This scenic village is about 67 km from Lamayuru, on the way to Srinagar on the Leh-Srinagar highway. Just around the town is the famous Chamba Statue, a striking enormous figure carved into the rock on the left side of the road. It pictures a standing Maitreya Buddha (Future Buddha) overlooking the old trade route and modern highway. This nine meter high statue is believed to be from the Kushan period in the first century AD. Modern scholars date it as being from around the eighth century AD. The lower part of the statue is partly obscured by a small temple built in 1975. But if you could go behind the temple, can get the full view of this gigantic carving.
Kargil is the second largest town in Ladakh after Leh. It is located 42 km from Mulbekh on the Leh-Srinagar highway. Kargil has an average elevation of 8,780 feet and is situated along the banks of the Suru River, a tributary of Indus. Like other areas in the Himalayas, Kargil has a temperate climate. Summers are hot with cool nights, while winters are long and chilly with temperatures often dropping to -48°C.
Dras is located 60 km from Kargil enroute Srinagar on the Leh-Srinagar Highway. It has an average elevation of 10,764 feet. Dras is popularly known as “Gateway to Ladakh”. Dras is widely recognized as the second coldest inhabited place in the world, after Siberia. Dras came to limelight in 1999, when Pakistan army incursions started the famous Kargil War.
Just after we crossed the Indian army post at Dras, we had a stopover at Bhimbhut Stone. A short walk from the main road took us to this huge stone, believed to be the solidified body of the second Pandava, Bhima. The area around the stone was exceptionally beautiful due to the green grass and wild flowers.
A war memorial is erected in remembrance of the martyred soldiers of Kargil War. The war memorial also known as Vijaypath is located 5 km from the city centre across the Tiger Hill on the foothills of Tololing Hill. The memorial has a huge epitaph with names of all the officers and soldiers who died in the war. Visitors to the memorial can also see from there some of the peaks that the Indian army captured back from Pakistan.
Further on the way to Sonmarg we had another stopover at the Draupadi Kund, a small pond on the highway. It is believed that Draupadi the wife of Pandavas bathed here on her way to the Himalayas. Irrespective of all such beliefs the pond is located in a picturesque surrounding and worth a visit.
Sonmarg lies 63 km from Dras, enroute Srinagar on the Leh-Srinagar highway. One traverses the Zojila Pass on the way at an elevation of 11,575 feet. This is the second highest pass after Fotu La on the Leh-Srinagar highway. After crossing the pass we could see the Amarnath camping site along the Sonmarg valley. This little valley lies at the foot of the Zojila Pass and offers breathtaking views. Sonmarg, which means ‘meadow of gold’ has, as its backdrop, snowy mountains and deep blue sky.
Lamayuru Monastery or the Eternal Monastery is situated on the Leh-Sreenagar highway, 107 km west of Leh. Lamayuru Monastery was originally the foremost Bon monastery in Ladakh, its name means sauwastika and is a popular symbol in Bon for eternity. It is currently affiliated to the Krikung Kagyu school of Buddhism.
According to tradition the Indian scholar Naropa (956-1041AD) allegedly caused a lake which filled the valley to dry up and founded the Lamayuru Monastery. The oldest surviving building at Lamayuru is a temple called Seng-ge-sgang at the southern end of the Lamayuru rock which is attributed to the famous builder monk Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055 AD). This monastery is home to more than 150 monks and houses a rich collection of artifacts, wall paintings, thangas, statues etc. The monastery attracts tourists for its beautiful moon like landscapes and remote location.
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.