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What do you like about Ladakh?” I asked as we sipped hot cup of tea under the fruit trees in the lush hotel garden overlooking the mighty and shining Himalayas. Without waiting a minute they said that it were the colours, often changing, which had fascinated them as they viewed the mountains and the sky.

Jochen was quick to add that the monks praying at the Thiksey Monastery, 20 km from Leh, was a sight that couldn’t be forgotten. The sheer number of the monks and their devotion impressed the couple. They compared this trip to their earlier tour of Tibet in 2006, where they found the monks and prayers for show rather than for real like in Ladakh monasteries.

There is much more feeling here that is devoid of superficial demonstration,” said the couple. While they could talk to the monks freely here, in Tibet there was fear all round. The tourists were impressed by the game of polo being played at such an altitude. After the 24-hour ‘embargo’ during which calm, peace, good vegetarian food and books kept me busy, I decided to visit the Thiksey Gompa built in 1430 on a hill top north of the Indus river, which is still home to scores of monks.

My next stop was at Stok Palace dating back to the time when the invading Dogra Forces deposed the King of Ladakh. My guide, Gyurmet Stanzin, who is also a trekker and photographer told me about many other famous monasteries like Shey, Hemis, Alchi, Lamayuru (the oldest) and Spituk, which have their own stories to tell.

But we decided to stop at the sprawling Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre with the slogan of ‘meditation in action’ and ‘compassion in action’ run by Bhikkhu Sanghasena since 1986. The monk’s focus is on education and he has virtually converted barren land into a thriving place for education and meditation.

Here I happened to meet Thupsten Cheweng, the local Member of Parliament, who has watched this centre grow. In the evening, I met Jigmed Wangchuk Namgyal, who has taken upon himself the responsibility of pioneering the concept of long-term sustainability for many Ladakh attractions, especially the monasteries. “UNESCO has also shown interest in this,” he informs, adding that it is important to preserve the sites for which the tourists come to Ladakh. He, however, quipped, “The short tourist season, because of the weather, may well be a blessing.”

Before my short trip to Leh came to an end, I found time to meet Tundup Dorjey, who has done his Masters in Tourism from Pondicherry and now runs the highly successful Overland Escape travel agency making sure that community-based tourism gets a boost so that the people, both the visitors and the hosts, gain from this growing activity.

Driving through Kulu-Manali area ensures quicker acclimatisation and promises more adventure on the way. I hope to visit this beautiful destination once again, which is truly a must-see for not only the tourists but also the residents of India.

By road — One can take the 434-km Srinagar-Leh road. J&K State Road Transport Corporation operates bus services between Srinagar and Leh. Himachal Pradesh Tourism also operates buses from Manal to Leh.
By air — Indian Airlines and Jet Airways have flights from Delhi to Leh.

• Nine-storied Leh Palace, Stok Palace Museum
• Lamayuru - the oldest religious centre
• Alchi monastery is another famous monastery
• Hemis monastery is well known for its•possessions and annual summer festival
• Thiksay rates high on architectural impact
• Festival performances at Likir and Phyang with their proximity to Leh are great attractions
• Shey, Spituk and Sankar monasteries are suitable for visitors with time at a premium
• Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre, the mosque and Moravian Church in Leh speak of religious harmony

State Tourism Department is developing tourist complexes and hiker’s huts at Tangse, Spangmik, Sakti, Rumtse, Hunder, Panamik and Saspol. Homestays are also available.


Barman, Changla Queen, Friends Corner, Guru Chat, Instyle

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