Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Leh - An Incredible High Altitude City


The name we heard many times as the only major city in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir state in North India. But only when you get there, you will start realizing how amazing the place is! In fact, you will start realizing even before reaching there.

Here is why: Unless you fly to this remote city tucked in the Ladakh range of mountains in the Himalayan region, which is very expensive to begin with, you need to cross some of the world's highest motorable roads, no matter from which direction you come through.

We traveled from the southern road connecting to Leh. That is from Manali in Himachal Pradesh. It is one of the most scenic and rugged roads you can find anywhere on the planet. You will have all the adventure feeling you want - sharp turns, 20,000+ tall Himalayan peaks, glaciers, rushing rivers, lush green to no green mountains, snow covered dangerous passes, icicles that you can eat, road side camps, no petrol/diesel for 365 km!, and much more.. It takes a lot of time - for us nearly 2 full days to get to Leh. But it was all worth it. You get to pass through Rohtang Pass (13,000+ ft above sea level) initially and then Tanglang La pass nearing Leh. Note - Taglang La is the world's third highest motorable road at over 17,600 feet above sea level! (La in Boti language means mountain pass).  Some claim Taglang La is the second highest road, but it is definitely a very high pass.

Some of the on road small eateries provide very comfortable blankets, pillows etc. for you to rest and catchup on some breathing, before indulging in tasty noodles and other food.

If you travel north from Leh towards Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield now (close to 19,000 feet above sea level), you will pass through Khardung La pass. Khardung La is the world's highest all-weather motorable road at nearly 18,400 feet above sea level, leading you to Nubra valley and then Siachen base camp. Nubra is very special as it is probably the world's highest sand desert covered by snow covered peaks! You can take double humped camel rides or ride ATVs over sand dunes, in freezing temperatures. Keep in mind, many attractions north and East of Leh, need special permit and you should talk to a travel agent or read on the web before heading to Leh.

If you travel east from Leh towards the ultimate Pangong Lake (Tso in Boti language), you will have to cross Chang La at nearly 17,700 feet above sea level, also the world's second highest motorable road. Today, Pangong is 40% with India and 60% with China after 1950s and 1960s expansion of China. A salt lake at over 14,250 feet above sea level, is a dream come true for any adventure seeker and you will know what is chilly winds if you stay at a camp next to the lake overnight.

If you travel west from Leh towards Kargil and Srinagar on National Highway 1D, you will pass over Namki La (12,100+ ft) , Fotu La - highest point on Highway between Leh and Srinagar at 13,500 ft above sea level and other passes, which are also quite formidable at 12,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level. The most scenic one is Zoji La (11,600 ft) , which is closer to Srinagar and Amarnath cave's northern point (Baltal base camp). Just driving from Leh to Srinagar, you can spend 3 days enjoying Dras (Kargil war memorial), Sonamarg resort, Zero Point, Magnetic Hill and dozens of scenic attractions.

So imagine.. no listen.. Leh has the world's highest motorable road in the north, second highest in the east, third highest in the south and a very high pass of 13,500 ft on the west. There is much more.. You can even see 21,000 ft+ peaks right from Leh!

Now you understand why I told it is very tough to get to this unique city by road, but it is worth every minute if you are brave enough to try! The best part? There is hardly any population there. Leh city, at 11,500 feet above sea level, has less than 35,000 people living permanently there, and they are very friendly to tourists.

You will need at least a week to fully see Leh and surroundings. If you have time and money, spend a month here. There is so much to see.

Shanti Stupa, built by the Japanese about 35 years ago, is one of Leh's main attractions. Whatever your duration is, keep 2 days to acclimatize to 10,000+ ft altitude. Else, you will develop breathing issues and major health upset. Also, if you have breathing issues, buy a small oxygen cylinder at a local medical store as soon as you reach Leh. Don't ignore low oxygen issues.

And, a Leh trip is not fully done, unless you take the legendary Royal Enfield's Bullet motor bike for a ride. 1000s of *crazy* folks drive all the way from Manali (south) or Srinagar (west) on their motor bikes, braving those tall snow covered peaks and dangerous slippery roads. But we took a short cut by just renting the bike in Leh and driving around the city and the national highway for fun. It is an incredible experience driving in the rugged mountains and vast uninhabited terrains.

Leh is probably the only main city in India today, where you can take a bath in the sacred Sindhu (Indus) river. I did that with my friends, and it was tough.. Water straight from Himalayan glaciers can be cold, but as a Hindu, I had to take the sacred bath. Sindhu is one of our 7 most sacred rivers, and the name Hindu, Hind, India are all probably based out of some variation of this great river. And there are many "Sangam" places like the place where Sindhu meets Zanskar river before flowing into Baltistan not in today's India's control.

Leh is known for its Buddhist architecture and history. And the monasteries across all the four directions I mentioned above, are worth seeing. Some of  the world's most gorgeous view points are there in these monasteries.

And don't ever forget to visit the Hall of Fame military memorial for Indian soldiers in Leh. It is near Zorawar fort and on a breezy evening, your will have the time of your life paying homage to all those who laid down their lives for our secure future.

Did I tell, a 500 year old Sikh Gurudwara Patthar Sahib is a must-visit place near Leh? Guru Nanak ji personally visited this place exactly 500 years ago.

Leh! Undoubtedly the most unique high altitude destination on the planet. I have not even talked about 100s of high altitude snow trekking in Zanskar valley and other attractions around Leh for winter enthusiasts. 


  1. Thanks Manjunath. Incredible place.

    1. Has served in nimmu near patersaheb gurudwar was in leh n diskit in nubra valley n also siachen base camp

  2. My 18 months tenure in laddakh sector was most memorable one. Only sad thing then I was not having camera .

  3. Incredible write-up which tempts us to visit the most incredible place in our country Ladakh the new Union Territory.

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    2nd line of defense is handwash
    3rd line of defense is mouthwash/gargling

    Try this in Karnataka and reverse the spread within weeks. Watch the society bounce back on its feet and return of normalcy.

  5. The colors in these pictures are so vibrant and captivating. Nature's beauty at its best! Please click on this link 5 Nights 6 Days Ladakh Package