Leh - The Capital of Ladakh
Altitude : 3,500m
Population : 30,000
Major religions : Buddhism, Islam
Best time to go : June to September
is a lovely town. It is also the most important town in the region,
and the major hub for travellers coming into Ladakh. Nestled along the
Indus River, the town lies in a fertile valley surrounded by barren
¤ Ladakh Region
Dominated by the imposing Leh Palace and the Namgyal Tsemo, the
labyrinthine lanes and pathways of Leh snake around the parti-coloured
streets of Leh Bazaar and wind on to meet the pretty Sankar and
Changspa Villages that fringe the outskirts of Leh. In the month of
May, as the first few tourists trickle in, the lazy market streets
shrug off their yearly winter slumber, and gear up to entice the
innumerable blonde and dark heads that start to bob up and down the
towns many alleys.
These streets resonates with smatterings of Hebrew, German, French,
Spanish, Swahili, Chinese, English and Ladakhi, to name a few,
especially during July and August when Leh turns into a clip from one
of the less controversial Benetton advertisements.
¤ The Centre of Trade
Till the late 1940s, rows of hairy yaks loaded with
semi-precious stones, tea and wool, amongst other things, trudged down
from these bazaar lanes, across the Karakoram Pass into Central Asia
the only trade route that connected the region with Central Asia. Who
was to know that this remote highland town that could only be reached
by crossing some of the worlds highest passes that entailed a
journey during which one would have to brave extreme natural odds,
would be within an hours reach from the capital.
A few years of initiation to the dollar and the valley where Leh
stands has seen hundreds of hotels, restaurants and emporia cropping
up. The town is still expanding every year. Surprisingly the cold
desert capital of Leh turns into a considerably green town in the
summer months when willows, poplars and junipers dress up in fresh
¤ Accommodation and Restaurants Available
Its a good idea to spend a number of days here and get into the
flow of things before you take on the more remote reaches of Ladakh.
Leh is also one of the very few places in the region where you could
live in relative luxury, so enjoy it while you are there.
The town has its share of fine hotels and restaurants. The popular
German Bakery on Fort Road is a good place for breakfast and snacks
and serves a range of teas and coffees. Just beware of fake German
bakeries as youll find one almost around every corner. Do not
miss out on the delicious apricot juice and pressure-boiled drinking
water available at Dzomsa, one of the shops close to the German
¤ Main Attractions
has quite a few interesting places on offer. You could start with the
captivating Leh Palace that rises from the edge of a hill overlooking
the town and stretches out towards the indigo sky.
Irrevocably reminiscent of a picture-postcard of Lhasas Potala
Palace, this deserted edifice has a definite mystical quality about
The Palace was built in the middle of the 16th century by
King Singe Namgyal and still belongs to the royal family that now
lives in the Stok Palace. The nine-storeyed monument has gone to seed,
so dont visit the site expecting too much. You might not be able
to get in at all as the palace remains locked, unless of course you
ask around and find a monk who can open it for you.
The Palace has a museum with some tangkhas (painted or embroidered
scrolls) and paintings amongst other things. The view from the
monastery is quite impressive.
Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
Roosted above the Leh Palace is the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa (monastery).
The enigmatic stark structure stands on a steep hill looming over the
town. Built in 1430 by the Namgyal rulers, the red monastery has some
frescos, Buddhist scriptures, idols and a massive statue of the
Maitreya Buddha (future Buddha). The splendid view from the top alone
is well worth the effort.
The striking Shanti Stupa is a recent structure. A Japanese who
harboured the ambition of spreading Buddhism across the world, had it
constructed in 1985 with aid from the Japanese Government. The stupa
is connected by a motorable road and a steep flight of
stairs. Once on top, you can stop for a snack in the tea shop, then
relax and enjoy the panoramic view of the chain of mountains and the
peaceful little village of Changspa with typical Ladakhi houses built
along a gushing stream, and the towering Namgyal Tsemo in the
There is a rudimentary Sauna Spa not far from the Shanti Stupa in
Changspa Village that offers a soft drink in the sauna! The striking
green and white Leh Mosque in the Main Bazaar is also worth a visit.
The mosque is open only to men.
Ecological Centre of Ledeg
The Ecological Centre of LEDeG (Ladakh Ecological Development Group),
was established in 1983 with the aim of spreading awareness on the
environmental issues of Ladakh and the positive aspects of alternative
The centre has a small library and holds a video-film show called Ancient
Futures Learning from Ladakh from Monday to Saturday
around 5 p.m.
Check the latest timing at the centre office in case of any change.
This is also a good place to find out about the possibility of doing
voluntary work with various organisations. If interested, inquire at
the reception centre or simply check the information board.
offers some delightful walks, especially around Changspa Village. Just
take any of the cobbled lanes in the village and feel free to carry on
as you please. It is impossible to get lost in this tiny village. The
lanes and by-lanes curve around colourful Ladakhi houses with
brightly-painted windows overlooking little gardens blossoming with
cosmos, poppies and hollyhocks.
The village is dotted with prayer wheels where you might see some
locals turning the symbolic wheel. A network of narrow canals channel
the river water to all parts of the village, so you can never be far
from the gurgling sound of flowing water and patches of wild irises
growing around the banks of the canal.
Bunches of little children with sunburnt rosy cheeks and sparkling
eyes will greet you all around the village with the all-encompassing
greeting jule (hello, bye, thank-you and please) that you must be all
too familiar with by now. In case you do feel a little lost or
disorientated, just ask any local and he will be happy to show you the
¤ Accommodation Availble At
The Changspa Village also has some budget accommodation to choose
from. Its a quieter and more peaceful alternative compared to
the hotels in Leh town. The accommodation available here is generally
in the form of rooms rented out by a family. So you can look forward
to friendly hosts and a room overlooking a garden.
The stream that runs through Changspa is also the platform of music
by the river, an event during which many travellers get together
with their guitars, drums, didgeridoos and generally jam a bit.
Sometimes it turns into more of a social event than a
musical one, and does not entirely lack in amusement.