India

Ladakh – An Introduction

In the far north of India set within the Himalayas lies Ladakh. Known as “Little Tibet”, it is a land of dramatic landscapes and mystical Buddhist monasteries.

This is my introduction to the region, detailing what can be seen :

  • West of Leh – all reachable as a day excursion from Leh, but you won’t have time to see everything !
  • East of Leh – again, all are accessible from Leh as a day excursion.
  • In Leh Town – what can be seen on foot around Leh.
  • On longer excursions from Leh – the classic trips to Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley.

The links above can help you navigate to the appropriate sections, and each place listed is itself linked to a more detailed blog post about my visit to that location.

I’ve been spell-bound by Ladakh, twice in two years, and I suspect it won’t be long before I’m drawn back to this magical place. I hope this post will help others get the most out of their stay there.


West of Leh


KSP_6126Spitok Gompa

8km from Leh

Close to Leh and an easy two hour excursion from the town.

Perhaps one of the most beautifully sited monasteries in the whole of Ladakh.


KSP_6040Phyang Gompa

17km from Leh

Dating back to the 16th century, King Tashi Namgyal was keen on founding the monastery to atone for a terrible crime he committed – blinding and expelling his elder brother in order to gain the throne.


KSP_3988Basgo

40km from Leh

A Palace, hidden giant Buddha’s, mountains and valleys.

Basgo has it all, and so often overlooked by visitors to the region.


KSP_3941-2Likir Gompa

53km from Leh

See the colossal open-air Maitreya (Future Buddha), a relatively new addition to the monastery.

Built on a hill long thought to be the resting place of the snake gods.


KSP_5930Saspol Caves

60km from Leh

A series of amazing rock-cut temples.

Four of the caves are richly adorned with paintings of Buddhist pantheon from 13th – 15th century AD, representing a fusion of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist art.


KSP_3867Alchi Gompa

69km from Leh

The 12th century shrines, abandoned in the 15th century, boast the most magnificent murals in all of Ladakh.

Possibly the most popular day excursion from Leh.


KSP_5491Mangyu Gompa

70km from Leh

As old as Alchi, Mangyu Gompa is one of Ladakh’s most historic monasteries

It is often one that is overlooked by those visiting the region.


KSP_5537Rizong Gompa

75km from Leh

One of Ladakh’s newest and yet most isolated Gompas.

Founded in 1833, there are no settlements nearby and the monastery enforces a very strict regime of Buddhist discipline.


KSP_5569Temisgam Gompa

92km from Leh

Once a capital of western Ladakh.

With a ruined castle dating back to the 15th century and three old temples.


KSP_3801Lamayuru Gompa

125km from Leh

With a mystique quite unlike any other Ladakhi monastery.

Remote and isolated, and yet not secluded.


KSP_5734Wanla Gompa 

132km from Leh

An ancient and historic monastery believed to date back 1,000 years.

Founded by Richen Zangpo, who was one of the greatest translators of Buddhist texts.


East of Leh


KSP_3184Shey Gompa

15km from Leh

Was the ancient capital of Ladakh as far back as the 10th century.

The highlight of a visit is to see the temple which enshrines a giant seated Buddha.


KSP_3281-2Thikse Gompa

19km from Leh

Built in the 1480s by Palden Shesrab Zangpo, there are now 120 lamas residing in the monastery. Thikse is considered one of the richest in the Ladakh region.


KSP_3542Stakna Gompa

25km from Leh

Perched on a dramatic pyramidal hill.

One of the most spectacular settlings for a monastery in Ladakh.


KSP_8012Matho Gompa

26km from Leh

Off the popular tourist trail and rarely sees any visitors.

Nestled high up on a crag on the far side of the river Indus, it’s well worth a visit for the astonishing views the monastery commands.


KSP_3415Hemis Gompa

43km from Leh

Ladakh’s wealthiest monastery.

Home to the “Jesus Scroll”, a Tibetan manuscript translated from the ancient Indian language of Pali that tells the story of Jesus Christ and his hypothesised travels in India.


KSP_3377Chemde Gompa

45km from Leh

Built around 1645, it was founded by Stag-tsang-ras-pa under royal patronage.

Today is home to around 100 lamas.


KSP_7676Thag-Thok Gompa

50km from Leh

Much of the monastery was only constructed 100 years ago, but it has grown out of a cave hermitage where Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche) is believed to have once meditated. It’s name means “rock roof”, obviously a reference to this shrine in the dark cavern.


Leh Town


KSP_8136Chamba Lhakhang

Near Leh Palace.

Restored by THF, and pre-dates Leh Palace by some 200 years.

It is thought to have been built by King Tragspa-bum-ide, who ruled during the first half of the 15th century.

Access is limited, it is best visited as part of the Leh Heritage Walk.

 


KSP_8033Guru Lhakhang

Near Leh Palace.

One of four temples that are considered part of the Leh palace complex in Ladakh.

It is probably the hardest to reach on foot, being located immediately below Leh Palace with no easily identifiable path to it from Leh old town.

The best time to try and see this temple is early in the morning.


KSP_8056Chenrezig Lhakhang

Near Leh Palace.

Dedicated to Avalokiteswara, the Buddha of Compassion.

It is believed to have been built in the 17th century by King Deldan Namgyal, who reigned over the Ladakh region from 1642 to 1694.


KSP_8076Jokhang Gompa

Near Leh’s Main Bazaar.

A large modern gompa just around the corner from Leh’s Main Bazaar. It”s also the location of the Ladakhi Buddhist Association, a conservative political organisation with ties to Hindutva groups.


KSP_8100Leh Heritage Walk

Starts at Lala’s Cafe, Old Leh.

See the amazing work being conducted by THF/LOTI in Leh’s old town, trying to preserve the rapidly disappearing heritage of the town.

A highlight of a stay in Leh.


KSP_5298Leh Old Fort

Leh’s first royal residence, and just like all Ladakhi capitals, Leh too had its first fortress built at the highest elevations.

With the passing of time and the kings becoming more confident, subsequent palaces were built at more accessible lower elevations.


KSP_5345Leh Palace

The most dominant building in Leh.

Without doubt one of Ladakh’s most imposing structures, dominating the landscape around Leh it’s impossible to ignore, it’s ever present, and both amazes and awes all visitors to the region.


KSP_7539Namgyal Tsemo Gompa

Housing a giant image of Maitreya, the Future Buddha, sitting within a two storey shrine flanked by Avalokiteswara and Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom.

The walls are richly decorated and vibrant, it’s well worth the climb to view this temple.


KSP_7485Shanti Stupa

On the western side of Leh Valley.

Built by the ‘Peace Sect’, an association of Japanese Buddhists, the Shanti Stupa crowns a hill on the western edge of the Leh valley.

A total of 157 steps take you to the summit.


KSP_5440Soma Gompa

Built in 1840 by Lama Tashi Tenpel.

This was until the 1950s one of the main Buddhist temples in Leh before a new and much larger temple was built down below on the Main Bazaar Road.

Access may be difficult !


Excursions from Leh


KSP_7910Pangong Tso

Located in the eastern highlands of Changthang bordering Tibet.

Pangong Tso is one of Ladakh’s most spectacular and popular destinations.

The drive to the lakes is simply breathtaking !


KSP_4079Khardung La Pass (to Nubra Valley)

At an elevation of 18,379 ft, the Khardung La is the world’s highest motorable road.

Get that top-of-the-world feeling !

It serves as gateway to the Nubra Valley.


KSP_4376Diskit Gompa (Nubra Valley)

Dating back to the 15th century, Diskit Gompa is Nubra’s most historic monument.

Situated 150m above the village of the same name, the zig-zag road up passes by the new giant 32 meter high statue of Maitreya (the Future Buddha).


KSP_4256Samstanling Gompa (Nubra Valley)

Founded in 1841 by Lama Tsultrim Nima, and set within an awesome landscape.

Inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 1962.

Home to about 50 monks.


KSP_4587Turtuk (Nubra Valley)

An oasis amidst the arid mountains.

Surrounded by rich cultivated fields and apricot orchards.

The most memorable journey anyone can take in the Nubra Valley.


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If you’re interested in using any of my photography or articles please get in touch. I’m also available for any freelance work worldwide, my duffel bag is always packed ready to go…

KevinStandage1@googlemail.com

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