Tourism is one of an economic contributor to the union territory of Ladakh in Northern India. The union territory is sandwiched between the Karakoram mountain range to the north and the Himalayas to the south and is situated at the height of 11,400 ft. Ladakh is composed of the Leh and Kargil districts. The region contains prominent Buddhist sites and has an ecotourism industry.
There are no open border crossings to the neighbouring Tibet Autonomous Region and Xinxiang, administered by China, or to Gilgit-Baltistan, administered by Pakistan.
No special permit is required to visit most of Ladakh, including Leh and Kargil towns.
Inner Line Permit (ILP), which can be obtained online, are required for all tourists to visit the "Inner Line" areas, the geostrategic restricted military border areas, such as Nubra Valley; Pangong Tso & Durbuk block (north of the Chang La pass); Tso-Moriri and Tso Kar lakes; Dah & Hanu villages; areas along the Indus River northwest of Khalatse and east of Upshi.
Foreigners can also obtain the permits for the restricted border areas, except they are not permitted in the specific border areas. Permits for foreigners are not available to go to the far reaches of each of the areas close to the LOC & LAC borders with Pakistan and China respectively. For example, foreigners can go to the edge of Pangong Lake and Maan and Merak villages, but not along the edge of it to Phobrang or Chushul villages; they cannot proceed east up the Indus from the Mahe bridge; and in Nubra they can only go as far as Panamik to the north and Turtuk to the west.
See also: India–China Border Roads
Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh has flights from Delhi year-round on Indigo, Vistara, GoFirst, and Air India. Air India also operates weekly flights to Jammu and Srinagar.
Bilaspur–Leh railway is under construction. The nearest railhead is Udhampur railway station connected with all major cities and towns in India.
The two roads into Ladakh from outside are the NH-3Srinagar District-Kargil-Leh Highway via Zoji La tunnel, and the high altitude Manali-Leh Highway via Atal Tunnel from Himachal Pradesh. Nimmu–Padum–Darcha road is a third road into Ladakh. Important roads within Ladakh are Nimmu–Padam–Darcha road, Chisumle-Demchok road, etc. Roads within Ladakh, except to Zangskar, are open all year round. Khardong-La Pass to Nubra can get closed by snow for several days in winter and spring. Chang-La pass to Pangong Lake rarely closes.
Buses serve the whole area from Leh and Kargil towns. Taxis are available in Leh and Kargil as well as in block headquarters like Tangtse, Diskit, and Khalsa. Shared taxis to Nubra, Kargil, Srinagar, and Zanskar leave Leh in the early morning.
Ladakh is divided into 2 areas: "East Ladakh" administered by India and "West Ladakh" administered by Pakistan.
Eastern Ladakh held by India is further subdivided in three regions: Western, Central and Eastern areas of East Ladakh.
Kargil and Leh are main cities in this region.
The Razi Khar (Chiktan kahr/Chiktan Palace), which is situated 76 km from Kargil and 180 km from Leh is situated on the highway from Kargil to Leh, and is the first Palace of the then ruler Thatha Khan.
In the northern areas, civilians and tourists are allowed to travel only up to Shyok village of Durbuk tehsil. It has geostrategic importance as it is the last Indian village on the 235 km long Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road in the north which connects it to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) military post 225 km away on the China border. Syok to BDO area is also called Sub-Sector North (SSN) by the Indian Military. Sasoma–Saser La Road will provide alternative connectivity to DBO.
Chushul, where access by road is permitted without permit, lies in the north area of central Ladakh.
The Thikse Monastery is the largest monastery in central Ladakh.
Main areas are Karzok and Hanle. Travel from Hanley to Demchok is not permitted for the civilians and tourists, only army contractors are allowed with permission from the Indian Army.
Among the places of tourist interest include Leh, Drass valley, Razi khar (Chiktan Khar), Suru valley, Kargil, Zangskar, Zangla, Rangdum, Padum, Phukthal, Sani Monastery, Stongdey, Shyok Valley, Sankoo, Salt Valley., Markha valley, Ladakh monastery trek, South Zangskar, Trans-Zangskar Expedition, Spiti to Ladakh, Spiti to Pitok to Hemis, Rupshu, the Great Salt lakes, Chadar Ice trek
Leh is capital of Ladakh. It has numerous tourist places including ancient palaces, monasteries, museums, war memorials and ecotourism. Just ahead of Leh Palace, the palace is the Chamba Temple, a shrine that has a large statue of Maitreya Buddha. In the bazaar, is the Jama Masjid painted green and white. Sankar Monastery welcomes a maximum of twenty monks at a time.
Treks include Manali to Ladakh, the Nubra valley, Pangong tso, Tso moriri, the Indus Valley, Markha valley, Ladakh monastery trek, South Zangskar, Trans-Zangskar Expedition, Spiti to Ladakh, Spiti to Pitok to Hemis, Rupshu, the Great Salt lakes - name given to lakes on Changthang plateau, Chadar trek (part of Nimmu–Padum–Darcha road, Other treks are Padum-Manali, Padum-Phuktal, Padam-Darcha, Panikhar-Heniskot, Lamayuru-Martselang, Lamayuru-Alchi, Kala Pattar trek, and Pahal.
In 2018, following 4 trails with night stay in Ladakh were opened for the tourists by the Go:
Ladakh, with rugged terrain having some of the tallest peaks and highest mountain passes of the world, offers several opportunities for adventure tourism.
Extreme adventure at Siachen Base Camp and Kumar Post is an army-run 30-day annual expedition for the medically fit civilians below the age of 45 from Siachen Base Camp to Kumar Base (16,000 ft), Indira Ridge, Indira Col (extreme northwestern point of India administered area) and other features,
Rafting is available in summers at various places, along Indus river and its tributaries, such as Chiling Sumda on the Zanskar River.
See also: List of Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh
There are numerous Buddhist monasteries managed by the All Ladakh Gonpa Association (ALGA) along the banks of various rivers of Indus River basin spread across the region. The area thrives on donations made by tourists and the local people of the region but now the government plans to develop these monasteries. The state government also plans to hire experts for landscaping of the barren regions and such a move was possible only after the Centre released funds.
About 65 km west of Leh, towards Zanskar river, is the village of Sumda Chun at height of 3500 mtr. The monastery of Sumda-Chun is one of the most important surviving early Tibetan Buddhist temples of the Ladakh region.
Three rock cut relief statues of Maitreya Buddhas (the Buddha who will be incarnated in the future, also called the "chamba" in local language) dating to 1 century BCE to 6th century CE, predating Tibetan Buddhism and 6th century Buddhas of Bamiyan of Afghanistan, were found carved in the riverine cliffs in the following 3 different locations in Ladakh. Since Taliban have already destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, very few such relic remain, these ancient Buddha statues in Ladakh in India still survive.
Main article: Mulbekh Monastery
The 9 meter tall "Mulbekh Maitreya Buddha statue" or "Mulbekh Chamba" in Gandhara art, dating back to 8th century CE Kushan period, at Mulbekh village 38 km Kargil from on Kargil-Leh NH1 highway is visible from the highway. A gompa at its feet was built in 1975. The statue has several arms which "carry leaves in one hand, a string of beads in another, a kamandal in a third, and pointed towards the earth with a fourth."
The 7 meter tall 7th-8th century "Khartse Khar Buddha statue" or "Khartse Khar Chamba" carved in greyish-yellow rock face on a cliff is 48 km from Kargil on Kargil-Sankoo-Barsoo road. Sankoo is 42 km from Kargil, then the Barsoo road further 4.6 km leads east to the statue on the road side in Khartse Khar village on the bank of Suru River. "The holes around it suggested that scaffolding had been used to reach the face and carve out the finer details. The Buddha formed an abhayamudrā (gesture of fearlessness) with his right hand, while the left hand carried a kamandal (pot to carry water). I noticed a rudraksha mala (prayer beads) tied around the wrist and the arm, as well as the janeu (sacred thread) and the karadhani (waist chain), also made out of rudraksha. Although knotted, the statue’s hair fell over his shoulders."
The "Apati Maitreya Buddha statue" or "Apati Chamba", on a cobbled pathway at Apati village is 16 to 22 km from Kargil on Kargil-Batalik road. Among the 3 statues in Kargil district, it is the shortest in size and nearest to Kargil town. It has a rudraksha necklace and carries the kamandal.
Saspol Caves, situated 76 km northwest of Leh between Khalsi & Nimmoo on NH-1 Kargil-Leh Road in the hills behind Saspol, is rare early period painted cave temples of Ladakh dated to the 15th century CE. The caves, also known as Gon-Nila-Phuk Cave temples, are in danger of total collapse and listed in 2016 World Monuments Watch. Paintings existing in five caves, cave with painted red exterior is the main cave with rare paintings of Anuttarayoga Tantra.
Ladakh has several petroglyphs dating back 5000 years to Iron Age, Bronze Age, Kushan period (30–375 CE), and as recent as 15th century. French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has found several thousand rock paintings across more than 400 rock carving sites.
"Rock art in Ladakh comprises carvings or incisions on rock surfaces that are called petroglyphs which display a very wide range of themes and motifs, and provide crucial information about Ladakh’s prehistory about which very little is yet known, The rock art of Ladakh, whilst concentrated around the Indus River and its tributaries, is represented in all parts of Ladakh and Kargil districts, including Zanskar, Changthang and Nubra. However, the rock art of Ladakh at several locations is under severe risk of damage and outright destruction though road, housing and other development projects, and we are confident that the establishment of RAU will play a key role with other interested organisations, to create local community level awareness and ownership of this precious cultural heritage."
Ladakh to home to exotic wild life including snow leopards, Himalayan brown bear, etc. Hemis National Park, Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary, Karakorum Wildlife Sanctuary are protected wildlife areas of Ladakh. The Mountain Institute, Ladakh Ecological Development Group and Snow Leopard Conservancy work on "Ecotourism Opportunities in Rural Ladakh". The ecotourism has been introduced in Ladakh by non-governmental organizations and individuals like Helena Norberg-Hodge and Thinlas Chorol.
Following major festivals and events are celebrated:
Major & popular lakes are:
(p. 17) Ceremonial Homage being paid at Hot Springs Memorial in 1960's (p. 18) The day 21st Oct is befittingly observed as "Police Commemoration Day" and every year, members of police forces from different parts of the country trek to Hot Springs which is currently manned by ITBP to pay homage to the brave hearts who made the supreme sacrifice on 21st October 1959.