The barren, beautiful landscape of Ladakh has hosted a growing number of tourists and travelers in the past few decades. The lonely mountains, still Pangong Tso Lake and ancient monasteries draw plenty of tourists to the place. Ladakh was once a getaway for travelers to escape the crowds, but it has become a popular tourist destination for everyone and anyone in an ironic twist of fate. Still, the cold deserts of Ladakh have plenty of obscure places to visit that remain relatively untouched by the influx of tourists and travelers. Tucked between valleys, on top of steep hills and along frozen glaciers, these are among the few hidden gems to visit in Ladakh. ALSO READ: 20 photos of Ladakh that are out of this world!
The scenic Nubra Valley that lies north of Leh and separates Ladakh from Karakoram is known for its breathtaking views and sand dunes. But the valley also hides the ruins of a palace lost in time. Zamskhang Palace was once a pit-stop along the famed Silk Road trade route. The clay tablets left by pilgrims centuries ago can still be seen inside and around the Chortens and Stupas around the palace. From the outside, Zamskhang Palace looks ruined and ravaged by time, with a pale white facade that seems to blend with the rocky terrain on which it is built. Inside, you find beautiful frescoes and paintings that have retained most of their color and splendor despite the centuries. The palace was said to have been built in the 17th century, but today only its prayer room is used, adorned with paintings, statues and Thankas.
From the northern Nubra Valley, we move to the southern edges of Ladakh, where there is a remote little village called Hanle. Here, you get to see the Himalayas rising above you without other tourists around. More importantly, you get two places to visit here: the 17th century Analy Gompa (often simply called the Hanle Monastery). This is actually one of the oldest monasteries in the region, belonging to the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Built under the patronage of Ladakhi king Sengge Namgyal, the monastery today is home to around 30 monks. Another place to visit here is the Indian Astronomical Observatory, unmistakable as the only big building in the village. The place is perfect for stargazing, since the clear night sky shines bright with billions of stars spread from one end of the horizon to another, and the Milky Way running through the sky like a river of pure light.
Drang Drung glacier
Drang Drung Glacier or Durung Drung Glacier
Zamskhang Palace is for history lovers, Hanle is for stargazers and Drang Drung glacier is for adventurers. This one is about the journey, more specifically the tough trek from Suru Valley to Drang Drung glacier. The trek takes you through the valley, a picturesque location that lies on the Suru River’s catchment area. While the Drang Drung glacier is only for experienced trekkers, Suru Valley is the base for other trekking trails, like Padum, Rangdum, Panikhar and Sankoo. The lush green valley is full of apricot, apple and mulberry trees, a stark contrast to the barren desert landscape in most of Ladakh.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Ladakh
Built to commemorate the visit of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib is a small but beautiful Gurudwara around 25 km away from the main city of Leh in Ladakh. Connected to this place is the Datun Sahib, a tree that lies in the main bazaar of Leh and said to have been visited by Guru Nanak. While there is no temple around the tree, the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib was built in 1517 in the saint’s memory. It is said to have been built on the place where Guru Nanak defeated a demon. The place is maintained immaculately by the Indian Army, and vehicles passing by traditional stop to pay their respects here. Despite being a Sikh place of worship, the Gurudwara is also worshiped by Tibetan Buddhists who venerate the saint as Nanak Lama or Guru Gompka Maharaj.
The prominent Riasi Fort is also called Zorawar Fort, named after the General Zorawar Singh Kahluria (1786-1841) who conquered Ladakh and defended the region from the Chinese. The fort is said to have been a stronghold for the Dogra kingdom and its wealth. Today, however, the fort houses royal treasures, coins and stamps. Inside the fort you can also find a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddesses Kali and Durga and an old Mosque. There is also a natural spring within the fort premises, presumably one of the reasons why this place was chosen as the location of a fort centuries ago. The Riasi Fort lies below the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa and Leh Palace, amidst beautiful views of Ladakh and barren hills. The view captured here is hard to find anywhere else in the region, and the fort is an interesting place to visit for anyone who wants to know more about the Ladakh’s history. ALSO READ: These 10 types of people travel to Ladakh! Which one are you?
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