Category 1 - Luxury - Ladakh Sarai is an eco-resort that is surrounded by a lush green compound. The mud suites here are made of locally available materials and designed in a traditional manner. What sets this property apart is the commune-like atmosphere where the resort owner entertains the guests with stories of his trekking expeditions just after dinner in the common lounge area. The local hiring ensures that people in the neighbouring community are benefited. Farms cover the major area in Sarai where they cultivate vegetables and fruits for a fresh from farm menu. Waste management here is highly efficient. Vegetable and non-meat wastes from the kitchen encourage the nearby village to make composts while the resort gets dairy and local farm items from the village itself.
Category 2 - Homestay - Greenland Guest house - Get a feel of the local lifestyle in a more rustic homestay. Live with the local family and get a firsthand experience of life in Ladakh. Understand the traditional and sustainable architecture of houses in Ladakh. You will be served fresh organic vegetables from the kitchen garden. The entire household is engaged during your stay here and it directly benefits them economically.
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Arrive in Leh, Airport pickup; Rest and acclimatize; Tour of Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa and market
The thing about getting to these splendid barren mountains in Leh is that, even if you're raring to head over to Nubra Valley, you absolutely need to rest and get acclimatised first. Refreshed and ready to explore, we take you around to offer you the best of Leh in half a day.
Drive through Ladakh's majestic mountains, after lunch (either at the hotel or at the market), down to Shanti Stupa. At 3,609 metres above sea level, the Stupa offers unparalleled panoramic views of Leh town. Head back to the 17th century Leh Palace with the aura of erstwhile royalty that surrounds it. Move on to the bustling Leh market area, like most Tibetan markets across the country, but with clearly a lot more authenticity. When you're done, head back to the hotel, with heavier bags perhaps, but considerably lighter wallets.
Ensure you hit the sack early after dinner.
Tour of Sham Valley
Early morning activity (optional) - morning prayers at Thiksey – It’s worth the early morning wake up call to see the hundreds of lamps being lit and the harmonious hymns of the monks at Thiksey. Truly spiritual experience and gives an insight into the lives of the monks here. The simplicity also gives one a lesson on sustainability – living in harmony in a fragile ecosystem with meagre resources.
Later in the day - Tour of Sham Valley
The confluence of rivers here in Ladakh is a big draw for its serenity set in a stunning landscape. A drive of nearly 48 kilometres from Leh town would take you to the point where the rivers Indus and Zanskar meet. Just before Sangam, get up close and personal with the super-charged famed magnetic hill. Watch your eyes deceive you as a car climbs up without any thrust on the seemingly uphill tarmac.
Alchi Monastery (the oldest monastery in Ladakh region) - Lush green agricultural patches lie in stark contrast to barren mountains here by the banks of the turquoise Indus in Alchi. Stop for some fresh apricots before heading over to the famed 10th century monastery here for a walk past its splendid wall paintings. Spend some time at the local handicraft market around the monastery complex. Head back to Leh with a pit stop at the revered Gurdwara Pathar Sahib.
Visit Hemis and Thiksey monastery; Local experience - lunch at a local home and village walk - Stok village
Begin your day out in Leh with a quick breakfast, drive on to Thiksey monastery, around 4 km away. With fascinating wall paintings throughout the 12-storey complex, stupas, thangka paintings, statues and numerous artefacts make for a very interesting visit.
A mere kilometre Northeast is the now famous Druk White Lotus School, also known as the Rancho School. Renowned across India thanks to the Bollywood blockbuster 'Three Idiots'. The structure is a fusion of local building materials with environmental-friendly designs that make this school strong enough for Ladakh’s extreme climate. Almost destroyed by flash floods in 2010, the school was rebuilt again with the help of overwhelming financial aid from various corners of the world. Financial aid ensures that children from poorer sections of society are educated here as well.
The scenic last leg of the day’s visits takes you through the valley’s rugged terrain over 25 km from Thiksey to Hemis. With stunning views of hillocks and the mountains beyond, the contrast of rare green and stark barren lands against spotless blue skies are worth a million pictures. Hemis Monastery, unlike most of Ladakh’s other monasteries, isn't visible from afar. Built on a green hill, hemmed between lofty mountains, Hemis is literally India’s Shangri-La. Although founded in 1672, Hemis monastery is said to have existed before the 11th century.
Later, drive down to Stok Palace and Monastery. This monastery, founded in the 14th century, and palace have been well maintained through the years along with the renowned in-house library that has the 108 Kangyurs (Buddhist sacred texts). Stok Palace, with beautifully interlaced courtyards, carved windows and painted balconies make for an interesting visit. After a visit here, head down to the village of Stok.
Here, you visit a local home where the man of the house leads you through the village, its history and traditions. Walk past seasonal green fields and local produce before heading back to his home for hot butter tea. Join the family, if you would like, as they cook up a traditional Ladakhi affair. Sit down together for a sumptuous lunch/dinner. Enter as a guest and leave like a member of the family. With visits like these, it ensures that the local community still sees farming as an occupation which offers them good economic returns.
Leh to Nubra via Khardung La Pass
A quick morning breakfast later, begin the scenic drive to Nubra Valley via Khardung La to the sand dunes of Hunder. Narrowly missing being the world's highest motorable pass, by a couple of hundred feet, Khardung La at 5300 metres above msl (modern data puts it at 5359) is one of Ladakh's best-known secrets - The main gateway to Nubra Valley and Siachen Glacier.
A couple of lovely photographs later, descend to Nubra Valley. Make your way towards the spectacular Diskit Monastery, crossing the quaint Khardung village. Precariously perched higher up, this 14th century monastery is home to over 100 Yellow Hat, Gelung monks.
Move on about 7 km to the sand dunes of Hunder. The interesting two-humped Bactrian camels here are ready for rides across the sand dunes. Impressive views of grey dunes, the glacial river and rugged snow-capped mountain peaks set Hunder in a league of its own here in Ladakh. Hunder, apart from housing the mandatory gompa with ruins of a once majestic King's 'elephant' palace, is a charming little village with several shrines higher up. Spend the night here in this surreal valley, staring at starry nights in cloudless climes.
Nubra to Pangong via Shyok
No visit to Ladakh is complete without the mandatory trip to Pangong Tso. A relatively smooth ride set off after breakfast for a journey that could take over 6 hours, depending on how often you stop for photographs.
Drive on until all of a sudden, a faint blue blip in the distance appears, surrounded by mountains. This huge blue lake stretches out far beyond as brown mountains loom beside it in contrast against the cloudless sky. The long drive here feels like nothing as you walk along the small, natural pathway to the lake.
Head over to Spangmik village as the sun slowly goes down and the chill sets in. A warm bed, beside the lake, is all ready for you as you step out for a short ramble post dinner.
Pangong to Leh
Spend some time by the lake in the morning, as transparent waters turn blue with the sunrise. Begin the long drive back to Leh after a hearty breakfast. Stop for lunch at Karu on your way back to Leh. Stunning views of hillocks and the mountains beyond with the contrast of rare green and barren lands against spotless blue skies make most of the drive on rugged terrain from Hemis to Thiksey. Head back to your hotel or visit the local markets once you're back in Leh.
Fly out of Leh
Expect much heavier bags, and probably no space left for pictures on your camera's memory card, as you get your baggage tagged for your flight home. Picturesque views and memories of these unique mountains will keep you on a happy high for a long time yet.