Parched and stark but wildly beautiful Ladakh remains one of the most remote and sparsely populated regions on earth. The high altitude deserts surrounded by giant mountains of the Indian Himalaya are also the last refuge of pure Tibetan Buddhism.
This ‘Land of the High Passes’ once extended its influence far across the Indus Valley, into Baltistan, across the Tibetan plateau, Himalaya and Karakorum mountain ranges, its importance coming from its strategic location at the crossroads of trade routes on a branch of the Silk Road. Until an enormous tunnel is completed (due 2017) Ladakh is cut off from the rest of India by road for much of the year and the little villages seem almost untouched by modern progress. Families work collectively and precious water is carefully diverted from mountain streams into ancient irrigation channels to persuade the high altitude deserts into green. The ruined palace in the capital of Leh (3525m), was the former mansion of the royal family of Ladakh, built in the same style and about the same time as the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
For us, Ladakh is about the thrill of vast open spaces, rustic simplicity, and experiencing something almost - dare we say it - transcendental. Whether staying in simple hotels, or better still, gorgeoous converted village houses or a luxury mobile camp you’ll quickly discover that these highlands are saturated in the spirit of Tibetan Buddhism; walk to crumbling monasteries perched on barren hillsides, cycle over army-issue metal bridges festooned in faded prayer flags blowing in the wind (you’re in High Asia’s frontier country here) and visit ancient temples where red robed monks chant mantras and lamas blow conch shell horns from the rooftops and you'll know what we mean.
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