When someone mentions name the name of Leh, it portraits an image of a mysterious city, far and away. A dreamland that you heard and read so much about. A world different than ours, a destination that only a few has ever seen. I remember as children we used to read about Ladakh, how it is a part of our country and it always used to sound so enigmatic; even the very name of the place used to be enchanting back then. The only pictures of Ladakh that I saw at that time were of high mountains with patches of green and snow at the top; and a tiny frame of a shepherd grazing his goats. “Beautiful” is the word that always followed the name Ladakh in my mind.
I will share an old picture of Leh town that I found on the web. This was painted by a Dr. Henderson who visited Ladakh in 1834.
And this second picture I clicked back during my first trip to Ladakh in 2005.
It would seem that both Dr. Henderson and I happened to be standing at the same spot while taking these pictures. Comparing the two, not much looks changed in terms of scenery. But much has changed otherwise. Ladakh is no longer the destinations that you can only dream of. Over the last few years, it has come up as one of the most visited destinations in the country. The number of tourists increases each year and a lot of commercialization takes places. It is no longer the craze for adventure enthusiasts, motorcyclists or travel junkies; it is now rather a family spot as well because Ladakh has a bit for everyone. No matter what your passion is, no matter what you seek; rest assured that you will get it in Ladakh.
The small city of Leh of course becomes the base for all tourism in Ladakh. When you plan a trip; it is the place you got to reach first and then travel any further. A question, and quite a surprising one, that I often get to hear is what is there in Leh. Believe it or not; people often ask me if there is any way that the town could be avoided altogether and if they could straight away reach Nubra and Pangong. It often gets considered as a place that you just go to in order to get the permits. People think there is nothing worth spending time in the city itself and the places to see are Nubra, Pangong or Moriri.
This however is not correct at all. There are several places in Leh city itself that are worth a visit. When you travel to Ladakh, you must spend some time, at least a couple of days, in Leh town otherwise your trip will be incomplete. In this article, I will provide some information on tourist attractions in Leh city, accommodation there and how you can plan a trip to other places in Ladakh from there.
Very few people know that Leh is the second largest district in India in terms of area, falling second only to Kutch, Gujarat. In ancient times, it was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. Recently, it was added to the World Monuments Fund’s list of 100 most endangered sites due to increased rainfall from climate change and other reasons. Leh has a cold desert climate. Winters are long and harsh, lasting from October to early March. Minimum temperatures fall well below freezing point for most of the winter. The city gets occasional snowfall during winter. The weather in the remaining months is generally fine and warm during the day.
Tourist Attractions in Leh City
To be quite honest, the entire city of Leh in my opinion is a tourist attraction in itself. It is a historic city which means that they are plenty of monuments around that you can see. Leh Palace, Shey Palace, Shanti Stoopa, several monasteries are just a few to name. I have put together a list of all the tourist attractions in and around Leh city in a different article at the link below. You should in my opinion at least spend a couple of days in Leh and explore these places. Leh is the prime attraction of a trip to Ladakh and you cannot afford to miss the tourist places here. Take a look at Tourist Attractions and must visit places
Accommodation in Leh
There are numerous hotels in Leh and more come up each year. No matter what your budget is, you will easily be able to find a place to stay in form of a hotel, guest house or paying guest. There are hotels available for as less as Rs. 400-500 each night to luxurious five start ones. You can either book online or find one upon your arrival; both options are available; though I would prefer to find one on the spot. Booking online would only mean that you end up paying more and be deprived of the option of staying at some other hotel you may like. I always advise people to first reach there, find a hotel per their liking and budget and then check in.
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is whether it will be a problem to find a place to stay in peak tourist season. Answer to this question is no. It doesn’t matter which month you travel in, you will never run in a situation where you arrive at Leh to find it completely booked. At the link below, I have put together a list of some good budget hotels that you can take a look at. I have not of course stayed at all of them. Some I have, few were recommended by friends or fellow travelers; rest I added after reading good reviews about them over the web. Read Good Budget Hotels with contact details for names and contact details of some recommended hotels.
Leh remains warm during daytime in summer, night are however still cold. Winters are harsh with temperature way below freezing point, during which the city is near abandoned as most of the population moves towards Srinagar or other places.
Contrary to common belief, you do not really need all thick woolens or furry jackets for visiting Ladakh; unless it is a winter trip that you have planned. Days here are pleasantly warm and you will be comfortably able to take a stroll in the city wearing just cottons. It is the nights when temperature really dips but by then, you will be comfortably wrapped in blankets at your hotels. Most important thing to remember is to pack clothes that you can wear in layers. Pack plenty of cottons, a few light woolens and a thick windproof jacket. This way, you can put on clothes in layers if feeling cold and take them off one by one if it gets warm.
Leh being a city and at a lower altitude as compared to Pangong Tso or Moriri, remains a bit warmer than these other places. As a matter of fact, if you started to walk around during noon, you will actually feel hot as the sun here is quite harsh. During nights however, if you are stepping out, you will definitely need to dress up warm. I have covered the topic of clothing for Ladakh in a different article at the link below. Please take a look at Clothes for Ladakh Trip: What to Pack for more details on how to pack clothes for Ladakh trip.
Leh is at an altitude of 3,524 meters (11,562 feet)
AMS in Leh
It is very rare that a person would suffer from acute mountain sickness in Leh city unless you reached there by flight. Traveling on either of the highways leading to Ladakh, via Srinagar or Manali, would mean that you have already been to higher altitudes so chances of AMS while in Leh are almost next to none. However, most of the people flying to Leh will definitely suffer from AMS on first couple of days of their arrival. It is best advised though to stay in the city itself for first couple of days or until the symptoms subsides.
All other tourist places in Leh are at a higher altitude with exception of Nubra valley. Your itinerary should be in a way that you stay in Leh for first few days after your flight lands, than go to Nubra valley and then proceed towards any other place. This would give your body ample time to acclimatize. For more details on acute mountain sickness, what its symptoms are and how you can deal with it, please take a look at How to deal with Acute Mountain sickness in Ladakh.
Banking Facilities / ATM in Leh
Last I was in Leh in 2016; I saw branches and ATMs of SBI, J&K Bank, ICICI, HDFC and Axis Banks. A decade ago, only SBI and J&K Bank had branches there but with recent commercialization, other major banks have also opened up their branches there. You will have no problem finding banking services or ATMs there. It is however recommended that you withdraw cash here before proceeding towards any other tourist place. ATMs for now are pretty much limited to Leh city only, nowhere else in Ladakh.
Fixed Phone, Cell & Data Connectivity in Leh
No matter which network you are on, your phone will remain on network while in Leh city. While traveling by road, you may get off network but your phone will come back alive in a couple of hours after reaching Leh. Data connectivity however is a problem. Internet will be available but at pathetic speed. Fixed phones too are available at both hotels and Pay phone booths. However there is still no mobile reception at any other place like Nubra, Pangong or Moriri. Please read Cellular services in Ladakh for more details on where can you expect connection and fixed phones.
Internet Service in Leh
There are internet cafes available in the city and most of the hotels / restaurants also provide Wi-Fi service. Internet speed however is about OK at cafes and very poor at hotels/restaurants. Internet too is limited to Leh city only, nowhere else in Ladakh.
Gas Stations / Mechanics in Leh
There are Indian Oil and HP gas stations in Leh that always remain functional during tourist season. Mechanics too these days are in plenty. Once again, these services too are only available in the city. There are no gas stations or mechanics elsewhere in Ladakh. You may find a mechanic though in Nubra valley but for just some basic fixes; they won’t be of help in case of a major issue.
Medical Facilities in Leh
Leh has the only major hospital in all of Ladakh. Though the hospital is well equipped, they may still not be able to handle a major medical emergency. If you have a medical condition, it is best advised that you consult your doctor before going to Ladakh. I noticed a few small clinics as well in Leh. Dispensaries of course are available as well.
Leh Car Rentals
In case you are looking for a private cab that you can drive around in Ladakh yourself, you will be disappointed. There are no self-drive rentals available in Leh or anywhere in Ladakh for that matter. If you need a private cab, it will come with the driver.
Leh Bike Rental
There are several bike rental agencies in Leh. Depending on which motorcycle you chose, average rental per day comes out to be around Rs. 1200 to Rs. 1500 per day. Just take a stroll around the city and you will find multiple shops offering motorcycles on rent. The option of booking in advance is available too but I would advise against it. It is best to first reach there, check the condition of the motorcycle, take a test ride and then book it once satisfied of its condition. For more details on renting motorcycles in Leh, please read How to rent a motorcycle in Ladakh
Leh to Ladakh
Ok this one is on a lighter note. I often get queries asking how far Leh is from Ladakh; or how to reach Leh from Ladakh or vice versa. Leh and Ladakh are not different places. Ladakh is the district and Leh is its capital. I know, most people will know this but just adding this here for someone who did not.
I hope the information above was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer. If you have been to Leh recently and have information that could be added here, please be kind enough to comment about it; and I will add to the article.