After detailed visits to the popular and worthy sites of Thiksey Monastery, Shey Palace, Leh Palace, Stok Palace, Namgyal Tsemo etc etc, I had an urge to know more about Leh. After all, a place on the old caravan route to Central Asia had to have more to it. In summer there were so many tourists that I felt lost, thus came visits to Ladakh in different seasons.
Winter in Leh was different, the loner in me felt like I belonged here. There was hardly anyone around except a few dogs. Alas, some historical sights were closed during the cold for lack of visitors. This post is an attempt to pen down a few interesting places to visit in Leh for the offbeat traveller.
On my latest trip to Ladakh in July 2017, since I had flown in, this was the perfect opportunity to find some offbeat sights in Leh on the pretext of acclimatising. It was a pathbreaking trip for the #HighestBloggerMeet at Khardung La with the #aageseright guys at ScoutMyTrip and OYO Rooms.
A List of Offbeat Sights in Leh :
Central Asian Museum
Accessed through the winding streets of Leh, the Central Asian Museum has a glorious collection depicting the rich cultural heritage of Ladakh. I was distraught to learn that photography inside the museum was not allowed. It is a four storey building with winding stairs containing ancient photographs from the trade route, artefacts from the times of the caravan trade, unique rugs, traditional utensils used in Ladakh, age old manuscripts and basically an entire repertoire of Ladakh’s history.
Check : Into Unknown Ladakh – Turtuk
Entry : 50 Rupees
In the cold winter of January 2015, I had starting walking to the Donkey Sanctuary but the locals had promptly told me that it would definitely be closed. It is a shelter for homeless donkeys; this quirky Donkey Sanctuary is a safe haven for donkeys that have been abandoned. Visitors are urged to visit the donkey sanctuary, and bring carrots for the donkeys to feed them. It lies ahead on the same road of the Women’s Alliance on Chubi Road.
Entry : Free
To be honest, I didn’t even know about this one until I reached Sankar Gompa. 2-3 buildings away, a big poster hung outside an unpretentious white-washed building. I read ‘Ladakh Rocks And Minerals Preservation Study and Museum, Leh’ and was instantly intrigued. A local man’s initiative (forgot his name) has resulted in a fascinating collection of various rocks in Ladakh. It is a geologist’s dream place to be among rare rocks, minerals, and some even semi-precious stones. Thank you Johann for telling me about this place and the super company. 🙂
Entry : 50 Rupees
Zorawar Singh Fort
Fort Road is the lane where I’ve stayed most times when in Leh and it was a welcome revelation when a chance conversation on a hitched ride enlightened me about this place. This was the fort of the famous Commander-in-Chief of the Dogra Rajas, Zorawar Singh. In 1834, he defeated the Ladakhi forces and established Dogra rule in Ladakh. It is located at the end of the Fort Road near Skara in Leh. Zorawar Singh Fort has massive mud walls from the 19th Century Fort and is now used as a garrison of the Indian Army. There is a mosque and a temple inside the Fort. A trench filled with water used to signal entrance to the inside of the fort but these days is dry.
Entry : Free
Ladakh Book Shop
Located on the first floor close to State Bank of India on the cobblestone main market in Leh, Ladakh Book Shop has a distinguishable collection of books about Ladakh. There are rare books, trekking maps, books on spirituality, local guidebooks and other good books on Indian literature. It is located opposite the Chokhang Vihara in the main market, Leh.
Exploring Heritage on a walk in Old Leh
Also check : A lost treasure – The biggest home in Kumaon
Just a left turn from Jama Masjid in Leh, is the fascinating old town of Leh. It is a maze of narrow alleys with chortens and mane walls, interspersed with ancient houses constructed of sun-baked bricks. This area gives a great insight into the architectural heritage and history of Ladakh and really makes it feel like a 16th Century Kingdom. Some of the buildings in the old town were damaged during the Leh flash floods of 2010 and a few of the crumbling ones are making way for new constructions. It is definitely worthwhile to stroll in these lanes with stunning views as the Leh Palace looms large to your left.
Local Ladakhi /Tibetan Food in Leh
While there are cafés dime a dozen in Leh, it makes sense to ditch the popular ones on Changspa Road and head to either a local eatery or try local food at your homestay. Remember Ladakhi food is not only about Momos, Thukpa and Butter tea. Some of the names of Ladakhi dishes to be tried are Kothay, Aloo Phing, Khambir, Thuksing soup, Tsampa, Chaang, Gyathuk, Tenthuk, Shaptak, Sha Bhalay, Timokh, Skiu, Paba Thukpa, Chutagi. Good luck 🙂
More details here : Top Cafés and Restaurants in Leh
Pashmina wool or pashm has been Ladakh’s greatest asset for centuries and also the cause of its downfall. The 1834 attack by Zorawar Singh was to secure the entire Pashmina wool trade that was making its way to Kashmir for further processing. Almost 100 percent of the wool gathered in Ladakh lands up in Kashmir for weaving the famous pashmina shawl. The Women’s Alliance (Also called Old Women’s Alliance) is a Ladakhi co-operative that is producing pashmina shawls in Ladakh itself. Apart from this, the Women’s Alliance is also involved in a lot of cultural activities, medical camps, volunteering and handicraft skill activities. Their main office is on Chubi Road – on the way to Sankar Monastery.
Sankar Monastery (Also called Samkar Gompa)
While the tourist itineraries will urge you to race between the Buddhist sites and see as many monasteries as you can, taking it slow is exactly what I like to do. The little known Sankar Monastery gives one ample time in taking time to chat with the monks, or even share a cup of butter tea with them. Away from the crowds, the path to Sankar Monastery passes through green fields and small lanes. It is a Gelugpa monastery with beautiful bright red doors and it is quite possible that you are the only visitors at a given point of time.
Entry : 30 Rupees
Dry Fruit Sellers near the Main Market
Although with the increasing footfall of tourists, things in Leh are not as they used to be – still, one of the most charming and offbeat things to do in Leh is to sit by one of these dry fruit sellers and watch the world go by. On sale are almonds, dried apples, dried apricots, apricot kernels (that are known to have cancer-fighting properties), local apricot oil, walnut oil and hordes of other products. Most of these old men and women are from around the valleys near Khaltse and will love sharing a good laugh over random conversations. After all, the magic of journeys lies in slow travelling to the soul of a place and feeling one with the locals.
Ice Hockey in Upper Karzoo – if winter
This may not be relevant for summer, but if you are in Ladakh in the cold winters then head to the Ice Hockey Stadium on Upper Karzoo road after the usual acclimatisation time of 36 to 48 hours. A tournament is also held and teams from countries like Canada and USA are also there to take part in the competition. Make a whole lot of local friends in Ladakh while you are one of the very few outsiders to see this! The Ladakhis take their ice hockey quite seriously and one can see kids playing it at most frozen water bodies around Leh and even in some remote parts of Ladakh.
Chai Lane near Polo Ground
Kashmiri Nun Chai, Kahwa, Tibetan Butter Tea, Milk tea, black tea and perhaps other kinds of tea too with a variety of locally baked breads is on offer in this tiny lane. Prepared to sit on crowded wooden tables, with some of Leh’s oldies and get regaled listening to lost stories of nostalgia. It doesn’t get any more rustic than this.
Fond of chai? : Hello from the Coolest Chai Café in India
Datun Sahib Tree
The legend about this place is ‘A man once offered a branch to the Guru for brushing his teeth. The Guruji used one part for brushing and set the other part into the ground. This grew into a huge tree in an area which had no trees hitherto.’ The Sikhs consider it very sacred as they see it as a manifestation of Guru Nanak Ji.
This tree was the base for the establishment of the Gurudwara – Guru Nanak Datun Sahib. He is believed to have visited this place in the year 1517. Datun Sahib tree is highly respected by all religions in Ladakh, including Buddhists and Muslims for its sacredness & also because Guru Nanak spread the message of truth, peace and love. The Buddhists believe that the tree grew magically from the stick of Staksang Raspa (who was a guru of Ladakh’s king Sengge Namgyal).
Munshi Mansion & Gyaoo House
In the maze of tunnels after crossing the Lala Art Café on the left, one can continue to make the uphill climb to the Leh Palace. There are a few signboards with LAMO written on them. The path to the Palace leads one to the reconstructed 300 year old home by the name of Munshi Mansion. Earlier, it was the residence of the Ladakhi royal secretary, but fell into disuse after the King Tsepal Namgyal was sent away to Stok in 1834. It has been converted into a museum with a gallery of photographs in various rooms. An old room inside the Munshi Mansion now houses the office of Lamo Arts Centre. Views from the windows show an expansive landscape of Leh to the visitor. It is a place worthy of a visit to see an original Ladakhi house from a bygone era. Both LOTI (Ladakh Old Town Initiative) and Lamo are striking to do excellent work in Leh with regards to conservation and restoration of old architecture.
Entry : 100 Rupees
Check : Top Ten Spiti Experiences
Most of these places are convenient to explore on a walk if one is staying in a central area of Leh. I stayed at the OYO Rooms Leh and had a fabulous time walking around exploring these gems in the high altitude capital.