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Leh - Quick Facts

Area: 45110 sq. Km.
Population: 27,513
Altitude: 3505 m above sea level
Season: October To February
Clothing: Summer- Light woollen, Winter- Heavy woollen
Rainfall: 15 cm average
Languages: Urdu, Kashmiri & Dogr

For nearly 900 years, from the middle of the 10t h century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom, its ruling dynasties descending from the kings of old Tibet. The kingdom attained its greatest geographical extent and glory in the early 17th century under the famous king Singge Namgyal, whose domain extended across Spiti and western Tibet left up to the Mayum-la, beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake MansarovarGradually, perhaps partly due to the fact that it was politically stable, Ladakh became recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. For centuries it was traversed by caravans carrying textiles, spices, raw silk, carpets, dyestuffs, narcotics, etc. to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Khotan. On this long route, Leh was the midway stop, and developed into a bustling entrepot, its bazars thronged with merchants from distant countries.The famous pashmina (better known as cashmere) also came down from the high-altitude plateaux of eastern Ladakh and western Tibet, through Leh, to Srinagar, where skilled artisans transformed it into shawls known the world over for their softness and warmth.

Like the land itself, the people of Ladakh are generally quite different from those of the rest of India. The faces and physique of the Ladakhis, and the clothes they wear, are more akin to those ofTibet and Central Asia than of India. The original population may have been Dards, an Indo-Aryan race down from the Indus and the Gilgit area.

But immigration from Tibet, perhaps a millennium or so ago, largely overwhelmed the culture of the Dards and obliterated their racial characteristics. In eastern and central Ladakh, today's population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin. Further west, in and around Kargil, the people's appearance suggests a mixed origin.

By Air

Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Red have daily flights from Delhi. Air India Flights are also available from Srinagar and Jammu.

By Rail

The closest train stations are Pathankot or Chandigarh, both at least three days away by bus. A new station added recently is Udhampur which is linked by rail to Jammu. Please check the Train schedule as trains may not run on daily basis.

By Road

State buses run from Srinagar and also privately operated deluxe buses. From Manali HPTDC, (Himachal Pradesh Tourist Development Corporation), operate Deluxe buses that stop overnight in Keylong, between July and September. Costs Rs 2000.HRTC, Himachal Road Transport Corporation, the state run buses ply the road during the officially open period, allowing you to stop in a number of places along the way. Total cost Rs. 109 (Manali-Keylong) + Rs 475(Keylong-Leh). Private buses stop in Keylong, Darcha or Sarchoo - the last alternative (eight hundred meters higher than Leh ) involving a high incidence of altitude sickness. It is possible to book tickets direct Leh-Delhi, but it is recommended to spend a few days in Manali resting.

Leh town offers a number of sightseeing options for the visitors. A historic town that served as the royal capital of the Old Kingdom, it is dominated by the nine-storey palace built by King Singge Namgyal in the grand tradition of Tibetan architecture, it is said to have inspired the famous Potala in Lhasa which was built about half a century later.

Monasteries & Monuments
Sightseeing of the historic monuments and major Buddhist gompas (monasteries) are the main attractions of Ladakh. The Indus Valley, particularly from Upshidown to Khalatse, whichis the region's historic heartland, is dotted with all the major sites connected. The important sistes of Leh include: Stock Palace, Shep Palace Monsatery. Other famous monasteries include: Thiksey, Hemis, Chemday, Takthok, Spituk, Likhir, Alchi, and Lamayuru. For details see "Heritage" page.

Leh Palace
known as “Lechen Palkhar was built Dharmaraja Singey Namgyal in 1600 AD. It has 9 storeys and history says that its completion took three years. In the Leh valley, there is Samkar Monastery which was founded by Skyabrje Bakula Rinpoche. In the center of Leh City is the new monastery called “Chowkhang”. The Ladakh Buddhist Association found it in 1957 AD. Inside there is a sacred image of the Buddha Shakya Muni that was brought from Tibet. Government of India, Ministry of Home affairs has declared some more areas of Ladakh open for International Tourism. These areas are among the outstanding features of Himalayan panorama. It is yet another destination for the global tourist. These areas are relatively more distinct for cultural and adventure tourism. While declaring the new areas of Khaltse, Nubra & Nyomo Sub-division, Govt. of India however restricted the movement of traffic flow on different tour circuits. The period for visiting these areas should not exceed 7-days. These circuits are-

Drogpas The Aryans

Drogpa area has been outlined in the tour circuits. Out of 5 Drogpa Villages in India two are open for foreign tourists. The greatest attraction in these areas is the villages of Dha and Bema which are entirely populated by last remnants of the Dards in the District. Dards are considered as last race of Aryans confined to Indus valley. These villages have considerable anthropological and ethnographic importance. There is a very good road leading left upto Dropa village and tourists can stay over night in some private guest houses or at some identified camping site at Khaltsi Dhomkhar, Skurbucan, and Achinathang.

Stok Place & Monastery

15 Kms South of Leh at the West Bank of river Indus is the Royal Palace dating from the 1840s when the invading Dogra forces deposed the king of Ladakh. The Palace is a rambling building where only a dozen of the 80 rooms are used. The Palace Museum (3 rooms) is worth visiting. It is a show piece for the royal thankas (many 400 years old), crown jewels, dresses, coins, peraks encrusted with turquoise and lapis lazuli as well as religious objects. The monastery founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus in 14th century, a short distance away, has some ritual dance- mask (Guru Tseschu) held on the 9th and 10 th day of the Ist month of Tibetan calendar.

Shey Place and Monastery

King Deldan Namgial (1620 - 1640) built Shey palace in the beginning of the 17th century AD. The main image in the monastery is the 3- storey statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, made of copper guilt, which was made by King Deldan Namgail in the memory of his father Singay Namgail. The statue is the only of its kind in the region.

Tresthang Monastery
It was build during the reign of King Singay Namgial, containing the two-storey statue of Buddha. (Shey Srubla) festival is also held here at Tresthang Gonpa. The rock- curved statue of five Buddhas can be seen below the Palace on the roadside.

Thiksay Monastery
Thiksay Gonpa, 18 Kms from Leh is the most beautiful of all monasteries in Ladakh, belongs to the Gelukpa order. The Gonpa was first build at Stakmo by Sherab Zangpo of Stod. Later the nephew of Sherab Zangpo, Spon Paldan Sherab, founded the Thiksay Gonpa on a hill top to north of Indus river in 1430 AD.There are sacred shrines and many precious objects to be seen there. Eighty monks are in residence. The successive reincarnations of the Skyabsje Khanpo Rinpoche act as incumbents of the monastery. Sacred dances are held at the time of the Gustor ritual, which is performed every year from the 17th to 19th day of the 9th month of Tibetan Calendar. Although there was a very large temple built in ancient times at Thiksay by Rinchen Zangpo, the Translator, now it is in ruins. What remains of the building and walls can be seen at the site of the temple which was called Lakhang Nyerma and which was dedicated to the goddess Dorje Chenmo.

Stakna Monastery
The Stakna monastery lies at a distance of 25 Kms from Leh on the Right Bank of the River Indus. The monastery formed part of the one of the many religious estates offered to the great scholar saint of Bhutan called Chosje Jamyang Palkar in about 1580 AD by the Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial who had invited his to Ladakh.The monastery was built on a hill shaped like a tiger’s nose and so its name was given as Stakna (Tiger’s nose). The most important image in the monastery is that of the sacred Arya Avalokitesvara from Kamrup (Assam). There are about 30 monks in residence. The successive reincarnation of the Stakna Tulku act as the incumbents the monastery and they continue to fulfil the fine responsibility of upholding the teachings of the Dugpa order. The branch monasteries attached to Stakna are those of Mud and Kharu and those of Stakrimo, Bardan and Sani in Zanskar.

Wild Life
Changthang also has an abundance of exotic wildlife; Skyang, the Tibetan wild ass and Snow leopard are found here. Wild asses are generally found grazing near Tsokar Lake pastures and they are seen moving in flocks. Rare and exotic birds like Bar Headed Goose, the migratory birds black Necked Crane, the great crested Grebe, the Tibetan Crane and the Brhame ducks are also found in Changthang.
Bactrian camel safari can be done in the silvered colour sand dune of Nubra Valley of which the double hump camels are the residents.

There is little tradition of artistic craftsmanship in Ladakh, most luxury articles in the past having been obtained through imports. The exception is the village of Chiling, about 19 Kms up the Zanskar River from Nimo. Here, a community of metal workers, said to be the descendants of artisans brought from Nepal in the mid-17th century to build one of the gigantic Buddha - image at Shey, carry on their hereditary vocation. Working in silver, brass and copper, they produce exquisite items for domestic and religious use: tea and chang pots, tea cup- stands and lids, hooka-bases, ladles and bowls and, occasionally, silver chorten for installation in temples and domestic shrines.

Local blacksmith (Gara) with the bowls and cooking pots they need for every day use, as well as with agricultural implements supplies those who cannot afford the expensive ware of the Chiling craftsmen. The gara also make the large and ornate iron stoves seen in kitchens of the richer Ladakhi homes. In general, craftsmanship has not developed beyond the production of every day items for personal and domestic use. Pattu, the rough, warm, woollen material used for clothing is made from locally produced wool, spun by women on drop-spindles, and women by semi- professional weavers on portable looms set up in the winter sunshine, or under the shade of a tree in summer. Baskets, for the transpot of any kind of burden - manure for the fields, fresh vegatables, even babies-are woven out of willow twigs, or a particular variety of grass. Woodwork is confined largely to the production of pillars and carved lintels for the houses, and the low carved tables that are a feature of every Ladakhi living room.

The religious philosophy of Buddhism, however, profound and subtle doesn’t preclude an immense joie-de-vivre among its Ladakh adherents, and even solemn religious enactments are made the occasion for joyous celebration. Many of the festivals of the gompas take place in winter, a relatively idle time for the majority of the people. They take the form of dance-dramas in the Gompa courtyards. Lamas, robed in colourful garments and wearing often startlingly fleftful mask, perform mimes representing various aspect of the religion such as the progress of the individual soul and its purification or the triumph of good over evil. Local people flock from near and far to these events, and the spiritual benefits they get are no doubt heightened by their enjoyment of the party atmosphere, with crowds of women and men, the opportunity to make new friendships and renew old ones, the general bustle and sense of occasion.
•        Ladakh Festival
•        Buddha Mahaotsava Festival
•        Sindhu Darshan Festival.

Shopping in Leh will be a fascinating experience if you wish to take home souvenirs and curios from this enchanting land. You will find exquisite things even from across the border like Burma and Afghanistan besides the traditional Tibetan items while shopping in Leh.
While shopping in Leh, you will find a range of beautiful carpets and rugs with traditional Kashmiri and Persian motifs. The popular attractions from Tibet are the jewellery made from semi-precious stones, the alternative Thangka paintings and traditional items like Thangka paintings, small prayer wheels, music bowls, Ladakhi carpets, rugs, shawls and stoles. You will also be fascinated by the rubies form Burma and the Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan.

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