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9 Top Tourist Places To Visit In Leh
As the more densely habited part of the famous Leh-Ladakh region, Leh's charm is all about its high altitude civilization: yaks, monasteries, handicrafts and Tibetan culture and architecture. Very high, very rugged and very cold, Leh has bred a fascinating breed of hardy people, with a unique culture adapted to the harsh climate and terrain of the place. Here are 9 top tourist places you must visit when in Leh:
The nine-storey Leh Palace, built in typical Tibetan architectural style, has a stunning view of the surrounding landscape - houses, terraced fields and the magnificent snow peaks of the Stok Kangri. It is sad that most of it has fallen to rack and ruin now, and entering certain parts of it is nothing short of a torch-lit thriller.
Monasteries / Gompas
Leh is mostly ruled by Buddhist culture and religion and is home to some of the most incredible monasteries in the entire world. Each monastery has a courtyard where rituals are performed or yearly festivals are celebrated. There are also many Stupas, known as "Chortens".
Hemis Gompa: This world famous monastery was built in the 17th century. It is the largest and most famous monastery in the region.
Thiksey Gompa: Located at a distance of 20 km from Leh region, this Gompa has depictions of the historical art and architecture of the region. The monastery is a home to several marvelous stupas, statues, swords and much more.
Spituk Gompa: This historical Monastery is situated on top of a hill near the Indus River, 18 kilometers away from Leh.
Lamayuru Monastery: This monastery is home to one of the oldest and most beautifully constructed Buddhist Gompas in the Leh-Ladakh region.
Shey Monastery: This monastery boasts of a 12 metre tall, gold-plated statue of Buddha.
The main bazaar street of Leh runs right through the length of the town. It is dotted with shops selling woolens, tea, salt, and semi-precious stones. You will also find rows of Ladakhi women selling fruits and vegetables here among other things.
Three kilometers west of the main bazaar sits the Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda). Perched on a hillock, this white stupa was built by the Peace Sect of Japan in the 1980's. The sides of the stupa are adorned with stories from the life of the Buddha. Strings of prayer flags flutter around and away from the temple, and you get a good panoramic view of Leh. The Shanti Stupa makes for a brilliant photo op.
At various points around Leh-Ladakh, you will see the famous Mani walls. These are long stone walls with prayers engraved on them, a form of Buddhist spiritual worship. On the outer walls one can notice the lines of "prayer wheels". Prayer wheels are wood and metal cylinders with prayers written on the long pieces of paper inside. Every rotation of the cylinders is equated to prayers being sent to Buddha himself.
Looming large and ominous over Leh is the famous Tsemo aka Victory Fort. It lies atop a steep hill that is a rather breath-taking (literally) walk from Leh. It's a steep and laborious climb up to the ruins. What remains of this fort today are mere bricks and stones; scarce testimony to the earliest royal residence of the Namgyal dynasty. The Fort is surrounded and flanked by some temples built in veneration of the guardian deities of the dynasty.
At the Main Bazaar, is a Sunni mosque built way back in the 17th century. It is said that King Deldan Namgyal's grandmother was a Muslim and she donated the land for this mosque.
Upper Leh is also home to a rustic little donkey sanctuary where injured and destitute donkeys are sheltered. You can feed the donkeys carrots and/or make financial donations to help in their support and care. It's all very sweet actually.
Established in 1984, the Ecological Centre of Leh runs a craft shop and organises workshops and teaching sessions on environmental issues in Ladakh. The Centre displays various environment friendly models including solar powered gadgets and has a library on Ladakhi culture and Buddhism.