By Sarita Santoshini
Offbeat travel in India has long been synonymous with Ladakh. Travellers from all over the world visit this remote region every year to soak up the sight of its high mountain passes, blue lakes, vast deserts and beautiful monasteries, and for the company of its humble locals. As tourists continue to drive towards the most advertised parts of Ladakh, we at SaffronStays took up the task of discovering some of its truly offbeat corners for you. We give you 8 locations, stay options and experiences to beat the crowd during your next trip to Ladakh.
1. Stay in Old Town or next to Shanti Stupa in Leh
During your trip, Leh is where you acclimatise and slowly acquaint yourself with the Ladakhi way of life. We suggest you do so while staying close to Shanti Stupa which stands beautifully at an altitude of almost 14, 000 feet and overlooks the town of Leh, Changspa village and the stark mountains at a distance. Old Town, which dates back to 17th century, lies on the way to Leh Palace and holds testimony to the forgotten architectural heritage of the region. Staying there will give you a different perspective of Leh while you relax or choose to explore its by lanes.
Getting There: The easiest way to get to Leh is by taking a flight from Delhi to Leh. Alternately, you could fly to Srinagar and take the two-day road trip to Leh via Kargil and Lamayuru.
Where to stay: Near Shanti Stupa, we recommend this Home that has been designed like a Palace and offers a great view of Stok Kangri. (Click here for more details or to book.) You could also stay at this Homestay, which lies a short distance from the market, for its warm hospitality.( Click here for more details or to book.) In Old Leh, we recommend this Guest House which offers spacious rooms. Click here for more details or to book.
2. Visit the historical town of Basgo
The historical town of Basgo finds frequent mentions in the Ladakhi chronicles for once being the capital of Lower Ladakh. If you’re a history buff, you should pay a visit to the mud-brick fortress of Basgo Gompa that lies atop a hill and houses the remnants of a citadel and three Maitreya Temples which are supposed to be the oldest surviving structures of its kind dedicated to the Buddha of the future. It definitely makes for a surreal experience. The locals are extremely friendly and will be happy to share a few cups of butter tea and some local legends with you.
Getting there: Basgo lies 33 km away from Leh en route Lamayuru and you can request your taxi driver to make a pit stop in the village.
Where to Stay: In case you choose to stay in Basgo, we recommend this home stay which also happens to be the only one in the village. Click here for more details or to book.
3. Get adventurous in Uleytokpo
The charming village of Uleytokpo is another destination that lies en route Lamayuru and is one place that every nature or adventure enthusiast should visit. Trek through a wooded valley to Rizdong Monastery, cycle to Alchi Monastery, and drive or walk up to Mangyu Temple that houses some of the oldest frescoes in Ladakh. You can also try your luck at spotting one or more Ibex and Snow Partridge or go river rafting in the Indus Valley. There are some beautiful family run properties in the area that make a stop at Uleytokpo all the more worthwhile.
Getting there: Uleytokpo lies about 70 km from Leh and 45 km from Lamayuru. Hiring a taxi is the best way to reach there.
Where to Stay: We recommend this property which offers beautiful cottages and tents, has an in-house spa and also makes arrangements for adventure activities on request. Click here for more details or to book.
4. Stay by the Indus River in Khalsi
Khalsi or Khalastse, is a small village that lies 337 km from Srinagar on the old main road to Leh where it crosses the Indus River over an iron bridge. It lies mid-way between Kargil and Leh, and it is here that the road from Kashmir opens up to the Indus Valley. In Khalsi, visit the Khalsi Monastery and the Palace of the old King. Use it as a base for a day trip to Dah Hanu villages, located about 75 km away, which are inhabited by the Brokpa community of Ladakh, considered to be the purest descendants of the ancient Indo-Europeans, to learn about their unique culture. You can also go for a number of short treks and for white water rafting in the Indus Valley.
Getting there: Khalsi lies 12 km from Lamayuru, on the way to Leh and/or Kargil.
Where to Stay: In Khalsi, we recommend this Bed & Breakfast which happens to be the only one providing accommodation in the area. The rooms are simple but the hosts make all the necessary arrangements, including adventure activities and cultural day trips, to ensure a great stay. (Click here for more details or to book.) Alternatively, you can stay in these Cottages that lie on the banks of Indus River in the village of Nurla. Click here for more details or to book.
5. Rest your weary soul in Lamayuru
Though very few Indian travellers stop by at Lamayuru, it is frequented by backpackers from across the globe on their way to Leh, and with good reason. The tiny settlement is home to hospitable locals who’ve opened their homes, which lie at a walking distance from Lamayuru Monastery, to those looking for a spiritual break. Founded in the 11th century, the monastery is home to about 200 monks and is one of the largest and oldest ones in Ladakh. Though much of the ancient monastery has crumbled, it still attracts many Buddhist followers today and we think it definitely deserves a place in your Ladakh itinerary.
Getting there: Lamayuru lies about 110 km from Leh and one can hire taxis to get there.
Where to Stay: We recommend this Homestay in Lamayuru for simple rooms with a great view and delicious local meals. Click here for more details or to book.
6. Do more than Camel riding in Nubra Valley
A trip to Ladakh is incomplete without visiting the sand dunes of Hunder and taking a ride across its vast expanse on a Bactrian (double humped) Camel. We suggest you make your trip even more worthwhile by driving about 40 km further and staying in the scenic village of Sumur. It makes for a great base to explore some unspoilt corners of Nubra Valley on foot. Trek to the 19th-century Samstemling Gompa, opt for half-day hike to the old fort in Sumur or go hiking to a Sea buckthorn forest that lies across the Siachen River. If you’re not up for all the hiking, drive to the Panamik hot springs or to the wishing pond called Trisha Tso, both of which lie 20 minutes away.
Getting there: Sumur is about 120 km from Leh and about 40 km from Hunder. Diskit is a short 10 km drive away from the sand dunes of Hunder.
Where to Stay: We recommend Namgyal’s property in Sumur which has beautiful cottages and plenty of space to lounge in. (Click here for more details or to book.) You could also consider Wangdan’s Homestay for its beautiful rooms and hospitality. Click here for more details or to book.
Alternatively, you can also stay in this Guest House in Diskit that lies at a walking distance from the Diskit Monastery and a short drive away from Hunder. Click here for more details or to book.
7. Drive along Shyok River to the village of Turtuk – only a few kilometers away from Pakistan
Not many take the 80 km route from Hunder that goes along the Shyok River, leading to a village that greets you with the sight of brooks, wheat farms, apricot orchards, and smiling locals. The village of Turtuk, located only 12 km away from the Line of Control, became a part of India in 1971 and accessible to tourists only in 2010. Unlike the rest of Ladakh, the locals of Turtuk are Baltis who follow Islam. Stay with the locals and learn about the region’s unique history and culture from them, explore the village -its farms and bylanes – on foot, trek to a waterfall or visit the old royal house.
Getting There: Turtuk is best accessed from Hunder in Nubra Valley that lies 80 km away.
Where to Stay: We recommend this Homestay in Turtuk which serves some delicious local meals and offers rooms with a great view. Click here to know more or to book.
8. Sleep under the stars on the banks of Pangong Lake
The last scene of Amir Khan’s movie 3 Idiots added the beautiful high altitude lake of Pangong to everyone’s Ladakh itinerary. Tour guides and taxi drivers will readily take you for a day trip but unless you’ve spent a night under the star studded sky there, you haven’t truly soaked up its beauty. Choose from one of the camp sites or tents that are pitched near Pangong Tso. Spend the day watching the colors of the lake change while lounging on a sun deck or from the comforts of your tent, and enjoy the starry night with a bonfire. It’s as magical as it gets.
Getting there: Pangong Tso is best accessed from Leh which lies 225 km away.
Where to Stay: You can take your pick from Guest Houses, Tents and Homestays in Pangong Tso. Click here for more details or to book.
Note: All photographs, unless otherwise mentioned, were taken by Kartik Mahajan during his trip for SaffronStays to Ladakh.
Which of these offbeat locations in Ladakh have you been to & which ones do you plan to visit next? Share with us in your comments.
About the author: Born and raised in Assam, Sarita Santoshini has been travelling around India and penning down her experiences over the past year. You can read more of her travelogues on her blog- http://crumbsfromyourtale.wordpress.com.