The Stok palace is on a small hillock overlooking a green valley next to Indus River. The setting of the palace is very romantic - the ranges of himalaya as backdrop, the river in the foreground with green fields with a dash of yellow in between. A slow climb – no exertion please - of few steps led us to the entrance of the palace. This is the palace where present maharajah and his family live. A four storied mud structure, it has a colorful and carved entrance. The windows were colorful as well. Not an architectural rave, it made up as a pleasant place. The palace has a museum, which is not worth its salt. The balconies of the palace provide you a panoramic view of Indus valley.
Thiksey Monastery is the next stop, said Zigmet. Touted “Mini Potala palace”, the monastery is located in a beautiful setting. The best part of monastery hopping in Leh is that you will get to see the different landscape. Thiksey again was on a small hill. Thanks to good road, the car was able to climb up till the entrance. But the climb from here was quite steep. We had to stop couple times with gulps of water before we reached the courtyard.
|Thiksey Monastery - Striking resemblance to Potala Palace of Tibet|
|Colourful entrance to the monastery|
The monastery looked deserted with very few monks as most of them had left for Nubra where The Dalai Lama was camping. Thiksey being the second largest monastery in Ladakh, was well maintained. The courtyard leads to the two shrines. The walls are painted with Buddhist tangkhas and look very colorful. The Piece-de- Resistance was the 40 feet statue of “Maitreya – the Future Buddha”. It is a beautiful sculpture with a pleasing face of Maitreya. Notice the intricate work on the crown. Climbed up to the terrace of the monastery to get the awesome views of the surroundings.
|Colourful walls of Tangkhas in inner courtyard |
|Colourful balconies of the monastery|
|Captivating image of Maitreya Buddha|
|Panoramic view of Indus valley from Monastery|
We were feeling tired and when we went back to the car it was relief. After gulps of water, we were moving towards Shey palace – the old palace of maharajah – a mud palace being restored by Archaeological survey. The palace is on a steep hill and will be tough to climb if not properly acclimatized. We climbed, but stopped at least three times. The palace is in dilapidated condition and being restored. There is shrine inside with a 30 story tall statue of Buddha.
|Buddha in Shey Palace|
It was nearing lunchtime and we were also tired. The lunch was on the banks of Indus river. It is a pleasant place for a chilled beer and lunch – I missed beer though. Thank god there weren't hordes of tourists in this place – as there is no boating in the river - the place was very quiet and we could hear the sound of water flowing over pebbles. The water was very cold. Every year the Ladakhi government conducts “Sindhu Darshan” festival at this place. A peaceful lunch and a bit of rest, we were raring to explore the other parts of the town.
Our next stop was the “Hall of fame” museum. This place on Kargil road was a pleasant surprise. Excellently curated by Army, it brought tears to our eyes as we saw the pictures of martyrs who had laid down their lives in various wars for the country in the region. The galleries depicting the Kargil war and Siachin are well done. Apart from exploits by the army and air force, it also showcases the flora and fauna of the region. The touching moments were when we read the last letter by Capt Vijayant Thapar who laid down his life in Kargil war and was awarded Maha Vir Chakra. This is one place no visitor to Leh should miss.
|Brave men from Indian army who laid down their lives for the country|
Our last stop before calling it a day was the City Palace. This one jetting out of the heart of city is again a mud palace. Being restored by Archaeological Survey of India, it is in better shape than Shey palace. The rooftop of the palace gives one a panoramic view of Leh town. A climb from the palace is the “stand alone” gompa – Tsemo Gompa that gives you breathtaking views of Leh and surroundings. Ideal during sun set.
|City Palace or Leh Palace|
|Entrance to the palace|
|Leh town as seen from palace|
|The trail to the Tsemo gompa|
We came back to the hotel - we still missed out Shanti Stupa - tired after a day long visits to lovely sights of Leh. We called Badri Prasad – the Kancha - for a cup of coffee. The coffee was never refreshing more!
By Air - One can reach Leh by air from Delhi. There are many flights operating out of Delhi. These flights are notorious for delays/cancellation due to weather condition in Leh.
By Road - Leh is accessible through breathtaking road journeys either from Manali or from Srinagar in Kashmir. Both these journeys will take minimum of two days. If you are travelling from Manali you can either travel in shared taxis or the buses operated by Himachal Pradesh Transport Corporation. to Srinagar, bus services have been stopped but you can travel in shared jeeps.
Please see posts titled Ladakh Dairies 1 & 2 for experiences on Manali - Leh road.
There are many good stay options in Leh including Ladakhi home stays. Our stay in Hotel Namgyal Palace was very comfortable with excellent service and good food. One can also stay in homestays in Ladakh which will provide an authentic Ladakhi experience
a) Take it easy in Leh. Ladakh should be savoured slowly. If you are arriving by air to Leh, use day 1 for resting and acclimatisation. This is critical.
b) Leh is a small town with a busy market place which can be comfortably seen by walking. Carry water with you always.
c) One can take a numerous tour packages to Leh and Ladakh. You can also customise your tour package - that is what we did - in consultation with the tour operator. If your trip to Ladakh is not arranged through a tour operator, you can hire a cab at the taxi stand in Leh town to visit Leh and its surroundings.
d) Leh and surroundings require minimum of two days of exploration. The life in Ladakh is laid back. Make sure you do the sightings in leisurely manner.
e) All monasteries require removal of shoes when you enter. Please respect local sentiments.
f) Check out traditional Ladakhi cultural programmes in Shankar Gompa next to city palace.
g) Leh is also the place where you should try some good tibetan/ladakhi cuisine. Also you can get to at set some great international cuisine. Let your culinary adventure begin. Make sure you also taste the rice beer of Ladakh which is tasty.
h) If you are a trekking enthusiast, there are many options. Check out with good trekking operators for a hassle free treks in Ladakh.
i) Leh is also a place where you can pick up excellent antiques, Tanghkas etc. Hunt for them in many stores in the main market.
j) You can also hire motorcycle in Leh for exploring the nearby places. Unless, you have driven in the hills, do not venture out.
k) Due to huge influx of tourists and limited number of ATMs, the machines may run out of cash or there may be long queues. Plan accordingly.
Chai - Indian readymade spicy tea
Kancha - Boy in Nepali
Chortem - Stupa, a buddhist religious structure
Maha Vir Chakra - Second highest award for gallantry in War
Kargil and Siachin - Places in Kashmir where India and Pakistan have fought wars
Sindhu - Indian name for Indus river
Gompa - Bhudhhist Monastery
This is the third post in "Ladakh Diaries" series of nine posts in this blog. If you want to explore earlier/later posts - click on the link in this series, please click this link below. Clicking "older posts" at the end of the page will take you to previous posts in the series.
Ladakh Diaries - Our experiences in Ladakh
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