100 Reasons To Travel to Ladakh
Ladakh is a kaleidoscope of nature’s extremes – high mountain peaks to cold desert sand dunes, sub-zero temperatures to scorching sun – all interspersed with barren mountains in myriad shades of brown. The beauty of this remote land is so overwhelming that many a traveler is at a loss for words when asked to describe what is often-called the ‘Last Shangri-La’. Also affectionately dubbed ‘Little Tibet’ because of its cultural and geographical proximity to Tibet, Buddhist tinged Ladakh is India’s most remote and sparsely populated region. Indeed, wedged between Tibet and Kashmir, this austerely beautiful land, with Leh and Kargil as its district headquarters, is unique – in India, and in the world. Ladakh is also daunting, no doubt. Its minimum elevation is 2,900 m and its highest regions ascend up to 7,500 m higher even than Mount Everest’s base camp. This ethereal, humbling moonscape is bounded by the Kunlun mountain range on the north and the Great Himalayas to the south. It is often said that here, ‘the earth meets the sky’. Spread across 86,904 sq km. Ladakh is flanked by Xinjiang to the north, Tibet to the east, the Kashmir valley to the west and Lahaul-Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh to the south. Ladakh’s icy lifeline is the Indus river, described as ‘the central thread in the Ladakhi mosaic’ (Michael Gebicki). The Indus, 3,180 km long, originates in the Tibetan plateau, flows north west through Ladakh (where it separates the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges before turning south to flow through Pakistan. The other major river here is a tributary of the Indus called Zanskar, which nourishes the arid, inhospitable Zanskar valley. In winters, a 105-km stretch of the frozen Zanskar river becomes a challenging and beautiful adventure called the Chadar Trek.
Lakes of Ladakh
The best known lake in Ladakh is Pangong Tso ( ‘tso ’ means lake in the local language). Between 2-10 km wide and 150 km long, Pangong is about 150 km east of Leh, at an elevation of 4,300 m. Its salty waters caress the shores of both India and China – in fact, two-thirds of the lake’s waters are in Chinese territory. The blue skies reflect off the lake with a brilliance that will take your breath away. Though this is more than enough reason to visit the lake, its popularity across India owes a great deal to the 2009 Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots. Three chhatri-like structures on the lake’s border mark where the film’s last scene was shot. Many visitors drive to Pangong on a day trip, but it is also possible to camp here, or spend the night nearby in Tanksey (32 kms before Pangong). The road to Pangong goes through the spectacular Chang-la pass. The other great lake in Ladakh is Tso Moriri. Even higher than Pangong, Tso Moriri is perched at over 4,500 m, about 240 km southeast of Leh. The lake is just under 20 km long and 3 km wide, and its water is brackish. In fact, until quite recently, local villages extracted salt from it. Now, the lake is part of a Wetland Conservation Reserve, and visitors may spot rare birds and animals, included the famed Tibetan kiang, bar-headed geese, black-necked cranes and perhaps even a snow leopard or Tibetan wolf. On the way to Tso Moriri, visitors can stop at Tso Kar, a small, freshwater lake that may once have been connected to Tso Moriri.