The Legend Called Ladakh: Journey To The Cold Desert

An unforgettable journey to Ladakh: the legend!


When you wake up to the chants of Om Mane Padme Hum (Behold, the jewel is in the lotus) and the aroma of Gud Gud chai with dollops of butter added, you surely are in Ladakh. If there’s a place on earth where nature eclipses humanity like nowhere else, it’s  Ladakh.

Ladakh is a legend 
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

Welcome to the cold desert, the land of the lamas. We undertake this 421-km high-altitude journey from the state capital Srinagar to Leh in the Ladakh region in our SUV jam-packed with cameras, trekking equipment, and woollens to face this unforgettable quest, which will take us places in the remote hills and valleys of Jammu & Kashmir over some of the world’s toughest terrains and climes.

Getting Ready for Ladakh

Travel to Leh warrants its own specific preparations. Why? Well, this is the only place on the planet where one could suffer a heatstroke and a frostbite at the very same time! Needless to say, carry the following essentials to take on the mountains:

  1. Sunscreen
  2. Umbrellas
  3. Heavy woollens recommended to beat the cold
  4. Wind-sheeter
  5. Appropriate headgear viz. caps, hats, scarves, mufflers, etc
  6. Full-sleeved clothing to prevent tanning
  7. Lots of water
  8. Trekking boots
  9. Lots of adrenaline rush for adventure treks of a lifetime!

Keep your vehicle tanked up at all times and make it a point to refuel at every fuel pump along the way. In this part of the world, fuel pumps are scarce and availability can be limited at times. You’re now geared up to undertake the adventure journey!


A private taxi would charge you between INR 15,000/- to 20,000/- for the 421-km journey. Hotels in Sonmarg, Kargil, and Leh cost anywhere between INR 2,500 and 8,500.

A photography quest like no other

If there’s one thing that must not be missed on a trip to Leh, it has to be a camera. Which model and make you choose is largely a personal choice but remember to carry enough memory cards and batteries to take in all memories to be cherished for a lifetime.

Prayer flags at the Hemis Monastery
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

If you’re a passionate shutterbug, carry your wide-angle and extreme wide-angle lenses along with the UV filters- these will prove ideal when photographing the breathtaking Himalayan landscapes without bluish haze characteristic of the mountains.

It’s all about acclimatisation 

Beware of Ladakh- the mountains will make every effort to bewitch you with their heavenly charms. Do not give in. Remember to first acclimatise yourself before you give in to the senses. Do not soak in a hot bath immediately after you reach Leh! Take complete rest for a day to allow your body to adapt to the high-altitude climate at 11,480 feet.

At such high altitudes, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can quickly take over. If you feel short of breath or experience dizziness or nausea, seek medical help available in the hospitals and medical camps.

The Journey to Leh

The adventure begins in Srinagar from where you first head to Sonmarg located about 80 km away. Consider a night halt at Sonmarg as the way beyond remains open for a specific period of time every day in the morning. While preparing you for the adventure that lies ahead, staying at Sonmarg is also recommended for spectacular views of the glaciers and the Indus!

From Sonmarg, we head to Kargil negotiating the Zoji La Pass. Located at an altitude of about 11,575 feet, the high-altitude mountain pass is a test of true grit. Off-roading at the Zoji La is recommended only for seasoned drivers- if you’re not experienced with mountain driving, this is certainly not the place to try your hand!

The Zojil La Pass region experiences frequent landslides
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

Up next, we arrive in Kargil. The place needs no introduction and forms the second coldest inhabited place on earth, after Siberia.

At Dras, the ‘Gateway to Ladakh’, located at about 10,990 feet, temperatures can drop down to -23 degrees Centigrade in the winters. Heavy woollens are recommended!

The landscape of Kargil
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

It is advisable to travel in the region during daytime owing to frequent landslides; we take the second night halt at Kargil. You’ll found a number of comfortable options for stay in the town, which offer breakfast and meals too. Get a good night’s rest and prepare for the thrills that await you.

The Magnetic Hill seemingly defies gravity!
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

The drive from Kargil to Leh is picturesque beyond description. You have to see it to believe it! Do not miss the Magnetic Hill, a beautiful place where your vehicle, when left standing still, will seemingly move against gravity!

You’ll touch Leh on the third day. There’s magic in the air as you enter the land of the lamas. Do follow all acclimatisation regimes strictly for the day!

Trekking to Castle Tsemo

Leh is a treasure-trove of absolutely magnificent wonders. The beautiful ancient monastery of Hemis, Thicksey, Shey, and Tsemo will wait for you to step in.

The interiors of the Shey Monastery, located 15 km from Leh 
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

So will the monks who’ll happily guide you around the Gompas. The trek to Castle Tsemo is particularly exhilarating.

 The trek to the Castle Tsemo takes you through Leh’s highest point
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

This is a moderate to easy trek and you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the scenic landscapes from the top. You’ll get panoramic views of Leh and the Leh Palace as well, which is quite close to the Gompa.

The Jewels of Leh

The charm of the Pangong Lake at 14,270 feet is undeniable. The winds are bitterly cold and so are the waters.

The Pangong Lake- 14,270 feet
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

The Druk White Lotus School has become a famous landmark of late; it shot to fame with the Bollywood blockbuster’3 Idiots’.

The Druk White Lotus School compound
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

Shopping addicts must make it a point to visit the J & K State Emporium and the Moti Market where you’ll find locals handicrafts and jewellery.

Off-roading at Khardung La is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Driving over the world’s highest motorable road at 18,380 feet fills you with a sense of thrill and adventure like nothing you have ever experienced before. Do not stay at the pass for more than 45 minutes though as AMS can begin to show itself up.

The Khardung La top- the highest motorable road in the world
(Image Courtesy: Sukhnidhey Films)

The Nubra region is known for its double-humped Bactrian camels and the confluence of the Zanskar and the Indus.

From the author’s eye

Ladakh is a region unparalleled, unmatched, and unsurpassed in its glory. No one ever returns from Ladakh. A part of you is always there, always.

A place of magic, where one can dance to the tune of the mountains.

Ladakh is. 

Explore Ladakh, the Ladakhi way. Become one with the mystic mountains and leave nothing but your footprints.

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A top-rated professional writer and an extremely passionate traveller who loves to live her life on wheels, Vidhu did her Masters in Radiation Biology. Writing had always been her passion- what started as a hobby eventually became a full-time profession. It works magic when your passion and profession are the same, so says Vidhu. She loves to explore the world of words with the might of the pen and documents some of the world's most unexplored places. Vidhu writes in a variety of niches including travel, lifestyle, photography, movies, critiques, art, heritage, culture, social issues, health, wellness, biology, cryptocurrency, the blockchain, etc. A voracious reader and a multi-award-winning scriptwriter, Vidhu has written scripts for numerous travel films and TV Shows for National Television and wants to bring a positive change to the lives of people everywhere with her writing. Vidhu is honoured to be an empanelled writer for UP Tourism, Government of Uttar Pradesh, India and her works have led to her organization, Sukhnidhey Films being recognized as India's only 'Outstanding' filmmakers by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. She can be contacted on her email: or visit her blog:


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