Ode to Ladakh
LADAGS - Land of the high mountain passes and the omnipresent Mighty Himalayas , of shifting sand dunes and mighty glaciers, of serene blue glacial high altitude lakes and colourful lunar landscape, of fiery Sun and icy winds, of Gompas and Monastery’s reverberating with the chanting of hymns, of prayer flags fluttering in the cool breeze and fragrance of apricot wafting around, of ever smiling and warm people, of the Lama and the Snow Leopard.....on and on I can go on for the land has no apt way to describe it. May Gods bless it and may you be blessed by planning a visit to this magical land....Ladakh.
If you are game to have this experience of a life time, then look no further. We offer customized expeditions across Ladakh and the surrounding areas. Be it the thrill of adventure or experiencing the spiritual tranquillity of Monastic life, we do promise to show you Ladakh as it is, the magic of this magnificent land will bind you as it did, the great travellers, historians, scholars and seekers of faith of years bygone.
As you open the curtains of your room on bright mornings, Snowy mountain ranges jutting from the clouds is what you will see, fragrance of incense wafting by is what you will smell, monks blowing the huge copper trumpets from rooftops of monasteries is what you will hear....not a bad way to start a day. The hardy and hospitable people of Ladakh have lived for centuries in this barren, inhospitable terrain yet warm and inviting at the same time, they invite you to experience life of this magnificent Kingdom. Come experience the life of the Ladakhi people on our journeys across this spectacular land. A civilization over 1000 years old in the most hostile environment in the world is nothing short than gods magic.
Ladakh’s indigenous inhabitants and early settlers were nomadic yak and horse herders. Signs of permanent settlements seen today were established along the banks of Indus River by Buddhist pilgrims journeying from India to Mount Kailash in Tibet. Though Ladakh is home to various ancient sects and other faiths like Bonism: the religion which preceded Buddhism in Tibet, followed by the Brokpa tribe, but the dominant religion is Buddhism in the region.
Ladakh is a region of the state of Jammu & Kashmir , the Northern most state of India, bordered by Tibet to the East, Lahul & Spiti to the South, Kashmir Valley to the West and the trans-Kunlun territory of Xinjiang to the far North. In the olden days it was referred to as “Little Tibet” as it has been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture. Leh is the biggest town in Ladakh and is at a distance of 434 Kms from Srinagar and 474 Kms from Manali. Ladakh was not open to foreign tourists till a few years ago; even Indian nationals needed a permit to venture into ladakh. Things have now changed and most of ladakh can be accessed by roads, many of them having the credit of being the highest in the world.
Ladakh is an oasis of intense spirituality and cultural heritage, rich traditions of Mahayana Buddhism still flourish in its purest form and stunningly beautiful and fascinating Monasteries perched on cliffs and resplendent Stupas stretching to the heavens dot the landscape. What is that we see?? Aha....the Lamas are in a festive mood...it is celebration of life and old customs in the Monasteries...it is that time of the year when centuries old customs will be observed. Lamas will dance and perform rituals to appease the gods....what a sight it is. To experience and be part of Monastery festivals like Karsha Gustor, Hemis Tse Chu and many others would be a life experience, don’t miss it.
Places to visit in Ladakh
As you descend Chang La and enter the Eastern fringe of the Great Changthang Plateau of Tibet, a deep sigh of amazement at the wonder of nature’s miracles will escape your lips. The immense landscape swells as to reach towards the great tiers of snow crested peaks towering above you. Arching over it is a sky, bluest of blues, munificent, sheltering. As you drive further, far away in the horizon you notice shimmering aquamarine and turquoise waves gently undulating as to a symphony of a master composer, my friends you are privileged, behold-the first view of the famous and magnificent Pangong Tso.
As you drive further Pangong Tso will reveal its magical wonders, and you ponder, if it is a dream may it never end and if it is reality, I am blessed as the eyes no longer are strained.
Pangong Tso means a long, narrow, enchanted lake also known as Banggong Co in Tibetan. It is an Endorheic Lake, which means it is a closed drainage basin that retains water and allows no outflow to other bodies of water but may only leave the drainage system by evaporating and seepage. The lake is feed by glaciers from the surrounding mountains and precipitation in the form of snow fall in winters.
From Leh it is a 5-6 hour drive over rough and uneven mountain roads to reach Pangong Tso. After crossing the villages of Shey and Gya you will head up to the imposing Chang La which is the third highest motor able road in the world at a elevation of 5360 meters (17,585 feet). Further on as you head down you will cross through Tangste, Lukung and other smaller villages to final arrive at Spangmik which is on the shore of Pangong Tso. As the lake lies on the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control an inner line permit is required for all planning to visit the lake. While Indian nationals can get individual permits, foreigners can only visit on group permits with a minimum of three persons and have to accompanied by an accredited guide.
Pangong Tso is situated at an elevation of 4,350 meters (14,270 feet) and is about 134 km long extending into Tibet. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point and covers 604 square Kms. About 40% of the lake is in Indian Territory with the rests being in Tibet. The water of the lake is highly saline with PPM measure of more than 10,000 dissolved salts which makes it undrinkable. Despite being saline water the lake freezes completely during the harsh winters.
Pangong Tso will soon be declared as a wetland of international importance under the ‘Ramsar Convention” as it is an important breeding ground for migratory species like the Bar-Headed Goose and the Brahmini Duck and numerous other resident bird species. If it happens so, then it will be the first Trans boundary wetland in South Asia.
Route: Leh – Shey – Karu – Shakti – Chang La – Durbuk – Tanksey – Lukung – Spangmik (Pangong Tso)
Distance: 170kms from Leh
Route Opens: Mid May to late October (depends on the weather)
Local Scholars say Nubra Valley was known as “Ldumra” meaning the “Valley of Flowers” in the olden days. Fed by the Shoyak and the Nubra River, its fertile land along the river beds is in full bloom, yellow and pink wild roses dot the landscape in summer and a great profusion of wild lavender flowers fills this beautiful valley in the post monsoon season. As you descend down the Khardung La, whole host of fragrances of apricots, walnuts, almond, apples and sea buckthorn and other indigenous berries which grow in this valley along the banks of Shoyak and Nubra Rivers will assail your senses. Nubra valley is prime crop growing land by Ladakhi standards and you will see vast tracts of barley, peas, mustard and other crops dotting the valley landscape along the winding channels of the rivers.
Further on as you drive into the valley, the Siachen Glacier lies to the north, the Sasser La and the well known Karakoram pass like to the northwest and connects it with Xinjiang region of China. In the olden days it was an important trading route followed by numerous caravans traversing the silk route.
Nubra Valley is about 150 Km from Leh, the capital town of Ladakh, is at an average elevation of 10,000 feet above sea level and acts as a natural barrier between the Karakoram and Ladakh ranges. A rough road heads north from Leh town and snakes up to the mighty Khardung La at a height of 18,380 feet, the highest motor able pass in the world and then descends sharply down towards the Nubra Valley marked by the crisscrossing track of the Nubra and Shyok Rivers. The run up to Khardung La from Leh is about 38 Km and is a steep uphill climb for most part with the latter section covered in snow for most part of the year, hats off to the Border Road guys for a superlative job in keep the pass reasonably hassle free most of the time.
Scattered around the valley floor are old Buddhist monasteries, crumbling palaces, ancient gompas and pictureously located villages which can be accessed while hiking around the beautiful Nubra Valley. Buddhism flourished in Nubra Valley due to its climate being milder than other parts of Ladakh and it being an important station along the old silk trade route. On the banks of the Shyok River lies Diskit, home to one of the oldest and largest monasteries in the region, the Diskit monastery which belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) Sect and is believed to be over 350 years old. Hundar, the capital of the erstwhile Nubra Kingdom in the 17th century, is home to the Chamba Gompa. The landscape between Hundar and Diskit is dotted with vast stretches of sand dunes, the natural habitat of the “Double-Humped” Bactrian camels. The Bactrian camel is found in the steppes of central Asia and remote and wild regions of Gobi desert, Taklimakan desert, the Mangystau province of Kazakhstan and Nubra valley in Ladakh.
On the way to Hunder is one of the holiest lakes in Ladakh, Lohan Tso. Not a lot of people visit this tiny tear drop shaped lake which sits in a cup of granite rock. Buddhists believe the pure of heart can see the Potala palace reflected in its waters, while Muslims say scribbling of their truest wishes appear magically in it. I would suggest an early morning visit to capture the golden rays of the sun, the reflection of the sky and surrounding mountains in its clear green waters or the different hues of the lake owing to salt sediments and the beautiful rocky bed.
Along the banks of the Nubra River (a tributary of the Shyok River) lies Samstanling monastery and further on lies Panamik, noted for its hot springs and home to Ensa Gompa believed to be over 250 years old. The walk up to the Ensa Gompa takes about 5 hours, but is worth the effort, great view from the hill top, stunning Buddhist murals and ancient rock cravings are to be found here. The Samstanling monastery, located near Sumur village has an amazing collection of Tangkhas (ancient painted and embroidered scrolls), frescos and unique idols.
Route: Leh – Khardung La – Khalser – Diskit – Hunder – Panamik on the road to Siachen
Distance: 150kms North from Leh
Route Opens: Mid May to late October (depends on the weather)
It’s a long drive, 240 Km from Leh, but one which I always look forward to, to the famed and glorious Tso Moriri. From Leh it is a drive over mostly smooth, undulating tarmac for the initial bit and later runs along the rugged Indus River and finally a long stretch over rutted broken dirt road and sand beds to reach the petite hamlet of Korzok on the banks of Tso Moriri. The journey along the mighty Indus, traversing sheer gorges hugging the river, fleeting glimpses of wild roses and other indigenous flowers and finally through the Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary to reach Tso Moriri is a driving enthusiasts dream.
The Changpas told us an interesting folklore, about how the name of Tso Moriri came about. One day a female Nun by the name of Chomo was riding a Yak along the banks of the lake. Suddenly the Yak started trotting towards the lake; Chomo became alarmed and pulling on the reins and started shouting “Ri Ri”, the customary command to halt a Yak. However the Yak did not stop and pulled her into the lake, hence the name, “Tso” for water body, “Mo” as the initials of the nun’s name and “Ri Ri” the urgent command she was giving to the Yak.
Come at your peril, for this plateau of unparalleled splendour and spectacular lakes casts it magical spell on all seekers. The sapphire blue water of Tso Moriri brings out a nice contrast with the wide barren landscapes and mighty snow-clad peaks of the Rupush valley forming as the background. The play of light and the shadows formed by the clouds changes constantly, giving the lake varied hues, each better than the last till you wonder, have you seen the best, for I would say, keep searching and discovering, quest of a life time.
Nestled along the Western shore of the lake is Korzok village, home to the Changpa nomads and said to be one of the oldest settlements in the world. The Changpa’s are legendary nomadic herdsmen who with respect to the wishes of nature move with their herds searching for pastures in rhythm with the seasons. The Changpa’s are of Tibetan origin and their main life stock comprises of Yak’s and Pashmina Goat.
Part of the Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary, Tso Moriri at an elevation of 4595 Meters(15,075 Feet) is over 19 Km long, 7 Km at its widest and about 130 feet at its deepest, is the biggest of the high altitude Trans-Himalayan lakes in India. It can be categorised as an Endorheic lake since it is a closed drainage basin which does not allow outflow of water to other water bodies such as rivers and oceans. Loss of water is only through evaporation and seepage. Tso Moriri has a approximate catchment area of 110 Square Km and is primarily fed by snow melt, springs and a number of mountain streams at it Southern, Northern ends and pasture land of Peldo Le.
Tso Moriri and the surrounding Eastern Chumathang region are home to a unique and extensive array of endemic and endangered species of faunal life, due to which it has been notified as a Ramsar Wetland. Tso Moriri is a key halt on the migration path of several water birds and is an important and only breeding ground for the Bar-Headed Geese and serve as a likable breeding area for Ruddy Shelduck and other waterfowl species. It is also the solitary place outside of China where the gorgeously resplendent Black-Necked Crane Breeds. The little islands on the South and North ends of Tso Moriri are just the thing for breeding of these resplendent Avifaunal friends of feather.
Some endangered and vulnerable species of birds found in Tso Moriri are- Black-Necked Crane, Bar-Headed Geese, Brown-Headed Gulls, Great-Crested Grebe, Ferruginous Pochard and Black-Necked Grebe.
Among the mammals, Tso Moriri and the hill slopes surrounding the lake is home to Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass), Great Tibetan Sheep, Tibetan Sand fox, Snow Leopard, Tibetan Wolf, Marmot and hare.
Monasteries – Lamayuru, Diskit, Sumur
Ladakh is a region in India totally isolated from the modern world. An authentic land, it is faithful to ancestral customs where life is characterized by intense spirituality. Even an Indian traveler will probably find no similarities in the land and people between the ones he leaves behind and those he encounters in Ladakh. Rich traditions of Mahayana Buddhism still flourish in the purest form in this region, which has often been referred to as Little Tibet.
Zanskar....sounds magical, is magical, don’t believe me?? Lay out a bet....I except....cause I have seen the magic, been captured for life.
The above words are not of a deranged lunatic, but of a man captivated by the beauty of an area known as Zanskar. The rugged valley of Zanskar is truly the last bastion of true wilderness and back in time preserved cultures and customs. It can be reached either by trekking over tough terrain for more than a week or by driving for over 16 hours over broken and rutted roads. But may I say, the effort is worth all the “grunts and gasps” of pain and agony for a first timer and “yelps” of delight of a hardened explorer.
Zanskar is located in the eastern part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir and is a sub district of the Kargil district. The administrative centre is a town by the name of Padum located at an elevation of 3669 meters(12,037 feet) and is about 240 Km from Kargil and is accessed after crossing the mighty Pensi La which is about 4400 meters(14,436 feet). On the Western side of Pensi La flows the Suru River which is one of the main tributaries of the mighty Indus, it merges with the Indus at Kargil. On the Eastern side of Pensi La you can see the beautiful Drang Drung Glacier which is the source of the Stod River which flows into the Padum Valley and then merges with the Tsarap Chu to form the majestic Zanskar. The road from Kargil to Padum is open from end May till Mid of October and can be negotiated with caution. The Zanskar valley is cut off from other parts of Ladakh from early November till end of May as Ice/snow glaciers block the mountain passes and the entire valley is covered by coat of snow.
Route from Kargil to Padum: - Kargil > Sanko > Panikhar > Parakachik > Rangdum > Pensi La > Padum.
Kargil to Sanko
Kargil to Sanko is about 42 Km is mostly a dirt road. It is advisable to have your breakfast in Kargil and stock up on all provisions in Kargil. If due to an early start you have missed your morning meal, then for sure have it in Sanko as the next good place for a bite is Rangdum. You are driving in the Suru Valley.
Sanko to Panikhar
Sanko to Panikhar is about 26 Km. The road condition are a little better on this stretch and the surrounding Valleys are lush green with a back drop of majestic snow clad mountains. This would be a great place to laze around for a bit, wander around and soak in the beautiful environs. You are driving in the Suru Valley.
Panikhar to Parakachik
Panikhar to Parakachik is roughly 22 Km. The road conditions are mostly dirt and loose gravel. The natural beauty of the Suru Valley is at its zenith from Parakachik onwards. Grasslands of Parakachik are beautiful with a tinge of burnt orange shade to it and the mighty Snow clad mountains give it a very picturesque background. If you are carrying your tents then you should plan to camp here, fabulous place to camp. You are driving in the Suru Valley.
Parakachik to Rangdum
Parakachik to Rangdum is approximately 41 Km. The road is for the most part dirt and broken at places. Rangdum is a quaint little town with roughly a dozen houses and 3-4 guesthouses and restaurants. It is advisable to stay here for the night if you are planning to take it easy. You are driving in the Suru Valley.
Rangdum to Pensi La
Rangdum to Pensi La is about 25 Km drive over similar broken and rutted road. About 5 Km after Rangdum you will see the beautiful 18th century Rangdum Gompa, picture perfect it is. It is perched on a small hillock above the road. You can walk up to it and soak in the surroundings. The ascent to Pensi La will start soon after the Rangdum Gompa. It is a gradual ascent and the road condition is basically dirt and loose gravel. Just short of Pensi La is the start of the Zanskar Valley which opens up with breath taking views of the Darung Drung glacier. Pensi La is the highest point on the road from Kargil to Padum, about 4234 meters (14,100 feet) and the one simple board declaring that fact is not easily visible, keep an eye out to your right. You are in the Zanskar Valley.
Pensi La to Padum
Pensi La to Padum is approximately 90 Km of dirt road with less broken rocks. It is a gradual descent after Pensi La to the Plateau below. The stunning vistas of the Zanskar Valley are all around you and you can’t help but feel this is it, not leaving in a hurry. Just before Padum the road will be nice and smooth tarmac owing it to the status of Padum being the district headquarters of the Zanskar Valley. You will find all essential facilities like guest houses, internet cafes, phone booths and simple restaurants serving basic but decent food.
Important Things to remember while visiting Zanskar Valley
Zanskar is as isolated as it gets. It is important to be prepared for it as to avoid any unpleasant experience. For people who want to explore Zanskar by road it is critical that they carry extra fuel with them as there are no petrol pumps in Zanskar. The closest petrol pump is in Kargil. So, keep enough fuel that will last you close to 550 Km. Also it is important to remember that the fuel consumption of your vehicle will drastically increase as your will be mostly driving in low gears, so calculate likewise. As for spares, try and carry 2 spare tyres, puncher repair kit, air pump and air filter along with you.
If you plan to trek in Zanskar, do carry enough provisions as you are unlikely to get anything substantial in Zanskar. Pack some spare provisions. I would suggest that you should be carrying toasty warm sleeping bags and a good 4 season alpine tent to save you from the elements.
How To Get To Zanskar Valley
Go Adventure Sports offers customized itineraries for both Road Expeditions and Trekking Expeditions for Zanskar Valley. It will be our honour to guide our guests to this wondrous part of Ladakh.
If you want to explore Zanskar on your own feel free to contact us and we will help you out in every way possible.
Bus Service: Jammu & Kashmir State road Transportation Corporation runs regular bus service from Leh and Kargil to Padum which is the administrative capital of Zanskar. The buses halt regularly in both the Suru and Zanskar valley.
Taxis: Both shared taxis and private taxis can be hired from Leh and Kargil to Padum.
Ode to Ladakh