Luxury of time has become a rare component with the increasing workload these days. Well, that doesn't mean you give up on your Ladakh dream. Sweeping valleys, barren mountains, blue lakes and age old monasteries; Ladakh is a traveller's dream destination. Come, un[travel] Ladakh and experience the valley in the shortest time possible. Drive to one of the world's highest motorable pass, visit the mountain-engulfed monasteries and soak the beauty of the blue waters of a high altitude lake; the best of Ladakh, crafted to fulfil your wanderlust cravings and curated to fit into one small itinerary.
Arrive in Leh; Short tour of - Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa and market
The thing about getting to these splendid barren mountains in Leh is that, even if you're raring to head over to Nubra Valley, you absolutely need to rest and get acclimatised first. Refreshed and ready to explore, we take you around to offer you the best of Leh in half a day. Drive through Ladakh's majestic mountains, after lunch (either at the hotel or at the market), down to Shanti Stupa. The epitome of peace and harmony, Shanti Stupa's white dome stands tall on a raised pedestal against brilliant blue skies. At 3,609 metres above sea level, the stupa offers unparalleled panoramic views of Leh town. Usually a lovely green in summer, the trees here turn leafless and brown in winter.
Head back to the 17th century Leh Palace with the aura of erstwhile royalty that surrounds it. The Archaeological Survey of India is now slowly restoring this 9-storied palace, and work is still in progress today. Modelled on Potala Palace in Tibet's Lhasa, Leh Palace offers unhindered views of the Indus river, Stok Kangri peak and the mighty Zanskar range beyond it. Move on to the bustling Leh market area, like most Tibetan markets across the country, but with clearly a lot more authenticity. From Pashmina shawls and winter wear to handcrafted prayer wheels and unique turquoise jewellery, prepare to spend a fortune. When you're done, head back to the hotel, with heavier bags perhaps, but considerably lighter wallets. Ensure you hit the sack early after dinner. These rugged barren mountains, at phenomenal heights, require enough time for you to get used to them before you begin exploring the next day.
Drive to Khardungla pass top
Get ready for a spectacular ride on winding uphill roads to Khardung La after breakfast. Narrowly missing being the world's highest motorable pass, by a couple of hundred feet, Khardung-La is one of Ladakh's best known secrets. Nubra Valley and Siachen glacier's main gateway, paved roads from Leh town to South Pullu checkpoint become gravel and dirt tracks for the last 15 kilometres. Drinking plenty of water before the trip could go a long way as you reach dizzying heights from 3500 metres to over 5300 metres in just a couple of hours. Crisp, cold air greets you step out on the roof of the world. Walk around for majestic views of valleys around Ladakh if you're lucky enough to be visiting on a clear day. The stay won't be longer than 20 minutes, however, as acute mountain sickness (AMS) could kick in thanks to the altitude. Roads here are unpredictable and can cause unprecedented delays, but you should be back at Leh for lunch. After a sumptuous lunch, continue visiting more here in these beautiful mountains.
Tour of Magnetic hill, Gurudwara, Hall of Fame, Sangam
Clearly not as chaotic as Allahabad's Sangam, the confluence of rivers here in Ladakh is a big draw for its serenity and stunning landscape. A drive of nearly 48 kilometres from Leh town would take you to the point where the rivers Indus and Zanskar meet. Just before Sangam, get up close and personal with the super-charged famed magnetic hill. Watch your eyes a car climbs up without any thrust on seemingly uphill tarmac. Muddy waters of the Zanskar merge with the turquoise blue of the Indus to flow westwards. Head back to Leh with a pit stop at the revered Gurdwara Patthar Sahib. Legend has it that a demon who terrorized the area, pushed a boulder onto Guru Nanak who had come to help - leaving a hollow impression of a person on the stone and the Guru unscathed. Discovered in the 1970's while building a road, the boulder has now been placed in the gurdwara maintained by the Indian Army.
Shey Palace and Thiksey monastery
On our way to Pangong, stop by Ladakh's summer capital, Shey. Perched on a hillock, from afar, Shey Palace and the Shey Monastery, seem impervious to time that has passed since 1655. Once you get closer, however, the effects are clearly visible with the palace partly in ruins. With the second largest statute of Buddha in the Ladakh region, the monastery's main attraction is this 12-metre tall statue of Shakyamuni Buddha that occupies three floors. With fascinating wall paintings throughout the 12storey complex, stupas, thangka paintings, statues and numerous artefacts make for a very interesting visit to Thiksey Monastery.
Drive to Pangong Tso Lake, via Changla Pass
Stop for a hot lunch at Karu before you begin the next leg of the journey to Pangong. Pass through quaint hamlets and vast open stretches before the steep ascent to Chang La pass. A couple of kilometres down, however, are green pastures with yaks and sheep grazing on the roadside beside small streams.
Drawing huge crowds annually, Pangong Tso is best known for being a part of the last scene Bollywood's blockbuster "Three Idiots". This unbelievably lovely 604-km2 lake is partly in India and China as well. The most fascinating thing here, other than the lake being high up at 4305 metres above msl, is ever-changing water with different shades of blue, as the day gets older. Crystal clear lake water will actually have you counting the pebbles underneath. Head over to Spangmik village as the sun slowly goes down and the chill sets in. A warm bed, beside the lake is all ready for you as you step out for a short ramble post dinner. Floyd's diamonds have never seemed closer as the stars shine on in the clear night sky.
Drive back to Leh; Visit Hemis monastery on the way
Spend some time by the lake in the morning, as transparent waters turn blue with the sunrise. A hearty breakfast later, begin the long drive back to Leh.
Stop at Hemis Monastery that, unlike most of Ladakh's other monasteries, isn't visible from afar. Built on a green hill, hemmed between lofty mountains, Hemis is literally India's Shangri-La. Although founded in 1672, Hemis monastery is said to have existed before the 11th century. Hemis was made famous by claims in the late 19th century by a Russian journalist, Nicolas Notovitch, that the library contained works on Jesus Christ's lost years (this was proven to be false). The annual festival where the fascinating Cham mask dance is performed is in June-July for 2 days.
Stop for lunch at Karu on your way back to Leh. Stunning views of hillocks and the mountains beyond with the contrast of rare green and barren lands against spotless blue skies make most of the drive on rugged terrain from Hemis to Thiskey.
Head back to your hotel or visit the local markets once you're back in Leh. Hot dinner awaits at the hotel after your long day in the mountains.
Airport drop; Fly-out of Leh
Expect much heavier bags, and probably no space left for pictures on your camera's memory card, as you get your baggage tagged for your flight home. Picturesque views and memories of these unique mountains will keep you on a happy high for a long time yet.