Rising tourism in Leh and Ladakh- Braving the Cold

Ladakh, in the extreme north of India, is among the coldest places on earth. During winters, temperature here falls to as low as -40 degree Celsius and summers are also predominantly cool. Despite the freezing cold, for over 30 years, people have been visiting it. Until 1979, Ladakh existed as a single district and in the mentioned year, it was split into the districts of Leh and Kargil. The number of visitors to this unhindered wilderness is rising and a big chunk of travellers who come to Jammu and Kashmir, venture into this plateau as well. The major areas or regions, which are the most popular among visitors, are Leh – the administrative capital of the Leh district, Dras in Kargil and the valleys of the Shyok, Nubra and Zanskar rivers. In the past, traders from Tibet, across the Himalayas, kept the region always bustling with life, but the Chinese government after capturing Tibet, closed the borders.

 

Trends

 

In the mid-20th century, the plateau remained closed for locals due to the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. A significant point of this conflict came in 1948 when the Indian Army held on the Siachen Glacier, lying in the north-west of the district. The Indian government finally opened the area for tourists in 1974, perhaps to provide a better livelihood to the mountain-dwellers. In the same year, about 527 people came here, with those from outside the country numbering at 500, making up the majority. Since then the trends have changed vastly and in contemporary times, the Leh District is recording gigantic rise in numbers. According to data collected from local authorities, between 1988 and 2001, 17000 people visited the town on an average annual basis.

 

The highest number in one year during this period is pegged at 25000 in 1988. Owing to the spread of terrorism in the state, Leh in 1991 witnessed an all-time low of less than 10000 visitors. From the next year up till 1999, the number kept increasing gradually and held firmly consistent between 10000 and 20000. Another significant lull came in 1999 in the wake of the infamous Kargil War. Since 2003, the tourist count has again picked up and has been rising steadily. As per reports, in 2010 and till August 2011, the numbers stood at 77800 and 148588, respectively. Many different factors, ranging from elevating peace, better infrastructure and more advanced technology can be attributed to the recent upheaval.

 

Factors

 A) Roads

 

The biggest factor in the growth of tourism in Ladakh has been the improvement in the infrastructure. One of the only two National Highways to link the region with the rest of India is numbered as 1-D. It had always been an important route as it was used extensively for trading between India and Tibet. After the Dogras took the region from the Sikhs, the former people improved the road, allowing caravans to pass. The British government in 1873 sanctioned around INR 2500 for its upkeep. Following the Indo-China war of 1962, the local government started building National Highway 1-D, reaching Kargil by 1964. It was for ten years used exclusively by the army and after it being opened for civilians in 1974, Ladakh has become closer to the country.

B) Internet and Motion Pictures

 

Holiday packages, being offered by the multitude of travel agencies, are also an important factor contributing to the increment. Internet has become one of the indispensable utilities and nowadays, it is filled with travel portals offering all kinds of holiday packages. A stiff competition among the companies to dominate the market has led to the cost of such packages falling continuously. These packages take care of everything like booking of international flights, making reservations in hotels, getting travellers to Ladakh, sightseeing and getting them back. They have made the place easily accessible to all and thus has contributed significantly in the upheaval of tourist activities.

 

The region has been featured in loads of Indian motion pictures, which has further elevated the amount of visitors. Kashmir, especially Srinagar has been used as location in Indian films since the 1950s and in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century, various attractions of this rugged land are also being used to shoot. A notable recent motion picture is 3 Idiots that featured its final scene at the Pangong Tso Lake, at a height of about 4350 metres above sea level. The part in Bhag Milkha Bhag, depicting the training of the athlete, was also shot in the area.

 

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Attending the Hemis Festival in Leh Ladakh

Almost every Ladakh tour takes people to Leh, the largest town in the mighty plateau. The average altitude here is 3500 metres and the weather is always on the cooler side. In summers, the temperature touches an average high of 25 degree Celsius and in winters, the mean low is around -2 degrees. However, the temperature may occasionally touch 30 degree Celsius in summers and drop to below -30 degrees in winters. Despite the rugged topography and extreme cold, people practise agriculture and grow barley as the main crop. Since ancient times, salt, grains, cannabis and wool have been traded from this town, passing along the silk route between India and Tibet. Buddhism is the chief religion of Leh, followed by Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. Among the tourists attraction in this cold desert are various Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples, gurdwaras, lakes and museums.

Hemis Monastery: History

Hemis Monastery

Hemis Monastery

 

The Hemis Monastery is situated in the town of the same name, about 40 km from Leh. According to legends, it has been in existence since the 11th century and was established by Naropa, a Buddhist sage. According to his biography, which was found in the monastery, he was a teacher in the Nalanda University of Bihar. The Turkish and Afghan invasion of the site forced him to leave Nalanda and go towards Ladakh. Tilopa, his teacher, gave him 24 tasks to enlighten him about the frivolities of the material aspects of life. Naropa is hailed as the founder of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism; hence, this monastery is the seat of this Himalayan sect of the faith.

The Festival

Large chunks of tourists visit this place of worship, mainly in June, to attend the festival celebrated in its courtyard. The namesake festival pays homage to Padmasambhava, who is considered an incarnation of Gautama Buddha and is also known as Guru Rinpoche. His purpose of life is generally taken as improving the spiritual well-being of the masses. He was born on the fifth day during the year of the monkey; and so, this day comes once in a 12-year cycle. The celebration of the birthday of Padmasambhava is thought to induce health and strength to revellers. It is held in the huge rectangular courtyard, which is in front of the main entrance of the monastic complex. Early in the morning, the entire town wakes up to the beating of drums, clashing of cymbals and the musical sound of pipes. A huge portrait of Dadmokarpo and many paintings known as thangkas are displayed for everyone to see.

On a raised square platform, a small and painted table on top of a decorated cushion is kept. Ceremonial objects including cups filled with holy water, raw rice, figurines made of flour and butter, and incense sticks are placed on the Tibetan table. A group of musicians plays traditional and ritualistic tunes on trumpets and long pipes, accompanied by cymbals and pan-drums. The best part of this celebration to witness during a Leh Ladakh tour is the colourful mask dance known as Cham. Elaborately-designed masks, symbolising various Buddhist deities and malicious creatures, are worn by the resident monks. Through complex movements, complemented by music, these performances signify the supremacy of goodness.

Paying Reverence to Maitreya Buddha at the Old Diskit Monastery

The Nubra Valley, lying in the north-eastern part of Ladakh, is a small paradise in Jammu and Kashmir. The average elevation of this cold desert is around 10000 feet above sea level. This valley is named after the namesake river, which forms it. The climate here is extremely arid, with little or no precipitation at all. Agriculture is practised in the region around the river, with the major produces being wheat, peas, barley, mustard, walnuts, apples and apricots. It is developing quite rapidly into a preferred destination and a Leh Ladakh tour can be availed to spend a vacation here. Diskit town, Khardunga La mountain pass and Turtuk village are some places that can be explored in the region.

Diskit Monastery

 

The largest and oldest Buddhist shrine in the Nubra Valley, Diskit Monastery was founded in the 14th century by Changzem Tserab Zangpo. This beautiful shrine is situated on a hill, above the Nubra Valley, at an elevation of 10315 feet above sea level. The architecture is typical Buddhist in character; the apartments and other structures being built along the slope of the hill. Tourists enter inside the complex via a flight of stairs, which lead to the main hall of worship. Housed inside is an exquisite statue of Maitreya Buddha, who in religious texts, is mentioned as yet to arrive. A large drum beaten during prayers, festivals and ceremonies is also kept here. On the second floor are paintings and statues of various Buddhist guardian deities. Their heads are masked and are uncovered only during festivals for devotees to seek their blessings.

A dome-like structure here has frescos, which depict the Tashilhunpo Monastery of Tibet. The temple also has various Tibetan and Mongolian texts, which speak about the bygone era. A demon is said to have been killed here, and his head and one of the severed hands are believed to be lying in the temple.

At the foothill is located the official residence of Nubra Lama that is dominated by a large statue of Maitreya Buddha. This idol is 32 metres tall and overlooks the valley. Many monks live inside the complex, which is the site of a school.

Desmochhe, also called the Festival of the Scapegoat, is an important festival celebrated at the monastery. It takes place in the month of February, in freezing cold. The biggest attraction here is the traditional mask dance, which draws spectators from near and far. Lamas perform the dances, which signify the victory of good over evil. They are thought to keep ill fates, during the Tibetan New Year, at bay. Balls made of dough are thrown to ward off demons and other evil, and to bestow peace and prosperity upon people.

Relevant Information

Ladakh is among the coldest regions on earth. Its temperature during winters can plummet to as low as -40 degree Celsius. The best time to visit this freezing dry land is in the months of June, July, August and September. Diskit is about 150 km from Leh and the two are connected via road. The National Highway 1D connects Srinagar – the summer state capital – to Leh.

Shey Palace and Monastery in Leh Ladakh

The Shey Village

Shey Village

Shey Village

It is a small village located a distance of around 15 km from the capital city. Like other towns of this region, Shey also lies in the middle of high mountain ranges. It was the capital of Upper Ladakh before the Dogras from Jammu invaded the region. The place is among the rare towns of Ladakh that managed to harness waters of the Indus River. It is believed that the name of this village originated from the nearby lake and is the distorted form of the term for shell. Residents of this place celebrate the Sindhu Darshan Festival, every year on the bank of the river. The village is dotted with a number of chortens, which have interesting stories behind them. As per tell-a-tales, the king of Shey did not imprison criminals for wrongdoings and instead asked them to build these structures to beautify the place. He believed that the criminal will be absolved by building these monuments of Lord Buddha.

Shey Palace and Monastery

This palace is located on a hillock, on the Leh-Manali road. It used to be the ideal retreat of the kings of Ladakh in summers. The edifice was built by Lhachen Palgyigon (also known as Deldan Namgyal) in the year 1655. The monastery was constructed in the memory of King Singay Namgyal – his deceased father. This monastery houses one of the largest statues of the country. The giant statue is almost 12 metres long and covers three floors of the monastery. It is said that almost 5 kg of gold was used while building and gilding this copper and tin statue.

Divided into three levels, the statue features the feet of Buddha in the first level with soles pointing upwards. The second level shows murals and the third one features butter lamps, which burn throughout the day. Walls on both sides of this huge statue display pictures of 16 Buddhist saints who achieved Nirvana while the wall behind it shows images of the two revered disciples of Gautama Buddha – Maudgalyayana and Sariputra. Tourists can see a number of beautiful paintings on the top floor or can go through efficiently-preserved manuscripts in the library on the lowest floor. They can book Leh Ladakh tour packages in order to behold the picturesque views of the valley from this palace.

Exploring the Ancient Landscapes on Bike in Leh and Ladakh

Lying between the Himalayan and Kunlun mountain ranges, Ladakh is often referred to as the land of high passes. It borders Tibet in the east, due to which the Tibetan influence can be seen quite evidently in the heritage and culture of this place. The incomparable and mesmeric beauty of this place is at its peak in summers. Leh is the capital of Ladakh and one of the largest districts in the country. It was an important stopover on the historic Silk Route in the ancient times that featured some of the most breathtaking landscapes. A bike ride during Leh Ladakh tour is one of the must-do things, which tourists having an adventurous streak can try.

 

The winding roads from Ladakh to the Himalayan regions are covered with snow for around eight months, giving travelers only four months to enjoy the beauty and adventure of these challenging tracks. As per visitors, riding bike on these roads is not an easy task as most parts are at heights of around 13000 feet or higher. However, expert guides are provided in the best tour packages to assist travelers through these roadways while giving thorough details of the history of this place. Frost and snowfall in months from October to May make Ladakh a difficult place to live in as temperature usually drops down to 0 degrees or lower. In monsoons, it is tough to get a control on wheels and, hence, is not suggested by experts and visitors. The best time to go on this excursion is anywhere between June and September as temperature hovers around 25 degrees and can go up to 32 degrees. It is a paradise for photographers in these seasons, giving some spectacular views.

 

Bikes are often included in these tour packages, but travelers have to decide what to choose from the abundant options. It has been observed by many trip organizers that vacationers usually prefer Royal Enfield over other bikes because of its power and reliability. After deciding the bike, they have to check the list provided by organizers in order to ensure a safe and hassle-free trip. The trip usually starts from Manali – the first stop and one of the popular hill stations of the country. Roads are ultra smooth and riding bike amidst green vegetation is altogether a different experience, as per various visitors.

 

After Manali, the next stoppage is Jispa – a place to get acquainted with the routine life in mountains. Jispa to Sarchu is a short journey, which is followed by Tso Moriri – the lake situated more than 4500 metres above the sea level. Leh is at a distance of around seven hours from Tso Moriri, where the Indus Valley can be explored by the tourists. Khardung La is the last stop, where tourists may take a minute to observe the unique work of science and nature at the magnetic hills.

The Wondrous Beauty of Leh and Ladakh

India is a country endowed with immense natural beauty, which is why it holds a prominent spot on the international tourist map. From pristine beaches and salubrious hill stations to misty vales and wildlife havens, the country is awash with a plethora of such destinations. While the eastern part of India is blessed with abundant scenic charm in the form of picturesque cascades and isolated hilly hamlets, the West impresses with its golden deserts and sprawling salt marshes. The south of this country draws visitors towards the charm of its stunning beaches, the North is crowned with towering mountains of the Himalayan range. When talked of mighty mountains and virgin valleys, no place in the world can compare with Ladakh. By opting for a Leh Ladakh tour, tourists would get a wonderful chance to explore this ethereal destination.

 

This landlocked region in Jammu and Kashmir is a unique destination, which has emerged as a paradise for backpackers and adventure enthusiasts in the past few years. The region has many secluded valleys, which sprawl across vast areas and are traversed by sparkling mountain rivers. Amongst the numerous vales situated in Ladakh, the Nubra Valley holds a special spot in hearts of tourists.

 

The Captivating Nubra Valley

 

The luxuriant Nubra Valley, located in the north-eastern part of Ladakh, is a popular tourist attraction. This mesmeric valley is well-known for its unique tri-armed topography, which is characterized with breathtaking vistas. Its lush green sprawling grasslands, colourful carpets of floral plants, pristine water bodies and scant vegetation captivate the onlookers. This cold desert, which lies at a high altitude of more than 10000 feet from mean sea level, is an ideal destination for nature lovers, peace seekers and adventurers. Tourists from all parts of the world flock here in thousands all-year round to explore venerated monasteries, enchanting vantage points and other prominent places.

 

Adrenaline junkies and adventure seekers indulge in enthralling activities, such as mountaineering, rock climbing, hiking, paragliding as well as river rafting. This nest of nature can be reached via the spellbinding Khardung La Pass from the town of Leh. Non-locals need to seek an Inner Line Permit from the DC office to access this exquisite valley.

 

India tour packages are the best ways to explore this quaint destination located at the northernmost part of India. Planning a trip, which essentially means making all arrangements regarding conveyance, lodging and other provisions might be quite cumbersome. However, travel portals make all such arrangements so that tourists do not have to worry during their trip. When all the responsibilities lie with the organisers, vacationers can enjoy the beauty of the nature to the utmost. It is suggested to take a still or video camera during the trip as there are plenty of mesmerising sceneries to capture. However, what travellers get to witness with their eyes is immensely more pleasing and enchanting than any camera can capture. A trip to this place is regarded as one of the most memorable and charming vacations of a lifetime.

Celebrate Dosmoche Festival during Ladakh Tour

Ladakh, situated in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, happens to be the biggest province of this region. Spread over an area of about 60,000 square miles, this place receives an influx of tourists from all across the globe. The Indus River that passes through this exquisite location is a sight to watch. This land is surrounded by the magnificent mountain range, Himalayas and is a heaven for adventure enthusiasts. The mountain slopes and monastic settlements beautify this land in their own way. The region is known for its strong association with Buddhism which is why some significant monasteries can be found here. In this province, festivals are celebrated on the basis of monasteries and Gompas. Vacationers contemplating a visit to this picturesque land and silent monasteries can book Ladakh tour packages offered by various travel portals.

Dosmoche Festival

Dosmoche Festival

Dosmoche Festival

Tibetan form of Buddhism is the prevalent religion followed in the region of Leh Ladakh. However, believers of Islam and Christianity are also found in this land. The Dosmoche Festival is celebrated in the month of July at Leh, Likir and Deskit monasteries. It was started by the emperors of Ladakh in the olden times and this tradition is still carried on.

Music, dance and drama are a part of this festival too, just like the rest of events of this region. Masked lamas from different monasteries perform a sacred dance at the gates of the Leh Palace. The Lamas from the Takthok Monastery considered experts in tantric practice prepare the main offerings that are said to ward off all evil spirits and ghosts when mantras are recited by the Lamas.

Takthok Monastery

Takthok Monastery

All those who wish to be a part of these festivals can look for Leh Ladakh tour packages provided by leading travel agencies to visit this wonderful destination, situated in the lap of nature.