Travel to India: Beyond the Taj Mahal
*This is the first in our series on exploring destinations in India beyond the Taj Mahal.
You wouldn’t go to Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower, so while we agree that the Taj Mahal is certainly a must-see at both dawn and dusk, there is so much more to India than this iconic landmark. Whether you’ve been to India nine times or never, we have some suggestions for the different ways to explore and experience this alluring destination.
When to plan a trip to Ladakh, India?
Ladakh, on the Tibetan plateau, lies on the rain shadow side of the Himalaya and is not affected by the monsoon season in India. As such, the summer months from June through September are the best time to visit, with daytime temperatures ranging from the high 60s to 90s with nighttime dropping into the low 50s.
Why visit Ladakh?
The Ladakh capital of Leh, with its winding streets and countless shops of the main bazaar and Chang Gali, is an ancient and mesmerizing city. The massive ruins of Leh Palace loom above the town, and is representative of Tibetan palatial architecture of the 17th century. Tibetan Buddhism has been practiced in Ladakh since before the time of the Great Fifth (the fifth Dalai Lama) and original artwork dating to the 10th century can be seen in the palaces and monasteries that dot the landscape of this remote Himalayan region.
Unlike neighboring Tibet, which saw the destruction of monasteries and monastic art during China’s Cultural Revolution, India’s secular policy has allowed all religions to thrive here. To the west of Leh are the monasteries of Lamayuru, Rizong, and Alchi. Lamayuru dates to the 10th century and continues to be an important and powerful institution. Alchi, also dating to the 10th century, is a real treasure with its numerous colorful Buddhist murals in a remarkable state of preservation. The monastery at Hemis is perhaps the most renowned of Ladakh’s Buddhist monasteries, famed for its annual vibrant festival honoring the legendary Padmasambhava. Most importantly, they keep alive an unspoiled form of Buddhism that has largely disappeared from Tibet. No wonder travel writers have called Ladakh “more Tibetan than Tibet.”
While Tibetan Buddhism may be Ladakh’s biggest draw, there are also ample choices for those favoring a more physically active adventure. Class 2 and 3 rapids can be maneuvered on a river rafting journey of the Indus River, and world-class trekking is found throughout Ladakh—notably in the sublime Zanskar region. With its ruggedly dramatic landscape and remote setting, Zanskar has developed a reputation as something of a Shangri-La. Trekking routes abound, from three days to 20, traversing a multitude of 16,000+ feet-high passes leading to river valleys covered with willow, wild roses, and of course, Buddhist monasteries.
Lying on the crossroads between Tibet, northern India, and central Asia, Ladakh has welcomed a multitude of travelers, adventurers, merchants, and pilgrims for centuries. Follow in their footsteps and experience firsthand the warmth and hospitality of the remarkable people of this land.
What are the accommodations like in Ladakh?
The hotels here are first rate with attentive service. While trekking, you’ll be accommodated in four-person tents designed for double occupancy.