It seems anyone who has visited this “land of high passes” inevitably is at a loss for words in describing just how beautiful it is. In fact, the word we’ve heard when asked what they thought was simply: WOW. Lying between the Kunlun Mountains in the north and the Himalayas to the south, Ladakh is the northernmost state of India. India specialist, Susan Geringer, provides some insight and tips on planning a visit.
FarewellTravels: Ladakh has been called “Little Tibet.” Why is that?
Susan Geringer: Ladakh borders Tibet and the majority of its residents are influenced by the Tibetan culture. They’ve been practicing Tibetan Buddhism uninterrupted for the last 1000 years. Physically, the Ladakhi people’s facial features and physique are similar to Tibetans and they do not look like Indians. In fact, some people actually left Tibet due to the Chinese invasion and now call Ladakh home.
FarewellTravels: Because of the Buddhist population, clearly there are monasteries to visit. Do you have any tips or recommendations for visiting them?
Susan Geringer: I think one should go with an open mind to learn about the Buddhist culture. The monasteries are filled with beautiful and interesting Thanka paintings and many Buddha statues. Do note that upon entering a monastery, you must take off your shoes and always walk clockwise inside.
FarewellTravels: What kind of active diversions are there in Ladakh?
Susan Geringer: Besides its monasteries and palaces, Ladakh is a great destination for adventure-seekers—those who are very adventurous (rock climbing and such) and those who just like to get out and explore. Treks, which include camping in tents, can be planned for many days or weeks, but one can also just hike for several hours or for the day. There’s also white-water rafting and mountain biking. One can also take a Jeep safari to see birds and other wildlife.
FarewellTravels: Does one have to be super fit to hike in Ladakh?
Susan Geringer: No. There are all levels of hikes. But it is very important to acclimatize to the low oxygen levels. We flew from Delhi to Leh and were told to hang out at our hotel until the next morning so we would not have problems with altitude sickness. Diamox may be suggested by your doctor .
FarewellTravels: Would you recommend a trip to this part of the world for a family with teens?
Susan Geringer: That is a tough question. I really think it depends upon the teens’ interests. Ladakh does not have the buzz or energy of European cities. There are no beaches and no hotel pools. The teens will have to be able to immerse themselves in a totally different culture from what they are used to. I think Ladakh is best for families with teens who want to get out and be really active. It’s an unrealistic expectation to think any teen is going to want to just visit monasteries and palaces and drive around looking at the gorgeous scenery.
FarewellTravels: What is the food like and are there any specialties you think we shouldn’t miss?
Susan Geringer: Thupka (noodle soup) and momos (vegetarian dumplings) are Ladakh specialties. We ate Maggie noodles and momos at Rinchen Cafeteria at Khardung La pass at 18, 380 ft. Somehow, Maggie noodles never tasted better than at this altitude.
FarewellTravels: We know that the famous Snow Leopard lives in Ladakh. Is it possible to see one?
Susan Geringer: It is extremely rare..you’d be extremely lucky to see one.
FarewellTravels: What else is there to see and do in Ladakh?
Susan Geringer: Another interesting experience is a hosted family dinner or a home stay. These are provided by locals for foreigners and provide a real window into the life in Ladakh.
FarewellTravels: When is the best time of the year to visit Ladakh?
Susan Geringer: June to September. Before and after, days are short and cold. Winter is extremely cold and only one hotel in Leh is open.
A great time to visit Ladakh is in July during the Hemis Festival where one can observe wonderful masked dancers and music. There is also a festival with dancing and music in Leh at the beginning of September.
FarewellTravels: How much time should we plan on staying there and is there another Indian destination you would recommend combining it with?
Susan Geringer: I would say 7 to 10 nights. For the first time visitor to India, I would combine Ladakh with Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur.
Photo Credits: All photographs by Susan Geringer