Top 10 places to visit in Ladakh

There are very few places in the world as enchanting as Ladakh. Its mountainous landscapes, shiny blue lakes and scenic road journeys have been luring travellers from around the world.

Alluring beauty aside, there are plenty of attractions from beautiful monasteries and elegant palaces to quaint villages and high mountain passes. Want to know which of these amazing places should be on your bucket list? Check out our cherry picked list of the top 10 places to visit in Ladakh.

Mountainous landscapes, shiny blue lakes and scenic road journeys – Credit: Lukas Keller

 

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Leh Palace

Sitting on a top of a hill, Leh palace is one of the finest examples of medieval Tibetan architecture. It’s often compared to the world famous PotaPalaceace in Lhasa. Made of stones, wood, mud and sand, the walls of the palace provide warmth in winters and create a cool ambiance in summers.

The interiors are adorned with crowns, ceremonial dresses, jewellery and artistic paintings, some as old as 450 years and made from colours derived from powdered stones and gems. Murals etched on the walls depict glory days of the past.

If that’s not fascinating enough, the palace provides spectacular views of the surrounding mountain range and the valley below.

Location: Leh
How to get there: Leh Palace is a short walk uphill from the Leh Market. Alternatively, you can drive up to the entrance.

The palace provides spectacular views of the surrounding mountain range and the valley below – Credit: Hiro Otake

 

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Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa is a white-domed monument built on top of a steep hill facing snow-capped peaks. It was made by Japanese Buddhists along with the locals to celebrate 2500 years of Buddhism and as a symbol of peace. The stupa holds a golden Buddha statue and images of his birth and death.

Being at a vantage point, the stupa affords unadulterated views of the valley below. Lit up at night, it acquires a beauty of its own. If you want to witness a magical sunrise or sunset, there is no better place than this.

Location: Leh
How to get there: You can go by car up to its entrance.

A beautiful Buddhist place of worship you should visit during sunrise or sunset – Credit: Yadi Yasin

 

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Sangam at Nimmu

On the way to Leh, along the Srinagar-Leh highway lies the Sangam, a confluence of two rivers at Nimmu. It is a point where the emerald waters of the Indus merge with the brownish waters of Zanskar. It makes for a spectacular sight.

Location: Sham Valley
How to get there: It is 33 km from Leh by road 

Sangam is a confluence of two rivers at Nimmu – Credit: Mani Babbar

 

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Lamayuru Monastery

A quaint village between Kargil and Leh, Lamayuru is known for its moon-like terrain, earning it the nickname “Moonland”.

Legend has it that a lama named ‘Naropa’ walked this land when it was submerged under water. Upon his request, the water receded thus letting him establish the monastery which is now the famed “Lamayuru Monastery”

One of the most beautiful monasteries in Ladakh, its interiors are embellished with jaw-dropping paintings and frescoes. A cave next to the prayer hall has statues of Naropa and his disciples, one of the highlights of this shrine.

Perched on a hill, the monastery also offers unparalleled views of the moonscapes around it.

Location: Lamayuru (Leh-Srinagar Highway)
How to get there: It is 116 km from Leh by road.

One of the most beautiful monasteries in Ladakh situated in ‘Moonland’ – Credit: Adam Lewis

 

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Khardunga La Pass

Imagine what it would feel like to be on top of the world. No, we are not talking about the arduous climb to Everest. On the way to Nubra valley, a popular destination in Ladakh, lies Khardung La pass – the world’s highest motorable road. It’s located at a staggering altitude of 18,380 feet.

Stopping here for tea and admiring the surreal snow covered landscape around is on the bucket list of everyone who travels to Ladakh. Everything from rocks to roads to mountains are draped in snow. It almost feels like a winter wonderland.

The steep and rugged terrain, winding roads, furious winds and unpredictable weather means you will earn bragging rights for making it this far. No wonder, it’s a rite of passage amongst bikers, cyclists and travel junkies.

Note: Being at such a high altitude, you cannot stop here for more than 20 minutes. The oxygen levels are very low, so don’t linger around for too long.

Location: Khardung La Top
How to get there: It is 40 km from Leh city by road.

Khardung La pass – the world’s highest motorable road located up 18,380 feet – Credit: Vijay B

 

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Sand Dunes at Hunder

What if we told you one of the best experiences in Ladakh is lying on the desert and gazing at a million stars. You wouldn’t believe us right? After all, who expects to find a desert atop the Himalayas? Most of you may not be aware that Ladakh is actually a high altitude desert. It’s more than evident at the super scenic Nubra valley.

One of the most popular attractions in this valley is the village of Hunder. Every year, this place is swarmed with thousands of travelers, who come to witness sand dunes wrapped around by golden brown mountains.

The desert is also home to the double humped bactarian camel, a rare species found only in this region of Ladakh. A ride on the backs of these sturdy animals is surely one of the most memorable experiences to have.

Location: Nubra Valley
How to get there: It is 120 km from Leh by road.

Ladakh is actually a high altitude desert and in Hunder you can go to see sand dunes – Credit: Sandeep Shande

 

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Turtuk

Straddling borders with Pakistan, Turtuk is the closest village to the LOC that tourists are permitted to visit. The landscape here changes dramatically with barren wastelands giving way to lush greenery, with an abundance of apricot and peach fields.

Inhabited by a Muslim population, this quaint village is one of the last towns in India to have a prominent Balti culture. Try the delicious Balti cuisine here, especially the apricot based stew.

With its serene ambience, scenic vistas and the aquamarine waters of river Shyok meandering through the village, Turtuk is as heavenly as it gets. Being an offbeat place, you can soak up this beauty all by yourself.

Location: Nubra Valley
How to get there: It is 205 km from Leh by road.

Try the delicious Balti cuisine here, especially the apricot based stew – Credit: Daniela A Nievergelt

 

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Pangong Tso Lake

Ladakh is home to many high altitude lakes, but none can match the grandeur of Pangong Tso. Brought to limelight by the movie “3 idiots”, it’s now the most popular destination in Ladakh.

Flanked by mountains of brownish hues, walking along the banks of the azure blue lake is akin to living postcards in reality. Its uniqueness though lies with the changing shades of the lake as the day progresses. Be ready to whip out your cameras and catch this mystic phenomenon live. At night, watch the sky blanketed by a million stars as you camp next to the lake.

Come night or day, there is always magic in the air at Pangong.

Location: Tso Pangong, Changthang plateau
How to get there: It is 160 km from Leh by road.

The most popular destination in Ladakh – Credit: Md. Nazmul Islam Tipu

 

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Hemis Monastery

Hemis monastery is the largest monastery in Ladakh. It’s widely known for playing host to the popular Hemis festival every June. Its exquisite architecture, serene surroundings and views of neighbouring mountains make it a must visit on your Ladakh trip.

The monastery has one of the rarest collections of Thangka paintings, murals, Buddhist scriptures and stupas made of gold and silver. The walls are also covered with paintings of Buddha.

If you happen to visit during festival time, you can see masked dancers performing, listen to traditional music, watch people strolling about in colourful attires and gorge on delicious local cuisine.

Location: Off Karu, on the Leh-Manali highway
How to get there: It is 44 km from Leh by road. 

See a rare collection of Thangka paintings, murals, Buddhist scriptures and stupas – Credit: Arun Sundar

 

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Tso Moriri

Tso Moriri is Pangong’s alter ego, similar in its bluish complexion and astounding beauty. Located higher than Pangong Lake, its remoteness means it’s visited by fewer tourists, and therein lies its appeal.

With brownish mountains towering over it on one side and a lush green countryside on the other, it is like staring at a live oil painting.

Bird enthusiasts have another reason to cheer as the lake attracts a number of migratory birds, right from seagulls, Brahmin ducks and geese, to the rare and elusive black-necked cranes.

For a more immersive experience you can camp at Korzok village in the vicinity of the lake.

Location: Korzok Village, Changthang Plateau
How to get there: It is 220 km from Leh by road.

A beautiful lake offbeat and visited by fewer tourists – Credit: Purnendu Singh

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