Leh, Ladakh

As you approach Leh, you’ll have little difficulty imagining how the old trans-Himalayan traders must have felt as they plodded in from Yarkhand and Tibet. This is a true wonderland. It's a mixture of relief at having crossed the mountains in one piece, and anticipation of a relaxing spell in one of central Asia’s most scenic towns. Leh is a fairytale city surrounded by eye-catching nature. The Ladakhi capital sprawls out of a valley that tapers northward towards eroded snow-capped peaks. Looking to the south, it boasts majestic views of the Stok-Kangri massif as it rests at the foot of a ruined Tibetan-style palace.

The best travel tips for visiting Leh

Despite being increasingly touristic, the abiding impression of Leh remains that of a lively yet laid-back place. It's a great spot to unwind after a long journey.

Attractions in and around the town itself include the former palace and Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, perched amid strings of prayer flags, whose layout has changed little since it was founded in the sixteenth century.

A short walk north across the fields brings you to the small monastery at Sankar. Here you'll find modern Tantric murals and a thousand-headed Avalokitesvara deity. Leh is also a good base for longer day-trips out into the Indus Valley.

Among the string of picturesque villages and gompas within reach by bus are Shey, site of a derelict seventeenth century palace, and the spectacular Thikse Gompa. Keep in mind the peak months are July and August.

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Leh palace, India - Ladakh © Shutterstock

Leh palace, India - Ladakh © Shutterstock

Avoiding altitude sickness at Leh

As Leh is 3500m above sea level, some travellers – and especially those who arrive by plane from Delhi – experience mild altitude sickness. The best way to avoid the symptoms – persistent headaches, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, loss of appetite or shortness of breath – is to rest for at least 48 hours on arrival.

Drink 3–4 litres of water a day, avoid alcohol, and don’t exert yourself; try to walk more slowly than usual, especially when going uphill.

Best things to do in Leh

From the side alleys of The Bazaar to Leh Palace and hiking up to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa monastery, here are the best things to do in Leh.

#1 Browse the bazaar in Leh

When you visit Leh, stay in a hotel or guesthouse. On your first day there, explore the bazaar. Many years ago, people from different places came to buy pashmina wool and other things from nomads who came from Tibet.

Today, the streets are filled with shops selling souvenirs and handicrafts. Even if you don't need trekking supplies, look at some of the stores that remain open. You can find bright colors like pink, turquoise and red in the windows.

Tourists usually stay on the main roads but locals go into side-alleys near east and north of the bazaar.

#2 Lord it over the old town at Leh palace

Sengge Namgyal was a ruler from a long time ago. His palace is on top of a tall rock in the old town. It looks like the Potala Palace in Lhasa, with big walls and balconies that are nine stories high.

Since his family left in the 1940s, some parts of it have fallen down because of cannons from Kashmiri. Despite recent restoration work, there’s not much to see in the dark interior; most visitors spider up to the rooftop for lovely views out over Leh.

#3 Hike up to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa

Once you are acclimatised to the altitude, the stiff early-morning hike up to Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, the monastery perched precariously on the shale-covered crag above Leh palace, is a great way to start the day.

Two trails lead up to “the Peak of Victory”, whose twin peaks are connected by giant strings of multicoloured prayer flags: the first and most popular path zigzags across its south side from the palace road, while a second scales the more gentle northern slope via the north-Leh suburb of Chubi.

This is the route followed by the lama from Sankar gompa, who tends to the shrine each morning and evening. Alternatively, the place is accessible by road.

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa with prayer flags - Leh - Ladakh - Jammu and Kashmir - India © Shutterstock

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa with prayer flags - Leh - Ladakh - Jammu and Kashmir - India © Shutterstock

#4 Geek up at the Central Asian Museum

The Central Asian Museum is housed in a modern re-creation of a Lhasa mansion, with a gently tapering brick tower crowned by a wooden balustrade.

It has a reasonable collection of artefacts, clothing and photographs that focus on the deep connections between Ladakh and the rest of Central Asia, forged through its position on the Silk Route.

#5 See the Peace Pagoda at Shanti Stupa

Easily visible above Leh is the toothpaste-white Shanti Stupa, nearly 3km west of the bazaar by road.

Inaugurated in 1985 by the Dalai Lama, the “Peace Pagoda”, whose sides are decorated with gilt panels depicting episodes from the life of the Buddha, is one of several such monuments erected around India by a “Peace Sect” of Japanese Buddhists.

#6 Read the “dos and don’ts” at Sankar Gompa

Nestled amid the shimmering poplar coppices and terraced fields of barley that extend up the valley behind Leh, Sankar Gompa, 2km north of the town centre, is among the most accessible monasteries in central Ladakh.

The monastery is the official residence of the Kushok Bakula, Ladakh’s head of the Gelug-pa sect. Above the Du-khang (main prayer hall) stands the gompa’s principal deity, Tara, in her triumphant, one-thousand-armed form as Dukkar, or “Lady of the White Parasol”, presiding over a light, airy shrine room whose walls are adorned with a Tibetan calendar and tableaux depicting “dos and don’ts” for monks – some of which are very arcane indeed.

Best areas to stay in Leh

Leh is glutted with accommodation, much of it refreshingly neat and clean. Most places close between October and April; due to the short season prices do not fluctuate much, but you can bargain in the shoulder months.


Most of the town’s cheaper guesthouses are in the leafy areas of Changspa to the west.


In the north there are a few mid-range and increasing number of upmarket hotels all come with piped hot water. Note that because of the early morning flight timings, checkout at most places is 9–10 am.

Browse the best hotels in Leh.

Best restaurants and bars

Leh’s thriving restaurant and café scene is run by a mixture of refugees, and businessmen from the rest of India looking to cash in. Tibetan food has a high profile alongside classic Indian and Chinese cuisine, plus there’s an increasing range of European, Israeli and other international dishes to add variety. Here’s where to eat.

Changspa Road

You can find a variety of cafes, restaurants, and small bars offering both local and international cuisine. This area is particularly popular among backpackers and tourists.

Fort Road

Fort Road is another bustling area in Leh with numerous dining options. You can find restaurants and cafes serving traditional Ladakhi cuisine.

Main Bazaar

The Main Bazaar area in Leh is a commercial hub and is home to several restaurants and cafes. Here, you can explore a mix of local eateries and multi-cuisine restaurants serving Indian, Tibetan, and Continental dishes. This area is usually crowded, especially during the peak tourist season.

Changspa Village

Located a little outside the city centre, Changspa Village offers a tranquil setting and is home to several guesthouses and restaurants.

Shanti Stupa also known as Peace Pagoda on hilltop of Chanspa, Leh city, Ladakh, India © Shutterstock

Shanti Stupa also known as Peace Pagoda on hilltop of Chanspa, Leh city, Ladakh, India © Shutterstock

How to get around

From walking to mountain biking, it is easy to get around Leh. Here’s how to do it.

By walking

Leh is a compact town, and many of its attractions are within walking distance. Walking is a great way to explore the local markets, monasteries, and nearby viewpoints. It's a leisurely option that allows you to soak in the local atmosphere, but it may not be suitable for longer distances or reaching remote areas.

By tax

The main office of the Taxi Operators Cooperative is located near the tourist information centre, though most long distance shared taxis depart from a yard opposite the bus station. Each driver carries a booklet of fixed fares to just about everywhere you might want to visit in Ladakh, taking into account waiting time, vehicle size and night halt charges.

By bike

Mountain bikes can be rented. They also whisk riders up to the 5359m-high Khardung La pass by jeep for a fun cycle back to Leh.

What is the best time to visit Leh?

The tourist season in Leh can be divided into four distinct periods but summer (May to September) is peak tourist season. The weather during this time is mild, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 30°C (59°F to 86°F). Travellers can easily explore popular attractions like Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso Lake, and Tso Moriri Lake as the roads are open.

Leh experiences a brief monsoon season (July to August), accompanied by sporadic rainfall. Although the rainfall is relatively low, there is a risk of landslides and road closures.

Autumn (September to October) brings pleasant weather to Leh, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 25°C (50°F to 77°F). Clear skies provide stunning views, making it an excellent time for sightseeing and photography.

From November to April, Leh enters winter, characterised by extremely cold temperatures that drop well below freezing point. Heavy snowfall leads to the closure of many roads and high-altitude passes, including the renowned Khardung La.

However, if you're interested in experiencing snow and seeking a more secluded and peaceful trip, visiting Leh during the winter months is an option. The popular winter adventure activity of Chadar Trek on the frozen Zanskar River awaits adventurous souls.

Find out more about the best time to visit India.

Kashimir carpet shops in the main shopping street in downtown of Leh City © Shutterstock

Kashimir carpet shops in the main shopping street in downtown of Leh City © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Leh?

To fully explore and appreciate the beauty of Leh, you will need a minimum of 3 to 4 days. This duration allows you to acclimatise to the high altitude and visit some of the main attractions in and around the capital.

During your stay in Leh, you can explore the Leh Palace, a nine-story royal residence with stunning views of the city and surrounding landscapes. You can also visit the iconic Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist white-domed monument offering panoramic views of Leh and the Himalayas.

In addition, Leh serves as a base for various day trips and excursions to breathtaking destinations such as Pangong Tso, a stunning high-altitude lake famous for its changing hues, and Nubra Valley, known for its scenic beauty, sand dunes, and the Diskit Monastery.

If you have more time available, you can extend your stay in Leh to explore other attractions like the ancient monasteries of Alchi and Lamayuru, or venture into remote areas like Zanskar Valley and Tso Moriri.

How to get here

Getting to Leh, the capital city of Ladakh, typically involves travelling by air or road. Both offer stunning views of the Himalayas and picturesque landscapes.

By plane

Leh airport is just 5 km south of the city, on the main highway.

By bus

Long-distance services use the main bus station, a 15 min walk or taxi ride south of the bazaar, including the deluxe HPTDC buses to Manali. Regional services often depart from the bus station too, local minibuses use a stop near the archery stadium.

By jeep

Shared jeeps are widely used for transportation around Ladakh and to destinations further afield, such as Kargil, Manali and Srinagar. They’re best booked through travel agencies since the official taxi stands will only deal with full vehicles.

Find out the best ways to get to India.

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