Leh is the heart of the Leh district and capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh.

Leh is located in the Indus river valley at a crossroads of the old trading routes from Kashgar, Tibet, and Kashmir. Its importance as a trading town slowed down with the partition of British India, and ended with the closure of the border in 1962 during the Sino-Indian war. Since opening to tourists in 1974, it has become a bustling tourist town, with large numbers of Kashmiri traders.

It’s a small town, easy to get most places by foot. The old town is a compact area of mud brick houses and narrow lanes directly to the east of Main Bazar. Changspa is the agricultural “suburb” northwest of the center, with many guesthouses.

The main Bazaar’s elevation is 3505 meters , so take it easy on your first few days there or risk possible altitude sickness. Even experienced high altitude travellers (Andes) might have some trouble.

Travelling in Leh without professional guidance is like shooting for the moon while being too busy gazing the stars. There are various giants offering customized packages that are tailor-made to suit your needs.

There are two roads in to Leh, one from Manali in Himachal Pradesh in the south, and one from Srinagar in the west. Both routes are equally spectacular in different ways, and both are time consuming with winding, narrow roads, and numerous military checkpoints.

The main advantage of taking the road from Srinagar, covering a distance of 434 km (270 mi), is that it runs at a lower altitude, and thereby reduces the risk and severity of altitude sickness. It is also open longer – normally from the beginning of June to October – and follows the traditional trade route between Ladakh and Kashmir, which passes through many picturesque villages and farmlands.It takes two long days, with an overnight stop in Kargil. Tickets cost Rupees 370/470 on ordinary/deluxe buses.

The route from Manali to Leh, covering a distance of 473 km (294 mi), is one more commonly taken by tourists. It takes two days, normally with an overnight stop either in Keylong (alt. 3096) or in tent accommodation in Sarchu (4253) or Pang (4500). Making the first stop in Keylong drastically reduces the risk of altitude sickness (AMS). It traverses one of the highest road passes in the world and is surrounded by wild rugged mountains. The scenery is fantastic, though it is definitely not for the faint hearted. This historical trade route was linked to Yarkhand and was severed by the India-China war in 1962, and later was transformed in to military supply road. Reliable access is limited from mid-June to end-September, as it is blocked by snow for rest of the year.

Attractions Around Leh :

For such a historic site and popular tourist destination, Leh has surprisingly few tourist sights:

  • The former Palace of the King of Ladakh (admission 300rps). The most noticeable building in Leh, the palace was built in the 17th century, and now undergoing restoration. The corridors inside are dark and spooky and there are holes in the floors, which make it an excellent place to explore, but bring a torch! Make sure you don’t miss the only furnished room, the beautiful and eerie Buddhist prayer room at the centre of the palace. Exterior views are spectacular.
  • The charming Old Town can be found on the walk up to the palace, and is great for photography. It’s a place that time seems to have forgotten, with buildings built in the traditional way and few tourists.
  • Buddhist temples:
    • Namgyal Tsemo Gompa – above the Palace, built 1430, is only open from 7AM-9AM during the morning puja.
    • Soma Gompa – just around the corner from Main Bazar, it’s a large modern gompa. It’s also the location of the Ladakhi Buddhist Association, a conservitive political orginisation, with ties to Hindutva groups.
    • Karma Dupgyud Choeling – monastery in the Karma Kagyu tradition
  • The small mosque
  • Shanti Stupa : built by a Japanese Buddhist group. This modern stupa is somewhat kitschy, but still worth a visit.
  • Pangong Tso A beautiful high altitude lake at 4350 meters with deep blue waters, surrounded by tall mountain peaks. This lake lies on the Indo – China boundary, with only one fourth of the lake being in India. The road to this lake passes through Chang-la pass , claimed to be at 5425 meters. It’s a five hour drive (149 Kms) from Leh to this place. There is also a small camp on the way where a Yak Safari can be done. The passage is also very tough to cross by car. So a four-wheel drive car is recommended. Experienced bikers should not have any problem. Day return trips from Leh avoid the AMS issue , but you won’t be able to see much during the your 60 minutes stay there .Overnight trips directly from Leh is outside safety guidelines . The safe and comfortable option is to plan this trip at the end of your stay in Leh , and with a overnight stop at Tangtse (altitude 3950).
  • Nubra Valley From Leh, you can hire a car and drive over , Kardung-La, to the Nubra Valley. You will need an “Inner-Line Permit” , easily arranged from any of the travel agents in Leh. However, it is better to get it from the office by yourself. Travel agents generally gets you permit for the specific places only and can be heavy on your pocket. So, better take the charge by yourself and do it. The Nubra Valley is at the base of the Karakorum Range. Within the valley are the Hundar Sand Dunes, well worth seeing. You can hire a 2-humped Bactrian camel there for 300 rupees and take a ride, great fun!
  • Monasteries in Ladakh : Most travellers use Leh as a base to visit the numerous local gompas, ie. Buddhist monasteries, such as Shey, Thiksey, Phyang, Likir, Stok and many others…
  • War Museum (War Museum, Leh). Fascinating place run by the Indian Army showcasing the history, glory and the tools of the trade related to army operations defending India in some of the most hostile terrain in the world. It also has a fascinating display on the Siachen battlefield – the highest and more arduous battlefield in the world.
  • Donkey Sanctuary (Home for helpless donkeys), The sanctuary is situated just off the road leading to Khardungla Pass. The public is encouraged to visit the sanctuary and friendly signs will direct you to the sanctuary from the center of Leh. It is no more than a pleasant 5 to 10 minute stroll from the main road to the Sanctuary and the artistic surprise awaiting you is well worth the effort. It is open to the public throughout the day and donations and juicy carrots are most welcome and used exclusively for improving the lives and welfare of these wonderful animals. Free.
  • Magnetic Hill, Milions of people every year visit Magnetic hill because it has properties which can pull cars uphills.
  • Tso Moriri LakeFrom Leh it took 6-7 hours to reach Tso Mori Lake. It is beautiful lake located in secluded Rupshu valley.
  • Hemis National Park (hemis-national-park), This famous national park of Ladakh houses the highest number of protected snow leopards in the world, among other wildlife. It is one of the most famous national parks in Ladakh and the perfect place to experience the fauna of Ladakh in its natural habitat.