The air-hostess announced that we were approaching Leh airport and the captain had turned on the fasten seat-belt sign. As I eagerly peered out of the little aircraft window I catch a glimpse of a vast, barren desert, and posing meekly in its midst a tiny landing-strip. My throat went dry for a moment. The Ladakh adventure had truly begun.
Located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the humble land of Ladakh in India is cradled by the ice-capped Kunlun mountain range in the north and the Great Himalayas to the south, providing a breathtaking panoramic view all around.
Due to extreme weather conditions which see temperatures plummet to minus 35 degree Celsius, the area remains scarcely populated, resulting in a clean and pristine environment. Once you land in Ladakh, you feel miles away from home; you could be at the very gates of heaven. Clear blue skies, wide landscapes of cold desert, ice-capped mountains and the soft cold mountain breeze against your skin makes you feel cradled in nature’s arms.
Ladakh is well known as the ‘Land of the Gompas’ (or monasteries). Historically the region is of Tibetan descent and host to many Buddhist monasteries. Most famed are Thiksay, Hemis, Shey and Dhankar. The monasteries house several Buddhists who spend their entire life studying and learning.
The topography is also perfectly suited to adventurous biking experiences. The winding hilly roads hidden in the mountains are said to be every biker’s dream ride. As you climb, you can stop and enjoy the incredible views of the vast valley that stretches below against the backdrop of the crisp, clear sky.
Getting there: Ladakh is accessible throughout the year by air and road. There are daily flight options from Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu and stop over flight options from other locations.
Climate: The region of Ladakh rests in altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2750m) at Kargil to 25,170 feet (7,672m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. At these altitudes temperature extremities are intense. The best time to visit is in summer between June and October when the temperature is at its most pleasant. November invites heavy snowfall and temperatures drop drastically to negatives.
Health: Due to its high geographical altitude, oxygen levels are low. Initially you might find yourself breathing a little heavier than usual and its advised that you give your body time to acclimatise before setting out on any physical activity. There is a local hospital in Leh if the need arises and you feel uncomfortable.
Places to stay: There are a number of options for accommodation in Leh, Ladakh. Wego hosts more than 94 hotels ranging from luxury to cosy inns. The destination has so much to offer that your visit should ideally be no less than seven days if possible.
Cuisine: The Indus and Zansar Rivers lend fertility to the land that allows agriculture to flourish. Ladakhi cuisine is mildly spiced with loads of butter to keep the body hydrated against the dry mountain weather. There are many local Chinese restaurants that serve Tibetan flavoured Chinese food. Every evening you can stroll to the market where vendors have set up shop on the pavements offering spicy kebab rolls and hot tea with butter.
Leh Market: The Leh Market is filled with many quaint shops that light up as the sun goes down. Here you can buy everything from woollens, to spices, warm bread, miniature prayer wheels, silk scarves, gasoline lanterns to local beaded jewellery.
Must experience: Apart from the Gompas, there are many other great experiences. The Shanti Stupa in Changspa, is a true haven located in the midst of the great mountains.
For the more adventurous, the Chaddar Ice trek is an unforgettable experience. A 19 day trek across the frozen Zanskar river is not for everyone and to take part you should have had prior mountaineering experience and a courageous heart to withstand frigid weather conditions. Every year the trek varies depending on the thickness of the ice.