Set amidst the majestic Himalayas, the town of Leh is one of the most famous tourist destinations in India. This town is situated at a height of 11,500 feet and is located at the crossroads of the old trading route between Kashmir, Tibet, and Kashgar. Not just that, this beautiful town was also the former home of the royal family of Ladakh.
Due to its geographical location and significance in the trading route coming out of Tibet, the culture in Leh is highly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, Little Tibet, as it’s often called, is full of brightly painted monasteries, tiny settlements, and prayer flags strung across the entire area. Due to its culture, beauty, and history, which came to light after the Indian independence, a few parts of this beautiful town of Leh became recognized as the World Monuments Fund’s list of 100 endangered heritage sites.
While the calm and peaceful land is one of the reasons that attract travelers, the bigger reason is the beautiful views it provides of the Himalayan mountain peaks. Along with that, the high-altitude treks, river rafting, and drives through the unforgiving terrains, have made Leh a favorite amongst the adventure seekers, too. Keep reading our Leh travel guide to know more about the essence of this place.
The history of Leh is one full of stories that might be lost to time. However, what we do know is that ever since people first settled in the hilly areas that are now divided between India, Pakistan, and China, Leh was always used as a route to travel between the areas. In fact, it’s a very easy argument that this was a pit-stop in one of the most frequently used trade routes in the area.
Today, when you visit Leh, its architecture gives away a lot of its rich history. To get a peek into the royal past of Leh, you’ve got to visit its monasteries, mosques and palaces. You can start by seeing the Leh Palace, it’s a treasure house of history but one that doesn’t put you to sleep. While strolling the palace, you’ll have to catch your breath every once in a while because of the elevation.
You should also be aware of the fact that a huge number of Ladakhi locals follow Buddhism. The number of monasteries in the region is living proof of how big of a deal it is. You can visit as many monasteries as you like in Leh to experience a sense of peace within. For terracotta sculptures and to view some of the oldest surviving wall paintings, you can head to the Alchi monastery. To reconnect with your spiritual self, you can consider planning a visit to Lamayuru or Thiksey monastery. Leh also has an Islamic influence and you can visit the Jama Masjid while here to admire the architecture or respectfully sit in prayer.
To get a true sense of Ladakhi culture, you want to plan a trip here during its major celebrations. Festivals like Sindhu Darshan (in June), Hemis festival (in June/July), and Losar festival (in March) are big here and you can plan your time accordingly. Folk dances, moral dramas and monks reciting religious chants are all part of the festivities that take place in the monasteries during a celebration. Musical instruments such as daman, surna and piwang are also brought out at this time.
The people of Ladakh make the festivals a beautiful celebration to be part of. We hope you get invited to the home of local Ladakhi to experience their humble hospitality. You’ll notice that most of the locals speak Ladakhi, Tibetan or Urdu amongst themselves. Ladakhi people depend largely on tourism for their livelihood. When you’re here be sure to support the locals in small ways. Don’t forget to also get a taste of the Leh culture via its food. Thukpa and momos are must-try delicacies of the land.
Despite its far-off and isolated location, Leh has become quite the tourist destination since its rise to fame after the Indian independence. Due to this, there are multiple government and private organizations that have started providing services to get to this city.
There are two routes that enter Leh: one through Manali, and one through Srinagar. While both of these roads are spectacular in their own respects, the one from Manali is often chosen by tourists since Manali itself is a famous tourist destination. It covers a distance of 473 km and passes through Keylong, Sarchu, and Pang. We suggest making an overnight stop in Sarchu, in order to give your body a chance to acclimatize and reduce the chances of altitude sickness.
One thing to note is that both of these roads get snowed every year. So, you might have to wait until the snow is cleared from the streets and the consequent opening of the roads is announced. Now that we have discussed the routes, let's talk about your rides.
You can take a bus or jeep to reach Leh by road, or you could also ride your motorcycle to reach there. If you choose to get to Leh in a bus, your ideal route would be to get to Manali or Srinagar first and then hail a bus from your location. There are deluxe and private buses running from both cities and the prices vary from INR 1,000 to INR 2,500, depending on the vehicle.
This is a much more local mode of transport, which is just as fun, if not more. If you choose to travel from Manali to Leh in a jeep, you’ll be welcomed by a 24-hour journey to the city through a rather uncomfortable terrain. However, it’s a journey through some of the most beautiful views in the world.
Believe it or not, Leh-Ladakh is one of the most popular destinations for motorcycle enthusiasts in India. Whichever part of the country you start from, the most-used route starts in Delhi, takes you through Manali, and ends in Leh. While the route from Delhi to Manali can be covered in a day or two, we recommend you to divide the route between Manali and Leh into three days, stopping in Jispa and Pang, before reaching Leh.
As adventurous as this sounds, we do realize that it’s quite a task. So we recommend you to ride wearing proper equipment and carry spares, fuel, and food. The petrol shops are at quite a distance and after Manali, the first proper garage you’ll see is in Keylong. So, ride safe.
There are flights coming in and going out of the Ladakh Airport throughout the year, with carriers like Air India and GoAir flying daily from Delhi. You can also get a flight from Srinagar and Jammu to arrive in Leh. Please note that in the winter season, a flight might be your only option of getting in this town.
If you choose to arrive in this town by plane, we suggest you carry a printed copy of your ticket, along with a photo ID. Moreover, once you do arrive in Leh, take a day's rest to let your body get used to the elevation and climate.
While the closest train stations were in Pathankot and Chandigarh, there has been the addition of a train station in Udhampur, which is connected to Jammu via rail. However, once you get down at any one of these locations, you’ll have to carry out the rest of the trip by road. Please book your tickets well in advance and keep an eye on the train schedules, since the trains here tend to get delayed.
April and May are when the tourist season begins in Leh. During this time winters have just said their goodbyes but the snow hasn’t melted completely. You can consider traveling during this time since it isn’t peak season yet and the weather is pleasant. You can expect temperatures to be in the range of 15°C to 20°C.
June, July, August, and September is when everyone wants to be in Leh. It will be crowded but there are plenty of beautiful spaces in Leh where you can find your own piece of quiet. The upside is that the town is prepared to accommodate its tourists, the skies are clear and you’ll get those perfect pictures you need.
Just note in August it does tend to occasionally rain continuously and that could interfere with your plans. September to mid-October is when crowds decrease and it's also a nice time to plan your trip to Leh. If you’re going in October, it is going to be chilling! So remind yourself or ask your mom to remind you to carry clothes that keep you warm.
You can also visit Leh during the winters from November to March but you have to account for the number of challenges that come by traveling during this time. Roadblocks, extremely freezing temperatures, and certain parts being closed are things that do not let you make the most of your time in the winters. Many people attempt trips to Leh in winter to experience the famous Chadar Trek. Overall, you can travel during the winters but it requires much more thought especially when it comes to travel logistics.
The best way to get from one tourist location to another in Leh is by renting a two-wheeler. Costs can range anywhere from INR 1,500 to INR 2,000 for a day. If you’re uncomfortable with riding a bike, you can rent a cab or a vehicle for the number of days you’ll be in Leh.
Ideally, you want to spend at least 11-12 days in Leh and you’ll require a car to get around on your sightseeing days. Leh is situated at an altitude of 3,500 meters due to which you have to keep in mind that it won’t be easy breezy to walk around to all the sights you want. It’s best to plan the mode of transportation and also the Inner Line Permit for getting to certain sites beyond Rohtang pass in advance.
Leh is only for hardcore travelers
A common misconception about Leh is that it's a destination meant for extreme adventure travelers. The stereotype is based on the challenges that come with traveling in Leh such as getting comfortable with the altitude, weather, rugged roads, and the sights to visit being kilometers away from each other.
But the reality is that all these challenges can be dealt with meticulous planning and don’t require you to be a hardcore traveler. It’s true that a trip to Leh does involve lots of planning of logistics but it is super doable by all types of travelers. Leh is not just for thrill-seekers, so don’t dismiss a trip here in fear of it being challenging. Instead, take up the challenge, if you really desire to make it here.
Pangong Tso is a beautiful, crystal-clear lake that lies at the Indo-Chinese border, at an elevation of 14,271 feet. It has retained its beauty because of the harsh climate and terrain that surrounds it. One can only stay in the vicinity for about 60 minutes. However, the views of the Himalayan peaks from this location make it totally worth the trouble.
Shanti Stupa is a Buddhist white-domed Chorten that was built on a hilltop in Chanspa in 1991. The most unique fact about this beautiful monument is that it was built by the Japanese Buddhist Gyomyo Nakamura as a part of the Peace Pagoda mission. It is said that this Stupa enshrines the 14th Dalai Lama and provides a panoramic view of the surrounding scenery.
Old Town is a place that one can visit on the way to another tourist destination in Leh by the name of the Palace Of the King Of Ladakh. This area was abandoned by its residents, who moved to a more fertile part of the valley, leaving the residential areas to be stuck in time. It’s a unique and somewhat eerie site, definitely enjoyed by the more adventurous souls.
Another popular site that you can plan to visit in Leh is Nubra Valley, also known as the Valley of Flowers. It’s a beautiful location to camp and gaze at a sky full of stars. Diskit Monastery, Maitreya Buddha, Hunder sand dunes, and Panamik hot water springs are things you can see when around Nubra valley.
You’ve got to take a walk by the main market in Leh to go on a shopping spree. Pashmina shawls and woolen clothes are the best things to shop for. You can also try out some local food from the many cafés in the market.
You can plan your Leh Ladakh adventure for 7 days but the trip will definitely feel rushed and limited. To do justice to the beauty of Leh Ladakh, ideally plan your trip for around 12-14 days. Always keep in mind that you have to keep aside a day or two to acclimatize yourself.
May and June are considered to be the best months to visit Leh Ladakh as summers are when you want to spend time in Leh. You can also plan your trip anytime from April to mid-October.
Your costs for a trip to Leh Ladakh will be affected by several factors. Approximately a 2-week trip can cost up to INR 30,000 for a single person. Keep in mind that a budget trip can be anywhere between INR 25,000 to INR 30,000 for a single person. But a luxury trip could very well go up to INR 75,000 and onwards.
When in Leh you can rent a motorcycle to get around the sites you wish to see. If you’re traveling with a huge group of friends you can consider renting a vehicle for the number of days you’ll spend in Leh.
Leh is situated at a very high altitude and this is why it's best to carry a good number of warm clothes. Pack your muffler, thermals, jacket, beanie, gloves, socks, and long-sleeve tees. Even if you’re traveling during summers, carry a pullover or sweater which you can keep with you if you feel chilly.
When in Leh, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and keeping yourself hydrated. Take things slow and give yourself time to acclimatize to the altitude of Leh. It's extremely important to take enough rest on your first day in Leh. You should also keep your body warm by layering the clothes you wear, eating dry fruits, and piping hot meals from time to time.
Yes, you can stay in Nubra Valley. There are several homestays and luxury accommodation options. There are several camping sites in the valley as well. Ideally, you’d need to dedicate at least 2 days to Nubra Valley as the drive to the valley from Leh is nearly 5 hours.
Ladakh is geographically close to China and Pakistan due to which you will need permits to visit certain sites like Nubra Valley, Khardung La Pass, Pangong Lake, and more. Indian citizens need to obtain an Inner Line Permit (ILP) while foreign nationals will need a Protected Areas Permit (PAP) which can be applied online on the official website - https://www.lahdclehpermit.in/