Duration: 15 Days
Places to Visit: Delhi - Leh - Alchi - Leh - Likir Gompa - Dha Hanu - Basg - Leh - Hemis - Chumtahng - Karzok - Tsomoriri - Tsokar - Sarchu - Jispa - Manali - Amritsar - Delhi.
Arrive in Delhi during the morning and we will transfer to our hotel. The rest of the day is free to rest and recover from the flight or for individual exploration of this interesting Moghul city.
We transfer to the domestic terminal for the spectacular early morning flight over the Himalaya to Leh. The rest of the day is free to relax and acclimatise to the altitude (3,500m), with only a gentle orientation walk of the town planned.
Today is spent either sightseeing or at a festival. The departures ex London on 24 July, 7th August and 28th August will spend today sightseeing. We will visit two of the major gompas (monasteries) in the area. We first drive to Shey, a former Royal Palace of the Ladakh kings. Inside is a small temple containing a 350 year old copper and gold statue of Buddha. From Shey we drive to Tikse, where we visit the monastery - perched on top of a hill - its red and white buildings can be seen for miles. A recently built temple contains a magnificent image of the Future Buddha. The departure ex London 17th July will spend today at Phyang festival. Each monastery in Ladakh holds a festival once a year, which is a time when temples are open to the local people to come and worship. The main attraction, however, are the masked dances, which symbolise the success of Buddhism in overcoming evil forces and demons. The dances are performed by monks dressed in magnificent costumes made of old Chinese silks and brocades. The monks wear terrifying painted masks depicting the evil spirits of the old Bon religion. The festivals are also great social occasions when Ladakhis wear their traditional dress and gather together to exchange news. Stalls are set up around the monastery selling food and nick nacks and there are games of chance for the children.
(Please note that the monastery festival dates are set by the monks according to the Tibetan calendar. Very occasionally these dates are changed at the last minute as they are not considered auspicious. If this happens we will arrange different activities
We leave Leh this morning following the Indus River westwards. We pass Basgo where an ancient ruined fortress is built atop the wind eroded cliffs. We turn off the main road to visit the monastery at Likir, a beautiful building, reminiscent of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. From here we drive to Yangtang village from where there is the option to walk to Ridzong monastery, set hidden in a valley. This solitary gompa is renowned for its strict monastic teachings. Just below in a grove of apricots is a small nunnery, which is inhabited by young nuns from the Nubra Valley who have come here to study Buddhism. After Ridzong we rejoin the Indus again, which we follow to Saspol. Just after the village we cross this mighty river and drive to Alchi, a pretty village set in a grove of apricot trees. Barley fields surround the village and at harvest time the village is a buzz of activity.
The main attraction in Alchi is the monastery, which is the most important cultural site in Ladakh. Built in the 11th century, it is a treasure trove of early Buddhist art in the Kashmiri tradition, a style quite different from the Tibetan art found in Ladakh's other monasteries. It was founded by Rinchen Zangpo who was said to have built 108 temples in Ladakh and is responsible for reviving interest in Buddhism at that time. After breakfast we make an excursion to Lamayuru. The drive takes us through some of the most spectacular scenery in Ladakh. A short way from Alchi we pass through Khalatse after which the road leaves the Indus and winds its way round to the lunar landscape at Lamayuru. This part of Ladakh is where 50 million years ago the continents crashed together and the Himalaya were formed. The monastery is set on top of a beautifully eroded crag, complete with rock caves and pinnacles and has an almost fairytale quality as it stands over the village below. We have time to explore the monastery and the village before driving back to Alchi.
After breakfast we drive back to Leh visiting Basgo Fort en route. The rest of the afternoon is free for individual exploration. The old town and the local bazaar are well worth a visit.
The departure ex London 17th July will visit Shey and Tikse monasteries. The departure ex London 24th July will spend today at Tak Tak Festival and the departure ex London 7th August will have a free day in Leh. There are options to visit some of the monasteries in the Leh valley, or to take a jeep trip to the Khardung La Pass, the highest motorable road in the world at 5,602m. These activities can be arranged and paid for locally and your leader will have details. Or you may just wish to spend the day exploring the bazaars and relaxing in one of the garden cafes with a cup of coffee and fresh apricot pie.
An early start as we leave Leh and begin our journey along the legendary road from Leh to Manali across the Great Himalayan Range. This journey rates as one of the classic road journeys of the world. The days can be long and some of the road surfaces are not the best but for those prepared to take advantage of the opportunity to travel this spectacular route through the wild mountain scenery of Ladakh and the high altitude plains of Changtang, down to the lush green valleys of Manali, will not be disappointed. From Leh we follow the Indus River for a short while before turning away to climb to the Taglang La. At 5,328 m., this pass is the second highest road pass in the world. The road winds its way up through a spectacular landscape to the prayer flags at the top. Descending from the pass we leave the main road for a while to visit Tsokar Lake. We camp about a mile from the lake (due to ecological reasons camping is not allowed on the lake shore). This salt lake supports a vital industry that allows the Changpa nomads to trade with merchants from the rest of Ladakh. The area is home to herds of rare kiang (Tibetan wild ass), which we may see in the distance. (Approx 6 hours driving)
A long drive today as we rejoin the main road and continue south across the Morey Plains. These vast high altitude plains are home to the hardy Changpa nomads and we may well see their encampments and huge herds of yaks. From Pang we climb through a stunning wind eroded landscape of earth and rock pillars to the Nakli La and further on to the Lachalung La. We then descend the Gata Loops, an amazing series of 22 hairpin bends. From Brandy Nallah we climb to the Baralacha Pass (4,845m), where we are rewarded with spell binding views of the Himalaya, which we are now starting to cross. We descend to Keylong for the night. (Approx 9 hours drive today)
If time allows we can visit the 900 year-old Kardung monastery above Keylong before crossing our last pass, the Rhotang La (3,985 m). This takes us over the Great Himalaya and from here the scenery changes dramatically - we leave the barren mountains behind and descend into the green and fertile Kulu Valley to Manali.
We have a full day to explore Manali. Manali is surrounded by beautiful fir and pine forests and there are lovely walks in and around the town. The ancient wooden Hadimba Devi Temple is the most important temple in Manali. Set in the forest it is an easy walk from our hotel. Manali has a colourful Tibetan bazaar full of souvenirs. Or you may want to take a taxi to Naggar (12km from Manali), the old capital of the area. The ancient castle is now a hotel. Nicholas Roerich, the famous Russian artist and traveller lived in Naggar and his estate is preserved as an art gallery and museum and is well worth a visit.
Travelling by road, we head out through picturesque countryside towards the little visited town of Mandi. En route we will visit Rewalsar where a charming hilltop lake is revered by Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, who have each built their temples on its banks. Mandi is situated on the Beas River at the foot of the beautiful Kulu Valley, this unusual town was once a halting point on the salt route to Tibet. Overlooked by most visitors, Mandi is a fascinating place with over 80 temples and shrines including some impressive sixteenth century Nagari style temples. We stay tonight a short drive out of Mandi. (Approx 6hrs driving)
Day 13 - 14
Leaving Mandi, our morning's drive takes us back into the mountains as we make our way to the hill station of Dharamsala. This was a quiet unassuming town until 1959. This all changed when the Dalai Lama settled here after fleeing from Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion. McLeod Ganj is the upper part of the town and is the area with the greatest Tibetan influence and is where we are based for two nights. We have a full day to explore the town. There are many monasteries and temples and a colourful bazaar. (Approx 5-6 hours driving)
This morning we descend to the plains and cross into the Punjab. We arrive in Amritsar, the Sikh's holiest city and in the afternoon we visit the Golden Temple, their main shrine. Shoes must be removed, feet washed and heads and arms covered before we can enter. The Golden Temple itself is quite small and is surrounded by tanks of holy water. The atmosphere is incredibly calm as devotees stroll round the temple and sit and listen to the continuous recitals from the Granth Sahib. We can also visit the nearby Jalianwala Gardens, site of the notorious massacre under General Dyer in 1919, which led to 319 Sikhs being shot by British troops
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