Ladakh is the Indian northernmost territory with high passes and deep valleys. It is known for its large-scale deserts, vast steppes, and unique animal species including snow leopards, Bactrian camels, and yaks. The word “cold desert” came about because of its desert landscape features and it is a place where there are very little humidity and extremely cold weather in winters.
But this does not mean you need to fear going there. Ladakh desert provides an experience unlike any other. Tourists from all over the world come to experience the unique Ladakh experience. Ladakh attracts a diverse visitor base to explore the pristine natural beauty of the cold desert landscape. The greatest appeal to visitors is the enchanting Lakes and the picturesque valleys of Ladakh. There are also a number of interesting campsites available to stay at. Dive into the magnetic beauty of the cold Ladakh desert which has much to offer to lovers of adventure tourism, from the unique flora and fauna to sacred traditions, and a lot more that is most certainly unique to this truly breath-taking destination. Whether you enjoy biking, rafting, trekking, climbing, or want to see the meadows and glaciers, cultural and religious sites and witness the ceremonies and festivities, Ladakh is the right place for you This makes the Ladakh desert a perfect tourist destination. The pleasant climate of summer in Ladakh is ideal for tourist attractions. There are so many famous tourist attractions in India, but the Ladakh desert that drives tourists from all over the world at an altitude of more than 10,000 feet must have something extraordinary to offer. And that’s what this article is about, to discuss the famous Ladakh desert, so, that you can enjoy every moment to its fullest during your Leh Ladakh trip.
Explore Ladakh with us. You can customize any itinerary you see on our website and let us connect the dots. View popular tour packages
Ladakh Cold Desert lies in the Himalayas, on the eastern side of Jammu and Kashmir, with Karakoram Range in the North and Zanskar mountains in the South. Ladakh is also known as khapa chan – the land of snow.
Due to its high altitude of 3000m in Kargil to more than 8,000m in Karakoram, Ladakh is cold, windy, and dry for most of the year. At this altitude, the air is so thin that the sun heat is intense, even at very low temperatures. It is therefore said that you can experience sunstroke and frostbite at the same time. In summers, the weather during the day is warm and pleasant and a cool mountain breeze blows around the valleys during the night. The winters are extremely cold with heavy snowfall in January and February. The rainfall in this region is only 10 cm annually. This is because it lies in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, denying entry to the monsoon clouds.
Where to start exploring the vast beauty of Ladakh – nature, and wildlife
There is so much here to enjoy. How about starting with the Pangong Tso high-altitude lake tour and, Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary? The altitude of the sanctuary varies from 4200m/14000feet to 5700m/19000 feet. There are a number of lakes and marshes in Ladakh, with the majestic river Indus dividing it into two parts.
If you are a tourist visiting this region, you will find a lot of tourist attractions and activities for you. While you are here, you will not have a hard time finding some of the best things in life. This is because the tourist attractions of this region attract a lot of visitors. The abundant fresh water and the spectacular landscape provide a lot of things for entertainment. There are a number of activities that you can enjoy while being here in the region.
The snow leopard is the major attraction of this wildlife sanctuary. Rare and threatened animals such as the Tibetan wolf, Tibetan argali, Wild Yak, Tibetan gazelle, and the Tibetan antelopes also reside in this vast cold desert landscape. Around 44 species of water birds have been recorded. The endangered Black-necked crane breeds in the marshes here before flying to its winter home in northeast India.
Along the way through the picturesque Changthang region, you will find “parachute cafes”—small tea houses built with parachutes discarded by the Indian Army. A number of shepherd trails in this area make for popular hiking routes.
The stunningly beautiful landscape of the cold Ladakh desert is carved by several rivers that flow through Ladakh forming deep valleys and gorges.
Indus River is the backbone of Ladakh and all the most important places in the region such as Shey, Leh, Basgo, and Tingmosgang are situated close to the river. Zanskar river valley suffers such heavy snowfall, that it is completely cut off from October to June and the entire valley is virtually treeless. Suru river and valley, with the town of Kargil, was an important landmark for the routes of the trade caravans before the 1947 India – Pakistan partition.
When you visit the Ladakh, you will be able to enjoy many things. You can visit desert wildlife, walk through dry riverbeds, and even visit camel safaris. Camel safaris are one of the most popular activities because you get to ride on a bacterian camel. If you have never seen a glacier before, then this will be an unforgettable experience. For those who already enjoy camping, then the Ladakh desert will provide you with another experience. No matter how you enjoy the desert, you are sure to find something of interest.
Visit the land of glaciers and ice stupas
Ladakh is the land of glaciers, of which there are about a dozen in the region, the biggest one being Siachen. With 72km (46 miles) in length, Siachen Glacier one of the biggest in the world outside the polar regions. These glaciers and winter snowfall on the mountains have always been the main source of water for the local population, with villages located around glacial streams which feed into the Indus and other rivers as tributaries. Water for the crops was supplied by diverting water from the streams through canals running into deserts. In early summer, April and May, there is little water in the streams and some villages face water shortage, followed by an excess of water and even flooding in mid-June there, due to the fast melting of the snow and glaciers in the mountains
With the Himalayan glaciers melting away due to global warming, the local population is increasingly struggling with their water supply. One of the solutions scientists are trying to implement is artificial glaciers, or ice stupas, that use pipes, gravity, and the difference between day and night temperatures to generate more water in the arid areas, at lower altitudes. Artificial glaciers were an ingenious idea of a local engineer Sonam Wangchuk, for which he received an 80 000 gbp innovation prize. These are not popular with everyone, but you don’t want to miss getting a closer look at them. Just choose your perfect itinerary on Ladak-tourism, or tell us what else excites your fancy.
Tourist traffic has, in fact, picked up to a point where some parts are protected and can only be accessed accompanied by an accredited guide.
See if you can spot a yak in the Ladakh desert
See if you can spot a yak on our 5-day (4 nights) Leh Ladakh trip. Wildlife in Ladakh is far from abundant, but there are some of the rarest, high altitude species, adapted to survive in the high-altitude rugged terrain, biting cold, and with minimal vegetation. Since the Ladakh Desert is located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, animal species have adapted to the extreme environment. Many of them can be seen within the deserts. Some of the most common animals you will see include Snow Leopard, Tibetan Wolf, Eurasian Lynx, Red Fox, Himalayan Brown Bear, Asian Ibex, Ladakh Urial. Although these animals are rare, they are definitely worth seeing. The most common animal found here is the Yak, a wild ox. Yaks are respected and loved. You will be asked to respect the humble attitude of this majestic animal, and consideration for occasional laziness. Yaks have long black fur and curved horns and weigh a ton. This is the biggest and the most important species in the cold desert, an excellent pack animal for snow-bound areas. Its cup-shaped hooves create a vacuum, allowing it to walk easily on ice. Yak can cover 25-30 km per day, carrying loads of up to 125-150 kg. Yak herders collect the animals from their owners in different villages and take them to the grazing grounds. The earnings from the sale of butter are shared with the yak owners. Yak rearing is still considered a noble profession by the Buddhist herders of Ladakh. Visit the Buddhist monasteries and soar to the remotest of places
Visit Buddhists monasteries with their traditional ‘gompas’ (coming from the Sanskrit word ‘dgon-pa’ meaning “remote place”), found throughout Ladakhi landscape, and let your spirit soar to the remotest of places, by experiencing the hypnotic sights and sounds of these ecclesiastical fortifications, devoted to worship and spiritual practice. Some famous monasteries in the region are Hemis, Thiksey, Shey, and Lamayuru.
Immerse with the intriguing vibrant people of Ladakh
Mixing with the warm friendly, vibrant locals, who will welcome you to their homes and give you a glimpse of their lifestyle is a real privilege. While you are at it do not miss the chance to consult with one of the local astrologers and healers, some of whom belong to families in which there have been several such recipients of spirit forces. However, do brace yourself, because the spirits are believed to be unpredictable, and not always entirely benevolent. If they accept their gift, these channellers of spirit energies undergo initiation and training by monks and oracles before they start practicing, if and when they have accepted the calling.
This mystical, magnetic land pulls you irresistibly, to explore its traditions and customs, so surrender and let yourself feel the connection with these energies, with the chanting of the monks, devoutness of the people, and the vibe of the surroundings. Ladakh cold desert population, especially Buddhists, believe implicitly in the influence of gods and spirits on the material world, and always take this influence into consideration. The lamas mediate between the human and the spirit worlds, by performing rituals to appease the gods, and by predicting auspicious time for starting any kind of activity, from plowing the fields, harvesting, arranging a marriage, or going on a journey. Monks chose for the role prepare by spending several months in a rigorous regimen of prayer and fasting. When the time comes they are possessed by a deity known whose spirit enables them to perform feats such as cutting themselves with knives, as well as answer questions, on personal and public matters alike.
For an unforgettable experience of the land of oracles and spirit whisperers, check out one of the many tours operated by Ladakh-tourism.net. Notice there is an option to choose village home-stays instead of hotels.
Feel the arduous joy of living at Ladakh Festivals
If visiting the Ladakh desert during the festive season, prepare for an extraordinary, magical journey, on which you will view, enjoy and experience the culture of Ladakh to the fullest. Festivals in Ladakh are organized on various occasions such as birth, marriage, the commemoration of head Lamas who founded the monasteries, harvesting, flowering, and Losar or New Year, celebrated on the first day of the Tibetan lunisolar calendar. With no agricultural work to be done due to the cold, festivals usually, but not exclusively happen in the winter, it’s time to party, and the Ladakh population indeed have their own way of doing that. The festivals involve masked dance, folk songs, and dance-dramas by monks in vibrant silk outfits and of course feasting. They are staged in monasteries and their courtyards and can last up to several days. To mention just a few, the famous Hemis Festival commemorates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet and the monks perform a sacred dance drama of his life and its mission. Spituk Gustor marks the triumph of good over evil. Various kinds of masks are worn by the dancers and the festival ends with a figurative killing of and burning of all that represents evil. Dosmochey Festival is organized at the start and end of the Tibetan New Year. Monks of the Takthok monastery make offerings to the hungry ghosts and forces of evil to ensure their protection against natural disasters in the coming year. Ladakh-tourism.net/Leh Ladah is here to help you make the best of your trip get to enjoy as much of what Ladakh has to offer.
Fun and Fanfare at Archery festivals
Feel the rush and excitement at Ladakh’s competitive archery events, bursting with excitement and color, as the local barley beer, Chang, flows freely, all to the beat of surna, which is oboe and daman, drum. Here you get a chance to see the most colorful display of the inventory of the women’s wardrobes and some spectacular pieces of jewelry, while men are dressed in their traditional outfits. Archery is a traditional sport of Ladakh. Archery festivals are held during the summer months, with teams representing their villages. The sport itself is conducted with strict etiquette. If that’s something that might interest you, go to our website, under “other activities”, and select “archery”.
Carry the memories of your visit with you – typical Ladakh souvenirs
“Where can we buy souvenirs?” I hear you ask. Indeed, what is a holiday without souvenir shopping? Yes, there will be plenty of opportunities to get souvenirs in Leh and many other venues. What do we recommend?
The first thing to get would definitely be the pashmina shawl. By getting one of these, you will not only be taking a small bit of real Ladakh with you but also supporting the initiative to empower women and small business in the region, through government programs such as those conducted by the member of the armed forces in the region and others such as the Ladakhi Rural Women’s Enterprise (LRWE). Founded in 2012 by Tsering Dolma, the organization employs rural women and is helping to keep traditional fiber arts skills alive. The women are trained to make products that are sold at the organization’s store in the main market of Leh. Pattu, the rough, warm, woolen material used for clothing is made from locally produced wool, spun by women on drop-spindles, and woven by traditional weavers on portable looms. If it keeps the Ladakh people warm in the cold desert, it’s probably worth taking with you for those chilly evenings back home.
Another thing that you could get that will take you right back to Ladakh every time you open your jewelry box are various trinkets made out of copper, silver, and turquoise. Ladakh is very rich in minerals and semi-precious stones, as well as, less auspiciously, gold, that was, according to the ancient tales, coughed up by “giant ants”, who were most likely marmots. People who lived along the banks of Indus, collected the earth as it contained many gold particles, the tales say. More recently, Jammu and Kashmir Government decided to reinitiate gold exploration in the cold desert of Ladakh along the banks of river Indus, said to contain gold-bearing sand. Do check it out! India actually has a long history of gold mining, dating back to ancient times and after Independence, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) carried out explorations in different parts of the country.
If you can, try to find items produced in the village of Chiling, about 19 km up the Zanskar River from Nimo, where a community of metal workers carries on their ancestral profession, working with silver, brass, and copper. These are said to be the descendants of artisans brought from Nepal during the mid-17th century to build one of the gigantic Buddha statues at Shey, the former summer capital of Ladakh. These exquisite items for domestic and religious use, such as teapots, teacup-stands and lids, hookah-bases, ladles, bowls, and occasionally, silver chortens for temples and domestic shrines make valuable, authentic souvenirs, with a great story to tell.
Apricot jam is a very special local delicacy, so at least try some while you are there. They are not just regular apricots. Ladakh apricots are said to be the sweetest in the world due to the dry cold desert climate. This delicate fragrant plant, with highly medicinal oil, was a precious trading commodity in the past and is nowadays one of the few things that can be easily grown and market viable. This is important since historically, agriculture has been, and still is, the core of the Ladakh economy, and though only 0,2% of the area is cultivable and entirely dependent on irrigation from the glaciers. Organic small-scale farming is felt by many to be the most compatible with the terrain, with its climate and the poor market linkage, and is now being successfully promoted by the government and various organizations.
Also, check out the thangka painting. These unique icons on cloth are executed in accordance with strict traditional guidelines handed down the generations, in the same tradition as the mural paintings in the monasteries, done by semi-professionals, both monks and laymen.
A few more curiosities
- While you are preparing for your adventure with us, here are a few more facts and curiosities that you can ponder on:
- As its culture and history are closely related to that of Tibet, it is known as the “Little Tibet”. The original population may have been an Indo-Aryan race Dards, but with the immigration from Tibet, perhaps a millennium or so ago, their racial characteristics have diminished. In eastern and central Ladakh, today’s population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin. Further west, in and around Kargil, the people’s appearance suggests a mixed origin. The main religious groups in the region are Muslims (mainly Shia) (46%), Tibetan Buddhists (40%), Hindus (12%), and others (2%).
- Ladakh is one of the most sparsely populated regions in India.
- You would find the women working more than the men, in for example running a small business
- Women are also very active in nature preservation activities and the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh, which counts some 4,000 members managed to enforce a plastic ban and is persuading farmers of the cold desert to go back to organic farming and traditional water harvesting.
- Polo is all the rage in Ladakh, especially when the locals are playing against the Armed Forces members, but unlike in Europe, it is not exclusively for the rich, and instead of horses they use small, sturdy, and unusually fast ponies, who are not exactly graciously obedient. Polo was probably brought to Ladakh in the mid-17th century by King Singge Namgyal, whose mother was a Balti princess. Traditionally, almost every major village had its polo-ground. The game played here differs from the international game, which is an adaptation of what the British saw in the western Himalayas and Manipur in the 19th century.
- There are only 200 Great Tibetan sheep left in the world. They are native to Ladakh and hardly ever descend lower than 4,500 m.
The budget and luxurious hotels of Ladakh provide comfortable accommodation within a short driving distance of the town. The cuisine is prepared using fresh local ingredients and the rooms themselves are set in attractive desert scenery. Many of the guest rooms are suites with views of the desert and the snow-capped mountains.
Ladakh Desert camping is possible throughout the year, though the summer months are usually better. The longer stays can give you time to explore the area more. If you like, you can stay overnight in one of the many camps dotted around the area.
Travelers to the Ladakh desert prefer to go hiking, so you will find numerous hiking tracks to follow along the plateau. Some of these tracks lead towards the valley of Zanskar. The main hiking areas are located between Stok and the Lamayuru Settlement. Hiking here requires heavy boots due to the dry, sandy soil. Bring plenty of water with you as the desert can get dry at times.
Leh: The Capital
Leh is the most important town in Ladakh. It is home to an old market town. This is well-preserved thanks to the efforts of the local authorities in preserving its archaeological heritage. You can purchase souvenirs at the market, which are not widely available elsewhere in the Ladakh desert. It is possible to see many cultural activities that take place in the area, including traditional music and dancing.
The highest motorable road
Khardung La at 5.359m (17,582ft), for a long time the highest motorable road in Ladakh. If you want to see it, just go back to the Ladakh-tourism.net/Leh Ladakh website and tick the box. Though no longer the highest, following the construction of Dungri La 5,610 m (18,406 feet), Khardung La is still the paradise for motorbike, automobile, and mountain biking lovers. A visit to Khardung La is a must in Ladakh. Apart from the intoxicating panoramas and crisp air Khardung La is also historically important, as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hunder desert, in the area north of the pass. During World War II there was an attempt to transfer war material to China through this route. The Average temperature in Khardungla during summer reaches up to 20°C while in winter it can go as low as -30 °C. The pass gets wrapped up by 10 feet of snow during snowfall.
The Ladakh desert is one of the most popular tourist destinations around the world. It is also very popular among the tourists who are looking for a place where they can spend their summer vacations. There are a number of activities that you can do around here. Thus, spending your summer vacations in this region will be an unforgettable experience for you.
However, the summer is not the only time of the year when you can enjoy the Ladakh desert. You can visit it in the spring too. The winters are extremely in this region, but the summer season is milder. The best time to visit the Ladakh desert is between May-September. So, plan your vacations accordingly and enjoy the Ladakh desert in its all-time beauty.