This is Part 1 of a 4 part series.
A landscape untamed, nestled between the cold confines of the Himalayas and adorned by shimmering horizons of sand enthralls and draws tourists from across the world. With the ever growing population and a commensurate increase in tourist footprints, the town of Leh is a bustle of hotels, cafes and souvenir shops where tradition tangoes with modernity. The streets that were once reserved for ponies and yaks carrying merchandise from distant towns are now abuzz with Harleys and Toyotas.
Monks in sneakers, sunglasses, Celtic caps and four wheel drives are as much a feature of Leh as the brooding 17th century Tsemo Palace perched atop the peak of victory, overlooking the shambolic urban sprawl. Beyond the apparent modernity that arrives with each new wave of tourists, a culture struggles to keep itself from being trampled by the rush of indiscriminate progress.
However, one finds hope in the wise words of a local monk, “the trails will outlast roads, the culture will outlast tourism and the spirit of Ladakh will outlive them all.”
A city – largely barren besides the occasional oasis like villages surrounded by sinuous roads – does not boast of lush green meadows like Kashmir or dense forests like Uttarakhand, yet it’s rugged terrain will compel you to stop ever-so-often and be overwhelmed by how beauty exists in different forms.
The Ladakhi villages can easily be identified from a distance by the rich shade of green amidst all the stony brown mountains and the meandering blue Indus River. It’s certain that the beauty of the sheer contrasts this city possesses will stun you.
Here is my list of musts – for you!
- Zostel Leh
Offering a panoramic view of some of the youngest Himalayan mountain ranges & Leh city, Zostel Leh is a 10 min walk from the main market. With its unmatched beauty and distinct cold desert charm, Leh is frequently called “a paradise for travellers” and rightly so. With 6-4 bed dorms and several private rooms, this backpacker hostel is the best place to relax while you grasp the beauty of the valley around you.
Truly, what’s a better deal than cheap and clean rooms?
- Bon Appetit
Hidden away in the city, unlikely footpaths of Karzu Road, classy Bon Appetit has far more finesse than most restaurants in Leh, so consider booking! Much on the eclectic menu, it has an Italian feel, but you’ll also find good salads and tandoori grills. It’s a great place to brunch or hang out for a sunset drink (beer Rs. 250/-) on the courtyard.
The exteriors are a stylish Ladakhi architecture with minimalist details and offers a splendid view of snow-clad Stok Kangri from the open terrace.
Ask me, it’s hands down the best restaurant in Leh!
- Gesmo Restaurant
Located on the sides of a road that climbs a long incline through the main market, German Bakery attracts people by its name. The place is officially called Gesmo Restaurant. It falls among the “decent looking” cafés, yet offers the best Yak Cheese Pizza that not even 4 of your hungriest friends could finish. Other than local fusion Tibetan food, you could also choose a Burger, fresh Salads or Pastries.
My take, make this your second preference. You know the first 🙂
*Pro Tip: While organizing your days in Leh, plan to book a cab and cover the places you want to see in 3 sections i.e. Leh City & Around, Towards Manali and Towards Srinagar. It will save you time, money and effort!
- Hall of Fame
A museum dedicated to the Indian soldiers and run by the Indian Army itself, houses weapons, history exhibits and a souvenir shop. While I was rather overwhelmed and shaken by this war memorial, it’s a place you must visit to read about and experience the barbaric brutalities faced by our Indian soldiers. Much to my surprise, a lot of information that is exhibited in text is already on the net but visiting the museum will give you the chills.
- Namgyal Tsemo Monastry
Funny that not a lot of tourists visit this monastery considering the panaromic views of Leh from atop the mountain. The monastery itself is rather quiet and most times even, inoperative but anything for the view!
- Leh Palace
I gave this a skip as I was told numerous times that it was really not worth it. But if you have time, give it a try and tell me what you think!
- Leh Main Market
Like any other small town market, the main market of Leh is a street market with many lanes and bylanes, all of which have small shops selling a variety of products. One can find everything here from shoes to clothes and woolen wear as well as jewelry. Also, some beautiful locally made carpets, shawls, and souvenirs are available here. The Tibetan Refugee Market is also set up here, which sells unique carvings, artifacts, and souvenirs.
Oh, and you have to try the Leh Berry & Apricot Juice that comes in a glass bottle, available at any grocery store.
- Central Asian Museum
Skipped this too. But I was told to visit it, as it was very interesting. This would mean there’s a next time in Leh 😉
- Shanti Stupa
This white-domed stupa is situated on a hilltop in Chanspa, Leh district and all the tourists first flee here once in Leh. I would recommend that you see the rest of the places and then if you have time, do this! I personally didn’t enjoy it as much as I did on the road to reach here!
- Shey Palace & Monastery
- Thiksay Monastry – My personal favorite, I would say you must go.
- Stakna Gompa
- Karu Village
- Hemis Gompa
- Spituk Gompa – Beautiful view of Leh city and the airport runway.
- Phey Village
- Pathar Sahib Gurudwara – Plan to reach here during lunch time to experience the yummiest Lankar and the prasaad (offering) of course!
- Magnetic Hill – Overrated!
- Sangam (Confluence of Zanskar & Indus Rivers) – If the weather allows, you can go rafting on the two rivers; it’s quite a thrilling experience!
- Likir Gompa
- Alchi Choskhor