Most people traveling to Ladakh tend to focus more on what they can see around Leh, like Nubra Valley or Pangong Tso but make no mistake, even the small Leh city has plenty to offer to tourists. It is not just a place where you stop or make base while travelling to other nearby areas. There are several tourist attractions here that are well worth a visit. In this article, I will provide a list of tourist attractions in Leh. Please note that this article only includes places that are either within the town or in its close vicinity, not areas like Nubra valley, Changtang valley etc.
Often called as Mecca of adventure enthusiasts, the city of Leh has its own charm. It is a town like no other, anywhere. When you are in Leh, it is being in the middle of nowhere with every basic amenity that a city can offer you. The cold winds, harsh sun, patches of green in a cold desert, snowcapped peaks all around, amazing views of sunrise and sunset, the ringing of the bells in monasteries, sound of azaan from the loudspeakers of mosques, delicious food, lovely people, a unique mix of Tibetan and Indian culture; trust me, it is a town like no other. Leh, once the capital of Ladakh and now its headquarters, is truly a dream destination.
Leh Palace: Overlooking the town of Leh, this palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century and continued to be the King’s residence until mid 19th century until Dogra forces took control of Ladakh and the Royal family was moved to Stok Palace. The palace is nine storeys high and you can get an amazing panoramic view of Leh and surrounding areas from its roof. You can also view the mountain of Stok Kangri in Zanskar towards South from here while the Ladakh mountain range rises ride behind the palace towards North. The palace also holds quite a collection of ancient jewellery, ornaments, ceremonial dresses and crowns. If you are someone interested in photography, this is the perfect spot to get some great captures. The night view of the palace is quite charming too though you will not be allowed inside after sunset.
Tsemo Castle: It is another ancient structure a little further up from Leh palace, built by King King Tashi Nagmial in 15th Cent. A 20 minutes trek on a dusty zigzag trek will take you to the top of the cliff that houses Tsemo Castle. While the castle itself is not much of an attraction, the trek and the panoramic views you can get from the top are even better than what you will see from Leh palace. Another great place to get some lovely captures of Leh and the surrounding mountain ranges.
Namgyal Tsemo Monastery: Also known just as Namgyal Gompa, it is an ancient monastery located on the same hill as Leh palace and Tsemo Castle. This small part that houses the Leh palace, Tsemo Castle, Namgyal Monastery on the same hills and Shanti Stoopa a little further on another hilltop is locally known as the Khar.
Sankar Monastery: It is located 9 kms from Leh on the way towards Khardung La. You can either drive or take a walk but the visiting hours are limited to early morning and evening. The place is well lit so an evening walk is advised. The walls of the monastery are richly painted with Tibetan calendar, mandalas and rules for the monks. An impressive figure here of Avalokiteśvara with 1,000 arms (all holding weapons) and 1,000 heads is placed in the monastery which is definitely worth seeing.
General Zorawar Fort: Further up from Leh palace and Namgyal Gompa is the fort built by General Zorawar Singh. Also known as Riasi Fort, this was once base of the Dogra rulers. It houses a mosque, a natural spring and a Hindu temple within its premises. A collection of coins, stamps and other artifacts from the treasure of the ruler are also on display. There is a road leading to the fort so you can chose to either drive or take a walk from Leh city bazaar which will take you approximately half an hour to reach the fort. Archa
Shanti Stupa: Built on a hilltop in Changspa region, it is a white domed stupa built by a Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura. There is a road leading from Leh to Shanti Stupa so you can either chose to drive or first walk from Leh and then climb up some 500 odd stairs to the top. It is another great vantage point offering mesmerizing views of Leh town with mountain landscapes in backdrop and also a great spot to capture some amazing sunset shots.
Hall of Fame: Another must visit place while you are in Leh. Hall of fame is a museum constructed and maintained by Indian Army, honoring the Indian soldiers who lost their lives during Indo-Pak wars and also commemorating the Army’s role in cloudburst relief in 2010. In the Siachen Glacier section, You can find a lot of information related to how our brave soldiers survive in such extreme conditions. Some artifacts related to Kargil war too are on display. A 30 minute film features various aspects related to Kargil war.
Jama Masjid: A historical mosque, it was built in 1666-67 and has been rebuilt several times since then. The mosque was a symbol of agreement between the then king of Ladakh Deldan Namgyal and Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb wherein Mughals were to provide protection to Ladakhi King in return of a small fee. It is considered to be the biggest mosque in Ladakh and is also noted for Shahi Hamdan Memorial, built to honor Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, a Muslim Sufi Saint.
Basgo Palace / Monastery: Located around 40 kms from Leh is the small village of Basgo which in ancient times was considered a political and cultural center of Ladakh. The ancient Basgo Palace which also houses the Basgo Monastery is located here. The ancient palace was built in 15th century but the Monastery is believed to be even older than that.
Gurudwara Patthar Sahib: 25 kms from Leh on Srinagar Leh highway is Gurudwara Patthar Sahib. It was built in 1517 to commemorate Guru Nanak Dev’s visit to Ladakh. It is noted for a huge stone that is believed to have Guru Nanak Dev’s imprint on it and another stone that is believed to have the imprint of a demon he encountered here. Both these stones are on display here.
Magnetic Hill: This is probably the most well known area of Ladakh, even to people who do not really know that it is in Ladakh or where it is really located. The common belief about the place is that the hills here have magnetic properties and the pull will get any vehicle moving uphill even with engine turned off. There is a lot of folklore about the place as well which terms the entire phenomenon as supernatural. The fact however is entirely different. In brief, the placement of hills and the inability to see the horizon from this place creates an optical illusion, making the descending road looks ascending. So when you stop at this spot and turn off your engine, your car will itself start rolling down slowly but since the road appears going up, it will lead you to believe that the car is going uphill. Nonetheless, optical illusion or not, it is still an experience to experience. Magnetic hill is located at about 35 kms from Leh on Srinagar Leh highway. Road on this part is mostly excellent so you can go to Magnetic hill and return to Leh in a matter of couple of hours.
Indus and Zanskar rivers confluence: A little further from Magnetic Hill and slightly before the small village of Nimmu, you can see the confluence of Indus and Zanskar rivers. The two rivers merging into each other to form one, one with muddy waters and the other one with crystal clear waters, is quite a sight. It is a good spot for photography as well.
Shey Palace: Once used as a summer retreat by kings of Ladakh, this palace is mostly in ruins now. It was built in 1655 and is located in Shey Village, 15 kilometers from Leh on Manali Leh highway.
Shey Monastery: This monastery is located within the premises of Shey Palace and was also built in 1655. It is noted for a giant copper with gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha.
Thikse Monastery: This monastery is located on top of a hill in Thiksey village, approximately 19 kilometres from Leh town, at an altitude of 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) . It is the largest gompa in central Ladakh Tibet noted for many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings, swords, and a 15 metres (49 ft) high statue of Maitreya, the largest such statue in Ladakh, covering two stories of the building.
Hemis Monastery: Established in 1672 AD by king Senge Nampar Gyalva, this monastery is located in the small village of Hemis, at a distance of 40 kms from Leh town. A good time to visit this monastery would be in the month of July when a colorful festival is held in the village. The monastery and village as well are close to Hemis National Park, home to the endangered snow leopard.
Stakna Monatsery: The word “Stakna” literally means ‘tiger’s nose’ and the monastery is named such because it is built on a hill shaped like tiger’s nose. Located at a distance of 21 kms from Leh town, this monastery was built in 16th century and is noted for a sacred Arya Avalokitesvara statue from Kamrup, Assam.
Matho Monastery: This monastery is located at approximately 26 kilometers from Leh town, directly opposite Thikse Monastery. It is noted for a collection of thangkas dating back to the 14th century.
Stok Palace: It is the current residence of former royal family of Ladakh. There is a museum within the palace that holds the shrine, crown, ceremonial dress and jewellery of the Ladakhi king. Palace is located at a distance of 17 kilometers from Leh.
Stok Monastery: Around 2 kilometers from Stok palace is the 14th century Stok Monastery, noted for a library including all 108 volumes of the Kangyur, a 71 feet (22 m) high seated Gautama Buddha statue and an annual ritual dance-mask festival.
Phyang Monastery: Established in 1515, this monastery is located at a distance of 15 kilometeres from Leh in Fiang Village. It is noted for several sacred shrines and frescoes dating from the royal period. The monastery is also home to a 900-year-old museum which has an extensive collection of idols including a number of fine Kashmiri bronzes probably dating to the 14th century, thangkas, Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian firearms and weapons.
Spituk Monastery: Also known as Spituk Gompa or Pethup Gompa, Spituk Monastery is located 8 kilometres from the town of Leh. It is noted for a giant statue of Kali that only gets unveiled during the annual Spitok festival.
Sindhu Ghat: Sindhu Ghat is located 10 kilometers from Leh near Shey village. It is a peaceful river bank where you can spend some alone time and also get good sunset views. A 3 day annual festival known as the Sindhu Darshan festival is organized here.
Daatun Sahib: Located right behind the Leh Jama Masjid in Main Bazaar, Datun Sahib is a Meswak tree that is believed to have been planted by Guru Nanak himself during his visit to Leh in 1516.
Leh Main Market: A great place to have a walk and do a little shopping. There are several items here that are native to either Ladakh or can only be found in Jammu Kashmir.
Mani Wall: Just near Nimmu village, you can see half a kilometer long Mani Wall, considered to be the longest in the world.
Sham Valley: If you have some time in hand, then a day trip to Sham valley is highly recommended. You can visit places like Magnetic Hill, Zanskar and Indus River confluence, Basgo Palace, Alchi Monastery, Likhir Monaster and Gurudwara Patthar Sahib. I have written a separate article on Tourist attractions in Sham Valley and how to plan a journey here from Leh.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I would be glad to answer. If there is any place that I missed adding to the list, you are most welcome to suggest and I will add it to the article.