The geographical backbone of Ladakh, the Inuds Valley, particularly from Upshi down to Khalatse, is also the region’s histocric heartland. All the major sites connected with the former kingdom’s dynastic history are here, starting with Leh, the capital city since the early 17th century when Sengge Namgyal built its nine-storey palace.
A few kilometres up the Indus is Shey, the most ancient capital, with its palace and temples, their vibrantly coloured murals cleaned and restored in the mid-1980s. Down river, Basgo, right on the road and Tingmosgang, a short way up a side-valley, both served as capital cities when the country was temporarily divided into two parts in the 15th century, and both have the remains of forts and temples dating from the period of their brief glory.
Stok, just across the river from Leh, is the village with which the deposed royal family was compensated for the loss of its throne. Its palace houses a museum of artefacts associated with the dynasty, and there is also a small gompa.
Partly as a result of royal patronage, the central area of Ladakh has the greatest concentration of major gomps. Of the twelve situated on or near the Inuds, the is Lamayuru, believed to have been a sacred site for the pre-Buddhist religion known as Bon. Phiyang, Hemis and Chemrey were all founded under the direct partonage of members of the ruling Namgyal dynasty.
Phiyang represents an act of penance by the 16th century King Tashi Namgyal for the violence and treachery by which he reached the throne. Hemis, together with Hanle near the Tibetan border, was founded at the instance of King Sengge Namgyal, and Chemrey by his widow as a posthumous act of merit for him. Stakna, dating from a slightly earlier period, was endowed by the Namgyal kings at various times. All these belong to the red-hat Kar-gyut-pa sect of Tibetan monasticism.
The reformist Ge-lugs-pa (Yellow-hat) sect is also well represented in central Ladakh by Thikse, Likir, Ridzong and Spituk, the last of which hasdaughter houses at Stok, Sabu and Sankar. Ri-dzong, the only gompa which is not as yet approachable by a motorable road, is situated a few kilometres up a side- valley at Uley-Tokpo.
It was founded only a century and a quarter ago by a devout layman-turned-lama, with the purpose of giving full expression to the strict monastic rule of the Ge-lugs-pa. While the paintings and images in its temples may, to some extent, lack the aesthetic and antiquaian interest of those inthe older establishments, this gompa nevertheless has an indefinable atmoshpere of peace and dedication which reflects faithfully the inwardness of the Buddhist Way.
The smaller but much older Bying-ma-pa and Saskya-pa monastic sects are represented respectively by Tak-thok and Matho gompas. Takthok, at the foot of the Chang-la, incorporates one of the many caves in the Himalaya where the Indian Buddhist apostle Padma-sambhava is said to have rested and meditated on his journey to Tibet. Matho Gompa has a slightly rundown structure, but a vibrant religious community. It is famous for its festival of the oracles which takes place early in the year, usually in the first half of March.
But the jewel among central Lakakh’s religious sites is Alchi. Abandoned centuries ago as a place of regular worship, it has been lovingly maintained by the monks of Likir, the nearest functioning gompa. Known as Chos-kor, or religious enclave, it comprises five temples, the riches in paintings and images being the Du-khang(assembly hall) and the threestorey Sum-tsek.
Its murals, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, pre-date the Tibetan style of painting that is present in all the other gompas. Some of them are reminiscent of the paintings of the far-off Ajanta Caves and are presumed to be almost the sole survivors (along with some in Phugtal Gompa in Zanskar, and Tabo in Spiti) of the Buddhist style current in Kashmir during the first millennium AD.
Visits to the major Buddhist monasteries and other cultural or heritage sites are the principal tourist attractions of central Ladakh and Zanskar.
These sites, most within reach of Leh, may be visited by bus or by taxi. Most villages and/ or monasteries are provided with regular bus services from Leh.
Taxis are expensive, with fixed tariff for almost every monastery or group of manasteries, but offer good value in terms of comfort, convenience and time frame.
Most of the region’s principal gompas are open throughout day and a caretaker lama is available to show visitors around.
Some of the less visited establishments have special opening hours, as in the case of Namgyal Tsemo, Shey Palace and the Stock Palace Museum.
Check the timings in the Tourist Office before proceeding to these places. Most of the monasteries charge a small entrance fee.
The monasteries constitute the fountain-head of Ladakh’s Buddhist religion and culture. Tourists are advised to respect their sanctity.
Shoes may have to be removed before entering some of the temples, smoking is anathema to the monastic atmosphere, while loud action and speech may disturb the tranquil ambience characteristic of such places of worship.
The traveller from India will look in vain for similarities between the land and people he has left and those he encounters inLadakh. The faces and physique of the Ladakhis, and the clothes they wear, are more akin to those of Tibet and Central Asia than of India.
The original population may have been Dards, an Indo-Aryan race from down the Indus. But immigration fromTibet, perhaps a millennium or so ago, largely overwhelmed the culture of the Dards and obliterated their racial characteristics.
In eastern and central Ladakh, today’s population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin. Further west, in and arond Kargil, there ismuch in the people’s appearance that suggests a mixed origin.
The exception to this generalizationis the Arghons, a community of Muslims in Leh, the descendants of marriages between local women and Kashmiri or Central Asian merchants.
Buddhism reached Tibet from India via Loadkah, and there are ancient Buddhist rock engravings all over the ragion, even in areas like Dras and the lower Suru Valley which today are inhabited by an exclusively Muslim population.
The divide between Muslim, and Buddhis Ladakh passes through Mulbekh (on the Kargil-Leh road) and between the villages of Parkachick and Rangdum in the Suru Valley, though there are pockets of Muslim population further east, in Padum (Zanskar), in Nubra Valley and in and around Leh.
The approach to Buddhist village is invariable marked by mani walls which are long chest-high structures faced with engraved stones bearing the mantrra im mane padme hum and by chorten, commemorative cairns, like stone pepper-pots.
Many villagers are crowned with a gompa or monastery which may be anything from an imposing complex of temples, prayer halls and monks dwellings, to a tiny hermitage housing a single image and home to solitary lama.
There is little tradition of artistic craftsmanship in Ladakh, most luxury articles inthe past having been obtained through imports. The exception isthe village of Chiling, about 19km up the Zanskar river from Nima.
Here, a community ofmetal workers, said to be the descendants of artisans brought from Nepal inthe mid -17th century to build one of the gigantic Buddha -images at Shey, cary on their hereditary vocation.
Working in silver, brass and copper, they produce exquisite items for domestic and religious use : tea and chang pots, teacup – stands and lids, hookkah-bases, ladles and bowls and, occasionally, silver chorten for installa-tion in temples and domestic shrines.
Those who cannot afford the expensive ware of the Chiling craftsmen, are supplied by local blacksmitsh (gara), witht the bowls and cooking pots they need for everyday use, as well as with agricultural implements.
The gara also make the large and ornate iron stoves seen in kitchens of the richer Ladakhi homes. In general, craftsmanship has not developed beyond and production of everyday item for personal and domestic use.
Pattu, the rough, warm, woolen material used for clothing is made from locally produced wool, spun by women on drop-spindles, and woven by semi-professional weavers on portable looms set up in the winter sunshine, or under the shade of a tree in summer.
Baskets, for the transport of any kind of burden – manure for the fields, fresh vegetables, even babies -are woven out of willow twigs, or a particular variety of grass. Wood work is confined largely to the production of pillars and carved lintels for the houses, and the low carved tables that are a feature of every Ladakhi living-room.
Many such items, together with others recently introduced as part of the development process, are available in the District Handicrafts Centre at Leh, which exists to train local people as well as to market their products.
There you can find, in addition to traditional objects, a few special items like pashmina shawls- rough compared withthose produced in Srinagar, but soft and warm as only pure pashmina can be ; and carpets in designs and techniques borrowed from Tibet. Similar carpets are also to be had at the Tibetan Refugee Centre at Choglamsar.
The Handicrafts Centre also has a department of Thangka painting. These icons on cloth are executed in accordance with strict guidelines handed down from past generations.
In the same tradition are the mural paintings in the gompas, where semi-professional , both monks and laymen, labour tokeep the walls decorated with images symbolizing the various aspects of the Buddhist Way.
The skill of building religious statues is also not extinct. The gigantic representation of Maitreya, was installed in Thikse Gompa as recently as the early 1980s.
Down the Indus, between Khalatse and the Shayok -Indus confluence, live a people, known as Drok-pa, Buddhists in name, but racially and culturally distinct from the rest of the Ladakhis.
Two of the five villages inhabited by them may now be visited, Dah and Biama. The route follows the Indus down fromKhalatse, past the villages of Domkhar, Skurbuchan and Achinathang, along a fairly good road.
Nubra Valley Circuit
The upper Shayok and Nubra rivers drain the east and west sides of the Saser Spur, the eastern most outcrop of the Karakoram.
The name Nubra is applied to the district comprising the valley of the Nubra river, and that of the Shayok both above and below their confluence, where they meander in many shifting channels over a broad sandy plain before flowing off to the northwest to join the Indus in Baltistan.
Pangong Lake Circuit
This route takes the visitor past picturesque villages of Shey and Thikse, and turns off the Indus valley by the side-valley of Chemrey and Sakti.
The Ladakh range is crossed by the Chang-la (18,000 feet / 5,475 m) which despite its great elevation is one of the easier passes, remaining open for much of the year even in winter, apart from periods of actual snowfall. Tangse, just beyond the foot of the pass, has an ancient temple.
Tso-Moriri Lake Circuit
The area traversed by the Manali leh road, and containing the drainage basins of Tso-moriri and other lakes is known as Rupshu. Here, the Zanskar range is transformed into bare rolling many-hued hills divided by open high altitude valley scoured by dust-devils. It is a landscape unlike any other in Ladakh -or elsewhere in India.
The religious philosophy of Buddhism, however, profound and subtle doesn’t preclude an immense joie-de-vivre among its Ladakhi adhe-rents,a nd even solemn religious enactments are made the occasion for joyous celebration.
Many of the annual festivals of the gompas take place in winter, a relatively idle time for the majority of the people. They take the form of dance-dramas in the gompa courtyards. Lamas, robed in colourful garments and wearing often startlingly frightful masks, performs mimes representing various aspects of the religion such as the progress of the individual soul and its purification or the triumph of good over evil.
Local people flock from near and far to these events, and the spiritual benefits they get are no doubt heightened by their enjoyment of the party atmosphere, with crowds of women and men, the opportunity to make new friendships and renew old ones, the general bustle and sense of occasion.
The biggest and most famous of the monastic festivals, frequented by tourists and local alike, is that of Hemis, which falls in late June or the first half of July, and is dedicated to Padmasambhava. Every 12 years, the gompa’s greatest treasure, a huge thangka – a religious icon painted or embroidered on cloth – is ritually exhibited.
The next unveiling is due to take place in A.D. 2004. Other monasteries which have summer festivals are Lamayuru (also early July), Phiyang (late July or early August), Tak-thok (about ten days afer Phiyang) and Karsha in Zanskar (11 days after Phiyang). Like Hemis, the Phiyang festival too involves the exhibition of gigantic thangka, though here it is done every year.
Spituk, stok, thikse, chemrey and Matho all have their festivals in winter, between November and March. Likir and Deskit (Nubra )time their festivals to coincide with Dosmoche, the festival of the scapegoat, which is also celebrated with fervour at Leh.
Falling in the second half of February, Dosmoche is one of two New Year festivals, the other being Losar. At Dosmoche, a great wooden mast decorated with streamers and religious emblems is et up outside Leh.
At the appointed time, offerings of storma, ritual figures moulded out of dough, are brought out and ceremonially cast away into the desert, or burnt. These scapegoats carry away with them the evil spirits of the old year, and thus the town is cleansed and made ready to welcome the new year.
Losar falls about the time of the winter solstice, any time between 8th and 30th December. All Ladakhi Buddhists celebrate it by making offerings to the gods, both in gompas and in their domestic shrines.
History of Ladakh
For close on 900 years from the middle of the 10th century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom , its dynasties descending from the king of old Tibet.
Its political fortunes ebbed and flowed over the centuries, and the kingdom, was at its greatest in the early 17th century under the famous king Sengge Namgyal, whose rule extended across Spiti and western Tibet up to the Mayumla beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.
And gradually, perhaps partly due to the fact that it was politically stable, in contrast to the lawless tribes further west, Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. For centuries it was travered by caravans carrying textiles and spices, raw silk and carpets, dyestuffs and narcotics.
Heedless of the land’s rugged terrain and apparent remoteness, merchants entrusted their goods to relays o fpony transporters who took about two months to carry them from Amritsar to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Knotan. On this long route, Leh was the half-way house, and developed into a bustling entreport, it bazaars thronged with merchants from far countries.
The famous pashm (better known as cashmere) also came down from the high-altitude plateaux of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet where it was produced, thorough Leh to Srinagar, where skilled artisans transformed it from a matted oily mass of goat’s underfleece into shawls known the world over for their softness and warmth. Ironically, it was this lucrative trade, that finally spelt the doom of the independent kingdom.
It attracted the covetous gaze of Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu in the early 19th century, and in 1834, he sent his general Zorawar Singh to invade Ladakh.
They followed a decade of war and turmoul, which ended with the emergence of the British as the paramount power in north India. Ladakh, together with the neighbouring province of Baltistan, was incorporated into the newly created State of Jammu & Kashmir.
Just over a century later, this union was disturbed by the partition of India, Baltistan becoming part of Pakistan, while Ladakh remained in India as part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
SHEY PLACE & MONASTERY
King Deldan Namgial (1620 – 1640) built Shey palace in the beginning of the 17th century AD. The main image in the monastery is the 3- storey statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, made of copper guilt, which was made by King Deldan Namgail in the memory of his father Singay Namgail. The statue is the only of its kind in the region.
It was build during the reign of King Singay Namgial, containing the two-storey statue of Buddha. (Shey Srubla) festival is also held here at Tresthang Gonpa. The rock- curved statue of five Buddhas can be seen below the Palace on the roadside.
Thiksay Gonpa, 18 Kms from Leh is the most beautiful of all monasteries in Ladakh, belongs to the Gelukpa order.
The Stakna monastery lies at a distance of 25 Kms from Leh on the Right Bank of the River Indus. The monastery formed part of the one of the many religious estates offered to the great scholar saint of Bhutan called Chosje Jamyang Palkar in about 1580 AD by the Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial who had invited his to Ladakh.
47 Kms from Leh on the west bank of the Indus, the monastery belongs to Dugpa Order, built on a green hillside surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, is hidden in a gorge. It is the biggest and wealthiest monastery in Ladakh and is a must for visitors.
Chemday monastery is situated 40 Kms east of Leh. The monastery is situated there on the mountain side and was founded 365 years ago by Lama Tagsang Raschen with the Dharmaraja Singey Namgial acting as patron. There is a sacred image of Padmasambhava to be seen there, one storey in height. There are, furthermore, many shrines. A custom exists whereby every year on the 28th & 29th days of the 9th Tibetan month sacred dances are performed in association with the festival of an initiatory ritual. The successive reincarnations of Lama Tagsang Raschen act as the incumbents.
The monastery of Takthok is situated in the village of Sakti at a distance of 46 Kms from Leh. Before the monastery was founded there was a meditation cave of a Mahaadiddha called Kunga Phuntsog.
Matho is situated at a distance of 26 kms Southeast of Leh on the opposite bank of the River Indus. There is a monastery, which belongs to the Saskya Order. A Lama Dugpa Dorje founded it about five hundred years ago. Shrines and also a sacred temple dedicated to the guardian deities are to be seen there.
8 Kms from Leh, the monastery standing on a conical hill with 3 chapels was founded in the 11th century by Od-de the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub Od, when he come to Maryul.He introduced a monastic community.
Phyang is situated 17 kms west of Leh. The site for the monastery there formed part of one of the many monastic estates Offered to Chosje Damma Kunga from Digung during the time of Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial, who had invited the former to Ladakh.
Ladakh Pilgrimage Centres
Once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Zanskar, Padum (3505 m) is the present day administrative headquarters of the region. With a population of nearly 1500, Padum can be described as the most populous settlement of Zanskar, otherwise a very scarcely inhabited valley.
The monastery of Stongdey lies 18 kms. To the north of Padum, on the road leading to Zangla. An old foundation associated with the Tibetan Yogi, Marpa, Stongdey is now the second largest monastic establishment of Zanskar, inhabited by the resident community of about 60 Gelukpa monks.
Lying deep in the northern arm of Zanskar at the end of the 35 km. Long rough road from Padum, Zangla was being ruled by a titular king till his death a few years back. The old castle now in ruins except from a small chappel, occupies a hill, overlooking the desertic valley below. Nearby is the old Nunnery worth a visit for the austere life style of the small monastic community of nuns.
About 20 kms. South of Rangdum stands the Pazila watershed across which lies Zanskar, the most isolated of all the trans Himalayan Valleys. The Panzila Top (4401 m) is the picturesque tableland adorned with two small alpine lakes and surrounded by snow covered peaks.
Islam too came from the west. A peaceful penetrationof the Shia sect spearheaded by missionaries, its success was guaranteed by the early conversion of the sub-rulers of Dras, Kargil and the Suru Valley.
In these areas, mani walls and chorten are placed by mosques, oftern small unpretentious buildings, or Imambaras imposing structures in the Islamic style, surmounted by domes of sheet metal that gleam cheerfully in the sun.
The demeanour of the people is affected by their religion, especially among the women. Among the Buddhists, as also the Muslims of the Leh area, women not noly work inthe house and field, but also do business and interact freely with men other thatn their own relations.
In Kargil and its adjoining regions on the other hand, it is only in the last few years that women are emerging from semi-seclusion and taking jobs other than traditional ones like farming and house -keeping.
The natureal joie-de-vivre of the Ladakhis is given free rein by the ancient traditions of the region. Monastic and other religious festivals, many of which fall in winter, provide the excuse for convivial gatherings. Summer pastimes all over the region are archery and polo.
Among the Buddhists, these often develop into open-air parties accompanied by dance and song, at which chang, the local brew made from fermented barley, flows freely.
Of the secular culture, the most important element is the rich oral leterature ofsongs and poems for every occasion, as well as local versions of the Kesar Saga, the Tibetan national epic. Buddhists and Muslims.
In fact,the most highly developed versions of the Kesar Saga,a nd some of the most exuberant and lyrical songs are said tobe found in Shakar-Chigtan, an area of the western Kargil district exclusively inhabited by Muslims, unfortunately not freely open to tourists yet.
Ceremonial and public events are accompanied by the characteristic music of surna and daman, originally introduced into Ladakh from Muslim Baltistan, but now played only by Buddhist musicians known as Mons.
Vacations in Ladakh
Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, it lies athwart two other, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range.
In geological terms, this is a young land, formed only a few million years ago by the buckling and folding of the earth’s crust as the Indian sub-continent pushed with irresistible force against the immovable mass of Asia.
Its basic contours, uplifted by these unimaginable tectonic movements, have been modified over the millennia by the opposite process of erosion, sculpted into the form we see today by wind and water.
Yes, water! 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 drainage basins with evocative names like Tso-moriri, Tsokar, and grandest of all, Pangong-tso.
Occasionally, some stray monsoon cluds do find their way over the Himalaya, and lately this seems to be happening with increasing frequency. But the main source of water remains the winter snowfall.
Dras, Zanskar and the Suru Valley on the Himalaya’s northern flank receive heavy snow in winter; this feeds the glaciers whose meltwater, carried down by streams, irrigates the fields in summer. For the rest of the region, the snow on the peaks is virutally the only source of water.
As the crops grow, the villagers pray not for rain, but for sun to melt the glaciers and liberate their water. Usually their prayers are answered, for the skies are clear and the sun shines for over 300 days in the year.
Ladakh lies at altitudes ranging from about 9,000 feet (2750m) at Kargil to 25,170 feet (7,672m) at Saser Kangri in the Karakoram. Thus summer temperatures rarely exceed about 27 degree celcuis in the shade, while in winter they may plummet to minus 20 degree celcuis even in Leh.
Surprisingly, though, the thin air makes the heat ofthe sun even more intense than at lower altitudes; it is said that only in Ladakh can a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time!
Ladakh is a mysterious land shrouded in myth and legend. Much of its ancient history is known only through the mythology of its people, as its written history is of very recent origin. Known for centuries as the ‘land of passes’ (La-pass; Dacha-land), Ladakh was discovered by Fa-hian, who traveled across its inhospitable terrain in 399 A.D. , as ‘The land where snow never melts and only corn ripens’.
Its landscapes are forbidding by any measure. Snow-swathed mountains rise to several thousand feet above one of the most elevated plateaus on earth. A treeless wind-swept country, much of Ladakh can be termed as mountainous, Arctic desert, where everything is parched by the rarefied dryness of the atmosphere.
Scattered here and there, a few narrow fertile valleys provide a clear sparkling air. The limpidity of the atmosphere, in fact, gives the night sky a unique clarity, so full and bright with stars that one feels transported to some ethereal setting, far removed from Earth.
For endless years, before man had even discovered this remote land, several hardy animals and birds lived together here in an exquisite equilibrium. Circumstances have now changed, as they have almost everywhere else on the subcontinent. Today, Ladakh’s flora and fauna are threatened and protection is vital if the ancient ecosystems are to survive the trauma of modern man.
This mysterious “land of passes” (La-pass, Dakh-land) stands at a height 4,600 meters in the outer Himalayas with its peaks, ranging from 5,800 to 7,600 meters forming the most striking feature of the area.
The Himalayas, higher than the mightiest mountains anywhere in the world, are clearly the result of a process of folding-a moment of the coastal plates by which one drifting piece of land overrides another. When two such drifting continental pieces collide and wrap, the resultant wrinkles form mountains.
This Himalayan massif is believed to be the result of such a collision between the Indian and Asian plates (geologically a comparatively recent phenomenon). Consequently, much of the high altitude Himalayan fauna is typical of both the oriental and Palearctic regions.
Ladakh’s most striking feature is nakedness of the country. Lying as it does to the North of the main Himalayan range, most of Ladakh falls in the Palearctic rather than the oriental region. Ladakh possesses virtually no natural forests, though along riverbanks and valleys some greenery does exist. The lower mountain slopes are sparse but higher up, near the snow line, wild rose, willow and herbaceous plants have successfully colonized the slopes.
This is the alpine zone. While soil, wind, precipitation and exposure are important determinants in the arrangement of specific life, the temperature differential due to altitude is by far the most important factor. Because of the decrease in the temperature, vegetation becomes more sparse and stunted as one ascends the slopes.
In this extremely harsh environment the untrained eye would hardly see any evidence of wildlife at all. Animals, which have adapted to the rigorous conditions however, thrive on the minimal vegetation, poor shelter, rocky terrain and bitter cold. Nevertheless, most creatures, notably the ungulates, do migrate to lower regions in winter while others, like the brown bear and marmots, choose to hibernate.
Ironically, at this altitude many animals suffer from “mountain sickness” because of the lack of oxygen! Their bodies however, seem to adopt to this condition, as the number of red blood corpuscles increases along with blood acidity. Most large mammals have a unique devise for protection against the cold– a highly insulated shaggy coat. They, therefore, have less need for shelter from the elements. This perhaps why more species of goat and sheep live here in open country than anywhere else on earth.
The main overland approach to Ladakh is from the Kashmir Valley via the 434 km Drinagar-Leh road which remains open for traffic from early June to November. The most dramatic part of this road journey is the ascent up the 11,500 feet/3,505 m high Zoji-la, the pass in the Great Himalayan Wall that serves as the gateway to Ladakh.
The J&K State Road Transport Corporation (J&K SRTC) operates regular Deluxe and Ordinary bus services between Srinagar and Leh on this route with an overnight halt at Kargil. Taxis (cars and jeeps )are also available at Srinagar for the journey. Groups can charter Deluxe and A-class buses for Leh, Kargil or Padum (Zanskar) for the J&K SRTC at Srinagar.
Since 1989, the 473 km Manali-Leh road has been serving as the second land approach to Ladakh. Open for traffic from around mid-June to early October, this high road traverses the upland desert plateau to Rupshu whose altitude ranges from 3,660 m to 4,570m.
A number of high passes fall en route among which the highest one, known as Taglang-la, is the world’s second highest motorable pass at an altitude of 17,469 feet/ 5,325m. H.P. Tourism, H.P. STRC and J&K SRTC operate Deluxe and Ordinary bus services between Manali and Leh. The bus journey between Leh and Manali takes aout 19 hours or two days with an overnight halt in camps at Serchu or Pang. Gypsy and jeep jeep taxis are also available, both at Manali and Leh.
Indian Airlines operates regular scheduled flight to Leh from Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and Srinagar. Some private airlines are also planning to operate air services between Delhi and Leh in the near future.
The cheapest way to travel within the region is by public buses which play on fixed routes according to fixed time schedules. The most comfortable and convenient though expensive mode of travel, however, is by taxes (car, Gypsy), which are available for hire on fixed point-to-point tariff.
For visits to the newly opened areas of Nubra, Changthang and Dah-Hanu, it is mandatory to engage the services of a registered/ recognized travel agency for making all the requisite arrangements including internal transport. Detailed information about bus schedules, taxi tariff, travel agencies, etc. can be obtained from the Tourist Office.