Information of Leh
|Offers complete information about Leh, Leh City India, Leh City Information, Leh India, Information of Leh, Leh India City|
As you approach Leh for the first time, via the sloping sweep of dust and pebbles that divide it from the floor of the Indus Valley, you'll have little difficulty imagining how the old trans-Himalayan traders must have felt as they plodded in on the caravan routes from Yarkhand and Tibet: a mixture of relief at having crossed the mountains in one piece, and anticipation of a relaxing spell in one of central's Asia most scenic and atmospheric towns. Spilling out of a side valley that tapers north towards eroded snow-capped peaks, the Ladakhi capital sprawls from the foot of a ruined Tibetan-style palace - a maze of mud brick and concrete flanked on by cream coloured desert and on the other by a swathe of lush irrigated farmland.
Undoubtedly the most radical shake-up, however ensued from the Indian government's
decision in 1974 to foreign tourists. From the start, Leh bore the brunt of
the annual invasion, as busloads of backpackers poured up the road from Srinagar.
Twenty or so years on, though the main approach is now via Himachal Pradesh
rather than Kashmir, the summer influx shows no sign of abating. Leh has doubled
in size and is a far cry from the stroll shoulder to shoulder down its main
street, most of whose old-style outfitters and provision stores have been
squeezed out by Kashmiri handicraft shops, art emporiums and Tibetan restaurants.
A rapid increase in the number of Kashmiri traders, who have little choice
but to seek business outside Kashmir, has in recent years led to unrest in
Leh's bazaar, the first communal violence ever seen in normally peaceful Ladakh.
The Main Bazaar Streetruns from north to south through the heart of the town. Once lined with shops trading in wool, tea, salt and semi-precious stones, it now has rows of Ladakhi women selling fruits and vegetables. Chatting and smoking, the women add colour to this street. Kashmiri shopkeepers sell their goods on the streets, to the northwest of the main road
The most prominent feature of Leh is the towering LehPalace, with a commanding view of the town and the landscape around. The nine-storeyed building with typical Tibetan architecture has sloping buttresses and projecting wooden balconies. In pitiful shambles today, the building is dark and has gaping holes in the floors. Be sure to carry a torch before venturing in. The palace has a small Museum spread over several rooms connected with narrow passages. A collection of old thangka paintings and royal arms are displayed here. The Dukhar temple on the fourth floor has the terrifying image of the 1000-armed goddess Tara, a collection of ancient masks, weapons and musical instruments. Go up to the terrace and you will be rewarded with a grand view of the surrounding landscape with houses in the old town, terraced fields and the magnificent snow peaks of the Stok Kangri (6,120 metres).
Going further up from the main palace is an older ruin of a palace and remnants of the Leh Gompa. It has a large statue of the Buddha, painted scrolls and old manuscripts. Behind the Leh Palace is the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa or Red Gompa built in the 15th century by Tashi Namgyal. The first building in the complex has a giant two-storey statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha) flanked by Bodhisattvas. A portrait of Tashi Namgyal is displayed at the entrance.
The gompa belongs to the predominant Gelugpa (Yellow hat) sect, whose founder is also represented in one of the paintings. In the old village is a relatively new monastery, the Soma Gompa, built in 1957 to commemorate the 2,500th birth anniversary of Buddha.
Near Tsemo La Hotel is a unique local self-help group running the Ecological Centre. Set up in 1984 by the Ladakh Ecological Development Group or LEDeG, the centre runs a craft shop besides organising workshops and teaching sessions for awareness about environmental issues in Ladakh. The centre displays various environment friendly techniques including solar powered gadgets and has a library on Ladakhi culture and Buddhism.
The Leh Mosque, within the Main Bazaar, is a Sunni prayer house built in the 1660s. It is believed that King Deldan Namgyal, whose grandmother was a Muslim, donated the land for the mosque. 3 kms west of the main bazaar and up from Changspa village sits the Shanti Stupa or Peace Pagoda. Perched on a hillock, this milk white stupa was built by the Peace Sect of Japan in the 80s. You can either go up the flight of 500 steps or reach the top by jeep. The sides of the stupa are decorated with panels depicting stories from the life of the Buddha. Strings of prayer flags flutter around the temple, and you get a good panoramic view of Leh while sipping a hot cup in the tearoom on top.
The Sankar Gompa of the Gelugpa sect dates to the 17th 18th centuries. To reach it, take a car or walk about 3 kms past the Himalayan Hotel through lovely agricultural fields. Home to twenty lamas, the monastery is surrounded by a high mud wall and several chortens (memorials). A central courtyard is surrounded by monks quarters and at the top of the main building is the house of the Kushak. The residence is marked out by a golden spire and the dharma chakra with two deer flanking it. The main prayer hall or Du-khang is reached by a flight of steps. A large 11-headed, 1000-armed statue of Avalokitesvara dominates, while there are more gold statues, wall paintings and sculptures in the hall.
Characteristic landmarks of Leh as well as other places in Ladakh
are the mani walls. These are long stone walls with prayers engraved on them,
a form of Buddhist ritual worship. In Leh, a 500 metre mani wall running from
the radio station dates to 1635 and was built as a memorial by King Dalden
Namgyal for his mother. Another smaller wall was laid in 1785 by King Tsetan
Namgyal for his father.
Going past the Tibetan Refugee Camp at Choglamsar, 10 kms south of Leh you cross the Indus River to reach the StokPalace. This four-storied palace built in the 1840s continues to be home to descendants of Ladakhs Namgyal dynasty. The present Queen or Gyalmo lives in the palace in summers. Of the 80 odd rooms in the palace, most lie unused. Part of it has been converted into a Museum. The collection includes royal heirlooms like 16th century thangkas, ceremonial objects, crown jewels, ancient coins, dresses and peraks (womens ceremonial head dress) worn by the queens. Still worn on special occasions, they are encrusted with large turquoise, corals, lapis lazuli and gold inlay.
A short distance away is the Stok Gompa, with a collection of striking dance masks and murals. An archery contest is held in July at the Palace, while the Tsechu festival of the Gompa takes place in February. Walking up the valley, you can get a good view of the surrounding mountain peaks, with the imposing Stok-KangriPeak dominating at 6,121 metres. Stok is a 40-minute ride from Leh that can be covered in a day trip. For overnight halt a hotel, some guesthouses and tented accommodation is available.
Shey Monastery: 15 kms southeast of Leh is the old capital of Ladakh at Shey. Occupied by the Namgyals till the 16th century, it is now almost totally deserted. Not much except ruins of the palace and gompa remain. The Palace sits on a ridge below the fort. A victory stupa crowned with a gold spire is a significant feature. The gompa houses a 15-metre high blue-haired Buddha. The shrine is maintained and attended by monks from the Hemis Monastery. The copper and brass status is richly decorated with precious stones. Paintings of bodhisattvas and protector deities surround the statue.
Hidden beneath centuries of soot from prayer lamps, the paintings in gold
and bright colours are amongst the finest in this region. Shey was once considered
an auspicious place for cremations. Vast grounds to the east of the gompa
are scattered with numerous chortens (conical memorials), which contain ashes
of prominent monks, members of the royal family and others. A short distance
away is a newer gompa with another large Buddha figure. On the mountainside
next to the highway are some interesting rock carvings. They depict five incarnations
of the Buddha, possibly dating back to the 18th century. Shey lies on the
route from Leh to Thikse Monastery and is well connected by a bus service.
You could also walk down from Thikse on a four-kilometre trek across fields
strewn with chortens. A small hotel with reasonably clean rooms and a restaurant
is available for staying at Shey.
The Stakhna Gompa, on a hilltop across the valley, is the earliest Drukpa monastery in the area. Built before the Hemis Gompa, this monastery is also known as "Tiger Nose" on the shape of the hill on which it is perched. Decorations in the temple, including a silver gilded chorten, are later additions. The gompa has excellent views of the Indus valley and the Zanskar range. Another small obscure monastery, the Matho Gompa, lies in a valley into the Stok-Kangri massif. Situated well off the main highway, the monastery gets very few visitors. It is best known for the oracle festival held here around February March. Two rongzam or oracles chosen from the 60 odd lamas perform fasts and meditation before the festival. During the celebrations when spirits possesses them, the rongzam perform unbelievable feats like jumping blindfold on the gompas parapets and slashing themselves with sharp blades. The lamas performance is followed by the chaam mask dance and a question answer session with the spirit.
Hemis Gompa: 45 kms southeast of Leh on a green hillside sits the Hemis Gompa, the largest and richest monastery of Ladakh. Popular for its Hemis Tsechu festival held in mid-July, the monastery comes alive at this time for the two-day celebrations. The 17th century Drukpa monastery of Kagypa (Red Hats) sect is entered through the eastern gate, leading into a large courtyard. Here, during the Tsechu festival monks perform the chaam dance wearing colourful masks. The main theme of the dances is the victory of good over evil and they commemorate the birth of Padmasambhava or Guru Rimpoche. Up on the terrace are smaller shrines and a bust of the founder of Hemis. The monastery is well connected from Leh, with buses making a 3-hour tour and then returning back. It is also possible to stay in tented accommodation or a simple guesthouse to attend the early morning prayers.
About 220 kms southeast of Leh in the remote Rupshu regions is the TsoMoririLake. 27 kms long, the lake is surrounded by stark mountains and very little habitation. Tibetan nomads of Changpas roam its edges, while it is the natural habitat for the Tibetan wild ass or kiang. Going via Chumathang with its hot sulphur springs, past the Tsokar basin you reach campsites at Thukje village. The motorable road leads further on to Puga, with more sulphur springs and the village of Karzog at 4,500 metres. The village has a small monastery with a nunnery and some very helpful inhabitants. Tso Moriri is the only nesting sight for the rare bar-headed geese, besides the Brahminy duck and black necked cranes. Though it was closed to outsiders till very recently, an increasing influx of tourists has had its toll on the fragile ecology of the lake. Visitors are advised to bring in their supplies and carry waste out of the area. Jeep safaris connect Tso Moriri to Leh. Around the lake good trek routes are available, including a 40 km. circle of the lake.
Spreading over a 130 kms stretch is Pangong Tso, the largest salt-water lake
in Asia. Most of the lake lies in Tibet, with only a quarter inside Ladakh.
At a height of 4,250 metres, this lake is fringed by the Pangong range to
the south and the Changchenmo range to the north. When the blue-green waters
are still, these massive mountains are reflected in all their glory in the
lake. In the distance you catch a glimpse of Tibet. Crossing the Chang La
pass at 5,475 metres, the road to Pangong Tso on the Leh-Manali highway can
be traversed only on jeeps. It takes two to three days from Leh, into Tangste
village. Camps are set up at Lukung, 15 kms short of the lake. Many rare birds,
including the Himalayan chakor and quail come to nest in the lake.
The Kumarakom Lake Resort has a selection of restaurants, serving mouthwatering Indian, Continental, Chinese, Mughalai and traditional Kerala cuisine delicacies. The Ettukett is our multi-cuisine specialty restaurant with a well-stocked bar. The Vembanad Seafood Bar serves a good selection of wines along with nutritious fresh seafood dishes. The Lake Resort has a 24-hr coffee shop and also offers excellent services for outdoor barbecue.
There are multi cuisine restaurants standing on the stilts over the lakes that offer unique dining experiences amidst the serene backwater environs in Kumarakom. The specialty is freshwater fish and tapioca. 'Karimeen' (Pearl Spot) is a common freshwater fish in Kumarakom areaShopping
There is a wide range of shops selling good quality souvenirs. Most of the beach front shops are the general Kashmiri stores you see everywhere. Beware of hawkers though. Once you show interest in a certain product, they will pursue you everywhere until you buy it. Try some of the shops behind the beach front stores. You'll get a better price plus some hidden gems.
Though most hotels have restaurants, there are enough places to eat out in town. The dominant food is Tibetan dishes, most commonly momos with meat or vegetable stuffings, thukpa, made from fresh pasta strips and shredded meat and vegetables, besides others. There are also several cake and pastry shops selling fresh breads. There are a few bars along the fort road, besides where you can get a bottle of beer or two.