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.
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 😊
Try if you can to plan your trip to include some of the amazing Buddhist festivals (as some described below or others)
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 )
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 🤩
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
The dry mountains and green valley offer a beautiful landscape
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 😢
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 😊)
Walking around the village will allow you to meet local people, some of them still wearing traditional costumes
If you approach people with a smile, most would be OK for a photo
Walking in the fields around the village is probably the best way to capture images of people
Especially if you get there early in the morning …
Don’t hesitate to continue walking around the village and the fields and interact with the (very friendly) locals
If you keep driving west from Alchi, you’ll get toward Lamayuru (around 130 km from Leh), passing through the famous “Moonland of Ladakh”
You’ll then arrive at the small village of Lamayuru surrounded by gorgeous mountains and moon landscapes …
Of course, the main reason to visit is the famous 11th-century Lamayuru monastery, one of the largest in Ladakh
Lamayuru has the appearance of a cave monastery in the middle of a moonlike landscape.
It consists of 5 buildings, some of the structures being ruins today
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 …
… and on the surrounding Himalayas mountains of India
Alternatively, the view from the village in the morning can be great as well (this one from my hotel room balcony even 😊)
Around 150 permanent monks are living in the monastery (vs several hundred in the past)
Some of the kids there are obviously beautiful photography subjects …
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)
Not sure who has more fun … the monks or the photographer …
but missing one early morning prayer does not sound too bad 😂
Keeping moving West on the Indus valley road after Lamayuru will reward you with even more amazing landscapes
You’ll cross then the Skubuchan village and monastery
Those small Gombas lost in the mineral world are in my view gorgeous
That tiny village is another opportunity to meet some of the villagers at the foot of the monastery
… and capture some of the rural life …
Continuing to Dart, there is a unique opportunity to meet the Dart Aryans of the Ladakh tribe
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.
That tribe aims to preserve their legacy and they perceive a significant threat to their culture “owing to modernization and migration”
Those tribes continue to follow their ancestral belief and customs.
But you can see that the young generation is changing …
Still beautiful people, however…
As said, you’ll likely come back to Leh a few times as a “central point” while exploring 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
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.
Get to the rooftop of the palace for incredible views over Leh and the surrounding mountains
Of course, no visit to the Tsemo hill is complete without climbing up to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
Yes, hiking upward at 3500 m above sea level is not easy (😮💨) but the view from there is great
Actually, all of Leh’s surrounding mountains are absolutely beautiful …
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.
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.
The main attractions are the sacred dances performed by Lamas wearing masks
Special prayers are performed with sacred mask dances of monks in affluent silk costumes
The monk’s audience doesn’t have less fun than the visitors …
So, try to schedule your trip around some of the festivals (June-July for Phyang Tsesdup depending on the years-Tibetan calendar-)
Staying close to Ley, one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh, Thikse sits atop a hill 30 minutes drive from Leh.
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 😂).
It is possible to get up to the rooftop (a lot of steps 😢), which is magnificent … especially at sunrise
The views over the surroundings and the mountains are stunning from the rooftop
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
Don’t miss as well the big (and beautiful) statue of Maitreya in this monastery
If you make it to the monastery at 6 am, you can as well listen to the monks chanting their morning prayers.
You may be able to join (respectfully) to observe and shoot novice monks …
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.
The cold desert between Diskit and Hundur is a major attraction for tourists for its sand dunes and Bactrian camels.
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.
The Bactrian camels were the main mode of transport when Ladakh was an important stopover on the ancient trade routes with Central Asia
Nubra was actually a major stopover on the ancient Silk Route.
Of course, camels are now more of a tourist attraction …
And it is possible for photographers to get some set shooting for a small contribution (again, with the right local guide to help) …
Clearly, the landscape and the sand dunes make that place very special, and a highlight of a trip to Ladakh in India.
Ok, enough camels I guess 😂…. The mountains on their own surrounding the valley village are worth the trip…
Locally known as Da-Fang, archery has as well always been extremely popular in Ladakh and in Nubra.
The legend of the bow and arrow in the region dates to the first settlers who lived by hunting there.
Ok, I need to confess that having my car driver being an archer helps to take cool pictures in the dunes 🤩
When you are in the Nubra valley, don’t miss the fourteenth-century Diskit Monastery
It is perched on a hilltop with beautiful views over the Nubra valley
Yes, another long and painful series of rocky steps up 😮💨 …
… but this is worth the effort as the prayer hall of the monastery is beautiful up there
At the foot of the monastery, there is a 33 meters statue of Maitreya Buddha facing down the Shyok River toward Nubra Valley
Climb up to the foot of the buddha for different perspectives …
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 😢)
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
Don’t miss at the pass the small stupas and flags above the road
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 😂
More interestingly, on the Nupra valley side of the pass, the bridge with its flag over the river is a pretty cool spot
Again, all along the pass road, you’ll find beautiful landscapes every 5 minutes (a long drive back to Leh 😢)
There are many stunning spots in Ladakh and TsoMoriri Lake (250 kilometers southeast of Leh) is clearly one of them.
That lake is at an altitude of more than 4500 meters above sea level!
The lake and surrounding area are protected ( Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve).
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 😢
One of the attractions (no nightclub) is to visit the Semi-nomadic sheepherders in the hills around 🤩.
Nature and permanently changing light will however reward and delight travel and photography lovers …
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
Masked monks perform stories from Buddhist teachings and the legendary Black Hat dance.
The festival attracts many monks, pilgrims, and Chang-pa nomads from the entire region
The portraits opportunities in the festival audience are … endless
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 😊.
But again, the pilgrims (mainly Chang-pa nomads) are in my photographer’s view the highlight of the festival…
Again, lake Tsomoriri is quite remote, and uncomfortably high but don’t miss it if you can be there at the right time…
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
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 😊