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Explore the facets of a 5000-year-old civilisation.
Make the most of the surf and the sea.
Re-live K ipling’s Jungle Book.
Let the adrenaline flow
Get in touch with your spirituality.
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Theme Destinations > Adventure > Leh Back

Locked between the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges, Ladakh is a high-altitude desert (lowest point, 9,000 ft above sea level) and a district of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Leh is the principal town of this ‘land of high passes’ (la dags), with the only airport of the district located here (which is also the highest commercial airport in the world). In season (July-Sep), Leh town becomes a melting pot of cultures and nationalities, and everything turns tourist-centric. Culturally, the Ladakhis follow a Sino-Tibetan heritage, though historic immigrants from Iran and Afghanistan hark back to its strategic location on the ancient Silk Route. The passes around Ladakh are snow-bound eight months of the year, and the geographic isolation has perhaps been the single biggest influence in the unique culture of the region. Glimpses of this indigenous culture may be had in the villages where witch doctors, a simple diet of barley and wheat, yak wool, and peculiar conservation principles are a way of life. In the towns, however, Maggi noodles and Coke are easily spotted. (The debate between tradition and modernity continues to be a hot topic in the context of Ladakh.) Buddhism and Islam are the prominent religions in the region though Ladakhis are an extremely tolerant people. Chi choen (what’s the point) is an often-heard phrase, along with the sing-song greeting of ‘Juley’. The proximity to the troubled Kashmir or the fact that the last Indo-Pak war was fought 230 km from Leh town in Kargil appears to have had zero impact – you are likely to feel more safe in Leh than in Delhi. With Leh as gateway (and the acclimatisation spot), most visitors head out to the high-altitude lakes, the valleys of Nubra and Lower Indus, and other surrounding areas. Monastery-centric itineraries are a common way of doing Ladakh; trekking, and rafting on the Zanskar are preferred by the hardy. The travels mostly end in Leh, where the pubs and cafes buzz with a blissed-out people raving about the stark beauty they were witness to. Ladakh is not a weekend break – think a week to 20 days for a holiday here.


The only air base in the region is in Leh, which also has the best tourist infrastructure. If roughing it out is not your style, you may prefer to spend your entire holiday in Leh, taking only day excursions (and there are many of those). However, if you have a yen for the exotic, and don’t mind not-so-plush hotels or camping in the open, take longer trips out of Leh: Ladakh’s vast expanses will open up your mind. If the Zanskar and Suru valleys are on your agenda, Kargil is a better base. Jeep safaris, mountaineering treks and river-running expeditions to these valleys are more conveniently arranged from Kargil than Leh. Wherever you go, do remember that outside Leh and Kargil facilities tend to be limited and it is advisable to stock up on provisions, spares and a first-aid kit.

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