Hear about an itinerary for Ladakh and Kashmir as the Amateur Traveler talks to Agnes Simigh from voiceofguides.com about these less visited regions of India.
Agnes says, “I would differentiate the two places we will talk about Kashmir and Ladakh in the North of India, but they are totally different. Ladakh is surrounded by mountains and to the 1970s there were no tourism at that place. So it’s relatively new and unknown. It’s beautiful. If somebody has been to India, then they probably remember it like a crowded place. Very hectic, very noisy. But Ladakh and Kashmir are totally different. Ladakh is scarcely populated, the religion is different, it’s a very clean place. So it’s like being in another country completely in another country. It’s one of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen in my life. So it’s special for several reasons for the religion. The religion is Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, in contrast to other parts of the country.”
“Kashmir was a very popular top tourist destination in India until 1979. It’s a green place with beautiful mountains and rivers. The capital of Kashmir [Srinagar] is really wonderful. Kashmir was a great place for tourism till 1979 then with the clashes between the Hindus and extremist Muslims and the Kashmir became an unsafe place and deterred the tourists for quite a long time. Even up to now it’s mainly Indians who visit this part of India.”
Agnes starts us in Leh in Ladakh. Leh is at altitude (11,483′ / 3,524 m) so you need to spend at least one day adjusting to the altitude. Many people go trekking in Ladakh but Agnes runs cultural trips.
She recommends visiting some of the many monasteries around Leh like the Hemis, Thikse, Rizong, Alchi, and Lamayuru monasteries. She swears we won’t get tired of them because each is a little different. The Hemis Monastery is known for its festival in June or July that draws many tourists. At the festival the monks dance wearing masks. Thiksey Monastery is probably the most photographed monastery as it ascends up a hillside. Rizong Monastery is less famous and a bit farther. The monks here follow some of the most strict rules. It is one of Agnes’s favorites. The Alchi Monastery dates back to the 1100s and is one the oldest. It is known for its colorful paintings. Lamayuru Monastery is the oldest and largest. The landscape near it looks like the moon.
We next head to the Nubra Valley for 2 nights or 3 days. To get there you head over the Khardung La (or Khardung Pass) which is at an altitude of 17,582 ft (5,359 m). The Diskit Monastery is in the Nubra Valley. You can continue to the beautifully blue Pangong Lake. From there you can cross another high pass and return to Leh.
If you have more time, Agnes recommends a trip to the Zanskar Valley which is “untouched”. The road is not good. You won’t find internet, hot water or cell signal but you will find a more traditional lifestyle and the highest mountains and glaciers.
Agnes then combines a taste of Kashmir with Ladakh. 7-10 days in Ladakh and then continuing through Kargil, over the Zoji La (Pass) to Kashmir. The road is a bit scary.
Suddenly the landscape changes. Kashmir is green. It has pine forests and will remind you more of Switzerland. It is a more year-round destination. In the spring you can see the tulips in the gardens. Agnes recommends staying in a houseboat on the Dal Lake outside of the capital of Srinagar. These “palaces on water” date back to the time of the British. There are markets and gardens on the lake as well.
Also in Srinagar, visit the Shankaracharya Temple for the best views and visit the Mogul Gardens.
If you have been to Deli and the Taj Mahal and you think you have seen India, India has more surprises in store for you, and Ladakh and Kashmir are two of those surprises.
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LeAnne wrote about Travel to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – Episode 755
I went to the Galapagos in August, but I chose the other Evolution itinerary. I booked with Quasar after you first mentioned them.
As a solo traveler, all the other small boats really were out of my budget, but Quasar charges a more reasonable single supplement and had great discounts this summer. So thank you for putting them on my radar!
Note about August: We did have a couple snorkel spots that were chilly but still tolerable. Many ladies doubled their shorty wetsuits. And there were two nights when the waters were a bit rougher, but most folks did not suffer many ill effects. Many were using the patches, though. We saw zero whales, but those cute penguins were all over the place.
The wildlife encounters here were truly unique. and hopefully I ended up with some decent photos! But the real highlight for me was learning more about the island biogeography and local conservation dynamics. Plus… there were albatross! This trip was really a dream come true.
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Kashmir photo by Divya Agrawal on Unsplash