Ladakh - "land of high passes", is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh, is where, the forces of nature conspired to render a magical unrealistic landscape, a landscape of extremes, desert and blue waters, burning sun and freezing winds, glaciers and sand dunes, a primeval battleground of the titanic forces which gave birth to the Himalayas. Ladakh is a region in India totally isolated from the modern world. An authentic land, it is faithful to ancestral customs where life is characterized by intense spirituality. Rich traditions of Mahayana Buddhism still flourish in the purest form in this region, which has often been referred to as Little Tibet.
ILadakh lies at an altitude from 9000 ft to 25170 feet. At these heights, you are on the roof of the world! As the highest inhabited land in the world, it holds a fascination for many, while for some there is an enchantment of seeing mountains which had been under the sea for millions of years. Ladakh is like a forgotten moment in time. It is common in Ladakh to come across villages carved out of veritable mountainside, stupas reaching the sky, monasteries virtually hanging from the cliffs and crags. Their interiors are filled with priceless antiques and art.
In the past Ladakh gained importance from its strategic location at the crossroads of important trade routes, but since the Chinese authorities closed the borders with Tibet and Central Asia in the 1960s, international trade has dwindled except for tourism. The largest town in Ladakh is Leh. It is one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism in South Asia. A majority of Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhists and the rest are mostly Shia Muslims. Leh is followed by Kargil as the second largest town in Ladakh.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Shanti Stupa refers to a peace pillar, which was established by a 'Peace Sect' of Japanese Buddhists. This pillar is located in the Leh District just above Changspa, which is famous for its gilt panels that depict the life stories of Buddha. In 1983, the construction of this stupa was begun by His Holiness Dalai Lama for spreading the ideologies and preaching of Buddha.
After its completion in 1991, the pillar was inaugurated by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. It is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and some of the traditional Ladakhi houses. This stupa is about 5 km away from the city of Leh and faces the famous Leh Palace.
Stok Palace is the residential palace of the royal family and descendants of King Sengge Namgyal. Displaying a perfect blend of traditional and contemporary architectural styles, it was built by King Tsespal Tondup Namgyal in 1825. There are many beautiful gardens in this palace, from where travellers can have views of sunset and sunrise.
This palace is situated at around 15 km from the main city of Leh and houses a library with 108 volumes of the Kangyur. The palace is famous for conducting an annual festival of dance-mask that sees a huge participation by the local inhabitants. Tourists can also see some of the rare collection of royal attires, crowns and other important materials inside this palace.
Hemis Monastery is popularly known as Hemis Gompa, which was built during the reign of King Sengge Namgyal in 1630. Presently, this Gompa is run by Drukpa sect of Buddhism, which once flourished during the Namgyal dynasty. There are two main portions in the monastery, namely Tshongkhang and Dukhang. Visitors can see beautiful wall paintings in the veranda of this Gompa that depict the 'Kalachakra' and the 'Lords of the Four Quarters'. There is also an idol of Sakyamuni Buddha at this monastery that attracts a lot of devotees. The monastery is very crowded during late June and early July, when Hemis Chheshu or the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava is celebrated. Once every 12 years, a giant Thangka is also hosted by the Hemis festival. The largest thanka in Ladakh over 12 Mtrs. long is at Hemis.
Thiksey Monastery is a popular Buddhist Monastery which is situated very close to Leh. It is a part of Gelugpa order in Buddhism and houses Thangkas, stupas, swords, wall paintings, statues and a pillar. This pillar is carved with the preaching and ideas of Buddha and is housed in the 12-storey building of the monastery. The monastery remains crowded during the Thiksey festival, which is celebrated at a grand level.
Built some 600 years ago, Thiksey monastery consists of 12 levels ascending a hillside, culminating in an incarnate lama’s private abode at the summit. The Gonpa contains 10 temples, below the monastery itself is chapels and houses of monks stretching down the hillside. There are about 100 monks of the yellow-hat sect of Buddhism. After entering the main courtyard to the immediate right and up several steps is a new temple containing a large Buddha statue. The H.H. Dalai Lama constructed this Buddha, 15 meters tall, in 1980 to commemorate a visit to Thiksey. The statue is the largest Buddha figure in Ladakh which took four years to construct and is made of clay and covered with gold paint.
Nubra Valley about 150 km north of Leh is where the Shyok River meets the Siachan River to form a large valley separating the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. Siachen Glacier lies to the north of the valley. The Sasser Pass and the famous Karakoram Pass of the silk route fame lie to the northwest of the valley and connect Nubra with Xinjiang. Panamik in Nubra valley is the last village up north this side that is open to tourists. Nubra valley is as a must do in a Leh trip and it is identified as a tourism circuit by the local administration of Leh district.