Arrival into Leh by a morning flight from New Delhi. From your airplane window, you would have had a small taste of what awaits you -the most unusual landscape in this country. Our representative will pick you up from the airport and drive you to our estate, through willow groves and berry plantations.
On arrival, you will be taken to your cottages so that you can settle down after the journey. On account of the high altitude of 11,500 feet above sea level, it is mandatory to rest and get acclimatised on the first day. Physical activity should be restricted to a minimum. Yet, simply lazing on your private verandah and gazing at the sparkling blue skies, the snow capped Stok Kangri range or the Thiksey monastery perched on top of a nearby hillock, should be rewarding enough.
Today you would have woken up refreshed and eager, to the sounds of the numerous Himalayan birds that populate this area. After a sumptuous breakfast at our Ladakhi dining room, we will drive down to Leh town to get a sense of our setting. There's no better place to do this than from the towering Shanti Stupa at the centre of Leh town. This giant white stupa was built by Japanese monks and it offers the most stunning views of Leh town.
From there, we drive to the magnificent Stok Palace. This was the summer house of the former Royal Family of Ladakh and the museum here is full of ancient Ladakhi treasures and artefacts including a turquoise crown of the Ladakhi queen. The entire Stok area is very picturesque and we will have a picnic lunch here at a scenic spot.
Post lunch, we head to our first monastery - the Spituk Monastery. This is a multi layered monastic site dating back to the 11th century, which has recently been renovated. It has a commanding view of the Indus from the top tiers.
Visitors should not over exert themselves on the first real day of activity and we should slowly head back to the retreat to watch the sun go down on the distant hills. Freshen up and enjoy some cocktails as you wait for a traditional dinner to be served. The evening is serene in the midst of a seabuckthorn orchard.
Today, you wake up even fresher. Any lingering overhang of the high altitude would have totally disappeared and some light exercise is in order. So after breakfast at the retreat, we set out for a short walk through a forested road, crossing the azure Indus river on our way, to the famous Thiksey monastery. This is an imposing and ornate 12 storied monastery, resembling the Potala palace in Tibet. A guided tour of this monastery will take you inside to witness a 15 metre tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha seated on a lotus.
Return to the retreat for lunch and some rest. After that, we head to Hemis. This is a very interesting part of Ladakh with quaint villages and also has the Hemis National park for Himalayan animals. The Hemis monastery is perhaps the biggest monastery in Ladakh, belonging to the Dragon Order. It was built in the 13th century by king Sengge Namgyal and is noted for its beautiful mural lined halls and collection of ancient thangkas and gold statues. The afternoon tour of Hemis can extend till sunset, given the beauty of its landscape and the quality of its monastery. From there, we work our way back to the retreat to settle down for the evening, keeping the early morning departure to Pangong the next day, in mind. An early dinner is recommended.
An early rise today for the journey that lies ahead. Breakfast around 7 am and departure for Pangong lake. This longish drive will take you past the lofty Chang La Pass and some incredible scenery and photo opportunities. Pangong Tso perched at 4250 metres above sea level, is one of the largest brackish lakes in Asia, extending 100 kms across the borders of India and China. A third of the lake lies in Indian territory and its stunning crystal blue colour, which keeps changing with the sunlight, is a sight for sore eyes.
Picnic lunch by the lakeside. There will be enough time to walk around the lake, take pictures and breathe in the fresh air around Pangong. In the afternoon, we start our journey back and reach the retreat around 7.30 pm.
Today, we visit a completely different landscape : the moonland, as it is popularly known, of Lamayuru. We set out after an early breakfast at the retreat and drive first to the famous magnetic hill. This is a gravity hill where vehicles are apparently pulled up the slope automatically, and very popular with tourists.
The next stop is Lamayuru but en route we see some stunning and wide views of the Karakoram range. Lamayuru is famous for it's yellow crater like terrain which does resemble the landscape of the moon. There are various local myths about the formation of this landscape. It is an awe inspiring experience to walk about Lamayuru and visit its monastery. We will also break for lunch here.
Post lunch we start the drive to Alchi crossing the beautiful and quaint village of Chilling, from where the Markha valley trek kicks off. It has a tradition of metal manufacturing and you will find locals working in copper and silver. Past Chilling, we reach Alchi, Ladakh's oldest monastery adorned with 11th century wall paintings.
From Alchi, we drive back to the retreat for supper. It would have been a long day and another drive to Nubra valley awaits us the next day.
Every day is a new day in Ladakh. Having visited the Pangong lake and the Lamayuru moonland, we are now ready for some active adventure. Rafting in the Zanskar canyon. This is unlike any rafting that you can do in India, because of the towering presence of the sheer walled mountain faces surrounding the river path.
After a late breakfast, we drive to the Sangam - the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers and get ready for a thrilling rafting expedition.
There is the option of a picnic lunch by the river or a late lunch back at the retreat.
An early evening walk around the Chuchot village is recommended, to stretch your legs out and also get a sense of Ladakhi village life. Perhaps a cup of tea at one of the local village homes - Ladakhis are a very hospitable people. Return to the retreat for supper.
Wake up at leisure, having rested your tired bones. Pack a small overnight case for your stay at Nubra valley. We return to our retreat only the next day.
After breakfast, we drive up to the Khardungla pass, arguably the highest motorable road in the world at 5580 metres above sea level, though the Chinese say they have a higher one now. A cup of tea and some photographs later, we drive down to Nubra - a valley formed where the Shyok and Siachen rivers meet.
On reaching, we head to Diskit to see its famous sand dunes. Guests interested in camel rides could go for one. This is a part of Ladakh which reminds you of Rajasthan - a desert ringed by tall Himalayan mountains.
Night halt and dinner at a very comfortable guest house in Diskit.
Today, we explore the other parts of Nubra valley - the villages of Turtuk and Hundar. Traditional Ladakhi houses, old gompas and quaint hamlets make it a memorable morning excursion.
After a picnic lunch at a scenic Nubra village, we start our drive back to Leh.
This is your last day in Ladakh, so a bit of shopping is in order. The colourful Ladakh market has a lot to offer in terms of traditional textiles, weaves, antiquities and collectibles. From there, we drive back to our retreat for a farewell drink and dinner.
Time to say goodbye to Ladakh. After breakfast, you will be driven to the Leh airport to board a flight back to New delhi.
Accommodation in independent cottage with verandah at the Shey Bhumi retreat on all nights.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner on all days.
Beverages and snacks.
Car pick up and drop from Leh airport.
All car travel through the trip.
Rafting fare on the Zanskar river.
Ladakhi guide, where required.
All taxes other than service tax.
Package tariffs on request. Single night tariff per cottage (on single / double occupancy) - Rs. 14,000 + applicable taxes.