‘A land of barren cold deserts, breathtaking lakes & enchanting mountains. Ju-leh!’’
A destination where flying in to the state reveals a cluster of snow-clad and barren mountains. It hints at the stark beauty that lies ahead. Wondering why backpacking through Ladakh is different from the rest of the world?
Extremely popular among biking enthusiasts, Ladakh holds a significance like none other. The culture exuberated by the villagers here is nothing short of a familial bonding.
With nothing but memories and stories to cherish for a lifetime. A region to visit for nature’s ecosystem! Never in your life would you have witnessed such raw contrasts in your surroundings.
The Buddhist Monasteries.
A land enriched with Tibetan culture, Ladakh houses some of the world’s finest monasteries. Many that the herds of humankind were oblivious of. Their locations so stunning, makes you contemplate on the architectural aspects even.
One of the oldest monasteries in the region, Lamayuru or ‘the place of freedom’ is linked to ancient history. Dating back to the tenth century, the manner in which the monastery blends with the surroundings is unmissable.
Also known to resemble the craters of the moon, the landscape will transport you to what they call the Moonscapes of Lamayuru. It welcomes you to the region, if you are traveling from Srinagar or Kargil.
The Thiksey Monastery is another one of its kind in the region. It is home to the largest statue in Ladakh, the Maitreya Buddha. If you wish to attend the prayers, you are more than welcome to here. You can also dine here at the restaurant, which offers nothing short of delectable food.
A little further ahead of Thiksey, you can make a stopover at Shey Monastery. Housing the Shakyamuni Buddha, it is home to over a 100 monks. It allows you impressive views of villages & monasteries in the region.
An arduous journey over the highest motorable road in the world. Diskit Monastery in Nubra Valley is one you cannot miss. Views of the Shyok river and the entire village from the monastery during sunset is a blessing. The monks residing here welcome you with warmth and kindness.
The Beguiling Lakes.
With every passing look, you still can’t get enough. The lakes in Ladakh are so enthralling, that they account for a strong reason why you need to backpacking through Ladakh to explore them all.
Located at elevations like these, it is hard to imagine such water bodies. Each Lake here is a magical vibe in itself. Enough so that there are tours organized especially for the lakes of the region.
We are all aware of Bollywood movies that have covered these iconic locations. Be it ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ or ‘3 Idiots’, they only piqued our interests further. There are a few that are recognized and on each travelers itinerary.
To name a few, Pangong Tso – a salt water lake – is a dream for many. Despite being 150 km from Leh, the patience ensures that the scene you are welcomed to is bewitching. You encounter camping sites as well. Tso Moriri – a freshwater lake – is another one that travelers tend to visit often.
Tso Kar Lake and Startspuk Tso are en route from Karzok towards Pang. All on the way towards Tso Moriri! Despite not being massive lakes, they are still gorgeously engulfed by mountains.
The list is endless and with different routes, you come across different Lakes or Tso’s. Keep a watch out, the further you explore, the prettier it gets.
The Culture Infused Villages.
You could have traveled to many states or countries and received different kinds of welcome. Some unexpected, some anticipated and some astonishing! A commonality across backpacking the villages in Ladakh is the warm welcome you will indefinitely receive. The striking Tibetan and Buddhist culture is more prominent here.
Such kind gestures, from treating you like family and caring for you. Guiding you about places, enriching you with their livelihood stories. Sharing indigenous delights with their local cuisines! You are in luck when the locals invite you to their homes.
The monks of all ages fill you with extreme gratitude. Each willing to share knowledge and their heritage with you. Another factor to wonder why is Ladakh different from the rest of the world!
The Striking Festivals.
A home to prevailing diversity, Ladakh encapsulates numerous traditions with its festivals. An interesting fact about them – they are geographically celebrated. Confused about what that means? Its easy to comprehend. While some are region specific, others are celebrated throughout.
If you intend on experiencing true Ladakhi culture, festivals here are the best time to visit. Decorations, food, colorful robes, artistic masks – overwhelm you. The Festivals have two categories – Ladakhi and Monastic festivals.
A few celebrated throughout Ladakh are – Galdan Namchot, Ladakh Festival, Saka Dawa Festival and Losar Festival. The dates are selected using the the Tibetan calendar months. And the summer months are when you enjoy most of these.
The region specific ones curate a special interest and have a distinctive history. The Dosmoche festival celebrated in the 12th Tibetan month (end February) is held at Diskit Monastery. Hemis festival is celebrated at Hemis Monastery and Karsha Gustor at Karsha Monastery respectively. Each festival has a strong narrative performed using drama.
Yuru Kabgyat in June at Lamayuru Monastery and Thiksey Gustor in October at Thiksey Monastery aren’t to be missed. Whenever you intend to backpack through Ladakh, you are bound to witness at least one of these.
The Stimulating Treks.
Ladakh is world renowned for it’s adventurous and challenging treks. With extreme elevations, you need to keep aside a minimum of three to five days for acclimatization. You have different agendas based on the months you intend on trekking here.
You have multiple locations to explore the barren mountains during the summer. The Markha Valley Trek is a 7 to 8 days trek, where you reach an elevation of 5260 m. Located in the Hemis National Park, it runs parallel to the Indus Valley. Breathtaking sites are what await you.
If you love the wildlife, the Snow Leopard Trek is a definite. The trek is located in the Hemis National Park as well.
A trek suitable for all ages is the Sham Valley Trek. You can explore and halt at villages and stay overnight! In your 3 days trek, you can visit Monasteries along the way. Alchi, Basgo and Rizong, to name a few.
A trek that allows you to witness culture, scenic beauty and the remote areas of Ladakh? Ten days is what you need in Zanskar to witness the same. Crossing Hanuma La, Singge La and Sir Sir La gives you a culture variance to experience.
If you are in Zanskar, the Chadar Frozen Lake Trek needs to be on your checklist. Travelers world over come to India for this 105 km trek. Laden with snow and freezing sub zero temperatures, many term its completion as an achievement. Another compelling reason as to why backpacking in Ladakh is different from the rest of the world!
The Palatable Delicacies.
When you are cold, don’t you seek warmth? The Butter Tea is a specialty here, to provide you some. The food in Ladakh is no less. Not only does it captivate you, but also leaves you craving for more.
The unique offerings include Yak cheese, also known as Chhurpe. Chhutagi, or water bread is a complete meal in itself. Similar to farfalle in its shape, this traditional delicacy can be enjoyed with vegetables or meat. Tingmo, or Tibetan bread is a common accompaniment with all the three meals.
Chhang is the local beer of Ladakh, and you cannot miss this treat. It holds religious significance as well. As an offering to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, you dip a finger in this drink and flick it thrice. It is a means of showing respect.
Momos and Thukpa should become a part of your diet during your stay here. You would have tasted them across the country, but none comparable to what you get in Ladakh.
Ladakh – The Adventures Beckon.
Having backpacked through Ladakh a couple of times, I still feel there is so much left to explore. Each visit has had different highlights. Some of my favorites include Nubra Valley, Khardung La Pass, Nimoo and the numerous monasteries.
You need to imagine villages surrounded by greenery, transitioning into rocky mountains and dangerous cliffs. Converging into snow-clad peaks, you cross Khardung-La pass. Catching your breath, you turn back to view those glorious mountains fade away in a distance. You are now spiraling down a road with barren mountains around you.
You reach a flat land with miles of sand ahead of you and a cold desert hugs you. Guiding your path, a stream gleams back at you and follows you all the way. Double humped camels tease you as you feel the cold air blow against your face. You are welcomed to Thoise, in Nubra Valley. The last air base en route Siachen.
If there is a place where words fail you, it is here. Every thing is so magical, that you cannot get enough.
Thrill can never seize for the adventurers. Rafting through these elevations in extreme weathers is a thrill in itself. Expeditions in Nimoo are held throughout the year. Located 35 km from Leh, you cross the Magnetic Hill en route, popularly known to defy gravity. Yes, it is true. You have got to try it with your vehicles.
A confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers, you should witness this beauty. It is an opportunity you shouldn’t miss, if given the chance. What makes Ladakh backpacking different from the rest of the world is that it never ceases to amaze you!
If there is a place in our country that can take your breath away, it is here. It is Ladakh, in all its might and glory.