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

Places to Visit in Leh if You Have 2 Days

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. Trekkers and adventure lovers arrive here to get acclimatized before taking off on multi-week adventures in the Indian Himalayas.

There are lots of worthwhile places to visit in Leh itself if you have a day or two. Just don’t push it physically and drink lots of water because of the altitude (3510 m).

Where exactly is Leh?

Leh, the largest city in the Jammu and Kashmir region, is situated in the remote Ladakh region of northern India. Ladakh which means ‘land of high passes” (and I climbed 12 of them so I can attest to this fact!) is 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’s an area crawling with Indian military because of its strategic location. (But it feels safe!)

What You'll Want to do if you Have 24 Hours in Leh
Mountain scenery on the flight to Leh from Delhi

Leh 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.

A view of Leh from the air
A view of Leh from the air

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Leh – a high altitude city

Leh will quite literally take your breath away. It sits at an altitude of 3,510 m (11,516 feet) so shortness of breath is possible until you’re acclimatized along with possible headaches, nausea and full on altitude sickness.

(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 that made excellent lattes and apricot cake. Note that it’s a simple two star hotel but with beautiful grounds.

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

Places to visit in Leh

The area around Leh abounds with adventurous activities like 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.

Careful where you walk as streets are torn up and drivers are aggressive
Careful where you walk as streets are torn up and drivers are aggressive
Places to visit in Leh include the side streets
Just walking the streets in Leh is interesting as there’s always something going on – building code??
Places to visit in Leh include side streets to see daily life in action
Getting painted on the streets in Leh

Places to visit in Leh – the shopping district

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.

Places to visit in Leh include cafes for cinnamon rolls
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
Places to visit in Leh include the markets for warm, colourful socks
One of our guide’s mothers knit these warm, colourful socks that you can find in the markets of Leh
Places to visit in Leh include the street markets
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

Visit 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 – one of the incredible places to visit in Leh

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
Places to visit in Leh that offer a view of the Namgyl Tsemo Monastery
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
Places to visit in Leh include Shanti Stupa
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!

Further reading on India

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Places to visit in Leh, India if you have 24 -48 hours

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. 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!

    1. @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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