Ladakh gallery: Gompas, goats and killer treks
Although nirvana is a state of mind and not really a place, most visitors to Ladakh would say that this transcendent region in northeastern India is a state of unrivaled tranquility and serenity.
Ladakh is a majestic and, for many, mystical region of the Himalayan outback.
The land is a high-altitude desert where most of the lakes that once covered the area have been replaced by villages and Tibetan monasteries known as gompas. The gompas are one of the main attractions and they are found throughout the inner Himalayas.
The environment and moon-like landscapes of Ladakh are another reason for visiting, as well as the trekking; some of the best in the world.
Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is a picturesque town set in a narrow valley surrounded by the rugged Himalayan landscape.
Ladakh is best toured between May and September as many roads become impassable when the snows begins, which is about now.
The devastating storm in August caused massive flash floods that destroyed many buildings and roads in Leh and its surrounding villages. Although some of the major highways have been shut and communication to the area has been difficult, the Indian Army and government are working on reopening the roads and restoring communication.
For most visitors, the Tibetan monasteries of Ladakh perplex and overwhelm with their paintings of fierce deities and seemingly endless statues of Buddha. Whether you are a practicing Buddhist or not, the gompas are a place of mystifying sights and sounds.
Around Leh there are numerous gompas and several that you should plan to see. The impressive Spitok gompa is just eight kilometers out of town and is part of the Gelugpa order of Tibetan Buddhism; this is the order in which the Dalai Lama presides over.
Ladakh has four major orders of Tibetan Buddhism.
Thikse gompa is east of Leh and seems to naturally adorn the hill upon which it sits. This 500-year-old monastery impresses many visitors with its 10 temples and countless frescos.
And if you are lucky enough to be in Ladakh in July or August, you shouldn’t miss the festival at Phyang gompa. For two days the monastery comes alive with vibrantly masked monks and lively chanting accompanied by traditional Tibetan instruments.
This is a good opportunity to familiarize yourself with the many Tibetan Buddhist deities as their masked forms parade around the gompa’s courtyard.
Other notable gompas in Ladakh include Alchi and Rizong to the west and Stok and Hemis to the east.
In Leh you can visit Sankar gompa and Tsemo gompa.
Environment and trekking
Ladakh’s most alluring and memorable feature is its environment.
It's a land of stark contrasts -- barren plateaus with overshadowing noble mountains as the backdrop and verdant valleys with kingfishers and egrets in the rice fields.
Take the journey south to Tso Moriri Lake and go over Taglungla Pass at 17,500 feet. On the way you’ll pass valleys of green rice fields and temporary pashmina goat and yak road blocks.
In the summer months, nomadic shepherds take their herds and flocks to graze throughout the valleys of Ladakh.
While exploring Ladakh keep your eyes peeled, you may be able to see wild ass, Himalayan marmots, eagles, hawks and a numerous migratory birds. If you ask the right person, you might even find the lake that has black necked cranes with several chicks, but don’t get too close because the number of these visitors to Ladakh are dwindling.
When you're finally well-adjusted to the high altitude, take a hike. Ladakh has short trails that can be done in a few hours or one day. Other more challenging treks will take you over snowy mountain passes and glaciers taking up to 10-12 days.
If you are thinking about a demanding and testing trek, ask one of the adventure companies in town about hiking around and up to Stok Mountain.
The Rizong to Temisgam trek is a popular, less-demanding three- to four-day trek.
In Leh you’ll be able to find all the mountaineering equipment you need to either buy or rent. The town also has scores of experienced guides to help you on your excursion.
Erin submitted this piece as part of CNNGo's CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page.