Lakes & Monasteries Tour – 9 days
Itinerary for Lakes and Monasteries Tour, Duration: 8 Nights / 9 Days
Destination: Leh – Monasteries – Tsomoriri Lake – Monasteries – Pangong Lake – Monasteries – Leh
Minimum number of people: 3
Day 01: Arrival at Leh Kushok Bakula Airport
On the first day of your trip, you will arrive at Leh Kushok Bakula Airport, where our team from LIFE on the PLANET LADAKH will meet and greet you before transferring you to your hotel. The flight to Leh is one of the most sensational in the world, offering stunning views of peaks like K2, Nanga Parbat, and Gasherbrum from one side of the aircraft, and the Nun Kun massif so close that it feels like you could reach out and touch it from the other side. Once you arrive, it's important to take some time to settle in and acclimatize to the high altitude of over 11,000 feet, especially if you've come from a lower elevation like New Delhi. In the afternoon, take a walk through the old town beneath the Leh Palace to get oriented to this fascinating city. Overnight stay at a hotel.
Day 02: Indus Valley – Monasteries Tour
After breakfast, embark on a full-day tour of the monasteries in the Indus Valley. The earliest cities in this region were integrated into an extensive urban culture around 4,600 years ago and dominated the area for at least 700 years, from 2600 to 1900 B.C. It wasn't until the 1920s that archaeologists recognized the buried cities and villages of the Indus Valley as representing an undiscovered civilization.
Your first stop will be the Stok Palace and Museum, built in 1814, which used to be the home of the Kings of Ladakh. It's situated opposite Leh on the other side of the river Indus, and is the only inhabited palace, as the other two, Leh and Shey Palace, are in ruins. The palace museum has a unique display of tangkhas, old weapons, kings’ armour, queens’ ornaments and perak (turquoise-studded headgear), traditional clothing and silver jewelry. Of the more than 80 rooms, only five are open to the public.
Next, visit Shey Palace, located 15 km south of Leh towards Thiksey. The ruins of this former summer palace of the kings of Ladakh are perched high up on a rocky cliff. The 12-meter Sakyamuni Buddha statue made of gold-plated copper by King Singge Namgyal’s son Deldan Namgyal is the largest in the area. There is a small library in the lower chapel and a collection of tangkhas. To the left of the gompa is a huge chorten (stupa) with golden spires, and to its right are the ruins of a fort. Scattered across the nearby fields and along the hill range, you'll see a large number of disintegrating chortens, perhaps the largest collection in Ladakh.
Continue on to Thiksey Monastery, located about 17 km south of Leh. This monastery of characteristic beauty is probably the most photographed and the best place around Leh to see a puja. It's a magnificent complex with its red and yellow main building rising grandly above the numerous monk cells. The Chamba lhakhang ('house of God' for the Buddha to come) was built in 1980 in honour of the Dalai Lama and houses an impressive two-storey Maitreya Buddha. This gompa that houses about 500 monks belongs to the Gelukpa sect and exhibits excellent works of art. The roof of this monastery provides a panoramic view with the Zanskar range in the backdrop.
Hemis Monastery was founded in the 17th century and belongs to the Drukpa order. The monastery was established by Stagsang Raschegn who was invited to Ladakh by King Singee Namgyal. The king offered him religious estates and attended him as his principal guru.
Hemis Tsechu (festival) assembles annually from the 9th to 11th day of the 5th Tibetan month. The Gompa has well-preserved Thankas and a copper gilt statue of the Lord Buddha, various stupas made of gold and silver, and many auspicious objects.
The largest thanka in Ladakh, which is over 12 meters long, can be found at Hemis Monastery. After returning back from the sightseeing tour, you will spend the night at your hotel.
Day 03: Leh – Chumathang – Tsomoriri (240 Kms 5-7 Hours Drive Altitude 4525 Mtrs.)
Start your day early and head towards Chumathang, located 240 km away from Leh. On your way, make a quick stop at Upshi for passport checking. From there, turn left and reach Karu. Chumathang is famous for its natural hot springs that have medicinal properties. Many people visit this place for a therapeutic bath and also visit the Chumathang Monastery.
After exploring Chumathang, drive a short distance to reach Maha Bridge, which is the main checkpoint to enter this new area. The road from here is rough, but you can enjoy the scenic drive while making a stop at Sumdah village. After a 55 km drive, you'll reach Tsomoriri, which is a beautiful lake that serves as the breeding ground for numerous species of birds, including bar-headed goose, crested grebe, Brahmin duck (ruddy sheldrake), and brown-headed gull. The lake is 8 km wide and 28 km long. Spend the night in a deluxe camp.
Day 04: Explore Tsomoriri
Wake up early in the morning and visit Korzok village, which will appear like a mirage with its houses and gompa. The few barley fields at Korzok are among the highest cultivations in the world. In the afternoon, explore around the lake and enjoy the scenic beauty.
Dinner and overnight stay will be at the deluxe camp.
Day 05: Korzok – Puga – Tsokar – Tanglangla – Leh (Altitude 5350 Mtrs. 245 Kms 5-7 Hours Drive)
On day 5, drive to Mahe village, and from there, turn left towards Puga Valley. The village will be an unforgettable sight with its shooting fountains and white clouds hanging upon. The valley is famous for Butan gas, and you'll be amazed by the natural phenomenon.
Continue driving to Tsokar via Polokongka pass (13500 ft) and visit Tsokar, a small lake known for its scenic beauty. You can also visit Thugke Gompa, a famous monastery in the area. The place is famous for wild asses that are generally seen grazing here in flocks.
From here, continue driving towards Leh via Tanglangla pass (5350 Mtrs.), which is the second-highest motorable pass in the world. Upon arrival in Leh in the evening, check-in at the hotel and enjoy dinner and overnight stay.
Day 06: Leh Local Monasteries
Start your day with a fulfilling breakfast before embarking on a full-day tour of the local monasteries in Leh. The tour will cover the following monasteries:
Spituk Gompa is one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh, dating back to the 11th century. Its establishment was attributed to Od-de, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub Od. Od-de led to the establishment of a monastic community at this place. The Spituk Monastery is a three-chapel monastery located approximately 8 km from the town of Leh. Its name "Spituk," meaning exemplary, was derived from a statement made by a translator, Rinchen Zangpo, about the monastery. Rinchen Zangpo said that an exemplary religious community would develop there, hence the name Spituk for the monastery.
During its early days, the Spitok Monastery of Leh Ladakh was under the Kadampa School. As time passed, the monastery started functioning under Dharmaraja Takspa Bum – Lde Lama Lhawang Lotus. He brought about the restoration of Spituk and introduced the stainless order of Tsongkhapa (Gelukpa). Today, the monastery functions under the Gelukpa order only. Three other monasteries in Ladakh, namely Stok, Sankar, and Saboo, are considered to be the branches of Spituk Gompa.
Phyang Monastery is located approximately 40 km to the west of the Leh town. It belongs to the Red Hat Sect of Buddhism. The site where the monastery now stands was once a part of the numerous monastic properties offered during the time of Dharmaraja Jamyang Namgial to Chosje Damma Kunga. The hill of Phyang served as the venue of a monastery, known as Tashi Chozong, established in the year 1515. A monastic community was introduced to the monastery, and with this, the first establishment of the Digung teachings in Ladakh started. The traditions of the Digung teachings began with Skyoba Jigsten Gonbo.
In the present time, the Phyang Gompa of Leh Ladakh is under Apchi Choski Dolma. The monastery is served by the successive reincarnation of Skyabje Toldan Rinpoche. There are a number of sacred shrines situated inside the monastery complex. Also, there are some exquisite wall paintings, dating from the royal period, adorning the monastery.
After exploring these two monasteries, you can take a leisurely walk to Kings Palace, Leh Mosque, Leh Gompa, Shankar Gompa, and Leh Bazaar in the afternoon. Finally, return to your hotel for dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 07. Leh – Pangong Lake – Leh (Altitude 4300 Mtrs. 140 6 Hours Drive)
On Day 7, get ready for an exciting trip to Pangong Lake, the largest brackish lake in Asia. Located at an altitude of 4300 meters, the lake is a stunning sight to behold. It is 130 km long, 5 km at its widest point, and extends partly into Tibet.
Pangong Lake is an unusual saltwater lake that freezes completely during winter, despite being located in the Himalayas. There is no marine life in the lake except for a few migrating birds, such as gulls and Brahminy ducks.
Visitors are allowed to go up to Spangmik, located about 7 km along the western bank of the lake, as this is the furthest point permitted due to border restrictions. However, this is enough to take in the awe-inspiring beauty of Ladakh.
The vastness and barrenness of the area contribute to its unique charm. Spangmik offers a breathtaking view of the Changchenmo range's mountains to the north, reflecting in the ever-changing blues and greens of the lake's brackish waters. Beyond Spangmik, one can see the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Pangong range.
After spending a magical day at Pangong Lake, return to Leh late in the evening. Dinner and an overnight stay at the hotel will be provided. The memories of this trip to the picturesque Pangong Lake will remain with you for a lifetime.
Day 08. Leh Local Monasteries
Begin your day with a delicious breakfast and then set off for a full-day tour of monasteries around Leh. The first stop on the itinerary is Stok Gompa, which is located about 15 kilometers south of Leh town. This monastery dates back to the 14th century and was founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus. It is a subsidiary of the Spituk Gompa and belongs to the yellow-hat sect of Buddhism.
As you enter the verandah of the monastery, you will be greeted by bright friezes, depicting the Guardians of the Four Directions. The Dukhang of the monastery was repainted not long ago and displays a rich collection of banners and thankas. The left-side wall is adorned with the images of Vajrapani (Vajra-in-Hand) and Avalokitesvara (Lord of All He Surveys) in his four-armed manifestation. At the same time, the right-side wall stands proud with the images of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) and his two disciples, Amchi (the Buddha Medicine), Tara (the Saviouress), and Nangyalma. There are two thrones inside the Dukhang, with the central one reserved for the Dalai Lama and the one on its right reserved for the head lama of Stok Monastery.
The next stop is Matho Gompa, which was founded by Lama Dugpa Dorje in the 16th century. It is situated on the opposite bank of the River Indus, approximately 26 kilometers southeast of Leh town. Matho is the only gompa in Ladakh that belongs to the Saskya order of Tibetan Buddhism. The oracle of the monastery is a priest who resides in the monastery itself. Also situated near the monastery are a number of sacred shrines, one of which is dedicated to the guardian deities.
Matho Monastery hosts the Matho Nagrang Festival annually, which takes place on the 14th and 15th day of the first month of the Tibetan calendar. During this festival, all the monks participate in sacred dances. It is believed that two gods, known as the Rongtsan, descend to visit the monastery. Matho Monastery also boasts an amazingly rich collection of four-hundred-year-old Thankas.
After exploring the monasteries, return to the hotel for an afternoon of rest and relaxation. Enjoy a delicious dinner before retiring for the night.
Day 09. Depart Leh – Kushok Bakula Airport
On your final day, wake up to a scrumptious breakfast before heading to Kushok Bakula Airport for your flight back home. You will have the opportunity to enjoy yet again a beautiful flight over the great Himalayas, leaving you with unforgettable memories of your Ladakh journey.