Located in the northern most part of India, Ladakh is a place of true beauty. It is the highest plateau in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, and is the coldest desert in the world. The landscape in Ladakh is magical and truly mesmerizing, which is why it has earned the moniker of “Heaven of Earth”. Ladakh is surrounded by the world’s highest mountain ranges, Karakoram and the Great Himalayas. It is surrounded by Lahaul and Spiti to the south, Tibet to the east, the valley of Kashmir to the west and the Karakoram Pass to the far north.
For centuries, Ladakh was an important and strategic location, as it was part of the famous Silk Road. Since then, its part in international trade has dwindled and is now mainly a prominent tourist attraction. Ladakh is known for its cold deserts, glaciers and barren landscapes. It may have sparse vegetation, but being part of a unique ecosystem, Ladakh has its abundance of flora and fauna. Wild animals like Snow Leopards, bharal (blue sheep), Asiatic Ibex, Ladakhi Urial, Tibetan Antelope, Tibetan Gazelle, etc., while birds such as black-necked crane, Golden Eagle, Tibetan Snowcock, Snow Partridge, Himalayan Rubythroat and many more are found in Ladakh. It has over 225 species of birds and 33 species of unique mammals. Ladakh has 3 major passes that are some of the highest motorable passes in the world; Taglang La Pass, Khardung La Pass and Chang La Baba Pass. They offer the most scenic views and the journey through these passes is often recommended by travellers. One of the most famous lakes in the world is the Pangong Tso (also referred to as Pangong Lake). It is a high grassland lake situated at an altitude of about 14,270 ft. Situated along the Sino-Indian Border, Pangong Tso is one of the major tourist attractions of the Ladakh. It offers awe-inspiring views of crystal blue waters and pristine environment, while the journey there is stunning and a must-have for travellers. Another major tourist attraction is the Nubra Valley, which lies in the north-east region of Ladakh. Like rest of the Tibetan Plateau, Nubra Valley is a high altitude cold desert. Nubra valley is most famous for its sand dunes and the Siachen Glacier in the north. Turtuk is a village located north of Nubra Valley, that was practically unheard of till the 2010s. It used to be a part of Balitstan, and as such, is occupied by people of the Balti tribe. Being a secluded area, isolated from the usual tourist maps, Turtuk offers peace and serenity for travellers to enjoy and a chance to interact with the tribal community and their culture. Delicious apricots are one of the main produces from the village. Other tourist attractions include Magnetic Hill, Confluence of the Indus-Zanskar Rivers, Moon Land and many more.
Culture is an important aspect of truly experiencing Ladakh. Closely related to Tibetan Culture, Ladakhi culture is deeply rooted in spirituality and it has always been faithful to its ages old customs and traditions. From time immemorial, people all around the world have visited Ladakh to soak in the culture, whether it is through the local cuisine, the Buddhist teachings, Ladakhi festivals, or music & dance, with mentions of the land in the works of Herodotus, Megasthenes, Ptolemy, etc. Ladakh’s culture is reflected through the various monuments across the land such as the Thiksey Monastery, Shanti Stupa, Leh Palace, Lamayuru Monastery, Key Gompa, etc. Architecture enthusiasts from all over the world visit Ladakh to experience these monuments. Ladakh celebrates a lot of colourful and extravagant festivals. One such exciting festival is the Hemis Tsechu. It takes place on 3rd and 4th July, and features a series of mask dances by the Lamas of the Hemis Monastery. Colorful masks and silk costumes worn by the dancers, are some of the highlights of this exciting festival. The new year is celebrated in the form of Losar, across Ladakh. It is a medley of colourful and cultural events, rituals and performances. Experiencing these vibrant festivals always puts a smile on your face. You get to experience an ancient culture, right here in the modern world which will make you feel excitement and intrigue. More importantly, it is just so much fun.
When experience Ladakh’s culture, it’s flavourful cuisine plays an important role. Of course, one of the most famous dishes in Ladakh are the Momos, which are a dumpling delicacy usually with a filling of either meat or steamed vegetables. Another delicious dish is the Ladakhi Pulao, which has a main combination of white rice soaked in the flavours of aromatic spices and chicken or mutton stock. Caramelized carrots and nuts are also added to lend to the texture and flavour. Thukpa is a noodle-soup of Tibetan origin. It is made by adding noodles to clear soup with either cut vegetables of meat, lightly seasoned with spices. All of these dishes are mesmerizing and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Any foodie would love to divulge these dishes. When you take that first bite of the steaming momos, or the aromatic pulao, the all the flavours come together in your mouth as you experience that Himalayan cuisine, as you are transported into another realm, and by the end of the dish, you can’t get enough of it.
Ladakh’s culture, the nature and the environment invigorates and transforms a person. When you step out into the fresh, mountain air, you’ll feel a cool and pleasant breeze brush against your skin, and this small but pivotal experience will enhance your outlook towards life itself and the essence of travelling. It is amazing how even such a small experience can make you feel alive and Ladakh is the place where you can truly experience it. I, myself, am an avid traveler and it was here in the mountains that I first realized that all I have wanted to do is travel to new places and experience new cultures and meet new people.
Ladakh is the place where you start an adventure and wherever you go, whatever you do, you still feel like going back. I love this beautiful place and I am sure you would too.