Ladakh Road Trips
After the heat of Rajasthan we retreated to a much cooler climate in the state of Ladakh nestled in the Himalaya Range. Even in summer the snow tops the mountains and roads over the passes are only open for a few months of the year. In the two weeks we spent in Ladakh we based ourselves in the provincial capital Leh in the heart of the Indus Valley. We spent a couple of days in town when we first arrived to acclimatise to the altitude and the lower oxygen levels. We then took a series of road trips through some of the amazing country-side in Ladakh with another two single days in Leh between trips to rest and enjoy wandering around the picturesque town.
13. The Indus Valley, Wonderful Temples and Monasteries
For our first road trips in Ladakh we stayed within the Indus Valley as we didn’t want to tackle the very high mountain passes to neighbouring valleys until we were confident we had fully adjusted to the altitude. There are temples all over India but there is a concentration of very scenic Buddhist temples and monasteries along the Indus Valley.
On a one day trip to the south east we travelled along the river to the monasteries at Shey, Thiksey, Matho, Chemry and Hemis. The monasteries crown rocky outcrops and prayer flags flutter in the mountain breeze. Prayer wheels spun clockwise release merit making mantras. All were impressive and at Chemrey, being off the main road, we could enjoy it in peace as we were the only visitors, Hemis providing the best tourist experience and Matho the best picture postcard view across the river as we approached it.
The next day we set off on a two day trip west from Leh with an overnight stop in Lamaruyu before we returned to Leh. For most of the trip we travelled right next to the Indus River. The landscape was stunning; pockets of green irrigated land with lush trees and fields around the occasional villages in an otherwise dry and barren landscape and all surrounded by snow capped mountains.
Along the way we passed abundant military bases. This area is close to disputed territory with Pakistan and also provides the opportunity to train troops at high altitude so they can operate anywhere. Apart from banning photography in their areas there was no impact on our travels but we could not escape their presence for more than a short while. Colourful trucks use the winding road as it the only road linking Ladakh to Jammu and Kashmir. We passed the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar Rivers, a good place for kayaking apparently. It was great to be able to ask the driver to stop whenever we wanted to enjoy the views or take photographs.
We took a side road to the Likir monastery where we admired the gleaming, gold-painted 20th century Maitreya statue, the ancient well-used prayer wheels and the extensive views over the valley below.
In Lamaruyu a picturesque monastery tops an eroded hill and the landscape is pitted and aptly named the ‘moonland’. We had magnificent views from our room in the nearby guesthouse.
On our return trip we called into a couple of monasteries including the 11th century Choskhor Temple Complex in Alchi. Each temple in the complex is small and unobtrusive from outside but their design and millennium-old murals are rare archetypes of Ladakh’s Indo-Tibetan Buddhist art. The interiors of the temples were darkened and quite small but the artwork was magnificent; but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photographs.