekking, biking, motor biking, off roading and jeep safaris, became an obvious choice,” he shares.

He also points out how the new generation has deeper pockets for travel plans: “The economic boom in the early part of the last decade (of the millennium) gave birth to a new Indian traveller.”

A Gelupa monk gets dressed for the Hemis Festival
A Gelupa monk gets dressed for the Hemis Festival.

Given the fact, the privatisation also happened in the 90s, the great Indian traveller seemed to have benefited, as per Bhide: “Around the same time, Indian aviation was also opening up and suddenly there were many flying options open to fly to Leh. This made Leh more accessible and soon travellers carried back their tales, in turn leading to more young Indians wanting to travel to Ladakh.”

Beyond Bollywood
Anand and Bhide both credit the major Bollywood blockbuster, 3 Idiots, for catching eyeballs and thus, attracting the highest number of Indian tourists the place has ever seen.

Even though innumerable places across the country are famous for featuring in Bollywood films and their accessibility, yet Ladakh retains a special place. Anand decodes why: “It offers two of the world’s largest mountain ranges, alpine desert, and dry barren landscape full of historic Buddhist monasteries. Nature and adventure lovers will find excellent hiking and paragliding opportunities around Leh. There are also longer trekking trails to choose from, as well as white water rafting and travel on Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable road.”

Almost pristine and still largely untouched, Anand observes that Ladakh is also popular with tourists because of its religious significance. “It is home to one of the purest remaining examples of Tibetan Buddhist culture. Visitors come to see a pre-industrial culture, tour the Buddhist monasteries and take in the dramatic mountain vistas,” concludes Anand.

From Mumbai 2,637 km

Overview: Recognised as a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh is ideal if you are in the mood to soak in some culture, indulge in adventure sports or enjoy the landscape. Bedecked with 35 Buddhist monasteries, the place is a delight for a seeker of spiritual solace.

Don’t miss: Most significant spots to visit include Shey Palace, the monasteries of Ladakh (including the Hemis Monastery — the largest and wealthiest gompa in Ladakh), Khardung La pass (the world’s highest motorable road) and Pangong Lake.

How to reach: Flights to Leh operate regularly from New Delhi. Flights are also available to Leh from Srinagar and Jammu. Alternatively, the roads to Leh are open for a few months of the year, when the snow has melted. The Manali-Leh Highway is open from June to October each year, and the road from Srinagar to Leh is open from June to November. Bus, jeep, and taxi services are available. The trip takes around two days because of the nature of the terrain.

Best time to travel: The standard season is mid-June to September, the best months are July and August. Lots of people now travel in winter — January to February — to enjoy the landscape and also head for the famed Chadar trek.

>> Suitcases and rolling bags are unsuited for Ladakh. You need a small backpack for day hikes.
>> Carry long underwear, sturdy hiking boots, hat, gloves, scarf against dust and cold, windproof anorak and tightly woven cotton/polyester pants.
>> Stock on lip balm, sun block, band aid against chafing boots and shoes, disinfectant ointment and water filter or purifier.
>> Most of Ladakh lies above 3,000 m. Allow yourself plenty of time to acclimatise after arriving in Leh because of altitude sickness.
>> Avoid doing anything for the first couple of days and drink plenty of water.
>> Laptops also don’t appreciate the high altitude and hard drives are known to crash. So, leave them behind.
>> Nights still get chilly during the summer, so bring warm clothes.
>> Get a health check-up done to see if you have blood pressure.

Information courtesy: Cox & Kings and Countryside Adventure Holidays.

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Countryside Adventure Holidays offers Ladakh Jeep Safari that will start in either Kullu or Srinagar and travel to Ladakh.
From: Packages of 12-15 days start from June until August 31
Call: 24071222
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Girls on the Go will take travellers to Turtuk, an off-beat destination in Ladakh.
From: August 9 to 17 and September 2 to 10
Call: 9920582628

Cox & Kings is introducing its second leg of travelling camp that will be kickstarted with the Chamba Camp at Thiksey in Ladakh.
Till: September 30
Call: 1800221235
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