Ladakh, the land of the Lamas, is in itself quite offbeat. While tourism here has picked up, especially for us wanderer folks – there’s still a bunch of information available on a lot of the places. Ladakh is a very secluded place that is often on the list of true nature loves and explorers. However, there is still so much beauty that is untouched in this Himalayan wonderland, with each spot as exquisite and breathtaking as the next. If you ask me, if I could travel to one place for the rest of my and not get tired – Ladakh definitely will be at the top of the list.
So, without further ado, here is a list of my favorite 10 places (because, let’s be honest – everyone will have their own list when it comes to Ladakh!)
Without a doubt, Turtuk tops my list of stunning, unknown gorgeousness awaiting to be explored. The village which has its history intricately defined by the Indo-Pakistan Border has some crazy stories to tell. The area was opened to tourists only as recently as 2010 and has been a part of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir up till 1971 from Independence time. Post this, Turtuk became a sovereign part of the Indian territory. Turtuk, truly untouched by most, is bordered by Nubra on one side and Baltistan on the other, and it lies along the shores of Shyok River. A settlement of ~4000 people, Turtuk is the last northernmost village prior to Pakistan -Occupied-Kashmir. Turtuk has a history as colourful as the apricot plantations one sees all around the region. It is an amalgamation of all the cultures that have lived here.
Another town situated near the Nubra River is mostly known for the Samstanling Gompa, a new monastery, built in 1841. When you enter – you feel you are in a new place. A lot of the monasteries, because of their age, give you a feeling of experiencing history at your fingertips. This monastery however, is a new age era and so strikingly different from all your other experiences, that it will leave a command on your memory. The paintings inside the monastery are colourful and the walls are adorned with beautiful depictions of the deities. There are large scroll paintings on silk cloth as well – which are simply exquisite! There’s many trails from here leading to even tinier settlements and if you are an adventure enthusiast, I highly encourage you to take on the hike!
One more place in the gorgeous and deceptively hidden gems of Nubra valley is Panamik. Situated around 55 KMs from Diskit (Nubra Valley’s headquarters) is Panamik. Actually, when you’re heading to Diskit from Leh – you can take a detour to reach Panamik. Panamik lies enroute the Siachen Glacier and marks the last spot where civilians can visit. Also, your primary accompaniers on the road would be army trucks. Why visit Panamik, you ask? The place has hot Sulphur springs! It is believed that all hot Sulphur springs have medicinal properties, capable of curing various diseases. At the Panamik hot springs, you’ll find separate pools for women and men in the bath complex. It makes for the most relaxing of days to dip yourself into the hot Sulphur springs after the tiredness of the road and the long road journeys you would have taken by now!
Situated around 60 KMs from Leh, Uleytokpo is a area based on the banks of the Indus River. This makes for an idyllic place to call home for your trip – if you are absolutely keen on avoiding the “city” life and don’t want to interact with humans. If nature is what peaks your interest and you need a base for your journeys – then look no further, dear friend! All you’d be greeted by here is the magical sound of the river flowing by! There are both tents and proper cottages available here – so you don’t need to worry about carrying your own gear and . In the summer months (which is usually the prime time to visit the region) – you’ll be smack in the middle of lush greens and can enjoy the beauty of nature at its peak.
When I was researching for my first expedition into the region – I wanted to really learn about the history of Leh and the region. I came across this monastery, which is almost completely in ruins, and hardly visited. Located about 40 KMs from Leh, Basgo is a quaint little settlement of few homes and erstwhile was very prosperous. There is a monastery here, which is completely unknown. Though the monk here was exceptionally sweet and spoke with us for a long time, guiding us in understanding the history. What’s fun is that the monastery is not at all inaccessible. We could drive straight up to the entrance, and the drive is exceptionally smooth.
The monastery consists of three main temples, all dedicated to Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. Like all Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, it is studded with copper statues and wall paintings, depicting incidents from the life of Lord Buddha. The monastery is eerily similar to the mountains around it, making it hard to distinguish it from the nature surrounding it.
You’d have seen Upshi, if you are travelling on the Leh – Manali highway as the town lies just before Leh. After you’ve done your last pass of the journey – the Taglang-La – you touch the smoothest road portion of your journey and enter Ladakh in earnest. When you do – Upshi pops up, with many a camping locations. This is also the place where fur from the sheep is collected for making the expensive Pashmina shawls. There are multiple monasteries nearby and it makes for a delightful stop, especially if you want to visit Stok, Hemis, Thiksey and Shey – all lying within 50 KMs from here.
Another magical wonderland on the Leh-Manali highway is Rumtse. The entry point for the journey towards Tso-Morori, the village lies about 165 Kms from the lake. There is a trek of 9 days to reach the lake that starts from here as well. This region falls on the list because it will bring you to appreciate the lushness of Ladakh and not just its barrenness- which is a mainstay characteristic of the region.
The Chanthang plateau, actually a part of Tibet, is characterized by total absence of any flora! Changthang is compared to Chanthang of Tibet due to its location at 15,400 ft. Colder than most of Ladakh, you’ll come across many Changpa nomads – that rear changi goats for wool. The Changthang Wildlife sanctuary has all sorts of rare animals that you can come across, if you’re lucky. These include wolves, snow leopards, gazelles, and a truck-load of regional birds. In fact, Pangong Tso – the most famous part of Ladakh also lies in the Changthang Plateau.
The Buddhist Village of Rangdum is situated near Kargil and is the last hamlet in the Suru Valley. The two sides of Rangdum are eerily contrasting – one side is the colorful, lush hills and the other side is the glaciers and stunning majestic hills. The monastery here was built in the 16th century and is home to around 45 monks. It is an exceptionally peaceful place, making for a great spot to contemplate on life.
Hanle is also situated in the Changthang region and has to most soul-satisfying vibes. Home to around 300 people, Hanle is home to a beautiful monastery, housing about 10 monks. And, the views from the top will stop you in your tracks. It is situated only 19 Kms from the disputed frontier of the Line of Actual control. It is also home to the Indian Astronomical Observatory. The location of both the village and the observatory are highly sensitive due to the close proximity of the Tibetan / Chinese border and special permission is needed to visit either by the government of India.
Things to keep in mind
- While visiting any remote area in Ladakh region, one is required to attain Inner Line Permits (for India n Nationals) or Ladakh Protected Area Permits (for Foreign Nationals). One can get the permits online or at TIC Office, Main Market, Leh on all working days between 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM.
- Be prepared, pack well and always dress in layers. The region is known for its fickle minded weather and given the extremely isolated places you’ll be visiting – it is advisable to err on the side of caution as help is usually far away.
- Be clean when you travel, don’t litter. Carry water with you at all times and remain decently hydrated. Wear comfortable .
- Be mindful and respectful of the customs and local people’s customs. Usually villagers are very friendly and open to conversation – however, it is advisable to ask before you click someone’s picture, for example.
Ladakh is truly the land that keeps on giving. It has so much beauty hidden in every turn, every path and you’ll truly spend a lifetime marveling at the joy of Ladakh. Go out and explore. I hope the list does justice to the offbeat areas of Ladakh. Have you visited any of these before? Alternately, have you visited a place you think deserves a spot on the list? Comment below!