Discover Indian Journeys
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Ladakh – The Hidden Kingdom
Ladakh is a land abounding in awesome physical features, set in an enormous and spectacular environment. Bounded by two of the world's mightiest mountain ranges, the Karakoram in the north and the Great Himalaya in the south, it is traversed by two other parallel chains, the Ladakh Range and the Zanskar Range. In geological terms, this is a young land, formed a few million years ago. Its basic contours, uplifted by tectonic movements, have been modified over the millennia by the process of erosion due to wind and water, sculpted into the form that we see today. For nearly 900 years, from the middle of the 10th 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 right up to the Mayum-la, beyond the sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.

Cultural Ladakh
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, which is said to have inspired the famous Potala in Lhasa built about half a century later.

Above the palace, on the Namgyal Tsemo hill, are the ruins of a fort, the earliest royal residence built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century. The associated temples remain intact, but they are kept locked except during the morning and evening hours, when a monk from Sankar Gompa hikes up the hill to attend to the butter-lamps in front of the images.

Down in the historic bazaar, the main sites to visit are the Jo-khang, a newly built Buddhist temple, and the imposing historic mosque founded in the late 17th century standing, almost opposite. But the pleasures of Leh are not confined to the visiting of monuments and sites. For locals and visitors alike, a stroll along the main bazaar, observing the varied crowd and looking into the curio shops is an engaging experience. A particularly attractive sight is the line of women from nearby villages sitting along the edge of the footpath with baskets of fresh vegetables brought for sale. Behind the main bazaar, In the other direction, are the Tibetan markets where one can bargain for pearls, turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli and many other kinds of semi-precious stones and jewellery, as well as carved yak-horn boxes, quaint brass locks, china or metal bowls, or any of a whole array of curios. One can also strike off away from the bazaar, past Zangsti and the Moravian Church to the Ladakh Ecological Centre and appreciate the work being done by this NGO in applying folk technology to meet the demands of modern life in Ladakh. From here a footpath across the fields leads to Sankar Gompa, which is half an hour’s walk away.

An attractive suburb of Leh, is the Changspa area, lying below the hill on which stands the imposing Ladakh Shanti Stupa, which can be reached by a winding road. There are also several attractive sightseeing and walking destinations within a 10-km radius of Leh. Sabu, a charming village with a small gompa, nestles between two minor spurs of the Ladakh range, about 9 kms away from the town. 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, Jiva-tsal. And in the opposite direction, about 8 kms on the Srinagar road, is the turning for Spituk village and its imposing monastery

Sightseeing across ladakh:
The Indus Valley, particularly from Upshi down to Khalatse, which is the region's historic heartland, is dotted with all the major sites connected with the former kingdom's dynastic history. The monasteries of Ladakh are the fountainhead of Buddhist religion and culture. They are also the repositories of the region’s centuries old artistic and cultural heritage. Starting with Leh, the capital,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 founded under the direct patronage of members of the ruling Namgyal dynasty. Phiyang represents an act of penance by the 16th century King Tashi Namgyal forthe violence and treachery by which he reached the throne. Hemis monastery, together with that of Hanle near the Tibetan border, was established at the instance of King Singge Namgyal, while his widow founded Chemrey as a posthumous act of merit for him. Stakna, dating from a slightly earlier period, was endowed by the Namgyal kings at various times. All these belong to the Red Hat (Kargyud-Pa) sect of Tibetan monasticism.

The reformist Gelugs-pa, or Yellow-Hat sect, is also well represented in central Ladakh by the monasteries of Thiksey, Likir, Ri-dzong and Spituk, the last of which has branch monasteries at Stok, Sabu and Sankar. Ri-dzong, situated a few kilometres up a side-valley from Uley-Tokpo, was founded only a century and a quarter ago by a devout layman-turned-lama, with the purpose of following the strict monastic rules of the Gelugs-pa sect.

Tak-thok and Matho gompas represent the smaller but much older Nying-ma-pa and Saskya-pa monastic sects respectively. Tak-thok, situated at the foot of the Chang-la pass, incorporates one of the many caves in the Himalayas where the Indian Buddhist apostle Padmasambhava is said to have rested and meditated on his journey to Tibet. Matho gompa is famous for its festival of the oracles, which is held early in the year, usually in the first half of March. But the jewel among Ladakh's monastic foundations is Alchi. Abandoned centuries ago as a place of active worship, it has been lovingly maintained by the monks of Likir, the nearest functioning monastery. Known as Chos-kor, or religious enclave, it comprises five temples, the richest in paintings and images being the Du-khang (assembly hall) and the three-storey Sum-tsek. Its murals, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, pre-date the Tibetan style of painting seen in all the other gompas of the region. Some of them are reminiscent of the paintings of the Ajanta Caves and are presumed to be almost the sole survivors (along with some in Phugtal gompa in Zanskar, and Tabo gompa in Spiti) of the Buddhist style prevailing in Kashmir during the first millennium AD.

Adventure Ladakh:
Ladakh offers many options for undertaking adventure activities amidst landscapes of spectacular, rugged beauty. These mainly include river rafting, mountaineering and trekking.

River Rafting:
River rafting in Ladakh is quite unlike anywhere else in the world. It provides the best opportunity to enjoy and experience the natural beauty of the spectacular landscape with deep gorges, towering snow-capped peaks, hilltop monasteries, hillside villages, and glimpses of the unique wildlife. Ladakh offers a range of rafting options on the Indus and its major tributaries. The best stretch for professionally guided runs in white water is on the Indus between Spituk and Nimu or Saspol, which rates 2 to 3 in the international river grading scale of 1 to 6. Upstream of Spituk, the Indus has the easiest stretch up to Karu, which is ideal for basic training or "scenic floating". In recent years, running the Indus has become an attractive option to complement with sightseeing, and features on the itinerary of most visitors. The most difficult but exciting rafting option is available on the Zanskar River, along its spectacular course through a gorge in the Zanskar Mountains, between Padum and Nimu. This is suitable only for well-organized white-water expeditions, prepared for about a week of rafting and camping in absolute wilderness.

Mountain Climbing:
The area most frequented is the Nun-Kun massif in the Great Himalayan Range. Its easy accessibility from the Kargil-Padum road and the shortest possible approach march to the base camps makes this massif the most attractive climbing destination in the Great Himalayan, necessitating advance booking years ahead. Among its six known peaks accessible from the Suru Valley, Nun (7,135 m) and Kun (7,087 m) are the highest summits.

The area nearest to Leh is the Stok-Khangri massif in the Zanskar Mountains, south of Leh. The base camp for the various peaks of this massif is about two days' trek from the Stok village. Among its known peaks, Stok- Khangri (6,150 m) is the highest. It offers a spectacular perspective to the central expanse of the Indus Valley, which it dominates.

Other peaks in the area include Gulap Khangri (5,900 m), Matho West (5,950 m) and Kantaka (5,275 m). The much higher Konglacha Peak (6,700 m) lies southwest of Leh and is reached via Rumbak on the first leg of the Markha Valley trek from Stok. Besides there are many unnamed peaks in the altitude range of 5,500 m to 6,400 m available for climbing. The trekking options range from short, day-long walks up and down mountain slopes to visit monuments or monastic settlements (or across a ridge to enjoy the sheer beauty of the lunar landscape), or long, trans-mountain treks involving weeks of walking and camping in the wilderness. For example, the trek from Lamayuru in the Indus Valley to Darcha in Lahoul, across Zanskar Valley, takes nearly three weeks and crosses 2 major mountain ranges. Most of the established routes traverse the Zanskar range, which separates the Indus Valley from Zanskar. The 10-day Markha Valley trek, the 11-day Lamayuru- Padum traverse and the 4/5-day Stok-Khangri round trek are the more popular ones. In recent years, parts of the Ladakh range, which lie between the Indus and Shayok valleys, have also become available for trekking. The winter access to Zanskar is actually along the frozen surface of the Zanskar River called Chaddar route. This route, though difficult and highly demanding in terms of arrangements, is perhaps one of the most exciting and memorable foot journeys in the world.

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