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Leh is breathtaking. Towering over the city is the tall nine storeyed palace built by Ladakhs ruler Sengge Namgyal in the early 17th century. It is said to have served as the model for the Potala palace in Lhasa. Another palace in Lhasa. Another palace built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century stands above it on the Namgyal Tsemo peak. Down below, the town is a maze of little box like buildings bristling with brushwood stored on the roof for winter, set in an oasis of green fields.
Buddhism & Monasteries
Not far from Leh, Shey is the oldest capital of Ladakh from where its earliest Tibetan kings ruled. Perched on top of a huge rock are the royal palace and temples adorned with brilliantly coloured murals and a 7.5 metre gold statue of the Buddha. Basgo and Tingmosgang with their forts and palaces were also capitals of Ladakh. Stok Palace across the river from Leh is the home of the erstwhile royal family. The Palace Museum here has collections of beautiful royal costumes and jewellery, exquisite Thangkas, porcelain, jade, weapons and armour.
Within easy reach of Leh is the Spituk Monastery with its commanding view of he indus. It has fine Thangkas and a collection of ancient masks. Thikse Monastery one of the most impressive in the area is spectacularly located and is noted for its beautiful murals. Hemis is of course the biggest gompa in Ladakh and the best known for its magnificent summer festival that celebrates the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava. The largest thangka in Ladakh is to be found here. It is unfolded only once every 12 years. Around Leh in the upper Indus valley is the cultural heartland of Ladakh, where the old capitals of the area are located and where many of the splendid palaces and Gompas are also to be found. The people of Ladakh are predominantly Buddhist and practise Mahayana Buddhism tempered with the old Bon animistic faith and Tantric Hinduism. It was brought Buddhism to Tibet and Ladakh during his travels in the 7th century AD. In the 11th century the Buddhist scholar Rinchen Tsangpo established 108 monasteries in the region. The Gompas at Lamayuru and Alchi are said to date from that time.
How to reach
Ladakh is a land abounding in awesome physical features, set in an enormous and spectacular environment. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Karakoram in the north and the Great Himalaya in the south, it is traversed by two other parallel chains, the Ladakh Range and the Zanskar Range. Today a high-altitude desert, sheltered from the rain-bearing clouds of the Indian monsoon by the barrier of the Great Himalaya, Ladakh was once covered by an extensive lake system, the vestiges of which still exist on its south-east plateaux of Rupshu and Chushul, in the drainage basins or lakes of Tso-moriri, Tso-kar and Pangong-tso. But the main source of water is winter snowfall.
The best time for a trek in Ladakh is July to September.
High grade trek routes (3/4c) converging on Leh via Padam in Zanskar. Also start from Kishtwar over the Sersank and Pota La and from Zanskar crossing the Charcharal. Perhaps the most popular pass of all is the Shingola which still serves as an arterial route (19 days/3C) from Lahaul to Zanskar. 7/8 trek days from moderately high passes (3C) end with visits to the Markha valley, Stok Village and the celebrated Hemis Monastery. The season is also marked by higher water volume in the Indus enabling rafting excrusions from Leh down to Nimo near its junction with Zanskar River. Acclimatisation is essential. Day visits from from Leh can be taken to the Buddhist Monastries dotting the Indus Valley. Leh bazzar it-self harks back to the oldest trade routes to Tibet.
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