With its geographical set up snugly inserted within the northern most tip of India, it serves as an aesthetically cultural convergence of Tibet, China and the Indian sub-continent.
Leh is your anchor destination to visit the Ladakh region. You feel the grandness when your flight descends to soaring mountains, very few green patches and snow peaks.. it was a dramatic landing in the mountain wilderness. Almost reminding you that you are lucky to be here.
Luxury in the Mountains
Stay at the newly opened Grand Dragon Ladakh, the only 4-star hotel in the area.
John McCain, US Senator, stayed here when he visited Ladakh. Most interestingly the film crew of 3 Idiots also stayed here.
The rooms are plush, with all the modern amenities complete with a quebec shower in the bathroom. First green hotel in the region boasts that heating water is powered by solar panels. Heated bathroom floors was an extra luxury that I didn’t expect. Another highlight was the Ladakhi style dining room, as grand as you can imagine with traditionally decorated columns and ceilings, it does feel like a room in a Tibetan palace. Loved their Paneer Skewers and their Kashmiri wazwan dishes.
Sipping a cup of butter tea in their gardens and taking in the views soon became a favorite thing we did each day before we started our day trips into the wild.
A Spiritual Journey
Thiksey Monastery – situated on a hill, 17kms from Leh is a Buddhist monastery overlooking the Indus valley.
Sindhu Ghat Darshan – Ladakhis celebrate the Indus river, that flows from Mansarovar, Tibet with a festival each year to remind people that this river is a symbol of peaceful co-existence.
Take a sunset trip to the Shanti Stupa, the views from there are just beautiful.
If you are intrigued to see how a Tibetan ruler lived centuries ago, this palace would be mesmerizing.
A little something for the Taste Buds…
The Market is a buzzing area to begin your day, eat at Chopsticks Noodle Bar, a contemporary restaurant that served the best food in the entire town.
Try Thukpas (noodle soup), Momos (dumplings) and Tsampa Sku (Pasta in soup).
They also have an outdoor seating above a stream and they let you order your drinks from the bar next door.
Chopsticks was our favorite place to dine, we went back 3 times, something that I usually don’t do.
Chill at Penguin Garden Restaurant and have your freshly baked pizza under a canopy. We opted for Momos and Beer.
Stay in Changspa, the backpacker capital of Leh, with German, French restaurants and a huge Israeli population complete with a Jewish Spiritual Center (?) and Internet Cafes with Hebrew Keyboards. I guess anything goes in this small town.
Ladakh Residency — a family-run hotel in the same strip of all the restaurants and bars. The owners are super helpful and very personable. The family has been in the hospitality business since the 70s and knows everyone and everything in the Leh region.
Wonderland served the best Kababs, Desi Chinese and Fresh Juices.
Bon Appetit – The most stylist and most prettiest bar/restaurant in Leh. Outdoor seating, innovative drinks (Does Tea & Rum come to mind?) and chilly nights make a great combo.
German Bakeries are plenty – Yummy croissants from Babylon, or try the one in the market called Pumpernickel.
Shop for jewelry in the market, the cheapest Jade, Turquoise, Black Onyx you will ever find. I scored some plus I got a variation of the queen’s necklace that I eyed in the Stok Palace.
Rent a Royal Enfield bullet (motorcycle) and take it for a spin and feel the baby on the mountain curves!
Basic Tips —
- Our entire family including a 4 year old and a 60 year old did not have any problems with the lower oxygen level. Just drink lots of water and don’t over do anything. But I just felt, the AMS was a little over-hyped.
- Cell Phones (except maybe Airtel, Bsnl) dont work.
- Book a Taxi through the Taxi union in the Leh Market, you get discounted rates.
- Leh airport performs more security checks, allow 2 hours for check in.
- Leh has banned plastic. (yay!)
- Get your inner line permit if you plan to travel to Nubra Valley or Pangong way ahead of time.
- Carry a Chapstick. You lips get extra dry.
- Almost all restaurants and hotels accept only cash.
- Feel the mysterious thin air at night ~
You can spend days here without questioning your rhythm, getting in a groove that’s slower than a camel but once the journey is over, you are left speeding your way to find a deeper meaning in life. That’s incredible India for you!