The Alchi monastery and temple complex is located on the south bank of the Indus River at an altitude of 10,200 feet and 65 km west of Leh. The Alchi village is in the high altitude rain shadow area of Ladakh. It is laid out in four settlements on the banks of a tributary of the Indus River. The monastic complex is separate from the other village settlements. The Alchi village differentiate itself from other villages of Ladakh by being so lush green. The flood plain at Alchi is very fertile and provides good and relatively extensive agricultural land.
The monastery complex has three major shrines the Dukhang (Assembly hall), the Sumtseg and the Temple of Manjushri all dating from between the early 12th and early 13th centuries. In addition, the Alchi complex has two other important temples, the Translator’s temple called the Lotsabha Lakhang and a new temple called the Lakhang Soma.
The artistic and spiritual details of both Buddhism and the Hindu kings of that time in Kashmir are reflected in the wall paintings in the monastery complex. There are some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also has huge statues of the Buddha and lavish wood carvings and art work.
Inside the temples, photography is strictly prohibited.
About 150 km north of Leh, lies the remote and mysteriously beautiful Nubra Valley surrounded by rugged mountains. The Shyok River meets the Nubra or Siachan River to form a large valley that separates the Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges. The Shyok river is a tributary of the Indus river. The average altitude of the valley is about 10,000 feet.
One must traverse the Khardung La or Khardung Pass to reach the Nubra Valley. Built in 1976 Khardung La is opened to public motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. The pass is maintained by the Border Roads Organization as it is strategically important for the Indian army to carry supply to the Siachen Glacier. At an elevation of 18,379 feet Khardung La is often referred to as the world’s highest motorable pass.
By late afternoon we reached Nubra Valley and checked into Hotel Karma Inn. This hotel has nice rooms with picturesque surroundings and helpful staff. You can walk around the village and enjoy the picturesque surroundings. I came across many small shrines, mani stones and walls. Mani stones are stone plates, rocks or pebbles inscribed with the six syllabled mantra of Avalokiteshvara (Om mani padme hum), hence the name “Mani Stone” , as a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism. Mani walls are stone structures compiled by intricately carved stone tablets with the inscription “Om Mani Padme Hum”.
Nubra is a high altitude cold desert with rare precipitation and scant vegetation except along the river beds. The villages are irrigated and fertile, producing wheat, barley, peas, mustard and variety of fruits and nuts including apples, walnuts, apricots etc. Most of the Nubra valley is inhabited by Nubra dialect speakers. The majority are Buddhist. In the western end of Nubra Valley near the Indo-Pak border the inhabitants are Balti speaking Shia Muslims.
About 10 km west of Diskit is the Hunder village which features the white sand dunes, a total contrast in the midst of snow-capped mountain ranges. This high altitude desert is a tourist attraction owing to the Bactrian camel rides. Bactrian camels are natives to the central Asian Steppes. They have two humps on their back, in contrast to the single-humped Arabian camels.
Another major attraction is Diskit Gompa or Diskit Monastery, the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the Nubra Valley. It belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery was founded by Changzem Tserab Zangpo in the 14 the century. Diskit monastery is situated on the hill, just above the flood plains of the Shyok River, on its right bank in the Diskit village. Nubra river is a tributary of the Shyok River, which flows parallel to the Indus River on the north side of the Ladakh Range. Since the valley is at lower elevation, it has a mild climate. This climatice condition has created lush vegetation in the valley and the valley is, therefore, called the “Orchards of Ladakh”.
The monastery is approached through a flight of steps made of stones, which leads to the prayer hall of the monastery. A statue of Maitreya Buddha is enshrined in the hall. There is a huge drum located within the hall. In the chamber on the second floor, there are many images of fierce guardian deities. From the roof of the monastery one could get the glorious views of the Nubra Valley and the large statue of the Jampa Buddha located at the foot hill of the Diskit Gompa.
The photong or official residence of the Chief Lama of Nubra is located at the foot hill where there is also a very large statue of Jampa (Maitreya) Buddha. This impressive 32 meter statue on top of a hill below the Monastery, faces down the Shyok River towards Pakistan. The construction of the statue started in April 2006 and it was consecrated by H.H. the Dalai Lama on 25th July 2010.
The Shey Monastery and the Shey Palace complex are located on a hillock in Shey village 15 km south of Leh on the Leh-Manali road. Built in 1655 by King Deldan Namgyal, the palace is mostly in ruins now. The Shey monastery was also built in 1655 on his instructions in memory of his father Singay Namgyal, within the palace complex.
The monastery is noted for its giant copper with gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha. But unfortunately we could not see the statue as the Gompa was closed at the time when we were there.
From the palace grounds one can have a distant view of the Druk White Lotus School locally known as Druk Padma Karpo School (Karpo means White and Padma means Lotus in the local language Bodhi). This school has become famous after few scenes of the Bollywood film “Three Idiots” were shot there.
Thiksey Gompa or Thiksay Monastery is located on top of a hill in Thiksey village approximately 19 km from east of Leh. Affiliated with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism this monastery resembles the Potala Place in Lhasa, Tibet. This monastery is the largest in central Ladakh which contains a separate buildings for female nuns. The monastery is located at an altitude of 11,800 meters. This twelve storey complex houses many items of Budhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall painting and swords.
One of the main attractions is the Maitreya Temple installed to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to the monastery in 1970. It contains a 15 meters high statue of Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh covering two storeys of the building.
A temple is also dedicated to goddess Tara with her 21 images placed in glass covered wooden shelves.
There was a movie shoot going on in the premises of the monastery during our visit.
Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake is the most beautiful lake in Ladakh, with its enchanting blue colour and the picturesque landscape surrounding it. Pangong Tso, literally meaning “enchanted lake”. It is located 175 km from Leh and can be reached in a five hour drive from Leh. This rough and dramatic mountain road traverses the Chang La, one of the highest passes in Ladakh at an elevation of 17586 feet. Chang La literally means “Pass towards the South”. But many claim that it is named after Changla Baba a sadhu, in whose name a small temple is dedicated at the pass. Most of the travelers visit the temple to have the blessings of the baba for a safe passage.
The maximum length of the lake is 134 km and extends from India to China. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 km2 . During the winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water.
There is no accommodation available at the lake. However there is camping facility available and you can book in advance one of the tents. We had booked in one of these tents for a night. Make sure you have enough warm clothes as the night winds are freezing.
The construction of this place was initiated by Tsewang Namgyal, the founder of the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh in 1553 and was completed by his nephew Sengge Namgyal, the most illustrious king of Ladakh. It resembles Potala Palace in Lhasa, though in comparison much smaller. The palace has nine storeys and the upper floors accommodated the royal family while the lower floors held stables and store rooms. The palace was abandoned when Dogra forces took control of Ladakh in the mid-19th century and the royal family moved to Stok Palace.
The material used in the construction of the palace is stone, mud bricks, poplar wood, mud mortar and wooden rafters. The mud plaster utilized locally known as Mar-kalak.
The palace is in ruins and being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. The palace is open to the public and the roof provides panoramic views of Leh and surrounding areas and in the back ground is the rising Ladakh mountain ranges. The imposing structure, speak of the royal glory of the bygone era.
This is without doubt the most adventurous road trip in India, the highway which connects the Manali town in the state of Himachal Pradesh and Leh the erstwhile capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now the Leh district of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). This highway was designed, built and maintained entirely by the Boarder Roads Organisation (BRO) of Indian Army. This highway plays a major role in reaching the supplies to the Indian army units which are stationed in the international border with China in the north and east and the Line of Control along the Pakistani- administered territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan in the west and north- west.
The highway is open for only about four and a half months in a year during summer between end of May when the snow is cleared and to Mid-October when the snow fall again blocks the passes. The highway has an average elevation of more than 13,000 feet and its highest elevation is 17,480 feet. It is flanked by mountain ranges on both sides featuring some stunning sand and rock natural formations and breath taking sceneries.
This 500 km highway crosses many small streams of ice-cold water from snow-caped mountains without any bridges which demands driving skill to negotiate fast-flowing streams. After passing the Rohtang Pass, the landscape changes as this region lies in a rain-shadow and the slopes become brown and arid. The highway is generally two lanes wide without a road divider but has only one or one and a half lanes at some stretches. This highway is very tricky due to many damaged stretches and under maintenance portions, where little rainfall can cause landslide making it very dangerous to cross that stretch of the road.
Travellers may experience acute mountain sickness due to high altitude on this highway and is advised to stay at Manali one night and minimum one night at either Keylong or Darcha to get acclimated to lower oxygen levels. Travel time on this highway is unpredictable though minimum three days are advised for ordinary tourists because the real fun and pleasure is in the journey itself and not reaching the destination.