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Getting around Leh and Ladakh: A Complete Guide

Ladakh, a land of pristine natural beauty, falls in the list of every traveler. And why would it be any other way? Ladakh is majestic in every sense. Whether the landscape, the culture, or the people, all of it is magical. It boasts of clear skies, bright rainbows, and fresh air. Mountains that are barren and yet soothing to the eyes. Home to some of the highest mountain passes in the world; one is bound to visit Ladakh. If you plan to visit Ladakh anytime soon, this article has got you covered. 

Places to visit in Ladakh 

Leh Palace, overlooking the Leh city.                                               Source: Flickr

1. Leh Palace

Situated in Leh city, it is one of the top tourist attractions. Sengge Namgyal, from the Namgyal Dynasty, built this palace in the 17th century. The palace provides a panoramic view of Leh and is a fantastic spot for sunsets and sunrises. Some parts of the palace are going under restoration works by the Archaeological Survey of India. Nonetheless, it holds a rich collection of paintings, jewelry, ornaments, and crowns that are more than 450 years old, thus preserving the history of the Namgyal dynasty. 

Directions: Just a five minutes walk from the Leh Main Main Market. Take the narrow lanes of Old Leh Market. 

Ladakh’s beautiful Buddhist hertiage, Shanti Stupa.                    Source: Flickr

2. Shanti Stupa 

Overlooking Leh town and beyond, the white-domed Stupa is a remarkable symbol of the Buddhist heritage. It is a must-visit site if you are in Leh. The Stupa was built in 1991 and holds the relics of the Buddha at its base. It contains a great religious significance for the Buddhists while also providing panoramic views of the landscape surrounding it.

Directions: It is a 15 minutes drive from the city. You can even walk and reach the top while enjoying the look of Leh and the horizon. 

Perched atop a hill, Spituk Monastery                                            Source: Flickr

3. Spituk Monastery

Located 8km from Leh, also known as the Pethup Gompa among the locals, Spituk Monastery was founded by Od-de. Tourists from all over the globe visit the monastery with its spectacular view of the Indus River and the vast landscape surrounding it. Home to almost 100 monks, a short ride from Leh is totally worth the attraction Spituk Monastery. 

Directions: Located 8 kilometers from Leh, it will take 30-40 minutes from Leh. After crossing the Leh airport and crossing the Hall of Fame, you will enter the Srinagar-Leh Highway. In about 20 minutes you will reach Spituk. 

The highway leading to Magnetic Hill                                             Source: Flickr

4. Magnetic Hill 

Also called Gravity Hill, it is one of the several alluring places in Ladakh. This site has baffled and confused people for long due to the multiple theories that make rounds. It falls in a small stretch of road located about 30km from Leh towards Kargil and is called the Magnetic Hill of Ladakh. When vehicles park on the market spot, they start moving on their own, even when the engine is turned off!! Three theories particularly float around this alluring site. Some believe that it has supernatural power, while some enter the debate with the magnetic force theory. And the other broadly acknowledged theory is of optical illusion. 

It is these well passed round theories that bring tourists in numbers, and it is definitely a spot to cross of the list during your Ladakh visit. 

Directions: It is 30-40 minutes away from Leh on a vehicle and is on the Srinagar-Leh Highway. Cross Spituk and head ahead through Gurudwara Pathar Sahib.

Sangam, the point where Zanskar and Indus meet.   Source: Purodha Kandpal

5. Sangam Valley 

Sangam means confluence in Hindi. It is the point of convergence of two rivers, Indus and Zanskar. Sangam Valley is 48km from Leh. The two rivers with distinct colors merge, offering quite a sight for the onlookers. This site also provides a spectacular view of the Sangam Valley and falls on the Srinagar-Leh Highway. 

Directions: 48 kilometers from Leh, it will take an hour from Leh. Head east on the Srinagar-Leh Highway through Spituk.

Sikh hertiage in Ladakh, Gurudwara Pather Sahib.                     Source: Flickr

6. Gurudwara Pather Sahib

Present on the Srinagar – Leh Highway, 25km from Leh is Gurudwara Pather Sahib. This gurudwara is maintained by the Indian army. Legend has it that Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, defeated a demon on this particular location. He then founded the gurudwara in Ladakh. Ladakh is well known for its Buddhist heritage, and this gurudwara gives a different feel. 

Directions: It will take 45 minutes from Leh, and it falls at the beginning of the Leh-Srinagar Highway.  

Lamayuru Monastery                                                         Source: Samrat Silwal                 

7. Lamayuru

It is a small village between Kargil and Leh, visited by a large number of people for its remarkable lunar landscape. It has some incredible yet odd rock formations, different from other parts of Ladakh. The Lamayuru Monastery, located at a distance of 114km, is one of the oldest and the most significant existing Gompa in Ladakh. Perched on top of a hill, it is one of the most intriguing places to visit. It is believed that the central shrine of the gompa has a cave where Mahasiddha Naropa meditated for years. Also, Lamayuru is famous for bike rides and provides a pleasant resting spot with homestays providing authentic Ladakhi experience. 

Directions: Lamayuru lies between Leh and Kargil and is 114 kilometers away from Leh. It takes about 3 hours from Leh. Drive through the town of Nimoo.

Hemis Monastery, an important site for Ladakhis                 Source: Pixabay

8. Hemis Monastery

Hemis monastery is the most famous monastery in Ladakh situated 45km from Leh. It is also one of the oldest and holds a deep significance for the Ladakhi people. It hosts the Hemis festival in June/July every year, brings devotees and travelers in huge numbers. Close to the Hemis national park, it is the start or end for quite a few treks in the region. Hemis is a place to be seen by everyone. Near the monastery also lies the Gotsang cave. It is 45 minutes away from the monastery. 

Directions: Just 45 kilometers away from Leh, take a right from the town of Karu. 

Experience the wildlife Hemis National Park has to offer.
Source: Flickr

9. Hemis National Park 

A great attraction for tourists who are interested in experiencing the Himalayan wildlife. This national park is famous for snow leopards and other endangered animals. Hemis national park sees a lot of visitors during winter months as this is the favorable time for leopard spotting. 

This park also offers s several routes for trekking from mid-June to October. Also, it is the only national park in India that lies north of the Himalayas. It was founded in 1981. 

Directions: It lies almost 60 kilometers from Leh and has multiple entry points. 

One of the closest palaces from Leh, Stok Palace                        Source: Flickr

10. Stok Palace

Stok village is home to the Stok monastery and palace. The monastery built in the 19th century has a 22metre high-seated statue of Gautama Buddha. The Stok palace is the current residence of the former royal family of Ladakh. The palace holds a museum containing the shrine, crown, and ceremonial dresses of the royal family. It is well known for its architectural styles. Located 15 kilometers from Leh ii Stok village, this palace is a treat if you want to indulge in the heritage and culture. It also offers a great view of Leh and the settlements closeby. 

Directions: It is located 16 kilometers away from Leh and takes 45 minutes to get there. 

The pass that connects Leh to Nubra, Khardungla.                       Source: Flickr

11. Khardung La 

It is a mountain pass present in the Karakoram Range north to Leh. It connects Leh to the Shyok and Nubra valley. This pass is a lifeline for the Indian army personnel based in Siachen as they use it to get supplies. It is considered to be the highest motorable pass in the world. The clean air and the scenic beauty the pass has to offer has made it one of the most famous tourist destinations. At a distance of 39km from the city, Khardung La is widely visited by everyone who comes to Ladakh. Some people cross the pass to reach Nubra valley and some return after spending some time at the top. To enter Khardung La or Nubra valley, you require permits that are submitted at every check post along the way. 

Directions: It is 37 kilometers from Leh and takes about 2 hours to reach. The same road leads to Nubra Valley. 

Autumn in Chilling.                                                               Source: Samrat Silwal

12. Chilling

On the banks of Zanskar river, after traveling the Zanskar Valley Road, lies Chilling. A gateway for treks in the region. Travelers also visit this place for its homestays and local handicrafts. It is the gateway to Zanskar valley, and travelers in winters pass through Chilling for the Chadar Trek. For starters, Chadar Trek is one of the most challenging treks, ever. The mainland cuts off from the Zanskar valley in winters, the locals use this frozen river as the only means of travel during the harsh winter months. It has now become a thrilling experience for the adventurers who brave the harsh winters for this trek.

Directions: Head through the Srinagar-Leh Highway and take a left from Sangam. Travel through the Zanskar Valley road. It takes about 2 hours to get there.

The famous Chemrey Monastery.                                                     Source: Flickr

13. Chemrey Monastery 

It is a 400-year-old monastery made in the memory of King Singge Namgyal. It was founded by Tangsang Raschen. The monastery is located atop a hill that overlooks the dusty route from Kharu to Chang La pass. Summer months also see the famous Chemrey Angchok festival, which is talked about much. This monastery is 45 kilometers from Leh and is still is unexplored despite its close proximity to Leh. 

Directions: It takes an hour to reach from Leh. Head through the Manali-Leh Highway until Karu. Then take a left to Chemrey.

Icy blue river is a common sight in Hanu.                                     Source: Flickr

14. Dha-Hanu 

They are two villages situated in the Aryan Valley, about 163km from Leh. These villages are placed on the meeting points of Indus and Shyok rivers in the Kargil region. Famed as the ‘land of the Aryans,’ these villages are home to the Brokpa or Drokpa community of Ladakh. 

It is believed the residents of the village are descendants of Alexander the Great. They possess distinct features compared to other Ladakhi population. Being light-eyed, tall, and strong-jawed, they want to preserve their uniqueness. For this reason, they have a custom of only marrying within their community, and this makes their population limited. These villages are located in picturesque locations surrounded by a lush green landscape, thus differentiating it from the rest of Ladakh. The temperature here is much warmer than the surrounding areas, which in turn assists in the growth of vegetation. 

Besides their novel features, what separates the people of the village from the rest of Ladakh is their colorful attire. The attire is adorned with heavy jewelry and unique styles of headwear decorated with colorful flowers and brass coins. This place offers something different compared to other regions in Ladakh. 

Directions: It takes about 5-6 hours to get from Leh and is 200 kilometers from Leh. Drive through the Srinagar-Leh Highway until Khaltse. After Khaltse, you will reach Skyurbuchan and then Hanu Thang before reaching Hanu.

Pangong Tso, a major tourist attraction in Ladakh.                      Source: Flickr

15. Pangong Tso 

This gorgeous lake present in the Changthang region of Ladakh is at a distance of 220 kilometers from Leh. This lake, with its multi shades of blue color and a breathtaking landscape, makes it the most visited place in Ladakh.

Thanks to the movie ‘3 Idiots’, this lake has etched a mark on popular culture. In summers, this lake sees a considerable number of migratory birds. And the view of the lake is parallel to none in the region. This 134km long water body borders India and China. It is compulsory to take permits from Leh to visit Pangong. 

Directions: At a distance of 220 kilometers from Leh, it takes 6-7 hours to get there. Initially, you will take the Manali-Leh Highway before taking a left from Karu and drive through Sakti, Durbok, and Tangtse before reaching the lake.

Diskit, a popular place in Nubra Valley.                                          Source: Flickr

16. Diskit

It is one of the major towns in the Nubra region of Ladakh. Situated on the banks of Shyok River, Diskit is a popular tourist attraction. It is almost 118km from Leh. The Diskit monastery is the largest and the oldest Gompa in the Nubra Valley. Situated on a hilltop, this place gives you a 360-degree view of the valley. It houses a 32-meter statue of Maitreya Buddha, which is the main attraction of the monastery. The monastery displays artifacts and documents that provide you a glimpse of its glorious history. 

Directions: It takes about 4 hours from Leh. Diskit lies in the Nubra Valley, and you need to pass Khadungla to get there.

Nurba, a must-visit destination in Ladakh.                                    Source: Flickr

17. Nubra Valley 

The unearthly beauty of Nubra Valley makes it one of the most famous tourist attractions in India. The Nubra valley separates the Ladakh region from the Karakoram ranges. It is accessible through the Khardung La pass. Surrounded by the rising mountains of the Himalayas, this valley offers stunning beauty. Located at a distance of 160km from Leh, this valley is famous for its sand dunes and Bactrian camel rides. 

Directions: Head north from Leh and travel 4-5 hours to get there. Head north from Leh and cross Khardungla to get to Nubra Valley.

Kargil, the city connecting Leh to Srinagar.                                  Caption: Flickr

18. Kargil – Drass 

Kargil has become famous over the years due to the Kargil war. Direct buses from Leh to Kargil are available that travel a distance of 218km. Often people do not stop at Kargil because there is not much to see there as tourists. They do, however, travel ahead to Drass, which is about 63km from Kargil. While going from Srinagar, Drass is where the landscape changes from lush green to barren brown mountains. Drass has the Kargil war memorial commemorating the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. Famous Tiger Hill in Drass was the subject of the battle. It is the highest peak in the region. Trekking there is one of the most beautiful parts of the hill, as it offers a phenomenal view from the top. 

Directions: Head through the Srinagar-Leh Highway, and it takes about 6 hours to get to Leh and another hour to Drass.

Taxi Service in Leh

The taxi service in Leh is quite dependable, and due to the accessibility, you will easily find taxis. In some cases, you might be swindled by taxi drivers. So, to avoid that, please check the Taxi Union website for the right rates. 

Permits

To visit places around Leh and the Manali-Leh highway, you do not require permits. You will be required to get a permit for Nubra valley, Khardung La, Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Dah, Hanu Villages, Man, Merak, Nyoma, Loma Bend, Turtuk, Tyakshi, Chusul, Hanle, Digger La, and Tangyar

The permit is also called Inner Line Permit, and it mandatory to carry it while you travel. The fee(INR) is divided into two parts; Environmental fee, which is Rs. 400 and Rs. 20 per day for Wildlife Protection Fee. Visit the website of Ladakh District Permit Tracking System for more information. You can get the form here, but there is no online payment system. 

Usually, what travelers do is visit the DC Office in Leh and get the permit within an hour. Also, do carry your valid ID proof. The DC Office remains open throughout the week from 10 am to 6pm (2pm-3pm is a lunch break, so avoid going at this time). 

For foreign nationals, it is compulsory to get the permit through a travel agency for a small fee. Also, if you are traveling solo, do get a partner to apply for a permit. 

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