Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

Ladakh union territory in northern India stands between the Kunlun and the main Himalayas Mountain ranges, and truly deserves its name which means “land of High passes”.

khardungla pass road landscape, Ladakh India

Spectacularly jagged, arid mountains enfold this magical Buddhist ex-kingdom, making that part of the world a dream for travel lovers and photographers for its landscapes, its Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, its red-robed monks, and its amazing local people.

Monks of Lamayuru temple Ladakh India

The best time to visit Ladakh is the end of spring as the roads are open and the weather is great. With global warming things are however changing and I had quite some bad weather during the  “ever blue sky”  period 😢-. But all weather can provide interesting light 😊

Stakna Gompa monastery storm in Ladakh

Try  if you can to plan your trip to include some of the amazing Buddhist festivals (as some described below or others)

Phyang Tsesdup festival in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh

With no illusion to “have seen it all” in two weeks there, you’ll find below a dozen of locations that are some of the highlights of that amazing region of the Indian Himalayas. As all roads spider-web out from Leh, no special logic in the order of the locations described below )

Villagers near Skubuchan Monastery, Ladakh India

Alchi

The journey from Leh to Alchi (around 66 km) gives you some beautiful perspectives on the Indus River and the surrounding mountains. Don’t miss the viewpoint where the Indus and Zanskar rivers meet 🤩

Sangam viewpoint near Alchi, Ladakh India

Alchi small village (around 3500 m above sea level) is really peaceful and charming with a beautiful perspective from its hilltop on the Indus River valley

Alchi village panorama in Ladakh India

The dry mountains and green valley offer a beautiful landscape

Alchi village panorama in Ladakh India

The monastery of Alchi has sat on flat land carved by the Indus River since the 11th century. It is beautiful but pictures are not allowed inside anymore unfortunately 😢

Choskor monastery in Alchi, Ladakh India

Walking around the village will allow you to discover the old Gombas or monasteries that made that village famous (and feel like home with the lavenders 😊)

Alchi village gompa in Ladakh India

Walking around the village will allow you to meet local people, some of them still wearing traditional costumes

People of Alchi in Ladakh India

If you approach people with a smile, most would be OK for a photo

Farmer working in Alchi, Ladakh India

Walking in the fields around the village is probably the best way to capture images of people

Farmer working in Alchi, Ladakh India

Especially if you get there early in the morning …

Farmer working in Alchi, Ladakh India

Farmer working in Alchi, Ladakh India

Don’t hesitate to continue walking around the village and the fields and interact with the (very friendly) locals

Farmer working in Alchi, Ladakh India

Lamayuru

If you keep driving west from Alchi, you’ll get toward Lamayuru (around 130 km from Leh), passing through the famous “Moonland of Ladakh”

“moonland” landscape near Lamayuru, Ladakh

You’ll then arrive at the small village of Lamayuru surrounded by gorgeous mountains and moon landscapes …

Lamayuru temple area, Ladakh India

Of course, the main reason to visit is the famous 11th-century Lamayuru monastery, one of the largest in Ladakh

Famous Lamayuru temple Ladakh India

Lamayuru has the appearance of a cave monastery in the middle of a moonlike landscape.

Lamayuru temple area, Ladakh India

It consists of 5 buildings, some of the structures being ruins today

Lamayuru temple area, Ladakh India

While every hike at that altitude is a bit exhausting, it is highly recommended to get to the hill above the temple for great perspectives on the valley …

Lamayuru temple area, Ladakh India

… and on the surrounding Himalayas mountains of India

Lamayuru temple area, Ladakh India

Alternatively, the view from the village in the morning can be great as well (this one from my hotel room balcony even 😊)

Lamayuru temple area, Ladakh India

Around 150 permanent monks are living in the monastery (vs several hundred in the past)

Monks of Lamayuru temple Ladakh India

Some of the kids there are obviously beautiful photography subjects …

Monks of Lamayuru temple Ladakh India

For a small contribution to the temple (and gifts to the little monks 😜), it should be possible to get a bit of a set shooting session (with the support of your local guide)

Monks of Lamayuru temple Ladakh India

Not sure who has more fun … the monks or the photographer

Monks of Lamayuru temple Ladakh India

but missing one early morning prayer does not sound too bad 😂

Monks of Lamayuru temple Ladakh India

 

From Skurbuchand to Dah

Keeping moving West on the Indus valley road after Lamayuru will reward you with even more amazing landscapes

Indus valley mountains panorama, Ladakh India

Some of the rock formations and colors are really from another planet and remind me of Bolivia and Chile‘s Andean altiplano

Indus valley mountains, Ladakh India

You’ll cross then the Skubuchan village and monastery

Skubuchan Monastery landscape, Ladakh India

Those small Gombas lost in the mineral world are in my view gorgeous

Skubuchan Monastery landscape, Ladakh India

That tiny village is another opportunity to meet some of the villagers at the foot of the monastery

Villagers near Skubuchan Monastery, Ladakh India

… and capture some of the rural life …

Villagers near Skubuchan Monastery, Ladakh India

Continuing to Dart, there is a unique opportunity to meet the Dart Aryans of the Ladakh tribe

Aryan tribe portrait, Dah valley, Ladakh India

The word ‘Dard’ is derived from a Sanskrit word, ‘Daradas’, which means people who live on hillsides, and you can still see them with their traditional heavy fur costumes with flower bouquets adorning their heads.

Aryan tribe portrait, Dah valley, Ladakh India

That tribe aims to preserve their legacy and they perceive a significant threat to their culture “owing to modernization and migration”

Aryan tribe portrait, Dah valley, Ladakh India

Those tribes continue to follow their ancestral belief and customs.

Aryan tribe portrait, Dah valley, Ladakh India

But you can see that the young generation is changing …

Aryan tribe portrait, Dah valley, Ladakh India

Still beautiful people, however…

Aryan tribe portrait, Dah valley, Ladakh India

Aryan tribe portrait, Dah valley, Ladakh India

 

Leh

As said, you’ll likely come back to Leh a few times as a “central point” while exploring Ladakh

Leh from Khardungla pass road , ladakh

Leh is a very lively city at the foot of the Tsemo hill, where stand the famous Leh palace and Namgyal Tsemo Gompa monastery

Tsemo Goenkhang monastery and Leh palace, Ladakh

Sitting on top of a hill, the Leh Palace made of stones, wood, mud, and sand is one of the finest examples of medieval Tibetan architecture.

Tsemo Goenkhang monastery and Leh palace, Ladakh

Get to the rooftop of the palace for incredible views over Leh and the surrounding mountains

Leh palace panorama from Roof top, ladakh

Of course, no visit to the Tsemo hill is complete without climbing up to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa

Famous Tsemo Goenkhang monastery, Leh, ladakh

Yes, hiking upward at 3500 m above sea level is not easy (😮‍💨) but the view from there is great

Panorama from Tsemo Goenkhang monastery, Ladakh

Actually, all of Leh’s surrounding mountains are absolutely beautiful …

Beautiful Leh surrounding mountains, Ladakh

Beautiful Leh surrounding mountains, Ladakh

You should spend a day exploring the city to discover the different craft markets, the old town, and some other landmarks like the beautiful Jama Masjid Imamiya mosque.

Jama Masjid Imamiya mosque, leh Ladakh

 

Phyang Tsesdup festival

Phyang Monastery is located 17 km west of Leh, on a hill overlooking the village. The Phyang Tsedup Festival celebrates the victory of good over evil.

Phyang Tsesdup festival in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh

The main attractions are the sacred dances performed by Lamas wearing masks

Phyang Tsesdup festival in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh

Special prayers are performed with sacred mask dances of monks in affluent silk costumes

Phyang Tsesdup festival in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh

The monk’s audience doesn’t have less fun than the visitors …

Phyang Tsesdup festival in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh

And for sure, this is a great place for photographers and travel photography lovers

Phyang Tsesdup festival in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh

Phyang Tsesdup festival in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh

So, try to schedule your trip around some of the festivals (June-July for Phyang Tsesdup depending on the years-Tibetan calendar-)

Phyang Tsesdup festival in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh

 

Thikse Monastery

Staying close to Ley, one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh, Thikse sits atop a hill 30 minutes drive from Leh.

Thiksey Monastery, on a hill near Leh, India

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The 12 flat-topped stories line the sides of the outcrop like a giant staircase, with the most sacred rooms at the top and look very similar to the famous Potala in Lhasa (some -unclear-stories that Thikse was built first, and then they lost the drawings on the way to Tibet 😂).

Thiksey Monastery, on a hill near Leh, India

It is possible to get up to the rooftop (a lot of steps 😢), which is magnificent … especially at sunrise

Thiksey Monastery rooftop sunrise, Ladakh

The views over the surroundings and the mountains are stunning from the rooftop

Thiksey Monastery rooftop sunrise, Ladakh

Thiksey Monastery rooftop sunrise, Ladakh

if you’re lucky (or organized with the right local guide support), the experience of monks playing Dungchen during sunrise in front of the Himalayas is an amazing moment

onks playing Dungchen in Thiksey Monastery Ladakh

onks playing Dungchen in Thiksey Monastery Ladakh

Don’t miss as well the big (and beautiful) statue of Maitreya in this monastery

Thiksey Monastery Buddha statue, Ladakh

If you make it to the monastery at 6 am, you can as well listen to the monks chanting their morning prayers.

Thiksey Monastery monks during pray, Ladakh

You may be able to join (respectfully) to observe and shoot novice monks …

Thiksey Monastery monks during pray, Ladakh

Thiksey Monastery monks during pray, Ladakh

 

Nubra valley

Nubra Valley is the northernmost part of Jammu and Kashmir. Situated about 150 km from Leh, it is a must-see place during a trip to Ladakh.

Nubra valley sand dunes, Ladakh

The cold desert between Diskit and Hundur is a major attraction for tourists for its sand dunes and Bactrian camels.

Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

Native to the steppes of central Asia, the Bactrian camel has two humps, in contrast to the single-humped camels found in other parts of India.

Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

The Bactrian camels were the main mode of transport when Ladakh was an important stopover on the ancient trade routes with Central Asia

Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

Nubra was actually a major stopover on the ancient Silk Route.

Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

Of course, camels are now more of a tourist attraction …

Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

And it is possible for photographers to get some set shooting for a small contribution (again, with the right local guide to help) …

Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

Clearly, the landscape and the sand dunes make that place very special, and a highlight of a trip to Ladakh in India.

Nubra valley Bactrian camels, Ladakh India

Ok, enough camels I guess 😂…. The mountains on their own surrounding the valley village are worth the trip…

Mountains around Nubra valley Ladakh India

Mountains around Nubra valley Ladakh India

Locally known as Da-Fang, archery has as well always been extremely popular in Ladakh and in Nubra.

Nubra valley archery man, Ladakh India

The legend of the bow and arrow in the region dates to the first settlers who lived by hunting there.

Nubra valley archery man, Ladakh India

Ok, I need to confess that having my car driver being an archer helps to take cool pictures in the dunes 🤩

Nubra valley archery man, Ladakh India

 

Diskit Monastery

When you are in the Nubra valley, don’t miss the fourteenth-century Diskit Monastery

Diskit monastery in Nubra valley, Ladakh

It is perched on a hilltop with beautiful views over the Nubra valley

Diskit monastery in Nubra valley, Ladakh

Yes, another long and painful series of rocky steps up 😮‍💨 …

Diskit monastery in Nubra valley, Ladakh

… but this is worth the effort as the prayer hall of the monastery is beautiful up there

Diskit monastery interior in Nubra valley, Ladakh

At the foot of the monastery, there is a 33 meters statue of Maitreya Buddha facing down the Shyok River toward Nubra Valley

Diskit monastery statue in Nubra valley, Ladakh

Climb up to the foot of the buddha for different perspectives …

Diskit monastery statue in Nubra valley, Ladakh

There are as well some Muslim villages (like Bogdan) in that region, but honestly, that’s probably the only place I felt really unwelcome in India. But still showing two images for completeness  (and advice not to go 😢)

Bogdang muslim village portrait, Ladakh

Bogdang muslim village portrait, Ladakh

Khardungla pass road

The drive between Leh and Nubra valley is very famous as it crosses the world’s highest motorable pass, the Khardung La, at 5,380 m (17,650 ft), surrounded by beautiful landscapes

khardungla pass road landscape, Ladakh

Don’t miss at the pass the small stupas and flags above the road

khardungla pass road, Ladakh India

I rarely publish pictures of myself but I was told strongly that a selfie or similar at the top of the pass is a critical must in life 😂

Marc Turcan in khardungla pass, Ladakh

More interestingly, on the Nupra valley side of the pass, the bridge with its flag over the river is a pretty cool spot

khardungla pass road river flags Ladakh India

Again, all along the pass road, you’ll find beautiful landscapes every 5 minutes (a long drive back to Leh 😢)

khardungla pass road landscape, Ladakh

khardungla pass road landscape, Ladakh

khardungla pass road landscape, Ladakh

Tsomoriri Lake

There are many stunning spots in Ladakh and TsoMoriri Lake (250 kilometers southeast of Leh) is clearly one of them.

Tso Moriri lake panorama in Ladakh, India

That lake is at an altitude of more than 4500 meters above sea level!

Tso Moriri lake panorama in Ladakh, India

The lake and surrounding area are protected ( Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve).

Tso Moriri lake panorama in Ladakh, India

Of course, tourists get here for the nature (or the festival below) rather than for world-class touristic facilities as “hotels” / camps are quite basic over there so far 😢

Tso Moriri lake small village in Ladakh, India

One of the attractions (no nightclub) is to visit the Semi-nomadic sheepherders in the hills around 🤩.

Nomadic sheep herders, Tso Moriri lake, Ladakh

Nomadic sheep herders, Tso Moriri lake, Ladakh

Nature and permanently changing light will however reward and delight travel and photography lovers …

TsoMoriri lake sunset panorama in Ladakh, India

Tso Moriri lake pray flags in Ladakh, India

 

Tsomoriri Gustor festival

One of the reasons to get to Tsomoriri (at the right time) is for the two days a year, Gustor festival in the tiny village of Korzok, on the shores of Lake Tsomoriri

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Masked monks perform stories from Buddhist teachings and the legendary Black Hat dance.

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

The festival attracts many monks, pilgrims, and Chang-pa nomads from the entire region

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

The portraits opportunities in the festival audience are … endless

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

A major part of the festival is the release to the merit of the monastery of animals, including a horse, Pashmina Goats, and a yak 😊.

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

But again, the pilgrims (mainly Chang-pa nomads) are in my photographer’s view the highlight of the festival…

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Again, lake Tsomoriri is quite remote, and uncomfortably high but don’t miss it if you can be there at the right time…

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

Korzok Gustor festival, Tsomoriri lake, Ladakh

 

More Around Leh

Again, my post does not aim to be exhaustive about all the wonders of Ladakh but a selection of the ones I was able to see. If you do not have enough monasteries, there a two more you should consider very close to Leh

Stakna gompa is a beautiful 16th-century Buddhist monastery 21 km of ley on the left bank of the Indu river

Stakna Gompa monastery , Ladakh

Matho gompa is directly opposite Thikse Monastery and is located at the mouth of a deep gorge running out of the Zanskar range and across the Indus.  I guess such a dramatic sky in the “no cloud seasons of my trip is a good way to end that post 😊

Matho Gompa monastery storm in Ladakh

 

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