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Highlights of Manali to Leh & Ladakh Tour

Important Facts

Duration: 16 Days
Pace: Relaxed
Destinations: Fly from New Delhi to Amritsar(Punjab) / Mcloead Ganj, Dharamshala / Manali / Keylong via Rohtang La Pass / Tso Kar / Leh / Hemis Monastery / Thiksey Monastery / Leh Palace / Shanti Stupa / Phyang Monastery / Alchi / Likir / Diskit Monastery / Nubra Valley / Pangong Tso via Shyok River / Fly from Leh to New Delhi

A Cultural Tour from Northern India’s Valleys to Ladakh’s Stunning Mountains

  • This tour offers plenty of cultural attractions, as well as contrasting and amazing scenery. The trip takes you along an incredible Himalayan road, from the Indian plains to the verdant valleys of Dharamsala and Manali, up to the mountains in Leh, Ladakh. The route is only open for a few months (April to September) each year because of snow on the passes. Expect to see some dramatic scenery on the way, including panoramic views of the mountains and Karakoram’s peaks in the far distance. You do not want to forget your camera to capture the majestic scenery.
  • At the beginning of your trip, before you even begin your Himalayan road journey, you will be immersed in India’s typically fascinating and frenetic pace. Enjoy staying in a luxurious colonial-style 4-star hotel in Delhi, then experience Delhi Railway Station’s hustle and bustle before traveling by train to Amritsar, via the Indian plains. After Amritsar, which is well known for its Sikh Golden Temple, we begin to ascend the foothills of the Himalayas, making our way to Dharamsala, famous for the exiled Dalai Lama, as well as McLeod Ganj. Next we will come to Manali, an Indian hill station further up the pass, and then continue on our way to the Tibetan Plateau and Ladakh.
  • At last, after crossing the Himalayas, we arrive in Ladakh. A trip through the Indus Valley takes us to the town of Leh, a beautifully scenic capital. There are old palaces to explore, as well as some large Buddhist monasteries. After this, our tour takes us westwards in the direction of Kashmir to enjoy the wonderful monasteries of Likir and Alchi. These temples are fascinating to visit, and it is incredible to think they have survived intact for a thousand years.
  • If you love the serene atmosphere of mountain lakes, you will especially enjoy Ladakh. The water of Pangong Tso and Tso kar lakes changes as the day progresses, from beautiful blues and greens to turquoise.
  • During the whole trip you will encounter plenty of culture, including the Tibetans who became refugees, the Sikhs, and the Golden Temple of Amritsar. In addition, learn more about the Hindus living in the southern valleys and the Punjab, who became prosperous from its water. And then of course there is the Buddhist-dominated Tibetan Plateau.
  • A special highlight of the trip is being able to attend a local festival. As you might expect, these festivals are colorful and a lot of fun. In June you can see the Hemis Festival, while July offers either the Korzok Gustor Festival (Tso Moriri), the Phyang Festival, or the Takthok Festival. Expect to see local people from the surrounding hamlets and villages taking part in the fun, catching up with friends and relatives, maybe seeking a husband or bride, gaining merit and improving their karma, and watching the Black Hat dancers. These Buddhist festivals are always memorable and enjoyable.
  • Festival Departures: Most of Ladakh’s monasteries hold a masked dance festival every year. The temples are open during this time, so people can come and worship. The masked dances, which are symbolic of Buddhism’s success in overcoming demons and evil forces, are the main attraction during the festival.

Yuru Kabgyat Festival, Lamayuru (June 16 and 17, 2023)
Hemis Festival, Hemis (June 28 and June 29, 2023)
Lakdah Polo Festival (July 11 to 17, 2023)
Korzok Gustor Festival, Tso Moriri (July 20 and 21, 2023)
Takthok Festival, Takthok (48 km from Leh) (July 28 to July 29, 2023)
Phyang Festival, Phyang (20 km from Leh) (July 15 to July 16, 2023)

  • End this trip with one of the most picturesque flights ever, over the top of the greater Himalayas on the way back from Leh to Delhi. You then have the option of extending your trip and visiting the main attractions and sights of the city. Another possibility is to add on an extra day and visit the Taj Mahal. We can provide more details if you are interested in a longer stay.

The Trip Details:

Duration: 16 days
Max. Altitude: 17,852ft / 5,441m, crossing the Taglang La on Day 9
Land only joining city: New Delhi
Accommodations: Fixed Camp and Hotels
✿ The June 2023 tour attends the Hemis Festival
✿ The July 2023 tour attends the Takthok Festival
Meal Arrangements: Bed and Breakfast included in Delhi, all meals included elsewhere

Show Full Travel Program

Arrive in Delhi in the morning, and get transferred to the hotel, which has a garden with wild parakeets and a nice swimming pool. Delhi can be a culture shock to some, and it can take a while to get used to the dust, heat, and the city’s hustle and bustle. These days, Old and New Delhi is a modern cosmopolitan city with business areas, a great metro system, and plenty of cultural reminders of the city’s ancient civilization and colorful history. There are lots to see and do. Consider a visit to Delhi Fort in the old town, a beautiful Moghul palace and fortress, or the Friday Mosque. The old bazaar, Chandni Chowk, the the Qutub Minar Complex, or the amazing Humayun Tomb are all well worth a visit. You can see Lutyens’ impressive buildings in New Delhi, which were built to celebrate the city as the capital of the Raj and commemorate the British in India.

In the morning, head to the railway station and board the Shatabadi Express train bound for Amritsar. The train will depart at 7:20 AM and the arrival time is 1:45 PM. In Amritsar you will find a large population of India Sikhs, so you will see one of the most stunning temples there. Upon arrival, you will be met by a member of our staff, and transferred to your hotel.

Later in the afternoon, head out to Wagah Border on a one-hour drive. Your destination is an outpost situated on the India-Pakistan border between Amritsar and Lahore. Here you can experience what border closing is all about. Before the sun goes down each day, there is a flag-lowering ceremony that takes place between the Pakastani Sutlej Rangers and the India Border Security Force, lasting about 45 minutes.

In the evening, it is time to visit the sacred Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for Sikhs all over the world. This structure was completed in 1601 by Guru Arjan, who succeeded the fourth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Ramdas, who initiated it. It is a fine harmony of Islamic and Hindu architectural designs, and a stunning sight to behold. The inverted lotus-like dome is always appreciated by travelers.

The Golden Temple is surrounded by tanks of holy water for Sikh pilgrims to bathe in. The peaceful atmosphere is punctuated with a melodic recital, the Akhand Path, from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book for Sikhs. Devotees take it in turn to pass through the main shrine.

After an enjoyable time exploring this complex, there is an opportunity to enjoy a meal at the Langar, a community kitchen/dining hall. Here, visitors can enjoy complimentary food. With the help of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, the Langar came to be. The idea was to create a level playing field for individuals irrespective of color, religion, creed, gender, or social status. This dramatic concept was initiated in 16th century India, in the caste-ordered society. This is the birthplace of Sikhism. Next you can visit the kitchen section to see how the food is prepared, and learn how to roll chapattis. A large number of people come to the Golden Temple to dine every day, and the vast hall can seat up to 3,000. The kitchen is working for about 20 hours a day. It will amaze you to know that voluntary helpers take care of all the pre-cooking arrangements. These people are called Sewadars.

Subsequently, a guided walk through the Old City of Amritsar, also known as Hall Bazaar, can be undertaken if you wish. Expect to see an array of shops with dwellings on top. Each of the Katra, or area, is unique, as they line the streets within narrow lanes and alleys. You will find the bazaar interesting, as traders go about their business, selling a wide collection of jewelry, textiles, and clothing. The bazaars include Guru Bazaar, Katra Jaimal Singh, and Mai Sewan Bazaar. Others like the Bartan Bazaar sell all kinds of utensils, while Katra Sher Singh sells tea.

Continue on your journey to Papad-Wadian Market, which is behind the Golden Temple. This is a combination of wholesale and retail outlets. There is a wide range of items that might catch your attention, including Punjabi jutis, or footwear, shawls and stoles, woolens, ladies’ salwar-kameez, especially the Patiala Salwar, and the traditional local crafts like phulkari, embroidered shawls and headscarves.

In the early hours of the morning, you may pay an optional second visit to the sacred Sri Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple.

Return to the hotel for breakfast.

We depart from Amritsar across the plains of the Punjab, and then head up to Dharamsala, the old British hill station. This used to be a sleepy town until the Dalai Lama relocated here in October 1959, at the time of the Chinese invasion. McLeod Ganj is 1,640 ft./500 meters above Lower Dharamsala, and this part of the town has the largest Tibetan influence. This is our base for the visit here. An orientation walk is the first thing we do, and this includes the Buddhist Namgyal Monastery, or Little Lhasa, the Church of St. John in the Wilderness, and also the Kalachakra Temple. You have free time in the evening, so you might like to wander around and enjoy some typical Tibetan snacks.

Optional Historic Detour to Kangra Fort
As you continue on your journey, make a stopover at the impressive mountaintop Kangara Fort. As you approach the entrance, you will come across a museum with a collection of old photographs of the fort before disaster struck in 1905, and an earthquake wreaked havoc on some of the stone sculptures, idols and carvings.

We spend the morning in McLeod Ganj. Spend about 30 minutes visiting Norbulingka Institute, not forgetting the Kangra Art. You can see some traditional Tibetan arts and crafts at this institute. With a great location and surroundings, the institute consists of training centers, a café, a doll museum, workshops, and a temple. The skillful works of art can be appreciated as you observe the creation of Tantric Thangkas, which are colorful, carefully embroidered Buddhist wall hangings, as well as furniture, paintings, and metalwork.

With a great collection of Kangra miniatures on display, the Museum of Kangra Art is the place to be. You can also see a large number of fabrics and embroideries, temple carvings, and palanquins that the local rajas have in this museum. It does not end there; there is also a school that helps with the perfection of miniature painting.

This afternoon, we will make our way to the site where the Dalai Lama delivered his famous teachings. The Tsuglagkhang Temple, or Dalai Lama Temple, is situated right next to his residence. You might be lucky enough to get permission to attend when the Dalai Lama is giving one of his public audiences. Another worthwhile site is the Bhagsu Naag Temple, which came into existence in the 1500’s, and was constructed by the local king. Expect spectacular views, a small pool, and a pretty waterfall.

For a more in-depth exploration of this area, you can go on a tour of the town during the evening. There is a wide array of handicraft shops, bookstores, and appealing cafes. Maybe even consider a beginner’s class in Tibetan Buddhism. There are also Tibetan cooking classes, and several others to choose from. If you want to take your exploration to the next level, then we can arrange for you to go to the upper regions of the nearby hill, and our local guide will tell you plenty of interesting facts about the area.

Tip: You may want to visit Bhagsu and see the ancient temple and waterfall there.

After breakfast, you will set off on the 6-hour drive to Manali, with a stop at Mandi. We then head through the beautiful countryside through the picturesque Kangra Valley. We should have time to stop at one of the many tea plantations in the area, before stopping at the town of Mandi for lunch. After this, we head east and see the Beas River and scenic Kullu Valley. From there we travel north, following the river until we reach Manali. The landscape becomes ever more stunning as we ascent the valley, and you will see pine and fir tree forests. Bollywood filmmakers enjoy shooting Hindi movies in these hills. Manali is a busy hill station popular with Indian tourists because it offers a break from the heat below.

The rest of the day is yours to explore Manali. During the evening you might like to wander through the Manali markets, where you will find a lively Tibetan bazaar full of souvenirs such as shawls, scarves, handicrafts, and jewelry.
 
ADD AN ADDITIONAL NIGHT IN MANALI IF YOU LIKE, AND SEE WHAT YOU CAN DO THE FOLLOWING DAY:

Cycle tour from Manali to Naggar Castle
Riding a bike is the ideal way to explore the Manali area. You can cross the Beas River and head south to Naggar Castle. You will see rice fields, apple orchards, and tiny villages along the way. Naggar Castle is a wood and stone structure, which was built more than 500 years ago by Raja Sidh Singh. Today it is a heritage hotel. Although the trip to Naggar is nearly all downhill, the ride back can be tricky, so you have the choice of coming back by car. Whether you go by bike or car, you will certainly be impressed by the stunning mountain scenery.

The Nicholas Roerich Estate is situated close to this castle. Roerich was a Russian artist. He and his Russian wife, Helena Roerich, lived their lives in Naggar. He widely traveled the length and breadth of Ladakh and Tibet; you will still find some of his amazing works in the Nicholas Roerich Art Gallery in Naggar, which is open daily, except Mondays.

Go on an exploration of old temples in the Naggar village, after which you can return to Manali. After a coffee and cake stopover at Naggar, we will make our way back to Manali.

Exploring Manali
This town was once a trading outpost at the start of the old trade route to Ladakh. Now it is often visited by Indian tourists who want to see the Himalayas, and it is the starting point for the road to Leh. This once-quiet village is a thriving resort town with plenty of restaurants, cafes, and hotels, nestled in the gorgeous Beas Valley and boasting a stunning mountain backdrop.

During the afternoon we will keep up the mood by engaging in a half-day tour, visiting the 400-year-old Hidimba Devi Temple, the most important temple in Manali. This temple is a dedication to the Goddess Hidimba Dev, an Indian character from the Epic Mahabharata. The temple is flanked by lovely cedar forests at the Himalayan foothills. Manu Temple is also worth a visit. Manu is the ancient lawgiver of India and this temple is specifically dedicated to him.

We start with a 10-minute walk to Hadimba Temple, and then make a short trip to two local monasteries. Our next stop is Vashist’s hot springs.

The drive to Leh begins along the River Beas, and we cross over the Rohtang La, the first pass of the trip, at 13,051 ft./3,978 m. Expect gorgeous panoramic views of majestic peaks and glaciers. This pass was frequently used in the early explorations of the Himalayas. Although the weather might be cloudy and misty to the south of the Rohtang, it will change once we cross the pass into the Lahaul area. Then instead of lush green valleys, you will see the Tibetan Plateau’s mountainous desert.

The culture and people of Lahaul are more Tibetan than Indian since Lahaul is Himachal Pradesh’s northern boundary. You will notice the transition to Buddhism from the Hindu influence as you enter Lahaul. We head north from here, along the narrowing road of the valley, as the mountains stand tall all around us.

Driving on this narrow road, which follows the Bhag and Chenab Rivers for the final 37 miles/60 km of the tour, we arrive in Keylong, then transfer a few miles to Drilbu Retreat in Tupchiling, 10,006 ft./3,405 m.

Stay Overnight in a Tented Camp in Keylong

This day is spent as a day for acclimatization to let you get used to the altitude. There are several monasteries not too far from Tupchiling. You might also like to visit Keylong, the capital of the Lahaul area at 10,987 ft./3,349 m. Although Lahaul is green and has potato and barley fields, and willow and poplar trees dotting the landscape, you will feel like you are in high mountain country. The soaring mountain peaks all around help screen out the monsoon rains. Along with the willows, there are streams and pretty green fields, with the snow-capped mountain peaks as their dramatic backdrop.

The thin air in the Himalayas takes a day or so to get fully used to, so we suggest a couple of short walks around Keylong before crossing the highest passes. The first one starts with a slow 30-minute drive, climbing 492 ft./150 m up the narrow mountain path to Kardang Gompa, the most important monastery in the region, and one that dates back to the 12th century. You can also look around the surrounding village. The gigantic structure of Kardang Monastery is adorned with prayer flags. You will find a fine collection of thangkas, or Buddhist paintings, and also a large library of Buddhist literature, as well as several musical instruments. Eye-catching murals and colorful frescoes are all around you.

After this stop, we drive 12.5 miles/20 km and cross the Bhag River. Then we will walk for an hour to 11,48 ft./350 m above Keylong, and head for the Shashur Gompa, a monastery dating back to the 1500’s. Each monastery can be seen across the valley from every other one. After this, we have an hour’s drive to the Ibex Hotel which is in Jispa. Here we spend the night.

Video: Walk to Kardang Gompa in Keylong

Today we will head for a more arid and less populated area, as we cross the Himalayas at the Baralacha La Pass (16,042 ft./4,884 m). Making an early start today gives us plenty of time to go over the highest passes. There is a total of 21 loops, called the Gata Loops, featuring hairpin bends, as well as a 15,65 ft./477 m climb up to Nakee La (15,547 ft./4,739 m), followed by the Lachulung La (16,616 ft./5,065 m). We continue to cross the Morey Plains, then finally reach Tso Kar some 7 hours later. Expect to see stunning views of pinnacles with boulders balanced on top along the drive, as well as dramatic canyons, and other natural wonders. Just imagine how this road was built through the harsh mountainous landscape.

Pang has plenty of tea tents, where we can enjoy a cup before continuing north along the Morey Plains. The hardy Changpa nomads inhabit these huge high altitude plains, and you might see their encampments in the distance, as well as their massive herds of yaks. From here we leave the main road, and head to the open landscape of Tsokar Lake. We set up at a fixed camp about a mile from Tsokar Lake (we cannot camp right on the shores because of ecological reasons). This is a saltwater lake, which allows the merchants from Ladakh, and the Chamgpa nomads to trade with one another, supporting this vital industry.

If watching birds is one of your hobbies, then you have come to the right place. You will find the Tibetan grouse and black-necked cranes in great numbers. The adjoining Morey Plains and the basin of Tso-kar are essential habitats of the kiang, the largest of the wild asses, as well as Tibetan wolves and gazelles, among others.

The night will be spent in tents, although there are small homestays available in Tso Kar if you prefer.

After breakfast, we will head straight to Leh. You will be provided with a packed lunch from camp. We will ascend the Taglang La pass at 17,582 ft./5,358 m. A sign tells you that it is the second highest drivable pass in the world. From this pass, you will get stunning views of the Karakoram Mountains and Ladakh Valley. After that we descend until reaching the Rumtse and Lato (13,170 ft./4,014 m), and drive via the Indus valley.

Next on the agenda for today is a drive down to the Indus at Upshi, lying at 11,102 ft./3,384 m. Driving along next to the River Indus and following it downstream, we will be passing some of the local monasteries, which we will visit later. Another 31 miles/50 km takes us to Saboo Village, a fertile, attractive place not far from Leh town, situated off the main highway. This peaceful, secluded village contrasts with the otherwise rather barren landscape. You can see traditional village houses here, as well as streams running through willow and poplar groves, and cultivated fields. Enjoy dramatic views of the Stok Kangri Mountain Range, and other mountains from this vantage point.

We will stay overnight in the lovely traditional-style hotel of Saboo Resort. If you prefer to stay in Leh itself, there are a couple of luxury choices like The Grand Dragon Leh, or Ladakh Residency. You may also choose to stay in Stok Palace Heritage Hotel, the former palace of Ladakhi royals, now converted into a beautiful heritage hotel.

When we get to Leh, we move at a relaxed pace and take a short orientation walk through the town.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Little Tibet’, Ladakh is the most remote and highest place in India. Culturally and visually you will find this region more like Tibet than India. This region does not get much rainfall, situated north of the main Himalaya Range, like Tibet. This means that unlike most of the Himalayas, the summer months are a good time to plan a visit. The beautiful, arid mountain landscapes, monasteries, palaces and cultural heritage make it well worth a visit. Green oases speckle the otherwise arid landscape, and you can find bubbling streams passing by groves of trees, and villages of traditional flat-roofed houses. The deep Tibetan Buddhist heritage in this area is shown by the local devotion to the distinctive monasteries.

The night will be spent in Leh.

The Indus Valley and Leh have the high Himalayan Mountains all around, including the dramatic, snow-peaked Stok Kangri, which can be seen from town. The Indus Valley cuts through the beautiful mountains with other valleys connecting to it, fertile and cultivated. Ancient monasteries and palaces keep watch over the fields and villages below. Today we will visit several spectacular places east of Leh in the Indus Valley.

Our first stop is the Hemis Monastery which is some 29 miles/47 km from Leh, above the Indus River. It belongs to the Drukpa Lineage or Dragon Order of Mahayana Buddhism. This monastery is the richest and largest one in all of Ladakh, and it dates back to 1630.

Next, we will visit Thikse Gompa, which is a spectacular gompa. It is found on a hill high above the Indus. Next to the entrance, you will see a 3-story high Chamba statue, who is the Buddha of the future, as well as spectacular views of the whole valley from the roof. There are more monks at this monastery than at any other in the area, and about 100 yellow-cap monks live here. Morning prayers take place at 6.30 AM and noon, which you can witness. Before prayer time, you can hear the drawn-out sounds played on horns from the roof. Thiksey Monastery is known for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

The next stop on the itinerary today is Shey Palace, the old summer palace of the Ladakh kings. Lhachen Palgyigon, the first Ladakh king, constructed this palace in the 1500’s. Next to Shey Palace are the ruins of a bigger construction. From this vantage point, you can look over the fertile plains in the direction of Tikse Gompa. Look over the Indus to see the dramatic Zanskar Mountain Range. The Shey Palace is home to the biggest Buddha statue in Ladakh. It was crafted out of gilded copper sheets and gold and has blue hair. Standing at an impressive height of 39.5 feet/12 m, this statue was erected in the 1600’s by King Dalden Namgyal. The most important step in creating such a statue is the painting of the eyes, enabling the statue to ‘see’. No monk or artist would dare look into Buddha’s eyes, so the artist paints the pupils looking into a mirror over his shoulder.

We will also visit Sangam, where the Zanskar and Indus Rivers converge, then later on to Stok, a pretty, fertile village. The Stok Palace overlooks the village. Here you will have lunch with a local family in the dining room at the Gyab Thago Heritage Home, which is relatively new, but next to an ancient house, their former home. After lunch, you can visit this old house to experience the traditional Ladakhi house layout. The kitchen is upstairs, with a central fire for cooking, and utensils, and pans hanging from the wall. The animals are kept downstairs. There is room to keep barley over the winter and a prayer room. A sheltered area on the roof protects the family members from the cold winter wind, while they enjoy the sunshine.

After lunch, we will visit the Palace of Stok, which was built in the 1840’s as the Ladakhi royal family residence. After the Kashmiri invasion of 1837, the Ladakh king was permitted to move here. The family is still living in the palace, and they run it as a Stok Palace small heritage hotel, renting out a couple of the rooms. You will see a well-stocked museum with traditional Ladakhi jewelry and clothing, an extensive display of royal memorabilia, and a number of fine thangkas, religious Buddhist paintings. The Ladakhi royal family owned a lot of this collection, including the queen’s beautiful turquoise headdress, and its wooden carrying case.

Alternatively, you may pay a visit to the nine-story Leh Palace. It was largely constructed with stone and wood alongside mud bricks and mortar in the 1630s by Sengge Namgyal. He is known to be a great builder of monasteries and forts and was also the most popular king at one time. The design of this structure was primarily a miniature version of Lhasa’s Potala Palace. There is still much to explore in this palace, despite the state of ruin, such as the atmospheric temple inside it. As you move towards the upper levels, you are greeted with breathtaking views. On the eighth level, the top level, you have a panoramic view of Leh, and the surrounding mountains. Meandering through the narrow pathways to the ancient homes, including the old town’s low-vaulted tunnels, you are surely going to be captivated by eye-opening experiences.

Check Out the Video on Leh Palace

You have the entire evening to yourself to relax or explore. Perhaps go for a short walk to browse the bazaar, and stop at different curio shops to purchase fruits and vegetables. As you continue, you will encounter labyrinthine pathways and several houses all clustered together at the foot of the Palace Hill. Take a look at the Tibetan markets with their pearls, corals, turquoise, and lapis lazuli for sale. Maybe you can find a bargain. Also available are several other types of semi-precious stones and jewelry. Make a stopover at one of the many cafes to experience local Indian, Tibetan, and continental cuisines.

Ladakhi festivals are mystical, beautiful, and filled with enjoyment and color. Expect dances and plays by masked lamas, depicting the triumph of good over evil. Locals flock to these festivals, wearing their best clothing, to socialize, achieve religious merit, and take part in the celebrations. You can expect crowds of people from all over the region, and these festivals are always great fun.

This morning we visit the Takthok Festival (30 miles/48 km from Leh) which is on July 28-29, 2023. This is a major Ladakh festival which always has great attendance, consisting of local residents and thousands of pilgrims, as well as curious travelers. There is a little cave deep inside the Takthok Monastery, whose name translates to ‘Rock-Roofed Cave’. This is believed to be where Guru Rimpoche used to meditate. Listen to traditional drummers and the sounds of longhorns. This music is believed to remove ignorance. The monks will perform their sacred cham, which are traditional dances to scare evil spirits away.

Another option is the Hemis Festival (30 miles/48 km from Leh) which is on June 28 and June 29, 2023. This annual celebration is dedicated to Guru Rimpoche, or Lord Padmasambhava. Hemis Gompa is the biggest and most important monastery in the region. It is a treasure house of rare books, fine Buddhist paintings, gem-studded stupas, and golden statues. The festival begins in the early morning with drumming and traditional longhorn sounds from the monastery. A mural of Guru Rimpoche is then presented for people to worship during the festival. The ‘cham’, or masked dances, are the festival highlight. These are masked dances performed by the monks, representing the triumph of good over evil. The Hemis Festival is one of the largest in Ladakh and attracts thousands of pilgrims. This is a nice way to spend time getting to know the locals while enjoying the colorful festivities.

Later, we go on an interesting walking tour of the sites in Leh, accompanied by an English-speaking guide. The kings of Leh once ruled over a large civilization from Baltistan in the west to nearly Lhasa in Tibet. Leh used to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Ladakh. The old town is something of a maze, with narrow shop-filled streets, colorful bazaars, a mosque, and several temples. There is a Potala-like palace in a semi-ruinous state and the Royal Palace. This tour shows you the town’s medieval character, and what it was like before the modern age. The Ecological Center has exhibits which show how a rapidly changing world is impacting on Ladakhi culture. There is a rooftop café where you can relax with a drink or snack, or perhaps you would rather browse through some of the shops. There are some good bookshops in Leh.

Later in the afternoon, you can walk to Shanti Stupa which is not far away, and enjoy the panoramic views. You have to climb up quite a few steps to get there, but the dramatic scenery of Leh and the surrounding countryside in the lovely evening light will make the effort worthwhile.

Optional: Ladakh offers some excellent whitewater rafting, and if you choose this optional excursion, you can expect some of the best river rafting you have ever done. Rafting here is an adrenalin-spiking trip for sure! We paddle from Chilling to Sangam, an 18.5 mile/30 km stretch of river, which boasts some stunning scenery, as well as grade 3 and 4 rapids. After the trip we will drive through the mountain passes with a view down to the river.

Video on Rafting on Zanskar River in Nimoo

Today we head west along the Indus and then north to a valley where we find the beautiful Phyang Monastery. This monastery is on a hill overlooking the valley. Phyang, which is thought to date back to the 1500’s, is not visited as much as the monasteries to the east of Leh, but it is still one of the most important ones in the Indus Valley. It belongs to the Kagyupa sect of Buddhism and features some highly detailed paintings and images. In this monastery, you will find several shrines and frescos, as well as a museum, containing a wide range of fine Kashmiri bronzes that belong to the Buddhist deities, apparently originating from the 13th century. Also included are Chinese and Tibetan works, thangkas, Mongolian firearms, and much more.

 

Phyang Festival Dates: July 15 to July 16, 2023

Our next stop is Alchi, a picturesque little village amidst apricot orchards, above the River Indus. Alchi is home to one of the oldest and most beautiful temples in the area, and visiting it is like stepping back in time. This temple somehow managed to survive both wars and earthquakes, and still stands proudly after 1,000 years. The frescos are extremely well-preserved; in fact, they are some of the best examples of Buddhist art in this era. The style of these wall paintings is not the same found in other Indus Valley monasteries; they are more Indian or Indo-European. There are chapels in the complex, featuring wooden carvings, beautiful images, statues and stucco art. Alchi is set apart from other monasteries by the high level of creative art and originality. It is certainly a special place you will not forget.

Next we drive to Likir where we visit Likir Gompa, a very old monastery dating back in part to the 11th century. This monastery, like so many others, is perched atop a hill overlooking the valley, with willow trees and running water nearby. Likir has an 82 ft./25 m Matraiya Buddha statue in gold, looking east from behind the gompa. There are beautifully decorated temples and halls to explore, and a little museum with a varied collection.

After this, we drive to Nimmu, a village about half an hour from Likir, near to where the Zanskar and Indus Rivers converge. Nimmu is a pretty little village with traditional Ladakhi style houses, and apple, walnut and apricot orchards. We stay overnight at the Nimmu House Hotel, which used to be home to a cousin of the king of Ladakh, and is now a special heritage hotel.

During the afternoon you can explore Nimmu, perhaps taking a look around the gardens and orchards, visiting the old monastery, or stroll around the village to meet the locals. There is also an old caravanserai, which is a roadside inn, where travelers, or caravaners could recover from the day’s journey.

Nimmu House Heritage Hotel Video

Overnight stay in the Nimmu House Heritage Hotel.

The Nimmu-Nubra journey takes you through the Khardung La Pass, which stands at a height of 17,582 ft./5,359 m. Translated to mean ‘Pass of Lower Castle’, Khardung La used to be an important road to connect Leh with a number of trade routes across Central Asia. Today it services travelers and the Indian military. The sign at the top claims that it is the ‘highest motorable road’, although there are some other slightly higher parts. Enjoy a beautiful view towards the south over the Indus Valley, and the ridges and peaks of the Zanskar Mountain Range from here.

Make a stopover at the Diskit Monastery before finally heading to camp at Hunder Village. This monastery is comfortably perched on a rock that overhangs a stream. The Diskit Monastery is well decorated and replete with thangkas, murals, imposing giant statues, and ancient effigies of the Buddha. Diskit happens to be the main headquarters of the Nubra Valley and has a market that features rows of shops, where you can pick up souvenirs to take home. The 105 ft./32 m high Maitreya Buddha at Diskit dominates the whole Nubra Valley and Shyok River.

After driving for about 6 hours, you arrive in Hunder, and check into the beautiful Hotel Stone Hedge, Chamba Camp Diskit, or Nubra Organic Retreat, themed around organic farming.

After having lunch at the camp, the option to go on a Bactrian, a 2-humped camel ride in the sand dunes, with high altitude, snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, is all yours.

Video on Nubra Valley

Hunder will be our place of shelter for the night, and we will have dinner there.

We will depart Nubra this morning for a remote location in Ladakh, namely Panegong Lake. As we proceed on this journey, we will drive through the high mountains and stunning landscapes that have welcomed only a few travelers in times past. We will make plenty of stops before arriving at our destination.

Panegong Lake is a huge 83 mile/134 km long strip of water. It is situated at an altitude of 13,943 ft./4,250 m, and only a quarter of it is in Ladakh, the rest is in Tibet. This lake is just over 4 miles/7 km across at its widest point. The water is very salty but it still completely freezes over during the winter. You will see a range of beautiful shades of blue in the water. Migrating birds such as brahmini ducks, seagulls and bar-headed geese use this lake as a breeding site, and marmots, foxes and other animals live near the water. If you like to watch wildlife and birds, you will love Pangong Lake.

This being a border area, Spangmik is the furthest point you are allowed to go, and there will be stunning views of the northerly Chang Chenmo Mountain Range and its dramatic reflection in the lake.

This location of Pangong Tso is unique and quite beautiful in every way. Photographers will cherish taking pictures around here, as the stunning views, accompanied by the changing hues of the waters of this lake, present an incredible lookout.

Important Info: It is not permitted to stay near the lake anymore, for ecological reasons, so self-camping and campsites are banned. All hotels, camps and homestays by the lake were removed in 2019. Between 1974 and 2018, the number of travelers to the region increased from 500 to 200,000, which impacted on the ecological balance of the area, as well as the environment. The beauty of the lake suffered from piles of plastic waste, without a proper way of disposal. This is why we stay either in Tagste or Durbuk, villages which offer guest houses, and are further away from the lake.

We will begin our journey back to Leh today. As you arrive in Leh, check into your hotel. At this point, whatever you want to do, is your call. You could choose to spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure, or better still, indulge yourself by going on another trip to the central part of Leh. The maze-like streets are fun to stroll down, and even the pathways, tunnels and so on, via the old part of town can easily hold your interest and fascination. Opportunities to buy traditional Ladakhi handicrafts abound; the fruit and nuts market is worth a visit and is popular among the locals. Maybe you would like to buy some dried apricots to take home.

We have an early start to the day, driving to the airport for one of the most picturesque flights imaginable. The plane flies over many peaks and glaciers of the Greater Himalaya Range. Look out for the peaks of Nanga Parbat, Nun Kun, K2, and Gasherbrum, sparkling with snow beneath you as you cruise overhead.

You will arrive in Delhi, marking the end of your Himalayan adventure. Remember though, your travels do not have to end here; you might wish to take one of our Golden Triangle Tours, or even an excursion to the Taj Mahal, which is just a few hours away.

India your way, your route, your style

• Price based on two persons in a double room
• Prices are in USD Excluding international flights
• Do you prefer to travel alone or would you like to come to India with a group of friends? We will be happy to tailor-made your tour program that meets all your wishes and needs

Travel Period PRICE PER PERSON  
Apr 1, 2022 – Mar 31, 2023 from Price on Request (Deluxe) INQUIRE NOW
Apr 1, 2022– Mar 31, 2023 from Price on Request (Luxury) INQUIRE NOW

Would you like to have the trip tailored to your wishes?

Our itineraries are only examples and suggestions and can be customized individually. For example, a trip can be shortened or extended with additional destinations or monuments, the hotels can be a mix of 4 and 5 star etc. Let us know your personal wishes so that we can adapt the trip to your wishes. Connect with our travel expert for a 1:1 consultation and receive your obligation free travel proposal. Together with the travel request we will send you the hotel list so that you can get a picture of the hotels selected on the internet. We promise ✔Competent and Friendly Guides ✔Expert Drivers ✔Best Hotels ✔24/7 Support. Read more on Why Vacation India?

Get in Touch: info@vacationindia.com / +91-99274-65808 (India Calling & Whatsapp) / USA/Canada: 1 (888) 414-6804

Included in your Manali-Leh Tour:

  • 16-day tour starting and ending in New Delhi
  • Accommodation in a double or twin room with breakfast included
  • A fully air-conditioned Toyota Innova vehicle, accompanied by an English-speaking driver for all transfers, touring and sightseeing according to the itinerary
  • All expenses regarding the vehicle and driver, such as fuel, parking charges, tolls, interstate tax, meals, driver accommodation and meals
  • Domestic flight from Leh to New Delhi
  • All transfers from the airport and railway station
  • Train tickets in best class available
  • Inner line permits for Lamayuru, Nubra, Pangong Lake or wherever required
  • English-speaking local guides in Dharamsala, Amritsar, Manali and Leh
  • An exciting camel ride in Hunder
  • Entry fees to monuments for sightseeing
  • Provision of assistance upon arrival and departure at airports and train stations
  • 24-hour support via our local representative offices
  • Complimentary mineral water in the vehicles

Services not included:

  • International and Domestic Flights
  • Camera and video fees at sightseeing venues (Most of the monuments do not charge any camera fees)
  • Other side attractions, aside from those specifically mentioned above
  • Meals, aside from those mentioned above
  • Tips, porter fees and personal expenses
  • Visa and insurance

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To receive the list of Hotels selected for this tour, please email us at info@vacationindia.com

pushkar camel fair tour rajasthan

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