Leh, the ancient capital of the Ladakh region is perched at an altitude of 3,350 meters amidst starkly beautiful mountains, which gently blend into an oasis of lush fields. The breathtakingly beautiful town is laden with palaces and monasteries. It was a flourishing caravan trade center between Punjab and Central Asia and between Kashmir and Tibet. Today, Leh has emerged as an important tourist destination providing an unusual holiday. It is an ideal base for trekking mountaineering, camping, and white water rafting. The region of upper Indus Valley around Leh is the cultural heartland of Ladakh and is studded with several Buddhist monasteries (gompas) and magnificent palaces.
Leh Palace: The nine-storeyed majestic palace was built by Sengge Namgyal, the ruler of Ladakh during the early 17th century. It is said to have served as the model for the famous Patola Palace in Lhasa (Tibet). Within the palace are old wall paintings depicting the life of Lord Buddha. The small corridors have over 100 years old tankas or painted scrolls, statues, and other armaments.
Leh Monastery: It is perched high above the valley-crags and dominates the palaçé and the town, symbolizing the supremacy of the Spiritual King. The monastery has a solid gold statue of Buddha, painted scrolls, ancient manuscripts, and wall paintings.
Namgyal Tsemo: Another hill rising above Leh town is occupied by a small fort and monastery complex of the Namgyal Tsemo peak. It was built in the 16th century by King Tashi Namgyal and is believed to be the earliest royal residence in Leh. Nearby is a Gonkhang, the shrine of the guardian deities, and a temple dedicated to Maitreya (the Future Buddha). Both the shrines house excellent murals.
Leh Mosque: The magnificent mosque is a fine example of Turko Iranian architecture.
Ladakh Ecological Centre: It lies on the western edge of the town and is engaged in the development of agriculture, solar energy, health, and environmental awareness in the region. There is also a small library and a shop selling local handicrafts.
Shanti Stupa: The splendid Shanti Stupa or the Peace Pagoda” atop a hill was built in 1980, with the help of Japanese Buddhists.
Changspa: This settlement on the outskirts of Leh is known for its exotic scenic beauty and colorful bazaar. The Moravian church lies on the way to Changspa.
Sankar Gompa (3 kms.)
The 19th-century monastery is the only one built on valley level. It is the seat of the yellow sect of the Buddhists and has a rich collection of miniature statues of pure gold and several wall paintings.
Choglamsar (7 kms.)
It is the main Tibetan refugee settlement in Ladakh. Sporting activities like polo and golf can be enjoyed here.
Alchi Monastery (70 kms.)
The 12th-century gompa on the banks of Indus is one of the most beautiful gompas of Leh region. Alchi is famous for its exclusive wall paintings.
Hemis Monastery (43 kms.)
Hemis nestled atop a green hill is the biggest and wealthiest monastery of Ladakh. It was built in 1630, during the reign of Sengge Namgyal. The masked dance performance is worth seeing during the celebrations of the birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambhava in June. The monastery has gold statues and stupas adorned with precious stones. It has a rich collection of tankas, including the largest tanka in Ladakh which is unfolded only once every 12 years. (Last displayed in 2004)
Hemis High Altitude National Park (35 kms.)
This unique park covering an area of 600 sq. kms. is inhabited by some of the most exotic and endangered animal species like – shape, bharal, ibex, snow leopard, etc.
Phiyang (20 kms.)
It lies on the Leh-Kargil road and was built by Tashi Namgyal in the latter half of the 16th century. The palace-like gompa belongs to the Red Cap sect of the Buddhists.
Shey (15 kms.)
The ancient capital of Ladakh is believed to have been the seat of power of the pre- Tibetan kings. Its abandoned palace has a temple enshrining a 7.5-meter high copper statue of Buddha, plated with gold. The statue dates back to the 17th century and is perhaps the largest of its kind.
Spituk Monastery (8 kms.)
The 15th-century monastery atop a hill is said to be the oldest establishment of the Gelugpa sect in Ladakh. It is built in Tibetan style and houses a library of Tsongkapa, the sect’s founder.
Thikse Monastery (20 kms.)
It is one of the largest and architecturally most impressive gompas in Ladakh. The monastery is mainly known for its exotic murals and wall paintings.