This morning, take the scenic flight soaring over the Himalayas and admire the breathtaking views of the snow-covered peaks of Ladakh, also known as “Little Tibet”. After one and a half hours, reach Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport and head to your hotel in Leh where you can rest for a couple of hours. Leh, the capital city of the Union Territory of Ladakh, is at 3,500 metres altitude. You should take it slow on the first day so that your body can adjust properly to the lack of oxygen. Enjoy authentic local food in a Ladakhi restaurant.
After lunch, walk through the narrow medieval streets of the old town to the Leh palace. The palace is an imposing mud-brick building with nine floors. It was constructed in the 17th century and it remained the residence of the Ladakhi royal family until the middle of the 19th century. Just above the palace, the Buddhist monastery of Namgyal Tsemo is a landmark that is visible from anywhere in Leh. Located 150 metres above the town, this monastery with hundreds of colourful prayer flags flapping in the wind makes an amazing photo spot. Later in the afternoon, you should visit the Shanti Stupa, a white pagoda-style monument standing atop a hill. It was built in 1991 to promote world peace and it offers the best viewpoint in Leh. From the top, the view embraces the whole city of Leh, the Indus valley and various mountain ranges including the Stok range with the impressive Stok Kangri peak towering at more than 6,000 metres. In the evening, head back to the Main Bazar where local people wearing Gonchas (traditional Ladakhi outfit) sell vegetables and other local products. Nearby, you could visit the Gompa Soma surrounded by dozens of prayer wheels and the beautiful Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Ladakh.
Today is dedicated to the visit of “Sham”, the west part of the Indus valley. This area of Ladakh is at the same altitude as Leh so it helps to acclimatize gently. The first stop on this 150 km day tour is at the puzzling Magnetic Hill where a vehicle with engine turned off and in neutral gear appears to be rolling uphill… A phenomenon that you must witness by yourself! Just 30 km from Leh, you reach the popular Sangam viewpoint, the confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers. Rising above the village, the Basgo monastery contains a two-storey statue of the Future Buddha. For lunch, you can find restaurants in the pleasant village of Alchi on the bank of the Indus river. Then, visit the famous 11th-century Alchi monastery, the oldest Buddhist gompa in Ladakh. The monastery houses some of the most outstanding murals in Ladakh. On the other side of the Indus river is the charming village of Likir dominated by the Likir monastery. This gompa is well-known for its 22m-high statue of Maitreya Buddha situated just next to the main building. On the way back to Leh, stop at Gurdwara Pathar Sahib (a well-known sacred place for Sikhs) and Spituk monastery.
This morning, drive towards the Nubra valley via the Khardung La pass, the highest driveable road in the world at an altitude of 5,602 metres above sea level. From the top of the pass, enjoy the wonderful panorama of the Karakoram mountains unfolding before your eyes. The wide and flat Nubra valley (“the valley of flowers” in Ladakhi) is tucked in the lap of the Himalayas at an average altitude of 3,100 metres. Head to Diskit, the largest settlement in Nubra. The main attraction here is the Diskit monastery spectacularly located atop a rocky peak. The gompa was built in the 15th century, it is the oldest one in the valley. It belongs to the Gelugpa order (“yellow hat”). At the top of nearby hill, the gigantic 32-metre-high Chamba statue was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 2010. A few kilometres further on the left bank of the Shayok river, Hunder village offers several accommodation options.
After breakfast, enjoy a Bactrian camel ride across the the rolling Hunder sand dunes. These camels were brought to Ladakh when Hunder was a stopping point for caravans travelling on the Silk Route. These days, there are approximately 200 Bactrian camels living in the Nubra valley. Then, head to Sumur, a pleasant village on the bank of the Nubra river. Here, you can visit the Samstanling gompa before driving back to Leh.
Over the next 3 days, you will embark on one of the most adventurous road trips in the Himalayas. From Leh, drive to the Changthang plateau. It takes approximately 3 hours to reach Chumathang at an altitude of 4,000m, where you can find few eateries and have a tea break. Chumathang is famous for its mineral-rich hot springs that are reputed to treat skin diseases and joint pains. Then, drive another 70 km to the breathtaking Tso Moriri lake. It is situated at an altitude of 4,530m, stretching up to 26 km long and 8 km wide. The area around the lake is a part of the wetland reserve under Ramsar site and is known as Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve. Korzok village is located at the north-west of the lake. It comprises of approximately fifty households and it is a nice place to stay overnight.
Enjoy the surreal beauty of Tso Moriri lake in the morning light. Then, head to Tso Kar lake, a marvellous breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. With luck, you might see the rare black-necked crane. The shores of Tso Kar lake are covered with a thick crust of white salt. It used to be a source of salt for the people of Ladakh and Tibet. After 10 minutes drive from Tso Kar, join the Leh-Manali road and head south to Pang. There is another 76 km to reach the small village of Sarchu where you can stay overnight in a camp. Sarchu is located halfway between Leh and Manali (251 km from Leh and 222 km from Manali).
After 2 hours drive from Sarchu on the Leh-Manali highway, you reach Jispa in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 3,200m. From here, you can see the landscape changing and getting greener. Drive over the Rothang La pass before reaching Manali. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas at an altitude of 2,050m, Manali is popular and pleasant Indian hill station. The town is located 550 km from Delhi and dozens of buses connect these 2 places every day in approximately 14 hours.