Leh, the ancient capital of kingdoms past, nestled between the magnificent mountains of the Himalayas and situated on the banks of the Indus River, is one of the most important cities of Trans-Himalayan region. Once the seat of power for the Tang Dynasty and their descendants, Leh is now the administrative capital of the Ladakh Region. It used to be a stopping point between the ancient trading routes in the Indus Valley. Rocks of limestone, found in abundance around Leh, were a major trading commodity in past. Today, Leh is a major tourist destination, with at least a 100,000 tourists visiting last year alone. It allows access to various remote destinations in and around Ladakh such as, Turtuk, Pangong lake, Khardungla Top (Highest motorable pass in the world), etc.
The city has developed quite significantly in the past 3 years, but has still retained its distinct Tibetan aesthetic. The city is frequented by tourists looking to spend leisure time among the mountains. As you travel down the Manali-Leh Highway and start to enter the city, you will see player flags fluttering in the wind on the streets. The center of the city is the famous Leh Market, a vast plaza with authentic culturally aesthetics shops, traditional dress boutiques, restaurants serving local cuisine, etc. One can spend hours leisurely walking through the market. As you explore the market, you will come across quaint little cafes opened by people from other cultures and countries as well, where you can sit and unwind, talk to fellow travelers and enjoy good food in the chilly Himalayan night.
There are many places to see in and around Leh. You can visit the famous Shanti Stupa, a magnificent monument which is situated atop a hillock overlooking the city, the beautiful Leh Palace, which used to be the seat of power for many Ladakhi Dynasties, the famous War Memorial which chronicles the accomplishments of the brave men and women who defend our country’s borders. Just outside of Leh, you can visit the Lamayuru Monastery, Thiksey Monastery, Shey Palace, the confluence of the Indus-Zanskar river, Gurdwara Pathar Sahib, and many more.
Leh has a cold desert climate and has an elevation of 11,500 ft (3500 m). Being smack in the middle of the valley, Leh’s landscape is dominated by mountains, with two principle access roads. The Srinagar-Leh Highway which connects Leh with Srinagar, is 434 kms long, and the Manali-Leh highway, which connects Leh with Manali, is 473 kms long. Both roads are closed off during winter due to excess snowfall. However some local paths on the Indus valley floor remain open due to low precipitation and is suitable for treks. Leh Airport, too, remains open all year round. This enables trekking enthusiasts to participate in the famous Chaddar (Frozen River) Trek, which usually takes place during the winter months of December, January, February. The dominant culture in Leh is Tibetan Buddhism. You will see remnants of this ancient culture through the various monasteries, temples, the architecture and the cuisine.