The magnificent monasteries of Ladakh are most attractive of tourist attractions for people from all over India and abroad. These monasteries are peace abodes of the monks of various orders of Buddhism providing the ideal getaway for pursuit of spiritualism and study of religion. Amazingly built on steep mountain slopes the monasteries are indeed architectural marvels and stores houses of rare Buddhist relics like thankas, murals, sculptures, scriptures, etc. The tranquility that is experienced in these monasteries is unmatched and indescribable. The locals call these monasteries as Gompa s which was built over centuries by various rulers and religious leaders of the region. Diskit & Hunder Gompa: Built in the 14nth century both these Gompas belong to Tsongkhapa Order of Buddhism. The Gompas are located high on the slopes lending a majestic feel to the entire Nubra valley. Legend has it that the Diskit Gompa was originally inhabited by a demon who had sworn to eliminate all traces of Buddhism from the region. After long struggles a few Buddhist monks were able to annihilate the demon in front of the Gompa. The spirit of the demon is believed to be roaming till date around the Gompa and has been spotted by many on various occasions in the form of a wrinkled head. Hemis Gompa: Founded in 1630 this monastery lies about 47 Km east of Leh and belongs to Dugpa Order of Buddhism. Apart from the magnificent gold and silver stupas of the Gompa, the copper-gilt statue of the Lord Buddha forms the main attraction of this monastery. A sacred mask dance that is performed annually at the Gompa is a major tourist attraction. Monks can be seen practicing the dance daily without the ornate masks. Shey Gompa: Located just 15 Km south of the Leh town this Gompa was founded in the 17th century by King Deldon Namgyal in the memory of his late father, Singay Namgyal. On the sidewalls of the Gompa beside the statue of Buddha are displayed 16 Arhats (Worthy Ones who have achieved Nirvana), eight being on each side. A large bowl of wax with a central flame, symbolizing divinity and purity, is placed in front of the Buddha statue. Lamayaru Gompa: Located about 130 Km west of Leh this Gompa lies in what is popularly known as the ‘Moonland’. The Gompa was founded in the 11nth century belonging to the Red-Hat Sect of Buddhism. The Gompa is a prominent learning center of Buddhism and houses about 150 trainee monks undergoing the rigors of spiritual discipline. As per legend the entire area surrounding the Gompa was originally a lake during the time of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) in which holy serpents resided and that in the future the there will earthquakes which will bring back the holy lake to its place. Shanti Stupa: Located on the hill top of Changspa within the city limits of Leh this pagoda was established in 1985 as a symbol of ‘The Japanese for World Peace’ to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism. This magnificent white-domed structure offers a mesmerizing view of the sunset on the Leh town. There are many other small and big monasteries in Ladakh worth paying a visit. These rich heritage sites have with them many ancient Buddhist scripts and sculptures.
Located 150 Km north of Lah, the Nubra Valley derives its name form Ldumra (the valley of flowers). It is the confluence of Shyok and the Nubra River creating a wide valley that separates the main land Ladakh from the Karakoram ranges. The valley is full of surprises for the casual visitor who expects snow covered peaks, the valley being at 10000 feet above the mean sea level. Visitors require inner area permit from authorities at Leh to visit the valley due to its sensitive proximity to the Siachin Glacier. The permit can be obtained easily and one can hire a SUV class cab from Leh to reach Nubra. The drive though treacherous and scary at places is worth every bit of effort once you have the first glimpse of the valley. From Leh, Nubra takes 6 hours of driving with a couple of tea stopovers in between. One has to cross the Khardungla Pass enroute which is the highest motor able pass in the world. People who heart conditions would be better advised to avoid the trip as Khardungla is at 16300 feet 18380 feet above sea level with extreme shortage of oxygen. After crossing the pass you enter there’s a small place called North Pullu which call for a short tea break and hot noodles in those freezing environs. MUST WATCH NUBRA VALLEY VIDEO – The main place in the entire valley is the district headquarters called Diskit which has a famous 9th century Budhist Gompa. Long horned Ibex can be seen grazing fearlessly around the Gompa located on a steep hill side. There’s an imposing 35 metre statue of Maitreya Buddha facing down the Shyok River towards Pakistan. The statue can be seen from most places in the valley and is quite imposing in its presence. Next to Diskit is the place that amazes one and all – Hunder. This wide stretch in the valley is a desert complete with sand dunes and camels. The Bactrian double humped camels are found exclusively at this place in India. These camels are believed to have been brought here by the initial Mongol invaders who used this route to reach Indian mainland. In the afternoon gusty winds pick up sand to create miniature sand storms over Hunder. This is probably the only place in India where your camera can capture snow peaked mountains and sand dunes blowing off sand storms in one frame. One can hire a ride on the double humped camels for about Rs. 100 to Rs. 150 for an exciting experience. Panamik village is the largest human habitat in the valley and boasts of having a few hotels and a school that remains closed during the winter half of the year. People are extremely friendly and most can understand Hindi well. Interestingly enough one can see a couple of Cable TV antennas in the village. A walk around the country side is one of the most refreshing moments of this trip. An occasional Indian Air Force flies overhead carrying rations for the Indian troops located on the highest battle field on earth – Siachin Glacier which is not far away from Panamik. Smoking and alcohol are a strictly out of question in these areas as it may lead to serious complications. One may be tempted to try out the local brew called Chaang made of wheat and barley grown by locals during summer on the river bed. Returning from the Nubra Valley makes you feel coming back to the world from a visit to some outer planet.
Literally meaning “Lake of the Great Hollow”, the Pangong lake lies 160 Km southeast of the capital town ofLehand is certainly one of the most mesmerizing sights of Ladakh. Technically speaking it is the largest endoheric lake inAsiaand lies at an altitude of 13,900 feet above the sea level. Though salty the water of this lake is crystal clear displaying a breathtaking shade of azure blue. The sheer size of this beautiful lake leaves one in astonishment as you approach it the first time. The lake is 5 Km wide at it broadest point and is more than 135 Km long covering a massive area of more than 604 Square Kilometers.
PangongLakeis about 5 hours drive from Leh through breathtaking and scenic valleys of Thiksey and Chemrey. The drive may not be comfortable as the condition of the roads need serious repairs every year after the snow melts, but the serene views of the valley prevents any fatigue from setting in. One has to cross the Chang la Pass followed by the ‘Pagal naala’ enroute toPangongLake. There are few tea stalls at the pass that provide hot cup of tea at those freezing altitudes. There are stray horses and the Pashmina sheep of the locals grazing peacefully on both sides of the meandering road as one approaches the lake.
The wonderful effect that mesmerizes visitors is primarily created by the huge barren mountain ranges that flank the lake with their over powering shadows making stunning reflections of the pristine blue waters of the lake. It is as if the lake holds augment to the skies as the majestic mountains look on. The blue waters of the lake change shades with the sun’s movement giving a mystic feel to the entire locale. Small migratory birds that visit the lake in summers add to the wonder as they swing calmly to the small ripples on the lake water. The brown headed gulls and the majestic black-necked crane are among the most often sighted avian visitors to the lake.
The serene blue waters extend well beyond Indian borders intoTibet. In fact only one fourth of the lake is inIndiawith the rest under the control of Chinese authorities. The Man and Merak village accommodating Tibetian Gypsies lie nearby and are livable only in the summers. The Spangmik is the farthest habitable area till where the visitors are permitted. The Indian army has many bases beyond that village which saw some fierce fighting during the Indo China war of 1962. There are few war memorials there which can be accessed only after specific clearance from Army authorities.
The waters of theLakefreeze during winters providing a perfect hard walking surface for yaks, ponies and sheep to move in their migratory path. Recently the panging lake came into lime light in the Bollywood hit movie 3 Idiots whose final scenes were shot on the banks of the lake. The passes required to visit the lake are easily obtainable at Leh through any travel agent.
The rarified atmosphere, majestic mountains, clear skies and pristine blue waters of the lake combine to create a magical effect that lingers in the memory long after you have left the place.