Things to Do in Leh, the Capital of Ladakh

Leh, the capital of Ladakh, stands at the altitude of 3505 meters from sea level in the Indus Valley, surrounded by the Himalayas. In medieval days, Leh was a stop on the Silk Road trading route but today, Leh is a favorite India holiday destination – especially in the summer, when the rest of India suffers from the monsoon but in Ladakh, it hardly rains at all.

Leh used to be one of those mythical mountain destinations that few travelers had seen but today. we can see many RVs venturing out there. When Ladakh was opened to foreign tourists in 1974, the first backpackers came to Leh by bus from Srinagar in Kashmir.

Since then Leh has become an increasingly busy town, and in the summer its streets are filled with backpackers and tourists, hotels and guesthouses, coffee shops, restaurants, Tibetan markets, Kashmiri salesmen, Internet cafes and money changers.

Monasteries around Leh

Buddhist monasteries (gompas) around Leh include Hemis (the wealthiest of Ladakh’s monasteries and a Unesco World Heritage Site ), Thiksey, Likir, and Spituk. Remains of an old royal palace, once the home of Leh’s Buddhist kings, stand just outside on the road towards Manali. It feels like the Odisha Tribal Heritage, but then again…oh, so different! There is not much more to see but ruins and an impressive amount of white stupas (or chortens) that explains India’s architectural terminology ) that pop out of the dry earth.

I visited Thiksey, an old gompa that is still home to nearly a hundred monks of the Gelugpa order. Its white buildings look like they’re growing out of the brown hillside and as the monastery stands at 3600 m altitude, climbing up and down its steps feels literally breathtaking. Thiksey is most famous for its 15-meter-high statue of Maitreya Buddha, the future Buddha; and prayer wheels, thangka paintings, more ancient Indian Art, and colorful murals decorate the rooms.

Tips for Travel to Leh

Because of the volatile security situation in Kashmir, these days the most popular route to Leh is the road from Manali in Himachal Pradesh. The road opens around May when snow melts and closes again around October for the winter, but daily flights are available from Delhi for most of the year. Cochin, or Kochi, is another place you really should visit.

Since Leh is at an altitude of 3505 meters, acute mountain sickness is a serious risk. If you’ve arrived by road, you’ve been over some high mountain passes already and arrival in Leh feels easier. If you arrive by plane from Delhi, expect some AMS symptoms: shortness of bread, sleeplessness, not being able to walk more than 5 meters without having to sit down to rest is just one of the things I learned in India.  Even if you do not get very sick, the thin air in Leh can be challenging.