The beauty of Ladakh needs no introduction and yet nothing can prepare you for your first tryst with it. Its scenic landscapes and folklore have made it a major tourist destination over the last several years and I finally had the good fortune of visiting this incredible place this season. To add a twist to this escapade, I also wanted to take this trip on a shoestring budget. Could I realize a visit to this beautiful town without breaking the bank?
My pursuit of this budget trip began with a search for a reasonable hotel. I booked my stay at Leh with Guesthouser’s iOS app. This app helps you find a property of your choice with ease and in seconds. Located 15 minutes from the airport and away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, my guesthouse presented breathtaking views of the snow capped Himalayas. As you enter the guesthouse, a well-kept garden with fresh blooms greets you. The staff is extremely polite, helpful and will go out of their way to make sure your stay is pleasant.
As far as rooms go, my guesthouse was as comfortable as they come. The room is spacious and the beds are cozy. Running warm water — a must in Leh, is available around the clock. They also offer complimentary breakfast on request.
It is highly advisable to spend the first day at ease and to get acclimatized to Leh’s high altitude (11000 ft) and thin air. People who don’t do this often complain of dizziness and fatigue. Here’s my pick of the top spots in this stunning location that are must dos for every traveler:
1) Shanti Stupa
Shanti Stupa is a Buddhist white-domed stupa built in 1991 by Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura. The Shanti Stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base and has become a tourist attraction not only due to its religious significance but also due to its location which provides panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. I chose to begin my hike to the Shanti Stupa from the guesthouse itself, passing through the city center and the main bazaar.
2) Main Bazaar
A 20- minute walk away from my guesthouse, the Main Bazaar is lined with several shops selling a plethora of souvenirs and artifacts. Popular items with tourists are Pashmina shawls, hand-woven rugs and apricots. Apart from these, traditional Ladakhi jewelry and semi-precious stones are also a hit. Do not shy away from bargaining!
Venturing out of Leh
Certain places transcend words and pictures and Ladakh is one such site. There are several half- day getaways from Leh that cater to all kinds of travellers.
To venture outwards from Leh, bikes-on-rent are available easily and are fairly affordable. The standard rate for a Royal Enfield is INR 1300 – 1500.
3) Magnetic Hill Magnet Hill is a ‘gravity hill’ located near Leh. The layout of the area and surrounding slopes creates an optical illusion that the downhill road is actually an uphill road. Objects and cars on the hill may appear to roll uphill in defiance of gravity when they are, in fact, rolling downhill!!
4) Gurudwara Pathar Sahib Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is a beautiful Gurudwara built in 1517 to commemorate Guru Nanak’s visit to the Ladakh region. It is about 40km away from Leh. Try being on time for the delicious langar.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
5) Likir Monastery Likir Gompa is a Buddhist monastery approximately 55km west of Leh. It is picturesquely situated on a little hill in the valley and houses about 150 monks. Besides being the oldest, the monastery is also popular for the 75ft Buddha statue. Precious artifacts made in gold and silver, besides numerous rare paintings form the collection at the monastery.
Buddha Statue at the Likir Monastery
6) Hall of Fame
This museum has been built by the Indian Army in memory of the martyrs of Indo-Pak wars. This well-presented memorial showcases several weapons, war documents and equipment used in the wars. The admission fee is INR 25 with a separate fee of INR 50 for cameras.
Hall of Fame
Situated at a dizzying altitude of over 11000 feet, Ladakh offers a multitude of unique flavors. Food in this region is a carefully crafted blend of Tibetan, Indian and Chinese influences. Most restaurants across Ladakh use local produce and you will definitely sense a distinct freshness in your meals. A particularly popular restaurant located just a 10 minute walk from my guesthouse is the Tibetan Kitchen. I strongly suggest for you to try the Thukpa (noodle soup) here.
I was astounded by how meals were being served at such remote places at prices that would put the most affordable places at metro cities to shame. A sumptuous meal cost me about INR 200 on average!!
Steaming hot Momos!
All in all, Leh possesses a charming other-worldly aura. So much so that it has to be on every nature junkie’s list of places to wander off to. The best part? It accommodates the budget-conscious traveler very well!
Its dusty streets, clear skies, delightful cuisine and vast landscapes are nothing like what we experience every day. The view of the night sky from the Guesthouser accommodation I stayed in, seen in the picture below, is a good example of this!
Check out my video here: http://bit.ly/2hhZPxq