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Video: Leh snowfallVideo: Motorcycle trip to Leh LadakhVideo: Leh-Mountain bikingVideo: Leh-by stephen knappRoad to Nubra

Overview 

Leh, the capital of Ladakh is situated at an altitude of 3505 meters, towards the eastern part of Jammu and Kashmir. Leh sprawls from the foot of the palace with the desert on one side and lush green irrigated farmland on the other. A beautiful destination for nature and adventure enthusiasts, Leh is also known for it’s strong Tibeto-Buddhist culture. One can see many vibrant gompas in and around Leh which attract not only the Buddhists, but the general public from all over.
The Govt. of India decided to open Ladakh to tourists in 1974, since then, this region has become quite populated and has seen a huge influx of tourists. During July - August tourists stroll shoulder to shoulder down its main street, buying wares from handloom shops and eating in the numerous Tibetan restaurants.

Leh offers many places to visit within the town and its nearby surroundings. The most famous attraction being the former Palace and Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, situated amidst prayer flags above the lanes of the Old Quarter. The monastery of Sankar has tantric murals and a thousand beaded Avalokitesvara deity. Other places which can be visited from Leh are Shey – site of a 17th century palace and the marvelous Thiksey Gompa.

The Leh Palace, known as "Lhachen Palkhar" was built by Dharmaraja Singey Namgial in 1600. The aesthetically designed Leh Mosque, in the main Bazaar is worth visiting. The Stok Palace, 15 kms south of Leh is now a museum showcasing the royals jewels, clothes, coins, etc. Shey Palace and Monastery, built by King Namgial during 17th century, has a 3 storey tall statue of Buddha Shakyamuni in copper guilt. The Thiksey Gompa belonging to the Gelukpa order is one of the most striking monasteries in Ladakh. One can see the remains of a very large temple today, and also view the sacred dance performed during the Gustor ritual.

Leh In Winters
It’s a famous Tibetan saying: "If a place can be reached by crossing high passes, only the best of the friends or the worst of the enemies can visit the place."
Leh has a cold desert climate with harsh winters from October to early March, with minimum temperatures below freezing point for most of the winter and with occasional snowfall. The roads leading to Leh from Manali and Kargil are closed in winters. Manali-Leh highway opens sometimes in end of May or starting of June, while the Kargil/Drass road opens around in April because of the army movement. Chopper services are available from areas around Kargil/Drass to Leh in winters and very nominal rates, courtesy Indian Army!!
The only feasible way to visit Leh in winters is by Air- Indian Airlines/GoAir and Jet operate thier flights at regular intervals and if you are unlucky, your flight might be cancelled because of snowfall at Leh airport, which is located at an amazing place amidst mighty Himalayas.
The guest houses on the Changspa road are mostly shut down in winters but there are few hotels who do business in winters too- Yak Tail, Tso Kar to name a few. Even if you go there without prior booking , you’ll get decent accommodation. Taxi services work in full flow in winters so travelling around Leh is not a problem but if you plan to go on treks make sure you have prior bookings since only a handful of travel agents work in winters.
Leh city is not the same in winters as it may appear in summers. Changspa road that hustles and bustles with tourists, eateries and cafes gives a deserted look with none of the eating joints open. All the bakeries are closed and consider yourself blessed if you get any American/Italian or Continental food in winters in any of the restaurants that are open. Talking about the restaurants in winters- you'll find just a few Punjabi Dhabas, serving oil slicking Chole Bhature and Parantha and few Tibetans restaurants serving Thukpa, Chowmins ,momos, fired rice and few other Tibetan food. Couple of restaurants that are open in winters are Amdo and Shangrila, both of which are in the main market. Just an advice avoid eating any non-Tibetan tempting dishes in winters, you don’t want to eat stuff that has been stored for the last 4 months!! All the roof top cafes are closed. Carry your own water because all the shops would sell you frozen water bottles.
Winters are very harsh, so carry enough woolens. Even if you still feel cold, you can buy woolens from Leh. Don’t buy Northface/Columbia/Mamout/Mountain Hard Wear stuff from Leh especially the super market- it is not legitimate stuff!! Instead buy the woolens that come from Nepal, they are warm and cheap.
You can find few internet cafes open in winters, one of them is in the small market just opposite Amdo Café. Even though the charges are on the higher side, the internet café had good connectivity and if you are carrying your own laptop he’ll allow you to use the Wifi too!!
If you are travelling to Leh in the month of Jan/Feb, don’t miss the Leh Ice Skating/hockey tournaments and if you are interested in ice skating you can go for a spin at the frozen pond just opposite DC residence. Carry your own skating boots and don’t buy ice skating boots from Leh, you’ll have to buy them at a great premium. Skating is also done on the frozen Indus at Karu just before you enter Leh from Phey side.
Leh palace is closed in winters and open on Dosmoche -2nd March. Dosmoche is one of the most important festivals of Leh and people from all over throng Leh and Leh. The road from the mosque till the Polo ground is stuffed with people eager to buy things and people eager to sell things on the road sides.
It’s a misconception that Khardung La, Nubra and Pangong Tso are closed in winters. All three places are open to tourists provided there has been no recent snowfall. But you still require permit to visit these places.
No good bookshops are open in winters. If you are fond of reading carry your own books, you’ll be lucky to find a good collection of books in just one book shop that is open in winters.
Most important- Don’t litter, don’t use polythene bags and don’t tamper with the place and their culture.

Hidden Gems! 

SHAM AREA TREKS AND HOME STAYS:

On the Leh Kargil highway this region lies on the eastern side and is called the eastern part of Ladakh. Literally it menas ‘lower area’ and therefore it includes most of the areas lower than Leh. More precisely and practically, it comprise of the area of Indus valley from Nemo and down along the Indus till it enters Pakistan. The whole area is comparatively on a lower altitude and has plenty of greenery and vegetation. The climatic condition changes to an extent that Saspol and below there is double cropping pattern possible, wheras in Leh only single cropping pattern is possible. Along with the crops, there is plenty of horticulture plantation. Appricot is perhaps one of the main fruit, which is exported out from Ladakh.
There are many villages and monasteries on this trek and all of the passes are under 4000m. It can be undertaken throughout the year as none of the passes gets snowbound.The Sham trekking route is a comparatively easy trek, and passes through picturesque Himalayan Homestay villages of Basgo-Tunglung, Tarutse, Yangthang Tokpo, Ulley, Hemis-shukpachan and Ang.
Enroute the treks you can experience the Ladakhi culture and help the local people generate income. For booking govt. approved homestays, you can go to http://www.himalayan-homestays.com/ladakpages/default.html . Following is the tentative number of homestays in the villlages on the trek.
Yangthang (4 households)
Ullay (4 households)
Hemis-ShukpaChan (5 households)
Ang (5 households)


CHANGTHANG

Changthang is a high altitude plateau in western and northern Tibet extending into South Eastern Ladakh, with vast highlands and giant lakes. From Eastern Ladakh changtang stretches approximately 1600 km east into Tibet, as far as the state of Qinghai. All of it is geographically part of Tibetan plateau. It is the home of the Changpa nomads.
The people of the Changtang are nomadic pastoralists, they are known as 'Changpa', for 'northerners,' or 'Drukpa' for 'nomads' in Tibetan.The temperature in the region varies from -5° Celsius to -35° Celsius in winter and up to a maximum of 30° Celsius in summer with Average snowfall is less than 10 mm. Large areas of Changtang are semi-arid, with very little vegetation growth in the whole region. Agriculture lands and pastures are confined to limited areas along the riverbanks.
To reach Changthang ,from the base of Tanglang La on the Manali side one takes a detour to the south eastern part of Ladakh and hits the Changthang Plateau. The famous lakes of Pangong Tso, Tso Kar and Tso Moriri are part of this area.

SECMOL:

SECMOL - THE STUDENTS' EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL MOVEMENT OF LADAKH
The Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) was founded in 1988 by a group of young Ladakhis to reform the educational system of Ladakh. Over the years their activities have been varied, and are now mainly focused on activities for Ladakhi youth.

SECMOL'S CAMPUS AT PHEY
SECMOL Campus is located near the village of Phey in the Indus valley 18 km from Leh. It was developed between 1994 and 1999 and was inaugurated in 1998 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Built using simple, low-cost traditional techniques, the campus now comprises three residential houses, 20 small 'cell rooms' and a large school building, all solar heated. More than a thousand trees have been planted, and a vegetable garden.
The campus is home to about 40 students and a few staff and volunteers, who live, work and study here. From time to time, it hosts trainings, workshops and youth camps for up to 100 additional people.
The campus is maintained, and to a large degree run, by the students themselves on a democratic basis. A photovoltaic (solar electric) system provides year-round, 24-hour electricity for lighting, TV, computers and tools, as well as for pumping water up from the Indus River. A very simple but cheap and efficient solar water heater warms water for bathing. All SECMOL buildings are heated through the winter solely by passive solar design.
Students, volunteers and staff live together on the campus, creating a rich and lively atmosphere perfect for inter-cultural exchange. The students take care of everything on campus, and have responsibilities for everything from maintaining the solar electricity to milking the cows to buying the food for the kitchen to cleaning.
On personal note, after volunteering for one month at SECMOL and teaching kids Mathematics, English and Computers and I can very well say that it had been the best one month of my life. There is no better place to stay if you are planning to visit Leh in winters. The place is amazing, the environment is electrifying and kids and staff are great. If you are interested in trekking, the staff there can help you in organizing your treks too and that too at cheaper rates.
SECMOL has been working for the development and well being of the Ladakhi students and honing their confidence and preparing them for their higher education.
To know more about the institution you can check out their website- www.secmol.org

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Useful Trivia

DOs 

1.Yak safaris, jeep safaris, Losar and Ladakh festivals are somethings you would not like to miss!
2.Carry appropriate clothing with you. Carry jackets and pullowers as it gets quite cold in the evening. IF you are trekking during the rainy season, carry raincoats and extra shoes.
3.While trekking, carry tablets to purify water. You may get high pressure boiled water from Dzomsa Laundry for Rs.7 per liter. Bring your own water container.

DON'Ts 

1.Don't use poly bags. They are banned here.
2.During trekking, don't disturb the wildlife and ecology.
3.Don't click pictures of people without permission.

Local Shopping 

SUPER MARKET:
Don’t buy Northface/Columbia/Mamout/Mountain Hard Wear stuff from Leh especially the super market- it is not legitimate stuff!! Instead buy the woolens that come from Nepal, they are warm and cheap.

We hope that we have been of help in finding the required info for Leh.

Do allow us to help you find the cheapest hotel or flight for your visit!

Happy journey!
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