Two Indian destinations have been repeatedly recommended to us as non-negotiable “must-sees” in India: Goa and Leh. We spent a week at the former over this past winter break, and it was every bit as gorgeous, peaceful and balmy (about 100°F in the dead of winter) as people claimed. During summer break, while most of India is inhospitably hot, a high-altitude northern destination like Leh has ideal weather. Indeed, the busy tourist season lasts from about June to September, then Leh basically goes into hibernation until the snow melts. There are only two roads into town and both are closed to traffic for about 7 months out of the year. Rinzin, our driver, works very hard for 4 or 5 months driving tourists around then goes back to his village until the roads open again.
Leh is the capital of the former Kingdom of Ladakh, which is in the northwesternmost corner of India between Pakistan and Tibet/China. Situated at nearly 12,000’ in the Indus River Valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks on all sides, it’s an ideal base for excursions to various valleys, passes, lakes, and monasteries. There’s not much to do in Leh itself, but the draw is its stunning and otherworldly setting, and just getting there is half the experience. The Leh-Manali highway in particular is always on those lists of the most amazing roads in the world.
But it’s a very pleasant place to stay. The weather in summer is a perfect concoction of warm sun and cool air. They only get 4″ of rain per year, so they’ve adapted by redirecting snow-melt into a maze of streams which meander through town and provide much needed irrigation, which means wherever you go, there is a babbling brook. The locals, who are largely of Tibetan descent, have figured out who butters their bread, so everybody it seems either drives a jeep for hire, rents mountain bikes, organizes treks, sells Tibetan handicrafts, or runs a restaurant or internet cafe. Leh is charmingly rustic, and most Ladakhi architecture (which may be Tibetan) is just stone blocks, but each window is accented by ornately carved window and doorframes like this:
Most of our time in Ladakh was spent exploring the areas surrounding Leh, like the Pangong Tso lake and Nubra Valley, but here are a few pictures from the town itself: