I spent almost a month in the Land of Lamas (officially known as Ladakh), in far northern India. The high-altitude area is dotted with beautiful lakes and is home to a rich and diverse culture. It’s a popular tourist destination, and if you’re planning a trip there, there are a few places and experiences that just shouldn’t be missed.
Learn about the ancient Purig lifestyle in Hunderman
Purig was the first settlement in the region of Kargil, which is now on the border of India and Pakistan. The Purigs spread far and wide over time, and their beautiful pastures flourished into small villages. The Partition of India in 1947 led to the division of Purig, too, and families were divided between India and Pakistan.
In 1971, India reclaimed two settlements, one of which was named Hunderman. This hamlet was in a dilapidated state until an NGO fixed up the old mud houses, turning a few into galleries exhibiting the ancient rural life of the village. These galleries have recently been opened to tourists, informing them about the forgotten lifestyle of the Purigs. They contain traditional utensils, equipment, documents, and indoor games.
Apart from the interesting culture, this is also an amazing place because of its location on a hill top beside a lovely waterfall, with views of farmland below.
Stay at an apricot orchard
The warmer regions of Ladakh are known for the production of organic apricots. I spent almost a week roaming around such villages, tasting the sweetest apricots and their nuts. The village of Turtuk produces the most apricots. Many orchards around Turtuk let travelers stay in their homes. The trees blossom into pink flowers in March and April, turning the villages into heavenly gardens. If you wish to taste the nectar-like fruits you must visit in July. The villages of Dah, Hanu, Garkone, Darchik and others are comprised of orchards nestled in the hills. They also produce top quality apricots. I enjoyed roaming around, plucking apricots from the trees in these villages.
Cycle off the trail at Magnetic Hill
Go white-water rafting
Rafting in Ladakh could be one of the best experiences. The main raftable rivers are the the Indus and Zanskar, and the activity is also offered on the Shyok River. The Zanskar is ferociously wild in places, providing exciting white water.
Zanskar literally means ‘brass water’, and the river contains a high amount of metal. It meets with the Indus at the town of Nimmu, and the waters mingle to create a different colour. The River Indus once nourished the entire Indus Valley Civilization, and is another great option for rafting.
When I was at the bus stop for my solo journey into the interiors of Ladakh, a random voice called to me from behind. He was a mountaineer eagerly looking for a fellow trekker to join him into the barren hills of Ladakh. He told me that it was a perfect place to build stamina for his mission to Mt. Everest. Unfortunately, I could only join him for a short walk, but his was good advice.
Stok Kangri Peak is a great choice, at around 6,400 metres above sea level. Besides challenging your limits, it also gives mesmerizing panoramic views of the Himalayas. There are two options: trekkers can either trek up to the Stok Kangri Base, or climbers can continue and summit the peak. It’s a fairly ‘easy’ climb, as not much technical knowledge is required. A summit trek takes around 10-11 days, and adequate acclimatisation is required. Either way, a trek to Stok Kangri is a must for of any ardent trekker.
The Markha Valley trek is also considered a challenging but beautiful trek. This takes around 9 days. If you’re just looking for a 2-3 day trek, head to the Sham Valley or Hemis High-Altitude National Park.
Experience Brokpa culture
Tourists like to visit the villages of Dah and Hanu to witness the unique lifestyles of the Brokpa people. They are especially known for their unusual dress, comprising a white woolen gown and caps embellished with colourful flowers. But Brokpa culture is much more than just its clothing. The real culture can be understood only through its songs, which tell of the people’s history and customs.
According to their folk songs, the Brokpas travelled all the way from Rome to Gilgit, and then to the Dah Valley in Ladakh. The village of Garkone is home to a cultural group that performs dances and sing songs in the Minaro and Purig languages. The Minaro language is unique to the Brokpa culture. One of their songs suggests that it is a mixture of different languages as they travelled through different regions adapting the words from their languages.
Enjoy the hospitality of the Brokpa people in local homestays and guest houses in Dah and Garkone (excellent places are Payupa Family House and Betepa Family House). You can wander around these places and listen to the locals’ unbelievable stories about them.
Ride Bactrian camels on sand dunes
The Nubra Valley in Ladakh is a unique place: you can enjoy both sprawling snow-capped mountain views and dry desert sand dunes. The patterns of the dunes are constantly changing, forming beautiful wavy designs. Here you can also enjoy riding two-humped Bactrian camels, only found in Ladakh in the Nubra Valley.
Volunteer with Ladakhi kids or on a farm
Ladakhi schools and organizations welcome people from all over the world who wish to contribute to the development of young kids. Most organizations charge volunteers for their board and lodging, but not all. You can teach crafts, music, painting or simple English conversation. Volunteers allow Ladakhi children to know more about the world beyond their isolated Himalayan region.
To name a few places that are often looking for help: Likir Monastery School, Rigjong Public School in Leh and Kargil, Munshi Habibullah School in Kargil and Himabas Public School in the Drass Valley.
If teaching isn’t really your thing, you could always volunteer on a farm. As tourism has grown, young family members in remote areas often migrate to the city of Leh to work in hotels and guest houses. This leaves only old parents and young mothers behind in the villages. A lot of tourists come to Ladakh in the summer, meaning that’s when a lot of youngsters migrate out of the villages. But this is also the only time of the year when Ladakhis can grow food to store for the cold winter. Villagers are often unable to do the farming work single-handedly. From May onwards, it’s possible to stay in a village of Ladakh and help on a farm, in exchange for board and lodging.
Article by Purvi Kamaliya.