Ker & Downey recently traveled to Ladakh in Northern India. We’re sharing our Ladakh travel guide with you today, with photography by Austin Mann.
Our journey to Little Tibet was a revelation of high-altitude desert drama, fortress-like monasteries towering atop hills resembling stone sentinels guarding the villages below. Located in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh is draped in a surreal landscape made up of steep mountains, craggy canyons, blue glacial lakes and green raging rivers. In this photographer’s paradise, the intense sunlight at this height produces amazing colors, particularly at sunrise and sunset. The people of this former Buddhist kingdom are determined to thrive against the harsh elements of Mother Nature.
When to Visit Ladakh
Ladakh was first put on the domestic tourist map after a popular 2009 Bollywood film shot its final scene there. Despite its extremely short travel season – from June to September – visitors to Ladakh reach record-breaking numbers year after year, with no sign of a slowdown anytime soon. With the majority of tourism as domestic, made up mainly of families on school break, the crowds head to Ladakh to escape the summer heat, making the region extremely busy throughout its short season. Our suggestion is to visit Ladakh in September, once crowds have dispersed with the school season in full swing. This way you can fully enjoy and appreciate the beauty and serenity of this sacred land during the most peaceful time of the season.
Things to Do in Ladakh
At the top of the list for most visitors to Ladakh is a visit to the Khardung la Pass, one of the highest motorable roads in the world at 17,580 feet. Historically important as part of a major caravan route between Leh and Kashgar, this high mountain pass between the Shyok and Nubra Valleys involves a long, windy drive with dizzying switchbacks up and down the mountains. The pass is best visited after at least a couple of days of acclimatizing in Leh due to its high altitude. As it is one of the most popular spots in the region, crowds at the top are inevitable, but nevertheless, the drive up to the pass is breathtaking (literally!) rewarding visitors with magnificent views of the area’s stunning scenery from the top of the world.
The must-see monasteries near Leh are Hemis and Thikse, although we also liked the less visited quieter monasteries of Chemdey and Likir where monks leave their outer robes after prayers to resemble coiled up pyramids on their cushions. The left-behind robes make for quite the odd sight without the monks!
Another highlight of the trip was watching a dynamic match of polo, the most popular form of entertainment for Ladakhis, which can be arranged exclusively for Ker & Downey clients. Join the locals to cheer on the colorfully clad players as they race for the ball from their galloping horses.
We also highly recommend a visit to a local family’s home where you can learn about the Ladakh people’s rich Tibetan Buddhist culture and ancient customs and lifestyles, carried over for centuries from one generation to the next. As Ladakhis traditionally lead a nomadic rustic life, the majority depends on agriculture and are known to be self-sufficient and ecologically conscious, a sadly fading lifestyle not just in Ladakh but throughout the world.
Where to Stay in Ladakh
The Ultimate Traveling Camp operates two luxurious tented camps in Ladakh, with the main Chamba Camp located in Thiksey near Leh. Here guests can watch a polo game, take a raft ride down the Indus River, and visit Thikse monastery during morning prayers. The other Chamba camp is located in Diskit in Nubra Valley, where visitors can ride a two-hump Bactrian camel, as well as visit a sacred lake and Diskit monastery. The camps make for a truly ultimate glamping experiences outfitted with all of the ultra-luxurious amenities and services, including an en-suite bathroom and private decks to enjoy the surrounding mountain and monastery views, personal butlers and fine high-altitude dining. I highly recommend visiting both camps as they differ in terms of accommodation type, recreational activities, surrounding scenery and camp experiences.
For those looking for a more casual accommodation, we the cozy cottages of Saboo Resort in the quiet village of Saboo just outside of Leh. This property is filled with charm and local character, with good service from their warm friendly staff.
Our visit to Ladakh was such an inspiring and memorable trip with its stunning scenery, kind gentle people, majestic monasteries, and rich spirituality guaranteed – traits that are guaranteed to charm any and all visitors lucky enough to make it to Ladakh!
Pro Tip! Purchase a waterproof phone case to keep your phone dry from the rain and clean from dust from the long drives on dirt roads.
See Ladakh for yourself. Contact your Luxury Travel Expert today to start planning your journey.