Leh Ladakh Travel
The main town of the region, is dominated by Sengge Namgyal's nine-storey Palace,
a building in the grand tradition of Tibetan architecture, said to have inspired
the famous Potala in Lhasa, which was built half a century later. Above it,
on Namgyal Tsemo, the peak overlooking the town, are the ruins of the earliest
royal residence at Leh, a fort 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 toils up the hills from Sankar Gompa
to attend to the butter-lamps in front of the images.
The traveller from India will look in vain for similarities between the land
and people he has left and those he encounters inLadakh. The faces and physique
of the Ladakhis, and the clothes they wear, are more akin to those of Tibet
and Central Asia than of India. The original population may have been Dards,
an Indo-Aryan race from down the Indus.
For close on 900 years from the middle of the 10th century, Ladakh was an independent
kingdom , its dynasties descending from the king of old Tibet. Its political
fortunes ebbed and flowed over the centuries, and the kingdom, was at its greatest
in the early 17th century under the famous king Sengge Namgyal, whose rule extended
across Spiti and western Tibet up to the Mayumla beyond the sacred sites of
Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.
For all its seeming inaccessibility, Ladakh's position at the centre of a network
of trade routes traditionally kept it in constant touch withthe outside world.
From Chinese Central Asia,the mighty Karakoram range was breached at the Karakoram
pass, a giddy 18,350 feet (5,600m).
Today, travellers from Srinagar drive on this route in the relative comfort
of taxis, local buses or their own vehicles, taking two days and breaking journey
at Kargil. It provides the best possible introduction to the land and its people.
At one step as you cross the Zoji-la, you pass from the lushness of Kashmir
into the bare uncompromising contours of a trans-Himalayan landscape.
The geographical backbone of Ladakh, the Inuds Valley, particularly from Upshi
down to Khalatse, is also the region's histocric heartland. All the major sites
connected with the former kingdom's dynastic history are here, starting with
Leh, the capital city since the early 17th century when Sengge Namgyal built
its nine-storey palace. A few kilometres up the Indus is Shey, the most ancient
capital, with its palace and temples, their vibrantly coloured murals cleaned
and restored in the mid-1980s.
Fairs & Festivals
The religious philosophy of Buddhism, however, profound and subtle doesn't preclude
an immense joie-de-vivre among its Ladakhi adhe-rents,a nd even solemn religious
enactments are made the occasion for joyous celebration. Many of the annual
festivals of the gompas take place in winter, a relatively idle time for the
majority of the people. They take the form of dance-dramas in the gompa courtyards.
The Ladakhis believe implicitly in the influence of gods and spirits on the
material world, and undertake no major enterprise without taking this influence
into consideration. The lamas are the vital intermediaries between the human
and the spirit worlds.
Arts & Crafts
There is little tradition of artistic craftsmanship in Ladakh, most luxury articles
inthe past having been obtained through imports. The exception isthe village
of Chiling, about 19km up the Zanskar river from Nima. Here, a community ofmetal
workers, said to be the descendants of artisans brought from Nepal inthe mid
-17th century to build one of the gigantic Buddha -images at Shey, cary on their
Visits to the major Buddhist monasteries and other cultural or heritage sites
are the principal tourist attractions of central Ladakh and Zanskar. These sites,
most within reach of Leh, may be visited by bus or by taxi. Most villages and/
or monasteries are provided with regular bus services from Leh. Taxis are expensive,
with fixed tariff for almost every monastery or group of manasteries, but offer
good value in terms of comfort, convenience and time frame.
Archery & Polo
In Leh, and may of the villages, archery festivals are held during the summer
months, with a lot of fun and fanfare. They are competitive events, the surrounding
villages all sending teams, and the shooting takes place according to strict
etiquette, to the accompaniment of the music of surna and daman (oboe and drum).
Adventure in Ladakh
Trekking possibilities include short, day-long walks up and down mountain slopes
to visit isolated villages or monastic settlements, or across a ridge to enjoy
the sheer beauty of the lunar mountainscape. Or long, transmountain treks involving
weeks of walking and camping in the wilderness.