The valley of Ladakh is one of the most visited tourist destinations in India. The valley is famous for its pristine landscape and snow-capped mountains, and at the same time, it is one of the highest inhabited regions of the world. The Ladakh valley is blessed with two mountain ranges running through its boundaries, namely the Himalayan Mountain Range and the Karakoram Mountain Range. In the last decade, the area has seen a high influx of tourists, and in recent years, it has outperformed some of the most famous tourist destinations in India. The Ladakh Valley is also known by sobriquets like the Land of High Passes and the Land of Lama (due to the Buddhist Majority Population). The region lies 3500 meters above the sea level and is one of the sparsely populated areas of India. Due to the high altitude and less population, it is a perfect place for long drives and bike rides. Therefore, every year thousands of bikers embark on a journey to ride to some of the highest and most dangerous roads in the world.
The Ladakh valley is known for hosting some of the highest mountain passes and high altitude lakes of the world. Not only the roads and lakes, but the region is also recognized for Buddhist Monasteries, National Park, treks, and rich flora and fauna. The majority of the valley has excellent roads thanks to the fact that the region forms the International Border of India with China and Pakistan. The same roads and routes are used by tourists to explore the territory. When I was on my trip to Leh-Ladakh in 2019, I was astonished by the beauty of the valley. Therefore after completing my trip, I thought to share some of the must-visit places in Leh-Ladakh. Therefore in this article, I will be listing some of the popular and must-visit sites in the Ladakh Valley.
What are the different routes to reach the Ladakh Valley?
Before listing the place, it is necessary to understand how to reach Leh city. The city of Leh is the biggest city in the Ladakh valley and now the capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh. The reason for mentioning the route is due to the fact that a lot of renowned places does not lie in the city but en route to the Ladakh valley. Moreover, the majority of the sites lie more than 100 kilometers from Leh city and requires 3-4 hours of drive. Exploring all the places in Leh requires a ride, and this is the reason why it is also known as Biker’s Paradise. There are two main routes to reach Leh city and they are:
- Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Highway: This route starts from Srinagar city and ends at Leh. This highway is also known as the National Highway One (NH1). It is a 400 kilometers long Highway passing through some of the highest and coldest regions of the world.
- Manali-Sarchu-Leh Highway: This is another route connecting Manali city in Himachal Pradesh to Leh. The highway is again one of the treacherous roads in the world and requires determination and skills. The Manali-Leh highway is 500 kilometers in length.
A List of Famous Places on Srinagar-Leh Highway
Here is a list of famous places on Srinagar-Leh Highway en route on a journey to Leh-Ladakh:
- Dras City and Kargil War Memorial: The Dras city holds the record of one of the coldest places on earth. During the winters, the temperature drops as low as -40 °C. The lowest temperature ever recorded was -60°C on January 09, 1995. The area is also famous for the Kargil War Memorial, which was built in the memory of soldiers martyred in the 1999 India-Pakistan War, also known as the Kargil War.
- Lamayuru Monastery: The Lamayuru Monastery is a Buddhist Monastery situated 110 kilometers from Leh city. The monastery is one of the largest and oldest gompas in the Ladakh Valley, hosting around 150 permanent monks. The monastery lies on Srinagar-Leh Highway, with the Indus River running parallel to the highway.
- Zoji La & Fotu La: The Zoji La and Fotu La are two high mountain passes on the Srinagar-Leh Highway en route to Leh. The height of Zoji La pass is 3528 meters, while Fotu La is at an elevation of 4108 meters above the sea level. Crossing these high mountain passes is a lifetime adventure.
- Magnetic Hill & Nimmoo Village: Magnetic Hill is a hill near Leh city famous for an optical illusion where the vehicle seems to roll uphill defying gravity. In reality, the car moves downwards, and it is an illusion that makes it appear opposite. Similarly, the village of Nimmoo is famous for the confluence of the Indus River and The Zanskar River. From Nimmo, the Indus River continues its curse westwards and enters Pakistan.
Places in the Leh City and in and around the Ladakh Valley
- Leh City: Although there are many places to visit in the Ladakh Valley, what could be the better place to start other than the city itself? There are many famous places to visit in Leh city like Hall Of Fame, Mall Road, Shey Monastery (Also Called the Shey Palace or Leh Palace). The Hall of Fame is a Museum cum War Memorial managed and run by the Indian Army. The museum exhibits essential information related to the Ladakh Valley and its people. It also showcases how locals, as well as soldiers, manage to live in such harsh conditions. The Shey Palace lies 15 kilometers from the city built on a hill. The palace was the ancient summer capital of the Kingdom of Ladakh now serves as a monastery.
- Shanti Stupa: The Shanti Stupa is a famous tourist attraction situated 7 kilometers outskirts of Leh City. It is a white-domed stupa dedicated to Buddhism. The building came into existence in 1991 when a Japnese commissioned it on Peace Pagoda Mission. The Shanti Stupa sits at a hilltop facing the Leh City and provides a panoramic view of the city. It can be visited en route the Leh Palace as it lies at a walkable distance from the palace.
- Thikse Monastery: Thikse Monastery is probably the biggest monastery in Leh City. The monastery lies 3600 meters above sea level and 20 kilometers from Leh City. The monastery is a twelve storied building built, and interestingly it is also one of the oldest monasteries in the region with construction dates back to the 14th century. The Thikse Monastery lies on Leh-Pangong road and often visited by a tourist while driving for the Pangong Lake.
- Khardung La Pass: Known as the highest motorable road in the world, Khardung La (La means Pass in Ladakhi Language) is the main attraction for almost all the tourist visiting Leh. Clicking photos with a signboard which states “Highest Motorable Road in the World” is a dream for all travel enthusiasts. The pass derives its name from the nearby village of Khardung, and it is at an elevation of 5359 meters above sea level (the signboard wrongly mentions Khardung La height as 5602 meters). Many passes in India are higher than Khardung La, yet it still holds the title of the highest road in the world.
- Nubra Valley: The Nubra Valley is famous for its pristine landscape and sand dunes. Situated on the banks of the Shyok River, it is renowned for Mongolian Camel Safari and panoramic view of the Himalayan Range. Seven kilometers from the Hunder (Nubra Valley Headquarters) lies the small town of Diskit famous for Diskit Monastery. The monastery hosts the statue of Maitreya Buddha, measuring 32 meters in height, and it is one of the most prominent modern structures built in the area. Visiting the Diskit Monastery and communicating with Lamas and small kids is a must to do a thing while traveling to Nubra Valley.
- Pangong Tso Lake: It is the second most sought after tourist destination in Leh after the Khardung La. The Pangong Tso (Tso means Lake in Ladakhi Language) is one of the highest altitude lakes in India situated at an elevation of 4350 meters above the sea level. The lake lies 160 kilometers from Leh city, and the route passes through some of the dangerous and highest roads of the world. The lake is 134 kilometers in length spanning over an area of 270 sqkm. Only 40% of the Pangong Lake lies in India, and the rest is in China; thus, the lake forms a natural border between India and China. The lake lies close to the village of Spangmik, where most of the accommodations are available.
- Chang La Pass: The Chang La is another high mountain pass in the Ladakh Valley. The pass lies at an altitude of 5360 meters above sea level and is situated 80 kilometers from Leh city. In terms of height, Chang La is higher than the Khardung La, and crossing Chang La requires massive courage. The deep gorges running parallel to the road leading to Chang La pass provide all the thrill and adventure a biker seeks while embarking a journey to Leh-Ladakh.
- Tso Moriri Lake: The Tso Moriri is another high altitude lake of the Ladakh valley. The lake lies at an elevation of 4522 meters above sea level and is at a higher altitude compared with the Pangong Tso. Tso Moriri is a smaller lake compared to Pangong and spreads over an area of 135 sqkm. The lake lies near the village of Karzok, and unlike Pangong Tso, the Tso Moriri Lake lies entirely in India. A ride from Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri Lake is one of the most challenging journeys in the entire Leh-Ladakh spanning over a distance of 220 kilometers. During my trip, the journey from Pangong to Tso Moriri was the most challenging ride testing the endurance of both the vehicle as well as the rider.
Places on Leh-Manali Highway on a Trip to Leh-Ladakh
As mentioned in the beginning, there are two ways to reach Ladakh valley. As I have already mentioned the places on Srinagar-Leh Highway, now I will be listing a few sites on Leh-Manali Highway.
- Hemis National Park: The Hemis National Park is one of the highest altitude national parks in India and the world. The park lies at an elevation of 3000-6000 meters above sea level, and it is famous for the substantial population of snow leopards. The park is renowned for treks to get a glimpse of snow leopards. The area is also famous for the Hemis Festival celebrated in the months of June-July.
- Taglang La & Baralacha La Pass: The Taglang La & Baralacha La are another two high mountain passes on the Leh-Manali Highway. No ride to Leh is complete without crossing the high mountain passes, and this route is no exception. The Taglang La (5328 meters) lies in Ladakh Union Territory, whereas Baralacha La (4890 meters) lies in the state of Himachal Pradesh.
- Sarchu: Sarchu is a small town on the Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh state border, and it is a vital halt point for all the travelers traveling to Ladakh. Sarchu lies midway (230 kilometers) on the Leh-Manali Highway (480 Kilometers); therefore, it is the best place for night stay and resumes the journey on the next day. Sarchu is one of the highest stopping points on the entire route as the village lies at an elevation of 4200 meters above sea level.
- Zing Zing Bar & Gata Loops: The Zing Zing Bar and Gata Loops are a series of hairpin bends on the Leh-Manali Highway. These hairpin bends facilitate the uphill and downhill movement of vehicles en route the Baralacha La Pass. The 21 hairpin bends at Gata Loops take the vehicle from 4190 meters to 4630 meters. Similarly, the hairpin bends of Zing Zing Bar bring the vehicles downward in elevation.
- Keylong: The Keylon is the most significant town on Leh-Manali Highway and the only big city in 500 kilometers highway until you Leh city. Keylong is also the district headquarters of the Lahaul & Spiti district, which is another famous biker circuit in India after Leh-Ladakh. The town lies at an elevation of 3000 meters above sea level and is renowned for big markets, monasteries, and natural landscapes.
- Rohtang Pass: The Rohtang pass is another high altitude pass on Leh-Manali highway at an altitude of 3980 meters above sea level. It lies close to the Manali town (52 kilometers), therefore a prominent tourist spot for travelers visiting Manali. It also serves as the gateway for other well-known bike routes in India, i.e., the Leh-Ladakh Bike Route, the Spiti Valley Bike Route, and the Sach Pass Bike Route.
These are the prominent places for anyone who plans to visit the Ladakh Valley. There are a few more places on, but they are indirectly covered while exploring the significant places in the Ladakh Valley. I hope this article will serve well to all the travelers who are planning to explore the magnificent Ladakh Valley in the future.