Ladakh – Leh and Kargil District
26 Days/ 25 Nights
Leh and lower Ladakh with Thiksey, Hemis, Dak-Thok, Alchi, Likir and much more Zanskar Valley with a colourful monastery festival Nubra Valley and Changtang with Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Tso Kar
Please feel free to ask for a customised trip to Ladakh.
WELCOME TO DELHI
We welcome you at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. Check in to the hotel and have a rest. Depending on the time of arrival we can go for a half day city sightseeing in Delhi.
Red Fort New Delhi
ACCLIMATIZATION IN LEH
An early morning start brings us back to Indira Gandhi International Airport. We fly to Leh and meet our local representative. Our accommodation could be the family run Saboo Guest House. The rest of the day we relax for getting used to the attitude of 3,500 metres above sea level.
GoAir on a flight to Leh
View from Saboo Guest House
Eurasian Magpie (bactriana)
OUR FIRST CONTACT TO THE BUDDHIST CULTURE
We get an early start to attend and witness the morning Puja at Thiksey Gonpa located a short drive outside Leh.
Thiksey Gonpa is the most picturesque monastery in Ladakh, perched high on a hill above the Indus River. Imposing and colourful, it is known for its two story statue of the Maitreya (future) Buddha. The monastery was founded in 1433 by Palden Sherab as the first Gelugpa School in Ladakh.
We have enough time to visit the temple after the monks finished the pray.Our Breakfast will be at the monastery restaurant. Later we drive to Hemis Gonpa.
Hemis Gonpa is the largest and wealthiest monastery in Ladakh founded in 1630 by Daydream Sang Repa. Hemis belongs to the Drukpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, a school of the Red Hats. In addition to the fine features of the meeting rooms historically significant religious statues, scripts, thangkas and jewelled stupas in a museum are shown.
After lunch on the way we have the possibility to visit Shey Monastery and the ruins of Shey Palace, the former summer resistance of the kings of Ladakh, or go birding around Shey swamps.
Indus valley around Thiksay
DAK-THOK TSE-CHU FESTIVAL
We drive to the village of Shakti. Every year on the 10th day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar the monks of Dak-Thok arrange a monastery festival.
Dak-Thok festival has survived every onslaught of nature and glorifies in the same splendour even after thousands of years. Dak-Thok festival is celebrated to commemorate the birthday of Lord Padmasambhava, who is held in high reverence in Tibetan history. Also known as Guru Rinpoche, Lord Padmasambhava was a spiritual leader who threw out demons and evil spirits from Ladakh during the 8th century.
Lunch time a bit outside of Shakti village in nature. Later we will enjoy the second part of the estival. We will be back in Saboo in the evening.
Sacred dances of the monks
Mask or Cham dancers at Dak-Thok
View of Shakti Village
OFF TO ZANSKAR
The Distance from Leh to Kargil is about 213 kilometres on the Srinagar–Leh Highway. That’s what we drive today with a lot of photo opportunities on the way. We drive along the Indus River and see the point where the Zanskar River joined the Indus. A moon like landscape invites us for a stop. The Lamayuru Gonpa nestled in this arid area is worth to visit.
As with all the monasteries in Ladakh, there is also a legend on the origin of the Gonpa. In a sacred lake below the present monastery snake spirits (Nagas) drove their mischief. The Buddhist Arahat Madhyantaka beat these Nagas. The water flowed off and on the exposed hilltop the Lamayuru Monastery was built. What geologists know today confirmed a part of this legend. 35,000 years ago, a lake began to fill up the present village of Lamayuru. 3000 years ago the valley opened by a shift in the earth’s crust. The lake disappeared. The first historical documents of the monastery are from the 11th century.
We’ll cross the highest point on this road, the Fatu La at 4,108 metres. A second pass, the Namik La with 3,715 metres gives us more stunning landscape. Our last stop of the day is Mulbekh to see a 9 metre high Buddha Statue carved in the rock. “The Kargil”, the best house in town, could be our home for one night.
A LONG DAY BUT WITH A INCREDIBLE BEAUTY
Sorry for that but we have to start our day at 4:30 am with a cup of coffee or Tea The distance from Kargil to Padum is only 230 kilometres but they have it all. The sun is coming out and you can see the golden snow covert mountain. Nun & Kun are the highest peaks of the Himalayan Range on the Indian side, both higher than 7,000 metres. With a view of the Parkachik Glacier we have breakfast on the way. Long-tailed Marmots take a bath in sun and the birdlife in the Suru Valley is very special. The Drang Drung Glacier comes out at the Pensi La, a pass we have to cross on the way to Nubra Valley. A first glimpse into the Nubra Valley after the pass but our day isn’t finished. We drive along the Stod Rivers, the main source of the Zanzkar River, from one village to the next until we rich the centre of Zanzkar in Pardum. There are not many accommodations in and around Pardum. Please be aware that during the monastery festival the few hotels get easy fully booked. Don’t plan your visit to late.
Nun & Kun the seven-thousander
MONASTERIES OF ZANSKAR
No alarm clock today. After breakfast we are going as first to Karsha.
Karsha has the largest monastery of Zanskar. Karsha Gonpa was built in the 11th century by Phagspa Sherab, how was the most important translator of Zanskar. Expanded and turned into a Gelupa Monastery, it was centuries later by Sherab Zangmo.
On the opposite side of the hill in Karsha is a nunnery with a monastery school where children get a good education. After our lunch break we’ll visit the Stongday Monastery. The view from the plateau into the Zanskar Valley is breathtaking.
The Stongday Gonpa is the oldest monastery in the region Zanskar. It is a beautiful, sprawling, hitewashed complex, which sits on a mountain plateau. It is about 18 kilometres from Padum. The monastery dates from the 11th century and was founded by Lama Marpa Chotak Choski Lotey. Since the 15th century it belongs to the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
NARO-NASJAL FESTIVAL IN SANI
We start our day with a short drive to Sani Village. Sani Naro-Nasjal festival is usually between the 15th and the 20th of the sixth Tibetan month. It takes place during the blooming of the ‘Guru Neropa Flower’. Please be aware that according to our calendar the dates of the festival changed every year. We’ll witness the Puja of the monks as an opening pray of the festival. During midday we have time to stroll a bit around the monastery yard and through the village. Be part of the festival in the afternoon with hundreds of people from Zanska is our main goal of the day.
Puja in Sani
Musician at Sani Festival
The opening Cham Dance
NARO-NASJAL FESTIVAL A SECOND TIME
In the morning we’ll visit the Zongkhul Gonpa. This monastery is located northwest of Sani, in a tributary valley.
It is believed that the Indian yogi Naropa Mahasiddha (956-1041), once meditated in a cave, which is integrated into today Zongkhul Gonpa. In the 18th century Zongkhul was a sacred place for meditation for monks from Zanskar. As the Sani Monastery also Zongkhul belongs to the Drukpa – School of Tibetan Buddhism.
The whole afternoon we are another time part of the audience of the festival. Naro- Nasjal is a religious ceremony for the people of Zanskar and not this touristic like the monastery festivals around Leh.
Deep in spirit masks
Buffalow face mask
Traditional headdress “Perak”
ON THE WAY BACK TO KARGIL
We have again a long driving day to rich Kargil in the evening. At the moment there is only one motorable road into Zanskar Valley that can be used in the summertime only. We enjoy the beauty of the landscape again with all the snow covert mountains in the background. On the way we’ll visit Rangdum Monastery.
The Rangdum Gonpa is situated on a hill at an intersection where five valleys run in a star shape. Through its compact style, the monastery resembles a castle. Built in the 16th century, it is the spiritual centre for Buddhists north of Pensi La.
We look out for birds in the Suru Valley, enjoy a cup of tea with a view of Parkachik Glacier and try our best to arrive at sunset in Kargil.
BROKPA PEOPLE FROM THE ARIAN VALLEY
The first part of today’s journey on the Srinagar-Leh highway to Namika La we already knew. We leave the main road after the pass north through a narrow valley towards the Indus River. At noon we are at our possible hotel Aryan Residency located on the Indus River.
After lunch we make our way to Dha Village.
The Brokpa live in the fertile valleys of Dha and Hanu. It is claimed that they are the last of the pure Aryan – an exotic identity. It is true that the Brokpas unlike most Ladakhi have distinct Indo-Aryan features. One theory is that they came from Gilgit, Pakistan today, in the seventh century. Another more romantic and more popular story is that their ancestors were soldiers of Alexander’s army, which moved in his Asian campaign from Afghanistan to West Ladakh more than 2,000 years ago. They live in a few villages in the border region with Pakistan. The Brokpa have an own language and there specific ethnic culture.
Crystal clear glacier water
Lady from Dha Village
THE INDUS VALLEY ROAD
We travel along the Indus River. The Indus Valley Road winds its way between the Indus River and steep mountain slopes through the narrow valley. Wherever you like to stop on the way we can do it. In the early afternoon we will be in Alchi. The rest of the day is free to enjoy the village with its market in front of the monastery. Hotel Zimskhang Alchi is a nice place close to the monastery. This could be your accommodation for the next two days.
Indus Valley Road
Buddhist teaching in Skurbuchan
MANGU, RIZONG AND ALCHI MONASTERIES
In the morning we’ll visit as first Mangu Gonpa in a tributary valley south of the Indus River.
The monastery of Mangu consists of four Buddhist temples from the 11th century and a number of stupas, two of which are culturally and historically very significant Indo-Tibetan art from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Later we are going in a valley north of the Indus River to visit Rizong Gonpa.
The monastery was founded in 1831 by Lama Rizong Tsultim Nima. It belongs to the Order of Gelugpa (Yellow Hat). Today, around 40 monks who have to follow very strict rules live in the monastery. A convent school is integrated.
At lunch we are back in Alchi. We are waiting until all the mass of day visitors are gone to have enough time to experience the breathtaking beauty of Alchi Gonpa.
The world-famous Buddhist monastery in Alchi is the best preserved temple in the Himalayas. The interior preserves thousands of rare and incomparable paintings and sculptures, which date back to the West Tibet in the 11th century.
The way to Mangu
LIKIR AND BOSGO MONASTERIES
We are on the way back to Saboo village to finish our first circle in Ladakh. Our first stop on the way will be the Likir Gonpa.
During the reign of the fifth king of Ladakh Lachen Gyalpo, land was offert to Lama Duwang Chosje to build a monastery. The Likir Monastery was founded in the 11th century. Originally it was connected to the Kadampa school, but in the 16th century Lama Lhawang established the Gelugpa school. A fire destroyed the original temple and in its place a new one was built in the 18th century. That’s the reason why the monastery doesn’t look very old.
A second stop will be Bosgo Gonpa.
A citadel and three temples were built by the Tibetan King Grags-pa-‘bum and his descendants in the 16th and 17th centuries in Basgo. The temples Cham Chung, Chamba Lakhang and Serzang are located on a man-made hill in the center of the complex. The temples are dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha – the fifth incarnation of Sakyamuni.
Back in Saboo Guest House you have time to enjoy the garden, look out for birds in the surroundings. Laundry is offered.
We start our sightseeing day with the Stok Palace a bit outsight of Leh. It is the youngest palace in Ladakh built in 1825. Even the present princess is living in the palace and turned it in a museum. Leh is the biggest town in Ladakh. We stroll over the Bazaar the old centre of Leh. The Tibetan Kitchen is one of the famous restaurants in Leh. It’s our location for Lunch. In the afternoon we’ll visit the Namgyal Tsemo Monastery.
Tsemo Gonpa was founded in 1430 by King Tashi Namgyal of Ladakh. It has a three-story high gold statue of Maitreya Buddha and ancient manuscripts and frescoes.
Finally we drive to the Shanti Stupa.
Shanti Stupa is a white-domed stupa (chorten) on a hilltop in Chanspa village. It was built in 1991 by Japanese Buddhists as part of the Peace Pagoda Mission. The Shanti Stupa holds the relics of Buddha at its base, enshrined by the 14th Dalai Lama. The stupa has become a tourist attraction not only due to its religious significance but also due to its location which provides panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Bazaar in Leh
OFF TO NUBRA VALLEY
We start the second part of our Ladakh tour quite comfortably, because we want to avoid the morning rush, including army convoys in the crossing of the highest pass on our journey. The Khardung La is one of the highest motorable passes in the world with about 5,600 metres. We’ll stop at the top of this famous pass so close to heaven to take pictures. We drive down to the Shyok River. We enjoy for the first time parts of this beautiful valley on our drive along the river to Hunder. The rest of the day is free. Our accommodation could be the Stone Hedge Hotel in Hunder for the next four nights.
ALONG THE NUBRA RIVER
Nubra Valley is a three armed valley dominated by the Karakoram and the Ladakh Range of the Himalayas. On the first day we drive along the Nubra River with a first stop on a small Hill in the valley. This hill hides the holy Yarab Tso in its interior. After a short walk we can see the beauty of this lake. Entsa Monastery will be our next stop.
The Ensta Gonpa nestled on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley of the Nubra River. The current monastery was built in the 17th century as a branch of Diskit Monastery. It is believed that it was previously a place of meditation. The place where the Gonpa is was visited by Arahat Nimagon in the 11th century, a Buddhist who had attained nirvana. He left his footprint on a small boulder to bless this place. You can still see this footprint of Nimagon in the monastery.
Hot Springs in Panamik will be our place for lunch. On our way back to Hunder we’ll visit the Samstanling Monastery.
Samstanling Gonpa was founded in 1834 by Lama Tsultim Nima in the village of Sumur. It is the second largest monastery in the Nubra Valley. It belongs to the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The hill with Yarab Tso
Confluence of Nubra & Shyok River
ALONG THE SHYOK RIVER
On the second day in Nubra we drive along the Shyok River. Goal of the day is Turtuk the last village in India before the Line of Control to Pakistan.
The village Turtuk once belonged to the kingdom of Baltistan, a Buddhist-influenced region until the 13th century. Afterwards the Islamization started. After the end of British rule in 1947 Baltistan was completely claimed by Pakistan. With the ceasefire between India and Pakistan after the armed conflict in December 1971 Turtuk and three other villages went back to India. Families were torn apart, children separated from their parents.
We’ll walk through the village and enjoy the view in the valley and over the mountain.
On the way to Turtuk
Wooden bridge in Turtuk
BIRDING IN THE HUNDAR DOG VALLEY
Hunder Dog Valley is a small narrow side valley south of Hunder. After an early cup of coffee or tea we drive into this valley to look for birds. We hope to see Wallcreepers, Brown Dippers, Water Plumbeous Redstarts and much more. We’ll be back in the hotel for a brunch.
In the afternoon as first we’ll visit Diskit Monastery.
The Diskit Monastery is the oldest and largest monastery in Nubra. The monastery was founded in the 14th century by Changzem Tserab Zangpo. It belongs to the Gelugpa Order and is led by Thiksey Monastery.
Nearby the monastery is a 32-metre statue of Maitreya Buddha. After this we are going to the famous Hunder Sand Dunes where you can have a ride on a Bactrian Camel.
Before 1929, the area where you can see the sand dunes of Hunder today was covered with a dense forest of sea buckthorn. But in 1929, the forest was swept away by a great flood coming from Chong Kumdan Glacier where a dam made of ice was broken. Fortune or misfortune for the region around Hunder – without this flood today the dunes wouldn’t exist. Bactrian camels.
Plumbeous Water Redstart
Buddha statue in Diskit
Changtang is the driest part of the already arid Tibetan plateau. It is a vast highland at an average of 4,500 metres above sea level with huge lakes. The Indian part of the high plateau we’ll visit as the last part of our trip to Ladakh. We drive directly from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso.
The Pangong Tso is located at an altitude of about 4,350 metres. The lake is 134 km long and up to 5 km wide.30% of the lake is in Ladakh. The larger part of Pangong Tso is situated on a former Tibetan area, which is now China. The water is saline but the lake freezes completely in winter.
Nearby the monastery is a 32-metre statue of Maitreya Buddha. Pangong Sarai Camp in the village of Maan could be your accommodation for one night. We have enough time to enjoy the incredible beauty of this lake and look out for birds.
The distance from Maan on Pangong Tso to Korzok on Tso Moriri is about 200 kilometres. On the way we’ll look out for wildlife. The Tsaka La is the highest point on this day but it isn’t a pass like you experience before. It gradually went up to 4,646 metres and on the other side down to the Indus Valley. We drive along the Indus River in this cold desert conditions and cross the river in Mahi. Tso Moriri is situated south of the Indus River. Grand Dolphin Hotel could be your place to stay for two nights in Kozok on Tso Moriri.
Kiang in the Indus Valley
CHANGPA NOMADS AND TSO MORIRI
We start our relaxed day with a walk on the shore of the lake. Later we drive to one of the wintering grounds of the Changpa Nomads.
The Changpa are the nomadic herdsmen of Changtang region in Ladakh. In summer, the families move with their herds (yaks, goats and sheep) to higher pastures. In winter it is one of their headquarters.
In the afternoon we look out again for birds and other wildlife around Tso Moriri.
Tso Moriri at 4,595 metres is the highest lake that lies entirely in India. The wetland is considered by local Buddhist communities as sacred, which is why the lake water is not used by them. Its length is 19 km and its width varies to a maximum of 7 km. Tso Morori is part of the Ramsar Site “Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve”. The area should be the only breeding area for the most endangered cranes, the Black-necked Crane, outside of China and the only breeding area for Bar-headed Goose in India. The largest Tibetan wild sheep, the Argali, and the Tibetan Wild Ass, the Kiang, are endemic to the Changtang plateau. The snow leopard, however, is the main attraction among wild animals in this area but not to be seen in the summer in the accessible areas.
The stage from Tso Moriri to Tso Kar is just 100 kilometres. It is the smallest of the three important Lakes in Ladakh on an attitude of 4,541 metres.
Tso Kar is very popular with bird watchers. The area is rich with wildlife and birds. The lake is surrounded by the marshlands that host amazing bird life which include Brahminy Ducks, Bar-headed Goose and the Great Crested Grebe. But the main attraction among the bird life at Tso Kar is the Black-necked Cranes. The Black-necked Cranes, known for their fidelity, come to Tso Kar to lay eggs. These birds make an amazing site when they take off over the green, picturesque plains on the backdrop of snow-clad mountains. Besides birdwatchers, Tso Kar also attracts a lot of wildlife lovers. The most easily spotted mammals here are Kiangs, the largest of the wild asses. The hills and mountains around Tso Kar are also home to Ibex, Snow Foxes and Snow Leopards. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, the lake itself gives a wonderful scenic and amazing view.
Your accommodation could be the Druk Resort Tsokar.
BACK TO LEH
Tso Kar is only about 20 kilometres from Leh-Manali Highway. Our last pass crossing by car is the Taglang La at an attitude of 5,328 metres. In the afternoon we are back at Saboo Guest House.
View from Taglang La
Greater Blue Sheep
FLY OUT TO DELHI
We take a flight back to Delhi. Usually all domestic flights from Leh are scheduled in the morning hours but due to weather conditions, there may be delays. Please not that we recommend having an additional night in Delhi before you fly out to any country abroad. If time permitted you can have a birding walk in the Surajpur Bird Sanctuary Greater Noida.
Surajpur is an excellent example of an urban wetland in Yamuna River basin and forms suitable breeding ground for waterfowl such as Spot-billed Duck, Lesser-whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose and Comb Duck and wintering waterfowl such as Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Bar-headed Goose, Greylag Goose, Common Teal, Northern Shoveler and Gadwall. Yellow-bellied Prinia, Bristled Grassbird Green Avadavat, Baya Weaver, and many more.
We take care that you reach on time at the airport in New Delhi. Finally we have to say goodbye.