A scenic town in North India bubbling with Buddhist history and beautiful landscapes. This town is the entry point for Ladakh .I would recommend not treating this town as a stopover and request you to spend 2-3 days in the town to explore the local cuisine, the German bakery scene and the monasteries of course.
Walking through the alleys of the town is one of the better ways to discover hidden cafes and explore the local culture. The quaint old winding streets and shops though are thronged with tourists from all over the world.
Interact with the locals over a hot cup of tea and you will hear beautiful stories of monarchs, lamas and monasteries. Explore the landscape around Leh to chance upon views and monasteries that will literally take your breath away.
The place has so much to offer from Cultural tours to Adventure activities .Enjoy your evenings at any of the quaint old German bakeries dotting the streets of Leh or rent a bike to traverse the highest motorable road in the world to cross the Khardung La pass .
Here’s the breakup of how I spent my 2 days in Leh town with detailed information on all the places we covered
Breakfast at Gesmo Bakery
Start the morning with an amazing breakfast at Gesmo German Bakery on Fort Road Leh. The place is a heaven for food lovers and is choke full of eclectic German bakeries to choose from. This place also the most famous German bakery in town and it is not all overrated. For food lovers who are watching the calories, savor the heavenly muesli cookies. Begin your breakfast with lemon and honey tea, chocolate pancakes and finish off with the specialty of the house Yak cheese pizza. We also sampled the Non veg North Indian food available on the menu one evening and we were not disappointed
Location: Gesmo German Bakery, Fort Road, Leh
Magnetic Hills- Leh
Located on the Leh-Kargil-Srinagar highway, the Magnetic Hill is the so called gravity hill located near to Leh. In reality it is an optical illusion created by the alignment of the road with the slope of the background and therefore it gives the illusion that the car is being pulled up a slope in the direction of the magnetic hill. But that said, you should actually visit this place to visualize the optical illusion in action. I was pretty much amazed when the car that I was riding in was pulled up a slope. Also the magnetic hill area is visually appealing. That is true for all places listed in this blog post because in Leh, everywhere you look it’s like a visual feast of senses. Every landscape is an opportunity waiting to be captured by your camera lens.
Gurudwara Patthar Sahib
Down the same road as Magnetic hill atop a hill is located- Gurudwara Pathhar Sahib, a Sikh place of worship maintained by the Indian army. The view from the Gurudwara is spectacular. It offers great views of the Leh Srinagar Highway. The Prasad from the langar “Halwa” is very tasty. There is local legend associated with Shri Guru Nanak that he visited Leh in 1500 century and saved the life of people of Leh protecting them from a demon that resided in the hills.
Explore the architectural heritage of Leh palace around which the town had originally developed. The Leh palace was the former residence of Ladakhi royalty but was abandoned as residence when the Dogra forces took control of Ladakh. The royal family has moved to Stok Palace. The palace is currently ruined and is being restored by the Archaeological survey of India. The Palace museum holds a rich collection of jewelry, ornaments, ceremonial dresses and gowns. The palace is open to tourists and the palace roof top offers panoramic views of the Zanskar Mountain range.
Hall Of Fame
Check out the Indian army museum at the Hall of fame which has the brave history of Indian army on display. Informative displays on various battles that India fought and the ammunition and weapons used are also on display. There are written guides explaining everything in detail. The USP of this Hall of fame is the activity ground which they have opened for tourists. Here you can try your hand all the training activities like archery, rifle shooting etc. We had a lot of fun competing with each other at various activity. The cutest thing on display at the Hall of fame was the very famous fully camouflaged “Shaktimaan” truck which was used as a ticket counter for the activity ground. The Hall of fame also has a café with a beautiful view. We were already hungry by this time so we ordered tea and some refreshments to help us along the way.
Rafting at Indus and Zanskar River Sangam
This location is the meeting point of Indus and Zanskar Rivers. You can actually make out the different rivers because the color of each river is remarkably different from the other. The place is very peaceful and the sound of the water flowing by is calming to the nerves. We saw some people trying their luck at white water rafting as the season for water sports in August was over and done with. But there were one to two instructors still giving out rides to tourists, so we joined them. It was fun but the water was not choppy enough and therefore it was not that enjoyable.
Lunch at Bon Apetit Restaurant
Tired after all the sight-seeing and rafting we finally made our way back towards the town for lunch and decided upon Bon Apetit mainly because of the continental food options it offered. On arriving we found that the cafe has one of the best views in Leh and the food was mouthwatering continental cuisine. The café owner had lined up wooden recliner chairs against the café wall facing the valley. It is the best place in Leh to sit down and relax or the best place to work from if you are working on the go.
Location: Changspa Road, Opposite Moravian Mission School, Leh 194101
Leh Main Market – Shop and Eat
After lunch we went back to the hotel, took a nap and set out again in the evening to take a stroll through Leh main market and find souvenirs from the Tibetan market. On the way we found a government cooperative shop selling authentic apricot juice which we relished. Walking down the road we decided to sample the much talked about gur gur tea. There were many shops with people from Jammu and Kashmir selling Pashmina shawl and we were spoiled for choice. After selecting and buying the shawls we moved on towards the Tibetan market. It was full of enchanting handiwork of the Tibetan culture. We feasted our eyes on eclectic display of brass Buddha masks and figurines, Buddhist prayer wheels in all sizes, intricately carved silver jewelry. We finally bought a prayer wheel that can be hung on a wall and some silver jewelry. We wanted to buy a brass Buddha mask but the prices the vendors quoted were exorbitant even after bargaining with them. Walking back to our hotel we discovered a Chaat waala vendor in Leh market road who also served Chhole Kulchhe. So we made impromptu dinner plan and had out fill of Paani Puri and Samosa as well.
Location: For Apricot Juice: Ladakh Stone Fruits & Vegetables Marketing Co-operative Limited, Bhat Complex, Main Market, Leh Ladakh.
No longer hungry but definitely tired we decided to call it a day and strolled back to our hotel making plans for the monastery beat around Leh the next day.
We had decided earlier to have breakfast at the Pumpernickel Bakery on Old fort Road, as it was also among the famous ones and came recommended by our driver as well, who was a local. So we had coffee and apple crumble pie. We were a hungry lot and we went through breakfast very fast and started the journey on a happy note.
Architecturally all the monasteries are same with the exception of Shanti stupa which has a hint of Japanese architecture. But, what will enchant you the most is the scenic beauty around each one of them and the silent smiling monks quietly flitting around the space and doing their own thing. Shanti Stupa is the most famous tourist site around Leh Town. It boasts of a great view of the Changspa Village and Leh town. It also offers a great view of the Namgyal Tsemo in the distant mountains.We were lucky enough to witness the scenic view on a extremely clear day. The second level of Shanti Stupa has reliefs depicting the “birth” of Buddha, the death of Buddha (mahanirvana) and Buddha “defeating the devils” while meditating. The Shanti Stupa was built to promote world peace and prosperity and to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism.It is considered a symbol of the ties between the people of Japan and Ladakh.The stupa lights up beautifully at night and is accessible till 9 PM .This can be included in your one day trip from Leh as it is only a few kilometres from Leh. The Shanti Stupa features the photograph of the current Dalai Lama with the relics of the Buddha at its base.The stupa is built as a two-level structure. The first level features the central relief of Dharmachakra with deer on each side. A central golden Buddha image sits on a platform depicting the “turning wheel of Dharma” (Dharmacakra).
You can time your visit so that you can see the monastery decorated with colorful lights in the evening. We went in the day time only because we had clear view of the Shanti Stupa in the distance from our hotel backyard and were able to see the Stupa in the evening in all its bright glory from the hotel itself.
This monastery is noted for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. This gompa boasts of a 15 meters (49 feet) high statue of Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh, covering two storeys of the building is deified in the monastery. Enjoy the atmosphere as the monks in flowing robes perform their rituals. Be prepared to be dumbfounded by the beauty of the colorful and two storey tall Maitreya Buddha statue.
Shey Palace and Monastery:
The Buddha statue here is the largest copper Buddha statue housed by three storeys and is 39 feet high. Shey Palace, the erstwhile royal residence of the Ladakh monarchs, is the main attraction of Shey. Spin the prayer wheels on your way to the palace. It is believed that each clockwise revolution evokes 50 blessings. Shey Palace monastery houses the largest copper statue of Shakyamuni Buddha with gilded gold.
By the time we were done with the monasteries it was almost evening. We had the most amazing momos for lunch from a roadside vendor. But by five were peckish again and we promptly headed back to Leh to explore a restaurant called Otsal. This restaurant was famous for its traditional Tibetan fare and we had our fill of the local delicacy Thupka- Noodle Soup. For dessert we had coconut chocolate balls. We fell in love with the coconut chocolate balls and we packed a dozen more for the people back home.
Location: Otsal Restaurant and Bakery, Changspa Road, Leh
Orientation: Leh city falls in the state of Jammu and Kashmir although traditionally the region is called Ladakh.
Getting there: The nearest airport is Leh Airport. Catch a private bus from Delhi to Manali and from there onwards to Leh. Alternately, take the scenic and famous bike ride along Delhi – Manali – Leh route through the Rohtang Pass
Climate: Best time to visit is from May to September. Though it gets chilly in August and September.
Stay: The cheapest accommodation available in Leh are homestays which can be booked upon arrival. The town is generously dotted with good hotels in all price categories that can be booked through all the major hotel booking sites like http://tripadvisor.com
Good to know:
- Most of the people suffer from Altitude sickness when travelling through Ladakh. Consult your doctor and carry medicines accordingly.
- Permits are needed to visit some areas of Ladakh which can be applied for in Leh town on arrival.
- The permits can be procured through your hotel desk with few extra rupees or if you are planning to hire a taxi then your driver can easily get the permits for you.
- Do carry your Identity proofs along with you for application purpose.
- In case of sudden sickness there is a Civil Hospital in Leh which is well equipped. In case of any medical emergencies while travelling through Leh,Indian military has set up small medical camps which can be accessed by tourists.
- Oxygen packs are available at all medical stores and buying one or two while travelling is advisable.
- For travelling across Leh-Ladakh you can easily rent a bike or a taxi from the Leh main market. Do compare prices fro 2-3 shops before settling on one.
- All trekking,mountaineering,biking and camping gear is easily available in Leh
- On the spot booking for adventure activities can be easily done after arrival in Leh after comparing various price points . All the service providers are located on the Market main road . You can also ask for guidance from the hotel concierge.
- Leh official Site: http://leh.nic.in/
- Incredible India Site: http://www.incredibleindia.org/en/travel/destination/leh-ladakh
P.S: From Leh Town we moved on to Khardung La, Hunder Valley and Pangong Tso – Keep checking out http://fashionfactive.com this month for more posts on these destinations.