Fast emerging as ‘The Swiss Alps on a shoe-string”, Ladakh offers many touristic opportunities with a dash of sumptuous otherworldliness. Apart from the regular trekking, camping, nature walks, jeep safaris and mountaineering activities, Ladakh has opened up to a number of winter sports. Frozen lakes are being used for ice-skating and ice-hockey, archery and polo are steadily gaining grounds and regional festivals are getting global recognition. Nearly everyone now is aware of the colorful masks and headdresses that symbolize the Valley.
Out of Tibet, Ladakh is also the largest seat of Tibetan Buddhism. Dalai Lama has a permanent residence here and is often seen addressing local congregations. Therefore, Ladakh also receives a large number of religious tourists.
When planning day tours it is practical to remember the cardinal geographic directions of the places. Many locales fall on the way to each other and may be many kms away, so to save valuable time, its useful to squish in as many in one direction as possible. Therefore, I have tried listing the key tourist places according to their cardinal directions. Details of these are elaborated in many websites, can be easily googled. A good point of reference , refer or
East of Leh
- Shey Palace and Monastery –
- Thiksey Monastery
- Stok monastery
These being further east and larger distance can be done on a separate day:
- Karu Village- for stopover or refreshments
- Sakti village – for stopover or refreshments
- Chang-La, second highest motorable pass in the world at 17,826ft.
- Tangste Monastery
- Pangong Lake – highest salt water lake in the world
West of Leh
- Spituk Monastery
- Alchi Monastery – of high faith value amongst the local buddhists
- Likir Monastery
- Lamayuru Monastery
- Shanti Stupa
- Magnetic Hill
- Gurudwara Pather Saheb
North of Leh
- Khardung la pass – highest motorable pass in the world
- Deskit Monastery
- Nubra Valley
- Hunder – Bactrian double hump camel safari
- Panmik hot water spring
- Siachen glacier
South of Leh
- Tsomoriri Lake –
- Stakna Monastery
- Hemis Monastery – largest monastery of Leh
Since much of Ladakh travel will entail monastery hopping, some terms may prove useful :
- Chorten is a small stupa built to give homage to departed ancestors or to invoke blessings from good angels.
- Gompa is the local name given to a place of prayer. A monastery, prayer halls, museums, indigenous handicraft stalls and probably a canteen may make up a Gompa.
- Mani walls – all down the countryside, what may appear as mysterious stone assemblage are actually religiously important mani walls. Nearly waist high running for kilometers, joining chortens or trailing a Gompa, inscribed with Buddhist prayers but always well maintained.
- Mani or Prayer wheels – at every Gompa, one comes across many little cylindrical drums, sometimes a single very large one, that easily rotate on its spindle. They are inscribed in large fonts with the Buddhist prayer “Om Mani Padme Hum” meaning ‘The jewel is in the Lotus’. Its a peace offering to the world. If you are going to travel all the way up the Karakorams and then further up the hundred odd monastic steps, then might as well chant this mantra while turning the mani wheels, just like a devotee would do.
- Prayer flags – Perched on top of houses, chortens, Gompas, outside houses, along the streets or in the middle of nowhere, are visible little inscribed flags tied on a string fluttering carelessly in the wind. They have prayers and mantras written on them again invoking the Almighty’s hand in an earthly matter.
- Prayer stones – stacked in threes or fours gently balancing on mani walls or around chortens and gompas, are little stone arrays often by themselves but sometimes with a secret prayer folded into a little paper.
Know your Buddha : Buddhism is nearly 3000 years old and survived a few dark ages, hence it is only acceptable that it has been influenced marginally. Once you start the monastery hopping, a number of Buddha avatars will be unleashed on you. Best learn a few names now.
- Shakayamuni Buddha – Gautam Buddha
- Maitreye Buddha – Buddha of the future
- Kalachakra Buddha – wheels of time
- Avalokiteshwara – Buddha with a thousand hands and eleven heads
- Amitabha – eternal Buddha
- Vajrapani – Buddha of power
- Manjushri – Buddha of wisdom
- White Tara – consort to Buddha
- Vajrayogini – the female form
- Padmasambhava – The Lotus born