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Leh: Land Of Castles, Monasteries and Lakes

India Post, June 15.2008

Leh, Ladakh (India) -- Leh is a beautiful barren desert situated at 3,505 meters above sea level in lap of the Great Himalayas. Leh is the main tourist gateway, its the largest town in the Ladakh region. It is ideal destination for nature lovers and adventure freaks.

The main highlights includes the breathtaking landscapes, the enchanting rivers, snowcapped mountains complimenting the blue sky, time stopping silence of the desert, temperature below zero and the Ladakh festival. In short is the nature's untouched beauty and incredibly attractive. Leh-Ladakh has so many monuments, monasteries, great options for trekking and mountaineering, river rafting, horse riding and polo.

What to see

Leh Palace - The beautiful nine story 17th century palace was the residence of the royal family. The royal palace resembles a mini-Potala Palace. The palace house Buddhist paintings on walls and artifacts. On the top of the Namgyal hill, the palace has the Victory Tower, built to commemorate Ladakh's victory over the Balti Kashmir armies in the early 16th century. The palace was built for King Singge Namgyal, It serves as Indian Government's archaeological conservation organisation office in Leh.

Leh Monastery and Gompa - The central area of Ladakh has the greatest concentration of major Buddhist monasteries or gompas. Of the twelve situated on or near the Indus, the oldest monastery is that of Lamayuru, which is believed to have been a sacred site for the pre-Buddhist religion known as Bon. The monasteries of Phiyang, Hemis and Chemrey were all found under the direct patronage of members of the ruling Namgyal dynasty. Phyang represents an act of penance by the 16th century King Tashi Namgyal for the violence and treachery by which he reached the throne.

Spituk Monastery - The gompa stands prominently on the top of a hillock, 8 Kms. from Leh, and commands a panoramic view of the Indus Valley for miles. Many icons of Buddha and five Thankas are found in 15th century monastery. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms, and an awe inspiring image of Mahakal.

Shanti Stupa - Shanti Stupa (means 'World Peace' in Japanese) was built by a Japanese who harbored the ambition of spreading Buddhism across the world, in 1985 with aid from the Japanese Government. It is located at Changspa, on the hilltop, and was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 1985. The art work attracts a lot of tourists to Ladakh and is spectacular to watch. The stupa is connected by a ‘motorable’ road and a steep flight of stairs.

Once on top, you can stop for a snack in the tea shop, then relax and enjoy the panoramic view of the chain of mountains and the peaceful little village of Changspa with typical Ladakhi houses built along a gushing stream, and the towering Namgyal Tsemo in the distance.

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa - The Namgyal Tsemo Gompa was built in 1430 by King Tashi Namgyal on Namgyal Tsemo peak overlooking the town. The monastery contains a three-story high solid gold idol of Maitrieya Buddha (future Buddha also called laughing buddha) and a one-storied statue of Avaloketesvara and Manjushri along with ancient manuscripts and frescoes. The fort above this gompa is ruined, but the views of Leh from here are breathtakingly beautiful. The associated temples here remain intact, but they are kept locked except during the morning and evening hours when a monk toils up the hills from Sankar Gompa to attend to the butter - lamps in front of the images.

Sankar Gonpa - The Sankar Gonpa is a couple of kilometers away from Leh town. It belongs to the Gelukspa school of Tibetan Buddhism. This small Gonpa is a branch of the Spituk Monastery, founded by the first incarnation of Skyabje Bakula (head monk of Spituk)

Shey Gompa - 15 Kms upstream from Leh, the palace is believed to have been the seat of power of the pre-Tibetan kings. A 7.5 meter high copper statue of Buddha, plated with gold, and the largest of its kind, is installed in the palace.

Soma Gonpa (Jokhang) - The Ladakh Buddhist Association in 1957 built the small Gonpa opposite to SBI, in the main Bazaar (market), which is open throughout the day for visitors. The Gonpa contains a statue of Joyo Rinpochey (crowned Buddha).

Leh Mosque - The striking green and white Leh Mosque, an exquisite work of Turko-Iranian architecture, stands in the Main Bazaar of Leh. This historical mosque was built in 1666-67 A.D. consequent to an agreement between the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and then ruler of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal. The mosque is open only to men. This is also a good place to find out about the possibility of doing voluntary work with various organizations. If interested, inquire at the reception centre or simply check the information board.

Stok Palace Museum - 17 km from Leh town, this museum exhibits precious stones, thangkas, coins, royal crowns and dresses and prayer instruments.

The Nubra Valley - Known as a flowering den Nubra valley gets clad in endless bushes of yellow and pink wild roses. Once the valley is through with the season of roses around August, a carpet of wild lavender lies gently on it. Nubra is also a relatively warmer valley in Ladakh making it perfect for crops and fruits to grow.

Diskit Village located near Khalsar, dotted with apricot plantations is one of the larger villages of the Nubra valley. The road between Diskit and the quaint little Hunder Village winds through a gorgeous stretch of sand dunes. A quiet and pleasant evening can be spent amidst nature with snowcapped peaks in the background.

Pangong Lake - This lake is situated at an elevation of 14,000ft. In the Eastern sector of Ladakh, at a distance of 154km. from Leh across Changla pass (17,000ft.). This lake is one of the largest and most beautiful natural Brakish lakes in the Country.

Down in the bazaar, the main sites to visit are the Jo-khang and a modern ecumenical Buddhist temple. Chang Gali, behind the main bazaar, is less bustling but has intriguing little shops selling curios and jewellery. Leh offers some delightful walks, especially around Changspa Village. Just take any of the cobbled lanes in the village and feel free to carry on as you please. There are several attractive destinations within a 10-km radius of Leh.

Sabu, a charming village with a small gompa, nestles between two southward-stretching spurs of the Ladakh range about 9 km away. In the same direction, but nearer town, is Choglamsar, with the Tibetan refugee settlement including a children's village, a handicrafts centre devoted largely to carpet-weaving, and the Dalai Lama's prayer- ground. And in the opposite direction, about 8 kms on the Srinagar road, is the turning for Spituk village and its imposing monastery.

How to reach
By Air - Leh has the highest airport in India, it is just 8km away from the city centre and well connected to Delhi, Jammu, Chandigarh and Srinagar.

By Rail - Jammu is the nearest railway stations i.e. 620 kms from Leh. The station is well connected to all major cities with few express and regular trains.

By Road - Leh-Shrinagar road is the main route to leh which include a night halt at Kargil. You can try the regular or the deluxe buses operated by the Jammu and Kashmir start road transport or you can take private taxis.

When to go: Best time to travel Leh-Ladakh is between July to September.

Where to eat: There are several restaurants, some of them in the open air - in gardens, or on the sidewalk -which serve local, Tibetan, Indian and Continental cuisine.



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