Leh is one of the most sought-after destinations in India for adventure-seeking visitors. Its magnetism does not rest so much on splendid castles, magnificent temples or verdant surroundings that other most-visited places in the country are known for. Instead, it features a barren landscape, rugged terrain and unforgiving conditions, yet cloaked with a deep spirituality and a magical aura that never fails to enchant those fortunate enough to lay eyes on its remarkable beauty.
Getting to Leh is an adventure in itself. The journey is one for the books that when it crosses your mind years after you have taken the trip, you will still be filled with so much pride and incredulity for having taking it.
There are two routes to choose from. One is from Manali in the south and the other one is from Srinagar in the west. The one from Manali is the ultimate trip that adventurous souls seek for. The trip usually takes at least two days, unless you take the shared taxi or jeep that speeds precariously along the rugged terrain in 24 hours straight which I definitely do not recommended for anyone.
The Manali route will take you to one of the highest road passes in the world, so it is a great idea to divide the trip in stages so that you can give yourself the time to acclimate and avoid the agony of high altitude sickness. Get ready to have the ride of your life because your vehicle will surely be inches away from sheer drops, traverse practically non-existent roads and go across raging waters from melted glaciers. Now, you know why incredulity is going to be a significant part of your Leh memory.
The word crazy perfectly describes the ride from Manali to Leh, but it is the most popular route taken by travelers because of the glorious vistas of snow-capped mountains, barren rolling hills and quaint small villages. There is no describing it, it just fills your soul with a sense of profound wonder that you have to take plenty of deep breaths to adjust to it or it could just be the effect of high altitude – it is up to you to figure it out.
Once in Leh, it is time to explore the magical terrain that has inspired many travelers, poets and artists. There are plenty of attractions for the sightseer and there is no lack of hiking trails for the avid ambler. Visit the Shanti Stupa to checkout one of the area’s newest religious monuments as well as get a good look at the beautiful vista of Leh laid out before you. An even more dramatic panoramic view of the city can be found at the 16th century Ancient Leh Palace. Walk a little further uphill to Namgyal Tsemo to explore the ruins of an old fort and soak up the picturesque setting.
Thiksey Gompa is another popular attraction in Leh. It takes only a short drive from the city along the Leh-Manali highway. Here is not only a significant piece of religious history but it also features wondrous murals and icons in this old monastery.
If you are passionate about polo, you can get boasting rights by playing at the highest polo ground in the world. After an exciting game, head to the main market only about a mile from the playing site. The market is where you can find all sorts of handicrafts and fresh produce.
Finally, as the gateway to the dramatic terrain of the Ladakh region, there are plenty of day trip opportunities available from Leh. There are a few outdoor companies here where you can arrange white water rafting, mountain trekking and biking tours, and allow yourself to enjoy your visit to the Leh region safely.