Situated at an elevation of 2,740 meters, encompassed by snow-capped mountains the hill resort of Sonamarg, is known for its rich natural beauty since centuries. This charming little town is commonly referred to as the ‘Meadow of Gold,’ a title it is believed to have earned because of the variety of colours that seem to cover the landscape in the form of alpine flowers, dense forests of silver birch, pine and fir trees, and the clear waters of the Sindh River, rambling through the town. The road to Leh and Kargil passes through Sonamarg, and travellers can have a glimpse of the scenery from the bus. The mountains around Sonamarg are covered with several glaciers, and the most famous
Ladakh is a high altitude desert situated between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south. Sheer walls of rock and ice divide the Indus Valley from Tibet, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh with restricted human habitation. Having a strong influence of Tibetan culture, Ladakh, known for its remote mountain beauty and culture, is also called ‘Little Tibet.’ Ladakh is the highest plateau of Indian Kashmir with much of its area located at an elevation of over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft). The Ladakh region consists of two districts – Leh and Kargil. The largest town in Ladakh is Leh. Most Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhist, with small communities of Shia and Sunni Muslims in Leh and the valleys surrounding Zanskar and Kargil. Ladakh has been a focal point of the wars between India and Pakistan and the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The Saltoro ridge in the Siachen glacier is a militarized zone. From November to May, Ladakh is almost completely cut off from the outside world. The extremes of cold create a short tourism
season here and the mountain passes are open only from July to October. Even during this period, getting here involves crossing the highest mountain passes in the world. Though isolation has preserved the medieval way of life, change is coming to this mountain Shangri La. For locals, winter is a season of celebration.
HI Getting There
By Air: Indian Airlines operates 3 flights a week between Leh and Delhi, 2 flights a week from Jammu and once a week from Srinagar. Jet Airways also operates six flights a week between Leh and Delhi and Kingfisher Airlines operates a daily flight between Leh and Delhi.
By Road: The overland approach to Ladakh from Kashmir Valley via Kargil is approximately 434 km, and it remains open for traffic from early June to November. The J & K State Road Transport Corporation operates regular deluxe and ordinary bus services between Srinagar and Leh on this route with an overnight halt at Kargil. Manali to Leh – The Manali-Leh road (Since 1989; distance-473 km) has been serving as the second overland approach to Ladakh. It is available for traffic from around mid-June to early October. This high road traverses the upland desert plateau of Rupsho, whose altitude ranges from 3,660 meters to 4,570 meters. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism and J 8t K SRTC operate daily deluxe and ordinary bus services between Manali and Leh. The bus journey from Leh to Manali takes about 19 hours or two days with an overnight halt in camps at Serchu or Pang.
■ Road distances Delhi-Leh 1047 km; Leh-Deskit (Nubra Valley) 118 km; Leh-Kargil 234 km; Manali- Leh 473 km;
Srinagar-Leh 434 km; Srinagar-Kargil 204 km; Kargil-Padum (Zanskar) 240 km
Places of interest Leh Palace: Overlooking the Ladakhi
Himalayan town of Leh, the Leh Palace, mostly in ruins now, was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. However, the royal family abandoned the palace following the Dogra invasion. It resembles the Potala Palace in Tibet and offers an amazing glimpse of the surroundings. The Palace has a museum with some tangkhas (painted or embroidered scrolls) and paintings on display. The striking Shanti Stupa is a recent structure. A Japanese, who harbored the ambition of spreading Buddhism across the world, constructed it in 1985 with aid from the Japanese Government. Although the Archaeological Survey of India is restoring the palace, the rate of decay seems to be faster than the rate of restoration. Old Leh: Located behind the Jama Masjid, the collapsing streets of Old Leh are lined with about 180 documented historical structures which have been neglected for centuries. Many of these magnificent mansions made of mud bricks and plaster are in decline. Now, a group of experts from across the world are taking steps to restore the old beauty of this town.
Sankar Gompa: Located about 3 km from the town of Leh, the Sankar Gompa is a subsidiary of the Spituk Gompa. Also the official residence of The Kushok Bakul, the Sankar Gompa is maintained by a small order of the Gelukpa monks. The entrance of the Dukhang is adorned with the paintings of the Guardian of the Four Directions, on either sides of the door. The inner walls are adorned with new paintings of various Buddhas along with guardian divinities. The main image inside the temple is of Dukar, inset with turquoise and shown with 1,000 arms, 1000 feet, 1000 heads, and 100,000 eyes. The monastery also boasts of Kandshur, the 108 volumes of Buddha’s teachings and images of the Three Buddhas – Sakyamuni (the Post Buddha), the Present Buddha and Maitreya (the Future Buddha).
Sindhu Darshan: Sindhu Darshan or the Sindhu Darshan Festival is celebrated every year in Leh to honour the Sindhu River.
Sindhu Yatra offers an opportunity to people from across the country to come and visit the splendid landscapes of Leh and Ladakh. The festival is about offering prayers to the Sindhu River (Indus), which originates from Mansarovar in Tibet. Tourists and travellers participating in the Sindhu Yatra take part in the celebrations, which symbolise multidimensional cultural identity, communal harmony and peaceful co-existence in India.