Ladakh: India’s forgotten Himalayan Tibet
Ladakh is a beautiful and extremely remote part of India with a rich Tibetan culture that you don’t need to visit.
Ladakh is an arid yet beautiful region of India that can be associated more with Buddhist Tibet than predominantly Hindu India. It is known as the “Land of High Passes” and shares borders with Tibet and the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. It is part of the larger territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
It is also possible to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region in China, but a special permit and excursion is required to visit this remarkable region of the world. Not all Tibetans or Tibetan culture are confined to the current borders of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. In fact, the largest Tibetan monastery in the world is in China’s Sichuan province – Larung Gar Monastery in Seda.
What is Ladakh?
Ladakh is placed on ancient trade routes crossing the massive mountain ranges and lies between the Kunlun Mountains in the north and the Himalayas in the south.
- Highest elevation: 7,742 m (25,400 ft)
- Lowest elevation: 2,550 m (8,370 ft)
About half (or possibly 40%) of the Ladakis are Tibetan Buddhists, and most of the region’s inhabitants are of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. Shia Muslims make up about the other half of the population with a sizeable Hindu minority. The largest city in Ladakh is Leh.
- Population: 275,000 – mostly Tibetan Buddhists and Shia Muslims
Ladakh is one of the least populated regions of India and its culture and history are closely linked to those of Tibet. It is India’s largest and second least populated union territory.
- When to visit: Best time between June and September
Permit and tour of Ladakh
It should be noted that Ladakh has been part of a border dispute between India, Pakistan and China since 1947 – although in this article we will only consider the part administered by India. There is a strong Indian military presence in Ladakh.
Fortunately, no special permits are needed for tourists to visit most of Ladakh, including the main towns of Leh and Kargil. But permits are required for tourists wishing to visit the “inner line” which includes areas of the Nubra Valley; Panggong Lake and the Durbuk block in which it is located (i.e. north of Changla Pass).
- Permit: Required for the “inner line” but not for most of the territory
- Prohibited: It is forbidden to approach the lines of control with Pakistan and China
- Border crossings: There are no open border crossings between Indian Ladakh and China or Pakistan
What to see and do in Ladakh
“The landscape of Ladhak, a high-altitude desert, is defined by steep, arid cliffs and plateaus. Ladhak is a favorite among adventure sports enthusiasts, offering unique adventures in trekking, mountaineering and rafting… One can witness the best samples of the region’s performing arts, archery competitions arc and the Ladhak Polo Cup.“
– Travel Advisor
Ladakh opened its doors to tourism in the 1970s and has been attracting intrepid travelers ever since. Today, tourism is the main source of income for Ladakhis. Travelers are drawn to its incredible scenic beauty, rugged terrain, majestic mountains, and even the challenge of simply tackling this very high and isolated region.
Things to do in Ladakh mainly consist of exploring the unspoiled nature, the high altitude desert and observing its Tibetan Buddhist culture. There are many places of ecotourism interest, including numerous valleys, towering mountains, salt lakes, glaciers, and more.
Ladakh is home to around 35 Buddhist monasteries which lie along the banks of various rivers spread across the region.
- Monasteries: There are about 35 Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh
Ladakh also has a deep history with several petroglyphs dating back 5,000 years to the Iron Age, Bronze Age and Kushan period.
There are also many notable Buddha statues in Ladakh worth visiting.
- Bamiyan-type Maitreya Buddhas: 8-meter, 1,400-year-old rock-cut Maitreya Buddhas – they predate Tibetan Buddhism
- Khartse Khar Maitreya Buddha Statue: 7 meter Buddha statue from the 7th to 8th century
- Mulbekh Maitreya Buddha Statue: 9 meter 8th century Buddha statue by Mulbekh village
Leh Historic Palace
Don’t forget to visit Leh Palace (or Lachen Palkar Palace) in Leh city. It is a former royal palace overlooking Leh and was built around 1600 by Sengge Namgyal. Even though it was abandoned in the middle of the 19th century, it still belongs to the royal family of Ladakh.
- Potala Palace in Lhasa: Leh Palace is similar to the iconic Lhasa Palace in Tibet
- Built: About. 1600
It is nine stories tall. The upper floors housed the royal family, while the lower floors housed stables and storerooms. Today much of the palace is deteriorating and few of its interior decorations have survived. That being said, the palace is currently being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India.
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