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What You’ll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

The city of Leh, located due north of Delhi, via an 80 minute scenic plane ride or a hair raising almost 24 hour drive is the gateway to the Ladakh region. Ladakh which means ‘land of high passes” (and I climbed 12 of them so I can attest to this fact!) is a region in northern India and an awe-inspiring place to visit with dry, desolate mountains in a rainbow of colours, occasional villages and a number of precariously perched monasteries. Bordered to the west by Pakistan, to the east by Tibet and to the north by China, it is an area crawling with Indian military because of its strategic location.

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Mountain scenery on the flight to Leh from Delhi

Leh, the largest city in the Jammu and Kashmir region comes alive from May to September when adventures in the area abound, and both local and foreign tourists make an appearance. By the end of September, when a large number of hotels and restaurants are shuttered for the winter, a good part of the working population also disappears until the following spring.

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

A view of Leh from the air

Leh will quite literally take your breath away. It sits at an altitude of 3,510 metres (11,516 feet) so shortness of breath until you’re acclimatized along with possible headaches, nausea and full on altitude sickness is possible. (We started taking Diamox, the drug of choice to combat altitude sickness, on arrival in Leh and kept up with it for almost a week.) You’ll notice the altitude the minute you deplane from oxygen rich Delhi.

I was in Leh for a couple of days to get acclimatized before heading off on an 18 day Trans-Himalayan circuit of Ladakh with World Expeditions. Hotel Omasila where we stayed, was walking distance to everything, including a great coffee shop with excellent lattes and apricot cake, just a minute away.

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Hotel Omasalia offers beautiful outdoor spaces, friendly staff but basic rooms (think showers beside the toilet with no shower curtain)

What can you do in Leh?

While the area around Leh abounds with adventurous activities (rafting, hiking, trekking, mountain climbing, cycling and riding motorcycles) Leh itself lends itself to wandering through markets, exploring backstreets, shopping for local wares, lingering over coffee or tea at one of the many cafes as well as a couple of stiff climbs including one to Shanti Stupa – a Buddhist Temple and the other to Namgyl Tsemo Monastery.

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Careful where you walk as streets are torn up and drivers are aggressive

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Just walking the streets in Leh is interesting as there’s always something going on – building code??

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Getting painted on the streets in Leh

Shopping in Leh

At the end of our trip my friend Judy and I spent the better part of an afternoon drinking tea and coffee at local cafes and shopped for Pashmina scarves and colourful hand knitted wool socks. Carpets, Ladakhi jewelry and Buddhist artifacts are also popular items in stores. Bargaining is okay and expected.

Cinnamon roll time in Leh

After 18 days of curry all of us were dreaming of western style baked goods once back in Leh like this awesome cinnamon roll available in the cafe above the bookstore selling English titles

One of our guide's mothers knit these warm, colourful socks that you can fin in the markets of Leh

One of our guide’s mothers knit these warm, colourful socks that you can find in the markets of Leh

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Market time in Leh and delicious little apricots are in season

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

This gentleman is selling spices and tiny, dried apricots

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Spices for sale

A Visit to Namgyl Tsemo Monastery

The Namgyl Tsemo Monastery, founded in the early 15th century sits on a mountain top behind the Leh Palace. It’s one heck of a climb to the top via uneven stairs but the views make it all worthwhile.

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

City views at the start of the climb to Namgyl Tsemo Monastery

Climbing to the Namgyl Tsemo Monastery

Climbing to the Namgyl Tsemo Monastery in Leh

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Prayer flags galore flapping in the wind at the Namgyl Tsemo Monastery

Climb to Shanti Stupa

Chanti Stupa, a white-domed chorten is hard to miss as you drive in from the airport. From the top you can enjoy exceptional panoramic views of the city and its surroundings including the Namgyl Tsemo Monastery. Built in 1991 by both Ladakh and Japanese Buddhists, it was inaugurated by the current Dalai Lama in the same year. Visit in the late afternoon when the lighting is at its best but prepared for a lung bursting hike to the top. (You can arrange for a drive most of the way up as well.)

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Late afternoon climb (for the best light) to Shanti Stupa

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Looking across to the Namgyl Tsemo Monastery

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Candles are a mark of respect in the Buddhist religion

Walking clockwise around the Shanti Stupa in Leh

Walking clockwise around the Shanti Stupa

Airlines that service Leh

We flew on Jet Airways for about $300 pp round-trip from Delhi. Air India and GoAir are your other choices. Flights land and leave primarily in the morning when the weather is best. Delays are not uncommon. From Delhi to Leh sit on the left hand side of the plane for some of the best mountain views of your life!

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What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Suzanne says:

    Oh, this area has been at the top of my bucket list for longer than I care to remember. As other “safer” destinations beneath it get crossed off the list, this one moves up and up until sits atop the list like one of those mountaintop stupas.

    But if the next post is Kananaskis County, what about the 18 day trek?? I do hope there is more forthcoming! Your photos were so evocative. I loved this post!

    • Leigh says:

      @Suzanne This is just the first of many posts about my experience – and wait till you see the photos from the trek. It’s a stunning part of the world to visit.

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