Leh Travel Guide
places to visit
places to visit
For such a historic site and popular tourist destination, Leh has
surprisingly few tourist sights:
* The former Palace of the King of Ladakh (admission 100rps). The
most noticeable building in Leh, the palace was built in the 17th
century, and now undergoing restoration. There's not much to see on the
inside, but there are good views outside.
* Buddhist temples:
o Namgyal Tsemo Gompa - above the Palace, built 1430, is only
open from 7AM-9AM during the morning puja.
o Soma Gompa - just around the corner from Main Bazar, it's a
large modern gompa. It's also the location of the Ladakhi Buddhist
Association, a conservitive political orginisation, with ties to
o Karma Dupgyud Choeling - monastery in the Karma Kagyu
* The small mosque
* Shanti Stupa : built by a Japanese Buddhist group. This modern
stupa is somewhat kitschy, but still worth a visit.
* Pangong Tso A beautiful lake with deep blue waters, surrounded by
tall mountain peaks. This lake lies on the Indo - China boundary, with
only one fourth of the lake being in India. The road to this lake passes
through Chang-la, the world's third highest motorable road. It's a 4 &
Half hour drive (149 Kms) from Leh to this place. If one is staying in
Leh please leave around 4 in the morning. The problem in reaching
Pangong Lake is that around 5 kms before the Lake, water from the snow
melting blocks the passage by 1 O’clock in the afternoon & it doesn’t
clear up until 8 in the evening. So, unless you want to get stuck there
till late, leave early. The passage is also very tough to cross by car.
So a four-wheel drive car is recommended. Experienced biker’s should not
have any problem.
* Monistaries in Ladakh : Most travellers use Leh as a base to
visit the numerous Gompas Buddhist monistaries of Ladakh
get in and around
get in and around
There are two roads in to Leh, one from Manali in Himachal Pradesh in
the south, and one from Srinagar in the west. Both routes are equally
spectacular in different ways, and both are time consuming with winding,
narrow roads, and numerous military checkpoints.
The main advantage of taking the road from Srinagar, covering a distance
of 434 km (270 mi), is that it runs at a lower altitude, and thereby
reduces the risk and severity of altitude sickness. It is also open
longer - normally from the beginning of June to October - and follows
the traditional trade route between Ladakh and Kashmir, which passes
through many picturesque villages and farmlands. The disadvantage is
that it passes through areas of higher risk of militant troubles. It
takes two long days, with an overnight stop in Kargil. Tickets cost
Rupees 370/470 on ordinary/deluxe buses.
The route from Manali to Leh, covering a distance of 473 km (294 mi), is
one more commonly taken by tourists. It takes two days, normally with an
overnight stop either in Kyelong (alt. 3096) or in tent accommodation in
Sarchu (4253) or Pang (4500). Making the first stop in Keylong reduces
the risk of altitude sickness (AMS). It traverses one of the highest
road passes in the world and is surrounded by wild rugged mountains. The
scenery is fantastic, though it is definitely not for the faint hearted.
This historical trade route was linked to Yarkhand and was severed by
the India-China war in 1962, and later was transformed in to military
supply road. Reliable access is limited from mid-June to end-September,
as it is blocked by snow for rest of the year.
State buses run from Srinagar and also privately operated deluxe
buses.From Manali HPTDC , Himachal Pradesh Tourist Development
Corporation, operate Deluxe buses that stop overnight in Keylong ,
between July and September. Costs Rs 1600, including tent accommodation
and breakfast in Keylong.HRTC , Himachal Road Transport Corporation, the
state run buses ply the road during the officially open period, allowing
you to stop in a number of places along the way. Cost in the order of
Rs. 400 for the whole stretch. Private buses stop in Keylong , Darcha or
Sarchu - the last alternative (eight hundred meters higher than Leh
)involving a high incidence of altitude sickness. It is possible to book
tickets direct Leh-Delhi, but it is recommended to spend a few days in
The fastest way to get to Leh from Manali is by 'jeep'. Shared jeeps are
similar in comfort to the bus, but do the trip in one long day (of about
20-24 hours) as opposed to two short ones on the bus, as such buses are
recommended for those who can afford to spend an extra day to enjoy the
trip. The journey costs about 1000 rupees for a seat on a shared jeep.
During the high season tickets for the jeep rides must be bought in
advance of the day of departure and the main street in old Manali is
full of ticket touts, you won't have to find them for yourself.
Leaving Manali before dawn, arrival in Leh is sometime after sunset.
Although this is the longest and most uncomfortable car journey you will
ever take it's an experience unparalleled in India. Crossing over the
second highest road in the world affords views of stunning and the
bizarre territory. It is advised to take a front seat in the jeep and by
NO MEANS allow yourself to be seated in the boot. These seats (in the
boot) are inward facing and 24 hours sitting on one of those will take
all the pleasure out of the trip.
Privately hired jeep allows the luxury of stopping wherever you like,
and allow you to decide on how many people you will travel in your
If you are coming from Srinagar, go to #1 taxi stand in town. Book only
your seat on sumo taxi jeep to Kargil for Rs. 500. Stay overnight. Book
your seat for Leh from Kargil and pay 400 rupees upon arrival in Leh.
Get them to drop you at Fort Road which is the heart of the tourist area
and accommodation is close by. Make sure you ask for middle seat in the
taxi. Too crowded in the front and too uncomfortable in the back.
Fantastic scenery for whole two days.
It is also possible to travel between Leh and Manali by truck. These
trucks ply the route when it opens in summer and they will be no new
sight for anyone who has been in India for even a few days. Making the
490 km (304 mi) journey in the cab of one of these trucks is an
experience; they are not as comfortable as the jeeps, nor do they give
as good visibility as either jeeps or buses, and take anywhere up to 3
days to complete; but sleeping in the cab and eating the same food as
the locals is worth it. You can pre-arrange truck drivers in Manali by
going to the main truck stop in the new town. Here the drivers stop on
their way from Delhi to Leh and will be more than happy to give you a
ride for 500 rupees. Make sure you don't pay before you travel. In Leh
there is a similar truck park. Try to pick a truck with the least amount
of passengers already otherwise your trip will be even less comfortable.
Travelers staying longer in Ladakh are likely to find themselves
traveling by truck at some point, and probably don't need to go out of
their way to take one.
The road from Manali to Leh is often known as a Biker's Paradise. Bikes
(motorcycles) are available for rent at Manali. A popular place is
Hardev Motors - located behind the Private Bus Parking Ground. Also Into
Himalayas, near Manali mall road is a great place for bikes, especially
When biking to Leh it is advisable to travel at a slow pace to allow
acclimatization. A suggested itinerary is: Day 1 Manali - Jispa (110 km;
68 mi), Day 2 Jispa - Pang (130 km; 81 mi), and Day 3 Pang -Leh (130 km;
81 mi). Essential supplies include: puncture repair kit, spare clutch
cables and some good carriers (to hold luggage). The next bike workshop
after Manali is Keylong (110 km; 68 mi) and then at Leh (400 km; 249
Planes fly year round, and are the only option in the winter. Book early
and give yourself at least a few days of flexibility as flights are
often delayed due to weather conditions. Air India and Kingfisher Red
have daily flights from Delhi. Flights go to/from Delhi, Srinagar, and
Those arriving by air are strongly advised to rest for at least one day
in order to acclimatize to the high altitude. (See article on altitude
The closest train stations are Pathankot or Chandigarh, both at least
three days away by bus. A new station added recently is Udhampur which
is linked by rail to Jammu. Please check the Train schedule as trains
may not run on daily basis.
Leh is small enough to walk most places, most notable exception being
the airport, for which it's advisable to take a taxi for around 100 to
150 Rupees, although you could even walk there if you really wanted to
save the money.
Leh , was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now the Leh
District in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India.
"As has already been mentioned, the original name of the town is not
sLel, as it is now-a-days spelt, but sLes, which signifies an encampment
of nomads. These [Tibetan] nomads were probably in the habit of visiting
the Leh valley at a time when it had begun to be irrigated by Dard
colonizers. Thus, the most ancient part of the ruins on the top of
rNam-rgyal-rtse-mo hill at Leh are called 'aBrog-pal-mkhar (Dard castle)
. . . ."
The town is still dominated by the now ruined Leh Palace, former home of
the royal family of Ladakh, built in the same style and about the same
time as the Potala Palace. Leh is at an altitude of 3,500 meters (11,483
Leh has for centuries been an important stopover on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and also between India and China. The main goods carried were salt, grain, pashm or cashmere wool, charas or cannabis resin from the Tarim Basin, indigo, silk yarn and Banaras brocade.
Although there are a few indications that the Chinese knew of a trade route through Ladakh to India as early as the Kushan period (1st to 3rd centuries CE), and certainly by Tang dynasty, little is actually known of the history of the region until the formation of the kingdom towards the end of the 10th century by the Tibetan prince, Skyid lde nyima gon (or Nyima gon), a grandson of the anti-Buddhist Tibetan king, Langdarma (r. circa 838 to 841 CE). He conquered Western Tibet although his army originally numbered only 300 men. Several towns and castles are said to have been founded by Nyima gon and he apparently ordered the construction of the main sculptures at Shey. "In an inscription he says he had them made for the religious benefit of the Tsanpo (the dynastical name of his father and ancestors), and of all the people of Ngaris (Western Tibet). This shows that already in this generation Langdarma's opposition to Buddhism had disappeared." Shey, just 15 km east of modern Leh, was the ancient seat of the Ladakhi kings.
During the reign of Delegs Namgyal (1660-1685),the Nawab of Kashmir, which was then a province in the Mogul Empire, arranged for the Mongol army to (temporarily) leave Ladakh (but returned later. As payment for assisting Delegs Namgyal, the Nawab made a number of onerous demands. One of the least was to build a large Sunni Muslim mosque in Leh at the upper end of the bazaar in Leh, below the Leh Palace. This was apparently not the first mosque in Leh, there are two smaller ones which are said to be older. The mosque reflects a mixture of Islamic and Tibetan architecture and can accommodate more than 500 people.
Several trade routes have traditionally converged on Leh, from all four directions. The most direct route was the one the modern highway follows from the Punjab via Mandi, the Kulu valley, over the Rohtang Pass, through Lahaul and on to the Indus Valley, and then down river to Leh. The route from Srinigar was roughly the same as the road that today crosses the Zoji La (pass) to Kargil, and then up the Indus Valley to Leh. From Baltistan there were two difficult routes: the main on ran up the Shyok Valley from the Indus, over a pass and then down the Hanu River to the Indus again below Khalsi (Khalatse). The other ran from Skardu straight up the Indus to Kargil and on to Leh. Then, there were both the summer and winter routes from Leh to Yarkand across the Karakorum. Finally, there were a couple of possible routes from Leh to Lhasa.
The royal palace, known as Leh Palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal (1612-1642), presumably between the period when the Portuguese Jesuit priest, Francisco de Azevedo, visited Leh in 1631, and made no mention of it, and Sengge Namgyal's death in 1642.
The Leh Palace is nine storeys high; the upper floors accommodated the royal family, the stables and store rooms are located in the lower floors. The palace was abandoned when Kashmiri forces besieged it in the mid-19th century. The royal family moved their premises south to their current home in Stok Palace on the southern bank of the Indus.