J&K AND LADAKH
SRINAGAR TO LEH DRIVE – Flying to Leh, which stands at 11,562ft, almost always results in altitude sickness. But if there was a scenic route, wouldn’t you take it? Thanks to the Border Roads Organisation, there is, and you should. The 434km Srinagar-Leh road, also called NH ID, is one of the most beautiful roads in India. Stop and smell the flowers at Sonmarg, ascend to Zoji La, stop at Drass and break journey at Kargil. Head out again via Mulbekh, cross Namik La, Fotu La, pass through Ule and push on to Leh. Check if the road is open before making plans. The snowbound road is normally open from the last week of April till mid-October.
CHANGTHANG PLATEAU – There are a few words that travellers and writers often use to describe Changthang Plateau: eerie, magical, desolate, surreal, menacing, beautiful and profound. This uninhabited cold desert in the northern plains of Ladakh, with an average elevation of 15,000ft is all that and more. This is a region of vast highlands and giant lakes, home to the nomadic changpa tribe and pashmina goats. At 14,835ft, with a surface area of 12,000 ha, Tso Moriri is more breathtaking than words can say. Changthang is best experienced by the 9-day, 7-pass trek from Rumtse on the Manali-Leh highway to Karzok by the Tso Moriri via the lake of Tso Kar. You can also drive to Tso Moriri from Leh. Tso Moriri is located about 250km away from Leh.
GADSAR LAKE – Many fabled trails in the Himalaya are so off-grid, they seem near-mythical. Not this circuit. Set off from the village of Shitkadi Sonmarg, and the trail leads you past the lakes of Vishansar and Krishansar to altitudes over 13,451ft across two mountain passes, Nichnai and Gadsar, and a few smaller lakes before you arrive at the meadow of flowers that surrounds Gadsar. Reflecting the lofty glaciers that surround it, Gadsar is popular with anglers for its brown trout and also a rumoured octopus that drags unwary tourists under. The trek goes on over Gaj Pass to picture-postcard views of Gaganbal and Nundkol lakes and the sacred peak of Harmukh before ending at Naranag. The trek head point of Sonmarg is 80km/2hrs from Srinagar.
HEMIS – This is Ladakh’s richest and largest gompa. This scenic Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Drukpa lineage was built in 1672 by the Ladakhi king Sengge Namgyal, and it is known for its annual festival honouring Padmasambhava. Further adding to its mystique, the library here is rumoured to preserve a gospel called Life of Saint Issa, which is said to document the ‘lost years’ of Jesus, which he supposedly spent in Kashmir with his wife and son, Ben-lssa. Apart from the monastery, Hemis is famous for its 4,400sq km high-altitude national park—the only one north of the Himalaya. It harbours a high density of snow leopards and boasts a species list of some rare flora and fauna. The Markha Valley trek ends here. Hemis Monastery is 45km/1hr away from Leh.