While most of the limelight go to Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri or Nubra Valley, the small city of Leh, in its vicinity, has some of the wonders of Ladakh. While the Indus flows through it, Leh overlooks Stok Kangri on one side and Khardung La on other. Leh is the largest town of the Ladakh region, it is also the administrative headquarters. There are plenty of tourist attractions in Leh and around which are a must-visit. Be it exploring around the Leh Palace with a bird’s eye view of Leh town or experiencing the sunset from Shanti Stupa, anything or everything about Leh is magnificent. One of the best adventure destinations of India, probably the best place for road trips, Leh is so much more beyond its rugged mountains and vast landscapes. The culture of Ladakh, the people of Ladakh, the monasteries of Ladakh and the Homes of Ladakh – Leh has it all to give you a hint of how grand and magnificent is this region which has recently become the 9th Union Territory of Indian State. Scroll down to know about some of the must-visit places in Leh and around.
Leh Palace: The Royal Residence
One of the most iconic places to visit in Leh town is the Leh Palace, built in the 17th century by His Highness Sengge Namgyal, the King of Ladakh. He used it as the royal residence until the Dogra army took over Ladakh and the royal family was shifted to Stok Palace. Overlooking the town of Leh, Leh Palace offers a panoramic view of Stok Range in front and Khardung La — one of the highest motorable passes in the world, and the Ladakh range rise from behind.
Some parts of the Palace may be in ruins now, but a major part of it has been converted into a museum. The museum is home to various artifacts that reflect a lot about the traditions, life, and culture of Ladakh. A vast collection of ancient jewelry, ornaments, ceremonial dresses, and crowns is kept on display here at the museum. Resembling the Patola Palace of Lhasa, Leh Palace is a great example of Buddhist architecture.
Tsemo Castle: For the bird’s eye view of Leh
Tsemo castle is located further up Leh Palace. It was built by King Tashi in the 15th century. To reach Tsemo Castle, one would need to take a 20-minutes zig-zag walk to the top of the cliff. While the castle itself does not have much to offer, the view from the top of the castle is mesmerizing. It is one of the best places to capture Leh and surrounding mountain ranges with a camera.
Namgyal Tsemo Monastery:
Located on the same cliff as Leh Palace and Tsemo castle, Namgyal Tsemo Monastery is popularly known as Namgyal Gompa. The cliff that houses Namgyal Tsemo Monastery is home to Leh Palace and Tsemo castle also and this little hillock is called Khar.
General Zorawar Fort: The base of Dogras in Ladakh
During the Dogra rule in Ladakh, a fort was built higher on the ridge by General Zorawar Singh, it is the same ridge which houses Leh Palace and Tsemo Castle. It was Dogra base in the Ladakh region. This fort is also known as Riasi Fort. it is home to a mosque, a natural spring and a temple. A collection of coins, artifacts, and stamps can be seen in displays here. Fort is accessible by road and a half an hour walk from Leh Bazaar can bring one up to the fort.
Sankar Monastery: The home to magnificent Buddhist Paintings
On the way towards Khardung La, about 9 km out of Leh, Sankar Monastery can be reached by either drive or one can even trek to it but visiting hours are restricted to morning and evening hours. An evening walk is more beautiful as the place is well lit. One of the major attractions of this monastery is an impressive figure of Avalokitesvara with 1000 arms and heads, the Monastery is home to very fine paintings of Buddhist Tibetan calendars. Mandalas.
Shanti Stupa: Where the sunsets are magical and nights are a wonder to look at
Built by a Japanese Buddhist monk, Gyomyo Nakamura, in Changspa region. Shanti Stupa is a white-domed stupa located on top of a hillock. There are about 500 stairs to get up to Shanti Stupa. It is one of the best places in Leh to watch sunset and sunrise, offering a great panoramic view of surrounding mountains.
Hall of Fame: For the glories of a war well fought
One of the must-visit places of Leh, Hall of Fame is a museum built and maintained by the Indian army. In memory of the great Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting wars with Pakistan and China, also during the cloud burst of 2010. In the Siachen glacier section, one can find a lot of stories about the bravery of soldiers in extreme conditions. Some artifacts related to to1999 Kargil war are on display, too. A 30minute film explains a lot about the Kargil war.
Jama Masjid: The Mughal connection in Leh
Jama Masjid in Leh is a historical mosque built in the year 1666-67 and it has been reconstructed several times after that. This mosque was built as a token of agreement between King of Ladakh, Deldon Namgyal, and Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Agreement was to provide protection to Ladakh in return for a small fee. This mosque is noted for the Shahi Hamdan Memorial, built-in memories of Syed Ali Hamdani, a Sufi Saint. It is also the biggest mosque in the Ladakh region.
Basgo Palace / Monastery: The ancient cultural hub of Ladakh
Around 40 km from Leh is this small, picturesque village of Basgo. In ancient times, this village was considered as the cultural and political center of the Ladakh region. Ancient Basgo Palace is also home to Basgo Monastery. The Palace is said to be built around the 15th century but the monastery is said to be much older than that.
Gurudwara Patthar Sahib: The Sikh Connection in Ladakh
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is located 25km from Leh on the Srinagar Leh Highway. It was built in 1517 to commemorate Guru Nanak’s Ladakh visit. There are two stones at display here which are said to have the imprints of Guru Nanak and the demon he encountered here.
Magnetic Hill: The one that defies the rules
The most well-known area of the Ladakh region, Magnetic Hill. The common belief is that this place has some kind of supernatural phenomenon and there is magnetic power that pulls any vehicle uphill even with the engine turned off. But the fact and reality are very different from this. Magnetic hill is just an optical illusion created by the fact that we can not see the horizon from this place, this makes descending vehicles look like there are ascending.
Nevertheless, an optical illusion or some supernatural magnetic power is one of the most visit places of Ladakh. Magnetic Hill is located about 27km from Leh towards Kargil on Leh Srinagar Highway. Road conditions in these parts are excellent, it won’t take more than a couple of hours to make a trip to the Magnetic hill from Leh and be back in Leh.
Indus and Zanskar rivers confluence: The Sangam In Ladakh
Famously known as Sangam, The confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers is right before a small village called, Nimoo. The view from the road gives a bird’s eye view of Sangam. Two of the major rivers of Ladakh region meet, one with the muddy waters and the other one with the crystal clear water. It is one of the most photographed spots in Ladakh.
Shey Palace and Monsatery: The Summer Retreat of the Royal Family
The Shey palace was once used as the summer retreat of the Royals of Ladakh. The distance of Shey Palace from Leh is just 15 kilometers on Leh Manali Highway. The palace was built in 1655 in Shey village. Along with the Shey Palace, the Shey monastery was built in 1655. The monastery is in the Palace premises. The main attraction of the Shey monastery is a gold gilded copper statue of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Thiksey Monastery: The largest monastery in Central Ladakh
Thiksey monastery is built on top of a hill in Thiksey village, a distance of Thiksey village from Leh is 20 Kilometers. It is by far the largest gompa in the central valley of the Ladakh region. Thiksey monastery is home to some of the best artifacts of Tibetan Buddhist culture of Ladakh, such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings, swords, and 15 meters (49 ft) high statue of Maitreya. The statue is the largest in Ladakh.
Hemis Monastery: The gateway to the Hemis National Park
Hemis monastery was built by the king of Ladakh, Senge Nampar Gyalva, in 1672 in a small village called Hemis. Leh to Hemis distance is 40 kilometers. The best time to visit Hemis monastery would be during the colorful festival of Hemis village which is held in July every year. Hemis village is the gateway to the Hemis National Park which is home to the elusive snow leopard.
Stakna Monastery: The Tiger’s nose
The word “Stakna” refers to Tiger’s nose in the Ladakhi language. The monastery is built on a hill that resembles the eye of the tiger. Leh to Stakna distance is 21 kilometers. The Stakna monastery was built in the 16th century. The main attraction of the monastery is a sacred Arya Avalokitesvara statue from Kamrup, Assam.
Directly opposite to the Stakna, Matho monastery is known for the great collection of Thangkas which are said to be from the 14th century. Leh to Matho distance is 26 Kilometers.
About 17 kilometers from Leh town, Stok village is home to Stok Palace which was used as the residence of the royal family of Ladakh after Dogra armies took over the Leh Palace. It is the current residence of the Royals of Ladakh. The Palace is home to a museum as well. The museum holds the shrine, crown, ceremonial dresses and jewelry of Ladakhi king.
Stok Monastery is 2 km from Stok Palace. Stok monastery was built in the 14th century. The main attractions of the monastery are all 108 volumes of the Kangyur and a 71 feet tall seated Buddha statue. The monastery house an annual mask dance festival.
Also known as Spituk Gompa or Pethup Gompa, Spituk monastery is located around 8 kilometers from Leh town. During the annual Spituk festival, a giant statue of Kali is unveiled.
Sindhu ghat is a peaceful riverbank located 10 kilometers for Leh near Shey village. It is a good place to spend some peaceful time and get great sunset views. An annual 3 days festival known as Sindhu Darshan festival is organized here.
Right behind the Jama Masjid in Leh market, Datun Sahib is a Meswak tree which is believed to be planted by Guru Nanak during his visit to Leh in the year 1516.