High altitude deserts, summits, passes, valleys, gorges, glaciers, trekking paths, hiking routes… all mountain vocabulary can be used to describe Ladakh. However, apart from being a trekking and mountaineering haven, Ladakh is well known for its culture, heritage, art forms and most of well, peaceful inhabitants. Discovering Ladakh the non-trekking way is enriching and memorable.
For centuries, Ladakh has proudly played a major role as a trading crossroads on the Silk Road. Located at the extreme north of India, caravans crossed the passes here to reach the strongholds of trade between the East and West. Over time, Ladakh has managed to retain a number of influences, be they cultural, religious or architectural.
The Little Tibet, a Buddhist land for centuries
Ladakh belongs to the Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir and shares a border with China (Tibet). While Jammu Kashmir is predominantly Muslim, Ladakh has preserved its Buddhist heritage over the centuries, inherited from Tibetan invasions. In the tenth century, the Tibetans introduced the first dynasty of Buddhism in Ladakh. In the seventeenth century, the royal family broke off relations with the 5th Dalai Lama. Kashmiri Muslims then provided support to Ladakh by pushing out disgruntled Tibetans. This initiated a sustainable mix between Muslims and Buddhists in the region and creation, among other things, of the Mosque of Leh.
Ladakh is therefore, an amalgamation of more than 10 centuries of Buddhism with scattered Muslim culture, leading to a rich cultural balance.
Each valley has several monasteries and palaces. Those in the Indus Valley are particularly famous. Atypical architecture, sublime paintings and Buddhist legends, each has its own special mention and is worth seeing. The Matho Monastery has a large community of monks and the Matho Project is committed to the restoration of Buddhist works and the creation of a museum for Ladakhi art.
Not to mention that many of these monasteries organize great annual religious celebrations. On the occasion of these festivals, curious travelers discover the legends of Ladakhi costumes and dances. These festivals are exceptional moments to discover more about the region.
The importance of Buddhism in Ladakh and Leh will be demonstrated in July 2014 during the Kalachakra, one of the largest gatherings of Buddhists. On this occasion, the faithful and pilgrims attend readings of Dalai Lama and enjoy the richness of Buddhist festivals.
Authentic experiences in Ladakh
Certainly, Ladakh is a land of trekking. But not only! After having stayed in the valleys of Ladakh, I can recommend 2-3 activities ranging from most accessible to the most dynamic. I enjoyed the ride on the camels in Nubra Valley. Meeting this big hairy beast in the middle of a desert surrounded by mountains is a fairly novel experience! In a lodge where I was staying, it was possible to cook with the teams. A moment of sharing that often overcomes linguistic misunderstandings.
Regarding activities to do in the summer in Ladakh, rafting on the Zanskar and a bike tour on the descent of Kardung would please me the most. These are two activities reserved for adults only.
If you fancy something quieter, I had the opportunity to meet many cyclists on the road. A bike or Royal Enfield, the Ladakhi roads are paradise for those who love to ride in the great outdoors.
Busy or a leisurely pace? When the holidays arrive, some like to get busy while others prefer to take the time to rest. Ladakh offers a perfect compromise for both profiles. With so many activities to indulge in, and a range of accommodation, Ladakh offers something for everyone.
During my tour in Ladakh, several categories of accommodation caught my attention.
Let’s start with the beautiful stone houses. A special mention is warranted to the Stock Palace for their incredible rooms. But my favourite was the Nimmu House, an authentic mansion renovated with local techniques. Charm and comfort guaranteed for an unforgettable stay in this boutique hotel in Ladakh, located in a peaceful village.
For camps, my prize goes to Camp Tsermang and the delicate attention of his dedicated team. Located along the Indus, a few kilometers from Leh, the camp provides comfort and exceptional cuisine to its guests. A different, more rustic and isolated property, the Tso Moriri Resort on Lake Tso Moriri impressed me with its fabulous views. The nomadic camps in the Changtang Valley looks they are seeking refuge at the end of the world.
Are you planning a trip to Ladakh? Do not hesitate to contact the experts in Shanti Travel, as they will share some great advice with you. Visit http://www.shantitravel.com/en/indian-himalayas/