Surrounded by the Himalayas 3505m above sea level, Leh is one of the most beautiful cities to ever exist. Sandy-coloured rolling hills envelop the city with the majestic, snow-capped Himalayan mountain range towering high above everything else. The city seems dwarfed by its surroundings yet the culture and beauty that live within it resonate for miles around. Only having opened to tourists in 1974, the city is currently stuck at an interesting juncture: at once attempting to preserve its traditional, cultural methods while accommodating the imminent westernisation and influx of tourists that grow year by year. This makes Leh a must-see on your list of destinations in 2016.
Situated so high up in the mountains in the Indus river valley in Kashmir, Leh is a tad difficult to get to. There are two options: by car or by plane. To get in by road, there are two options, which are both quite risky. The first is from Manali in Himachal Pradesh; the other from Srinagar in the west of Kashmir. The former is usually preferred to the latter due to the length of time - but both routes have spectacular views. Be warned though, both roads are time-consuming (over 36 hours) and are very dangerous with winding, narrow roads up steep mountains making up a majority of the road. The weather is also tumultuous the higher up you go, making delays a high possibility. Getting in by plane is another option and the easiest option is to fly from Delhi - where most flights leave from - but again, be warned, flights can only land before 12.00pm so if the weather is bad, your flight may be easily cancelled.
The magnificent and ethereal Pangong Lake will take your breath away
You can spend a week inside Leh itself, but with the vast amount of attractions available just outside the city limits, it’d be a shame not to go exploring. From doing multiple day treks through the Himalayas to white water rafting down the freezing Indus river to exploring Pangong Lake and Nubra Valley, ensure that Leh is your base for activities of all kind. Before going exploring and leaving Leh, rest for a few days in the city as your body will need to get used to the altitude - the last thing you want while trekking is to suffer from possible altitude sickness.
Pangong Lake is a high altitude lake situated at a height of 4350m at the Indo-China border. With deep blue waters, surrounded by the tall Himalayan mountain peaks, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to witness the serenity and tranquility of this majestic lake. To get here, you must drive through the Chang-La Pass which, at 5425m high, is the second highest pass in the world. It’s not for the faint-hearted and hiring a driver and a 4x4 car is a must for this adventure. You can stay overnight in Pangong Lake as camping is possible. One can hire a car and driver at any of the tourist centres in town; prices will vary depending on the company, route and time of season.
Water rafting routes that will suit all travellers
White water rafting down the Zanskar or Indus river can also be organised from Leh. The tour options available suit everyone from adrenaline junkies to families who have no experience with this intense activity; the latter can choose an easy option of floating down the river avoiding all major rapids. Adrenaline junkies will adore the Indus rafting route as the water flows towards the Pakistani borders and the severity of the rapids increases rapidly to grades of 4 and higher (the grading system goes from 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest and 5 the hardest). A must for thrill-seeking adventurers.
Monasteries in Leh are distinctively unique
When visiting Leh, a trip to at least one of the monasteries has to be on the itinerary. Whether it is the Hemis, Matho or Lamayaru Monastery or the Thiksey, Rizong or Phyang Gompa, each one is distinctly unique and can be easily accessed by car. The two most recommended ones for travellers in terms of convenience of access and beauty would be the Lamayaru Monastery and Thiksey Ghompa. Thiksey Ghompa features the tallest statue of Lord Buddha in the region at 49 feet high and is only 19km from Leh - most local buses take twenty minutes to reach there and leave when full from the main bus depot in town.
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Make Leh your top destination in 2016
Though the region is sometimes volatile due to international conflict, the regions around Leh are peaceful and serene. Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are all practised here and accommodate each other in perfect tranquility. The city itself is a hub of culture, art, dance, music and party - be sure to go to Leh Chin, the main bar in town, to get an insight into local life and share a drink with other travellers. The entire city is extremely safe and each destination is easily accessible by foot, it’d be surprising if you didn’t figure out the city’s map within the first few hours of being there. One of the most gorgeous cities in the world, no one regrets their visit to Leh.
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