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Top 20 Things to do in Ladakh

Top 20 Things to do in Ladakh

By CarolUpdated Oct. 17, 2022

Once part of the Tibetan Empire, the remote region of Ladakh has now become one of India’s most prominent tourist destinations. The area attracts tourists with its mix of Tibetan Buddhist culture, dramatic scenery, and outdoor adventure activities.

Ladakh is filled with attractions to visit and activities to do. Some of the most famous are trekking, visiting historical places, such as Leh Palace and the Kargil War Memorial, visiting Buddhist monasteries, such as the Spituk and Basgo monasteries, and viewing stunning lakes, such as Pangong Lake and Tso Moriri.

Highlights

  • Leh Palace is a 17th-century palace that was built by King Sengge Namgyal in a Tibetan style of architecture.
  • Shanti Stupa is a white-domed structure built to celebrate 2,500 years of Buddhism.
  • Pangong Lake has been the filming site for many Bollywood movies, the most famous one being the 2009 hit movie 3 Idiots.
  • The Rinchen Cafeteria, located at the top of Khardung La, is the world’s highest cafeteria.
  • The Kargil War Memorial was built to honor the hundreds of soldiers who lost their lives during the Kargil War.

1. Walk Through Leh's Market Area

Recommended visiting time: 2–3 hours

Leh is a favorite destination in Ladakh. If you fly to Leh, make sure to visit the market area in the town center. The market area has many lanes that are filled with small shops selling a variety of products, such as shoes, clothes, jewelry, trekking gear, and carpets.

A renowned stall in this area is the Tibetan Refugee Market. There, travelers can buy items such as prayer wheels, singing bowls, and thangka paintings. When you have finished shopping, you can visit the Central Asian Museum on Main Bazaar Road to learn about Leh's role in the Silk Road trade.

Perfect for: people looking for souvenirs

Insider tip: Browse all the stalls to find the best prices for the same items.

2. Go for a Walk to See Heritage Sites in Leh's Old Town

Recommended visiting time: 3 hours

Leh's atmospheric Old Town is located behind the market area. The narrow lanes and centuries-old mud-brick houses showcase an intact example of historic Tibeto-Himalayan urban settlements.

Lasting for about 2 to 3 hours, you will see the area’s most famous attractions. In the heritage walk, you can pass through several Buddhist temples, such as Sumda Chun Monastery and Basgo Monastery, and mosques, such as the Jama Masjid and Shia’s Masjid-e-Sharif

Perfect for: architecture lovers

Insider tip: Visit during the winter months from November to February to have a pleasant outdoor experience.

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3. Explore Leh Palace

Recommended visiting time: 3–5 hours

Leh Palace is the most noticeable attraction in the city. It is one of the most historically rich structures in the country. The 17th-century palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in a Tibetan style of architecture and it served as his royal residence until the 19th century.

By paying 300 rupees, you can enter and wander around the ruins in the palace grounds. You can visit Leh Palace Museum, which displays the royal utensils, ceremonial dresses, jewelry, ornaments, and crowns.

Perfect for: history lovers

Insider tip: Stay there in the evening to get an amazing sunset view at the top of the palace.

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4. Marvel at Shanti Stupa

Recommended visiting time: 1–2 hours

Shanti Stupa is a white-domed structure that was built between 1983 and 1991 to celebrate 2,500 years of Buddhism. Constructed on two levels, the first level holds a gold statue of the Buddha and the Dharmachakra (wheel of life). The second level depicts the life, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha.

Standing atop a steep hilltop, the stupa overlooks the entire city of Leh and offers picturesque views of Changspa village nearby. Shanti Stupa is even more mesmerizing at night when it is illuminated by the moonlight and bright lights.

Perfect for: nature lovers

Insider tip: Stay in the evening to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

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5. Savor the Local Food

Recommended visiting time: 1–2 hours

Ladakh food is a combination of and heavily influenced by other regions’ food, such as Indian, Kashmiri, Tibetan, Chinese, and even Korean. The most famous dishes are momos (dumplings) and thukpa (noodle soup). A unique dish is skyu, a delicious indigenous pasta stew with root vegetables.

Many great restaurants serve these delicious local foods. Dzomsa on Fort Road makes authentic Ladakhi breakfasts that feature khambir (bread), butter tea with yak butter and salt, and homemade apricot preserve. The Tibetan Kitchen on Fort Road makes succulent momos and other Tibetan fare.

Perfect for: foodies

Insider tip: To get an authentic vibe, eat at local restaurants.

6. Visit the Buddhist Monasteries

Recommended visiting time: 1–2 hours

Ladakh is home to numerous Buddhist monasteries since almost half the population there practices Tibetan Buddhism. When visiting Ladakh, visiting one of the monasteries is a must.

Spituk Monastery is the closest monastery to Leh, located 18 kilometers away from the city. The monastery houses 100 monks and features amazing views of the Indus Valley below it and a giant statue of Kali. Other monasteries to be visited are Basgo Monastery near Alchi and Diskit Monastery in the Nubra Valley.

Perfect for: pilgrims and history lovers

Insider tip: Some monasteries can't be reached by road so you will have to trek or ride a pony there.

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7. Go Trekking

Recommended visiting time: 4–14 days

Ladakh is a paradise for trekkers. With all the different treks available with various levels of difficulty, there is always something for everyone. In this region, trekkers can discover high-altitude passes, ancient Buddhist temples, unique flora and fauna, traditional villages, and even frozen rivers.

Beginners can take on the Sham Trek, which takes about 4 days to complete. For advanced and adventurous trekkers, the Chadar Trek along the frozen Zanskar River might interest you. It is said to be the most difficult trek in India.

Perfect for: adventurous trekkers

Insider tip: There are many village homestay accommodations for those who don’t want to camp out.

8. Revel in the Beauty of Pangong Lake

Recommended visiting time: 1–2 hours

The sparkling blue Pangong Lake is 12 kilometers long and extends from India to Tibet. This picturesque lake has been the filming site for many Bollywood movies, the most famous one being the 2009 hit movie 3 Idiots.

Pangong Lake is known for its serenity and tranquility. Visitors go there to admire the beauty of its impeccable blue waters. During the migration season, you might also get a glimpse of ducks and gulls on the lake.

Perfect for: nature lovers

Insider tip: Permits are required to visit the area as it is a disputed territory.

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9. Eat at the World’s Highest Cafeteria

Recommended visiting time: 10–15 minutes

Khardung La is known for being wrongly claimed as the highest motorable road in the world. Even so, the pass is still really high at an elevation of 17,582 feet. As you reach the top, you will be greeted by an amazing view of snow-clad mountains, mountain valleys, and winding roads.

At the top of the pass, you can find the world’s highest cafeteria called the Rinchen Cafeteria. This café is truly a haven for travelers craving a plate of instant noodles, momos, and a cup of coffee after a long and tiring journey.

Perfect for: trekkers

Insider tip: Avoid spending more than 15 minutes there to avoid dizziness.

10. Go on a Camel Safari

Recommended visiting time: 3 hours

Camel safaris through the desert are synonymous and commonly done in Rajasthan, such as in Jaisalmer or Bikaner. However, it is also possible to go on a camel safari through the sand dunes in Ladakh if you want to.

The camel safari in Ladakh will have you riding Bactrian camels that have two humps. They used to be the major mode of transport to travel to the Silk Road.

You will be taken through the sand dunes between Diskit and Hunder in the Nubra Valley. Safaris are carried out from 9am to 12pm and 3pm to 6pm.

Perfect for: adventurous travelers

Insider tip: Sumur is another place in the Nubra Valley to go for camel safaris.

11. Go River Rafting

Recommended visiting time: 3 hours

If you are up for an adrenaline-pumping adventure, then river rafting might be perfect for you. A rafting expedition along Ladakh’s rivers is one of the top adventure activities in India.

In this adventure, you will raft along the Indus and Zanskar rivers, with various grade rapids at different levels. One favorite passage is the Chilling-to-Nimmu stretch of the Indus River, which will take about 3 hours and has plenty of rapids to pass through.

Perfect for: adventure lovers

Insider tip: The best time to go rafting is from June to September.

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12. Visit the Renowned Magnetic Hill

Recommended visiting time: 1 hour

Magnetic Hill on Srinagar-Leh Highway is said to be a gravity hill where vehicles defy the force of gravity. When your vehicle is parked and placed in neutral gear at the marked location, it will appear to roll uphill on this bizarre stretch of road.

According to many theories, there is a real magnetic force present that can be experienced if you fly above the hill in a helicopter or airplane. Theories aside, the hill is a nice place to stop just for fun and to experience the mystery yourself. 

Perfect for: mystery lovers

Insider tip: Visit Magnetic Hill from July to September as the weather is nicest during this period.

13. Marvel at the Confluence of the Indus and Zanskar Rivers

Recommended visiting time: 1–2 hours

One of the most fascinating parts of nature in Ladakh is Sangam, the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. Located not far from Nimmu, the confluence can be seen from a scenic viewpoint on Srinagar-Leh Highway.

At times, the water of the Indus River can be seen as shiny blue in color while the Zanskar River is dirty green. The water is also rapid in the Zanskar River during the summer while it is calm in the Indus River and vice versa during the winter.

Perfect for: nature lovers

Insider tip: Visit at around 10am for the best light and brightest spectacle.

14. Visit the Kargil War Memorial

Recommended visiting time: 1–2 hours

Kargil is the joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh and is the region’s second-largest town after Leh. The town has been the site of some horrible border clashes with Pakistan. The worst incident occurred in 1999 when the Kargil War broke out.

To honor the hundreds of soldiers who lost their lives during the war, the Indian Army built the Kargil War Memorial at the war zone in Drass, located about an hour from Kargil toward Srinagar.

There, visitors can see displays of a Bofors gun, MiG-21 fighter aircraft, war bunkers, an eternal flame, and stones with soldiers' names engraved on them.

Perfect for: history lovers

Insider tip: You can watch a 20-minute documentary about the Kargil War at the memorial.

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15. Rejuvenate at Tso Moriri

Recommended visiting time: 1–2 hours

If you want to have a relaxing vacation, then Tso Moriri is the place to go. Being a twin to Pangong Lake, Tso Moriri offers a scenic place of peace and tranquillity featuring barren hills and snow-covered mountains.

Not only will you enjoy peace and serenity there but you can also see several species of birds, such as the bar-headed goose, the great crested grebe, the Brahminy duck, and the brown-headed gull.

Perfect for: honeymooners

Insider tip: April to July is the best time to visit the lake when the waters transform into beautiful different shades of blue.

16. Visit the Donkey Sanctuary

Recommended visiting time: 1 hour

Donkeys are almost as common in India as cows and dogs are. When they reach the end of their useful working lives, they are abandoned on the streets and left to be attacked by stray dogs. Luckily, the Donkey Sanctuary in Leh provides a home for these animals.

The sanctuary is a very lively barn with witty posters and graffiti and it cares for up to 30 donkeys at a time. They feed and treat the injured donkeys. There, visitors are also allowed to pet and feed the animals.

Perfect for: animal lovers

Insider tip: Don’t be afraid to pet the donkeys as they are very gentle.

17. See the Rare Snow Leopards

Recommended visiting time: 2–3 hours

At an altitude ranging from 3,300 to 6,000 meters above sea level, the Hemis High Altitude Wildlife Sanctuary is named after the famous monastery, Hemis Gompa, and is the world’s highest sanctuary.

The Hemis High Altitude Wildlife Sanctuary is a habitat to the endangered snow leopards. There, you can also spot ibex, shapu, bharal, and 73 varieties of birds. The sanctuary is also the perfect place for a nature walk as it is filled with several alpine and steppe trees.

Perfect for: animal lovers

Insider tip: June to September is the best time to visit the sanctuary.

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18. Visit Stok Palace

Recommended visiting time: 2–3 hours

Located about 15 kilometers from Leh, the 19th-century Stok Palace is the summer house of the current royal family of Ladakh and the descendants of King Sengge Namgyal. It has been converted into a heritage hotel and the royal family’s museum.

The complex comprises Stok Monastery, beautiful gardens, and a huge library containing 108 volumes of Kangur, a collection of the teachings of Lord Buddha. The museum displays some of the royal family’s treasures including the queen's ancient turquoise and gold-encrusted crown, the king’s sword, and many jewels.

Perfect for: history lovers

Insider tip: If you want to stay at the hotel, it is only open during the summer months.

19. Shop for Souvenirs at Local Markets

Recommended visiting time: 2 hours

Visiting a foreign land is incomplete without buying some souvenirs for your loved ones.  Ladakh is full of items for everyone to buy ranging from pocket-friendly tokens to pieces of sartorial luxury and adornments for your home.

There are, however, some items that are more special than others. Some of the items you can buy are Tibetan artifacts, thangka paintings, Buddha statues, pashmina shawls and other woolen items, Kashmiri carpets and rugs, and apricot jam.

These items can all be found in different markets, such as Leh Main Bazaar, the Tibetan Handicraft Emporium, the Ladakh Art Palace, and the Ladakh Apricot Store.

Perfect for: souvenir hunters

Insider tip: Check different stores to find the best prices.

20. Spot Himalayan Marmots

Recommended visiting time: 20–30 minutes

While on your way to Pangong Lake, you might encounter some vehicles stopping on the side of the road. The place is a popular spot to see Himalayan marmots, which are large ground squirrels emerging from their winter hibernation.

The Himalayan marmots are among the longest-hibernating mammals in the world. They are usually very shy but the ones there are used to tourists so they are friendly and will approach people.

Perfect for: animal lovers

Insider tip: Do not feed the marmots as it causes concerning changes to their behavior.

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Ladakh is full of exciting places and fun activities to explore. If you plan to make a trip to Ladakh, contact Asia Highlights. We are experts at making tailor-made trips that suit your preferences.

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