For someone from the West, India provides an authentic adventure - stimulating, absorbing, daunting, sometimes moving and shocking. Here is one of the world's great dramas; an ancient, vast and crowded land committed to the most formidably challenging excersise in mass democracy. It is a spectacle in which hope, pride, paradox and uncertainty mingle and struggle. It is conducted on the whole, and to India's credit in the open. The lasting memories of the land are hospitality, kindness, good humor and generosity. Here is a society of over a 1000 million people, growing by a million a month, divided and united by language, caste, religion and regional loyalties. It has often been described as a functioning anarchy; and it is in many ways an amiable one, of marvelous fluidity and tolerance. Indeed, the true Indian motif is not the Taj Mahal, the elephant or the patient peasant behind the ox drawn plough. It is the crowd, the ocean of faces in the land of multitudes, endlessly stirring, pushing and moving. It is in this human circulation that one sees India's colour, variety, busyness, and, senses also its power, vitality and grandeur.
Day 07: Leh / Likir / UletokpoFollowing a leisurely breakfast we drive to Uletokpo Visiting the Likir Monastery on the way. The journey itself through spell bounding scenes of natural beauty is worth the effort. Snow capped Himalayas dot the background while craggy dusty mountain ranges and the swiftly flowing Indus river as well as patches of farm make up for the fascinating foreground.
At Nimu we witness the magical confluence of the two main rivers of the region - Indus & Zanskar.
Another interesting aspect of our journey would be the opportunity to travel past several Ladakhi Villages where time has stood still. We will walk into these villages and experience traditional Ladakhi Villages, lifestyles and occupations.
We make a brief stop at the Likir Monastery that houses many gigantic clay statue of Buddha in various forms. The primary attraction is, however, their 1000-year old wall painting which make a visit more than worthwhile.
Upon arrival at lunchtime we check into tented accommodation at Uleytokpo. This place is heaven on earth! The accommodation here is lovely fixed camps run by a Ladakhi family. The tents have attached toilets and beds, and are set amidst apricot orchards. The place is right in the lap of nature and you would very much enjoy the feel of the breeze, the scent of flowers, delightful nature walks, views of the snow capped Himalayas and the gentling rolling sound of the Indus river. If you are a bird lover there are great possibilities of viewing a variety of birds.
Just 4 kms away is Ridzong, the most isolated monastery of all the monastery of Ladakh. One can still find the small caves where Lamas used to meditate for years cutting themselves from the rest of the world except for an one feet square outlet window from where they accept the one time meal of the day. Also close by is a nunnery. Food and clothing besides shelter is provided to the Nuns. There are a few very old retired Nuns. A visit here shows us the day to day living of the Nuns, as well as the trainings they receive here and also an opportunity to witness the performance of the evening prayers
Day 10: LehTakthok Monastery of Ladakh is situated in Sakti Village. The site where the monastery is now situated, once served as the meditation cave of Mahasidhas "Kunga Phuntsog". The name Takthok literally means 'rock-roof'. The monastery was so named, as both its roof as well as walls are made up of rock. Tak Thok belongs to the Nying-ma-pa sect of Buddhism, also known as the Old Order, and serves as the residence of approximately 55 lamas. It is the probably the only Gompa in Ladakh that follows this order. On the right of the central courtyard, lies the Dukhang or the main assembly hall. Murals of guardian divinities adorn the verandah entrance to the Dukhang. There is a throne inside the Dukhang, reserved solely for the Dalai Lama. Also inside the Dukhang, are the statues of Maitreya (the Future Buddha or Buddha of Compassion), Padmasambhava and Dorje Takposal (a manifestation of Padmasambhava). Takthok Monastery also houses the Kandshur, the 108 volumes of Buddha's teachings.
From here, we continue to Chemrey Gompa. Clinging like a swallow's nest to the sides of a shay conical hill, the magnificent Gompa of Chemrey sees very few visitors because of its location - tucked up the side valley that runs from Karu, below Hemis. Founded in 1664 as a memorial to King Sengge Namgyal, the monastery is staffed by a dwindling community of around twenty Drugpa monks and their young novices. Its set of ancient Tibetan texts whose title pages are illuminated with opulent gold and silver calligraphy. Upstairs in the revamped Guru-La-Khang, reached via several flights of rickety wooden steps, sits a giant brass statue of Padmasambhava (founder of the Nyingmapa school), swatched in silk brocade and encrusted with semi precious stones
Day 11: Leh / Khardung La / Deskit / HunderToday we travel north from Leh over the highest motorable road and the Khardungla Pass (5570m), to the Nubra Valley which is little visited, as it is inaccessible for all but a couple of months in the year, its high passes closed by the winter snows. In comparison to the Indus valley which is cooler the Nubra is a comparatively warm valley where walnut, apricot, apple and mulberry trees grow and yak, sheep and goats graze in small forests and along the river Shyok. The journey brings us excellent view of great Karakoram Range.
In the ancient times the fertile Nubra Valley formed a part of the overland route between Tibet and Turkestan. Once dotted with garlands of camel and yak caravans, this Silk Route glen is also known as the 'Valley of Flowers' of Ladakh, and is amongst the greenest valleys in the region. During early summer, Nubra is clad in endless bushes of yellow and pink wild roses, and once the valley is through with the season of roses around August, a carpet of wild lavender lies gently on it.
On our way we visit the Diskit Village which is amongst the larger villages in the region, and home to the 350 year-old Diskit Gompa - the oldest, and the largest monastery in the Nubra Valley. We will also find time to walk along the Nubra village.
Day 01: Arrival / Srinagar Srinagar is located in the heart of the Kashmir valley at an altitude of 1,730 m above sea level, spread on both sides of the river Jhelum. The Dal and Nagin lakes enhance its picturesque setting, while the changing play of the seasons and the salubrious climate ensures that the city is equally attractive to visitors around the year. ts waterways with their own quaint lifestyle, the unique Houseboat, the blossoming gardens, water sports activities, shopping for lovingly handcrafted souvenirs and the nearby resorts make it a cherished spot among those looking for a memorable holiday.
Meeting and assistance on arrival at Srinagar airport and transfer to the Houseboat on Dal Lake
After wash & change we proceed for the sightseeing tour of the city.
The larger and more elaborate pleasure garden of the Mughals is the Shalimar Bagh, four kms away. Laid out by Emperor Jahangir for Nur Jahan, this garden is also divided into four terraces and has a water channel running down its centre. On the topmost terrace is the pavilion reserved for the royal visitors. Supported by stunning black marble pillars, the pavilion had tiny niches that were used to keep fragrant flowers in the day and light up the pavilion with lamps at night.
We will also visit the important mosques of Srinagar is the large Jamia Masjid built in 1674. The mosque has thick wooden pillars, each made from an entire deodar tree. One of the oldest mosques in Kashmir, the foundation of the building was said to have been laid as far back as 1398 by Sultan Sikandar. To the southeast is the Rozahbal Mosque, for some esoteric and strange reason known as the 'tomb of Jesus'. Across the River Jhelum lies the Pattar Masjid, built in 1623 for the Empre.ss Nur Jahan. The mosque was later renamed as the Shahi Masjid.
Evening enjoy the Shikara ride on Dal Lake to enjoy the beauty that God has graced this city which is often compared to Venice. You will gat a view of some very interesting places around the lake.
Day 02: Srinagar / Pahalagam Morning we drive to Pahalgham.
At an altitude of 2,130m and about 95-km from Srinagar, Pahalgam is probably the most popular hill resort in the Kashmir valley. Since it is rather lower than Gulmarg the nighttime temperatures do not drop so low and it has the further advantage of the beautiful Lidder River running right through the town.
Pahalgam is situated at the junction of the Aru and Sheshnag Rivers and surrounded by soaring, fir-covered mountains with bare, snow-capped peaks rising behind them. The Aru flows down from the Kolahoi glacier beyond Lidderwat while the Sheshnag from glaciers along the great Himalayan. At the confluence of the streams flowing from the river Lidder and Sheshnag Lake, Pahalgam was once a humble shepherd's village with breathtaking views. Now it Kashmir's premier resort, cool even during the height of summer.
Upon arrival check into the hotel Pahalgham
Rest of the day is at leisure for your independent activities
Day 03: Pahalgham
This morning we trek to Aru. The little village of Aru is actually the first stage from Pahalgam on the trek to Lidderwat and the Kolahoi glacier. It makes an interesting day walk from Pahalgam, following the Lidder river for Pahalgam, following the Lidder river for 11-km upstream. The main track, which also can be taken by car, is on the left bank of the river. At Aru one will often find the Gujars, living in their log huts with their flocks of sheep and goats, en route to the higher sheep and goats, en route to the higher pastures for the summer. One of course does not have to trek the full way, but, we can return after an hour if we wish to.
Literally a meadow of flowers, Gulmarg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Kashmir valley. A two-hour drive from Srinagar, down roads lined with towering poplars and you arrive at the luxuriant resort with breathtaking views of the splendid mountains and unspoilt expanses of gree or white, depending on the season. Crowded with tourists in winter who come for skiing and winter sports or just to enjoy the snow, Gulmarg also has a good golf course.
Upon arrival check into the hotel Highland Park
Gulmarg offer plenty of options for nature walks and mild treks along amazing scenes of natural beauty. We would explore the magic of the place
Day 05: Gulmarg
Full day at leisure for independent activities and walks. Optional trekking and horse ridding on request at the hotel can be made.
Gulmarg like most regions of Kashmir offer opportunities for Pony rides too. You would be helped to undertake pony rides if you wish to.
A Cable Car Ride: Enjoy a fun-filled ride of a most unusual kind on Gulmarg's newly constructed gondola lift from high above Gulmarg, through pine-clad slopes, is exhilarating. A Cable Car (Gandola) is installed which is great hit with tourists and it takes tourist's upto Kongdori. The sky-car ride across 5 km and reaching an altitude of 13,500 ft, the highest in the world
Day 06: Gulmarg / Sonmarg
Today morning we drive to Sonmarg - located 96 kms, from Srinagar, is a resort set in a pristine village lying next to the Lidder River. Surrounded with fragrant pine forests, the idyllic resort includes a golf course and spots for angling. The bubbling Lidder harbours a sizeable population of rainbow trout and mahaseer to ensure you don't come away disappointed. The nearby forested slopes are home to the Himalayan brown be.ar. Once a very popular tourist destination, Pahalgam has camping facilities, ponies for short rides, skiing equipment for the winter and white water rafting in the Lidder. A trip to the Kolahoi Glacier near Pahalgam is worthwhile for the thrilling experience of riding in sledges on the ice.
Upon arrival check into the hotel Sonmarg Glacier View
Sonamarg is a trekker's paradise and small treks can be taken up with many other leisure activities form this place. Sledging at these snow covered glaciers is offered by the locals and is quite enjoyable.
Day 07: Sonmarg / Srinagar / Departure
Morning transfer to the Srinagar airport to board your onward flight.
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Day 01: Arrival / DelhiLate night arrival. Meeting and assistance upon arrival as our representatives welcome you and escort you to your car.
Whilst the room keys and check-in is organized, our representative would introduce the tour to you and hand over the documents to you.
Welcome to India, or as we say 'atithi devo bhava' (the guest is an incarnation of God). Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve you!
Day 02: Delhi / Chandigarh (Kalka Shatabdi - 0740 / 1100 Hours) Chandigarh / Mandi Morning transfer to the train station to board your train to Chandigarh
Meeting and assistance upon arrival and we will drive to Mandi
Upon arrival check in to Hotel Mamleshwar
Rest of the day is at leisure
Day 03: Mandi / Manali Following a leisurely breakfast we will drive to Manali
Upon arrival check into your hotel River Country
Day is at leisure for your independent activities
Day 04: Manali / Keylong After breakfast we will drive to Keylong
Upon arrival check in to Deluxe Camp
Day 05: Keylong / LehMorning we will drive through spectacular mountain beauty to Leh
Upon arrival check in to your Hotel Spic n Span
On arrival the advice is to lie down for a day, until your body catches up with the altitude Late in the afternoon, you may gently stroll out to visit Leh's wide street bazaar that runs east-west. Together with the labyrinth of adjoining side streets and alleys, the bazaar is the center of business and shopping -- particularly for visitors who find the plethora of antiques (and not-antiques) shops worth checking out. The bazaar is an incredible example of traditional Ladakhi lifestyles. Watch out for the pavement vegetable sellers and the traditional homes that exist on top of the stores which sell only the very basic provisions
Day 06: Leh / Shey / Thiksey / Hemis / LehThis morning we proceed on a guided tour of Shey, which is a small town in comparison to Leh. Shey Palace was built in early 17th century AD by Deldan Namgyal as a memorial for his father, Singay Namgyal. The palace houses a three storey copper statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. Overlooking the Shey palace are the ruins of the fort built by the first king of Ladakh, Lhachen Spalgigon. Shey also has a very large scattering of stupas all across its landscape.
From here we drive to Thiksey Gompa (monastery), it is located 17 km on the main highway from Leh in the direction of Manali. The present day monastery founded by Paldan Sherab, overlooking the village below, was not the original location. It was originally built at Stakmo. This monastery hosts the festival of Thiksey Gustor.
Later we drive to Hemis Gompa (monastery) which is the most important and the richest Gompa in the whole of Ladakh and is dedicated to Guru Padama Sambhava the great Indian teacher & philosopher. This monastery located among the beautiful landscape of the Hemis National Park was founded in 1630 AD.
Day 12: Hunder / Panamik / HunderThis morning we will spend some time exploring the village. Hunder is a quaint and beautiful village, maze-like in its formation, winding paths bathed in dappled sunlight, branches forming tunnels. The Ladakhi people are creative in the way they devise for water to enter homes and fields in turn, with tenderly cared for gardens and fruit orchards. The houses are thatched, built with mud-dried.
The people are so hospitable and look on curiously, smiling. They radiate joy, with their rosy sun burnt cheeks, wide smiles and eyes speaking volumes about the depth of character and humane goodness they exude. They are humble, joyous and childlike, with a palpable dignity. It would hit you to realize how material culture and luxury do not provide happiness.
Today we continue to explore the Nubra Valley and the quaint villages that dot the landscape. Sumur is one such village where we interact with the people and also visit the citadel of their faith - The Samtanling Gompa which is definitely worth a visit, and houses a fine collection of idols, frescos and tangkhas (painted and embroidered scrolls).
Continue a short way away to Panamik which used to be a busy centre being the last major settlement before the caravans entered into the mountains of Karakoram. Today, Panamik is a sleepy village, its inhabitants quietly going about their work in the fields. On the mountainside above the village, hot water bubbles out of the earth in thermal springs, reputed to have therapeutic qualities. Across the river, clinging to the mountains, are a few trees rooted among the rocks surrounding the tiny Ensa gompa.
Day 13: Hunder / Leh Morning we retreat back to Leh
Upon arrival transfer to your Hotel Spic n Span
Rest of the day is at leisure for your independent activities. This is the day to catch up on your shopping. Think about people who are in your thoughts and who 'deserve' souvenirs from this magical destination.
Day 14: Leh / Departure Transfer to the airport to connect your onward flight home.
Day 08: Uletokpo / Lamayuru / UletokpoA half day excursion through paradise as we visit Lamayuru. Every twist and turn brings to you new vistas of natural beauty. But, wait till you get to the 'Lamayuru Moonland'. We look down on this landscape which appears to be a dusty surface of the Moon itself with craters & hills . The snow rising in the backdrop of this sandy script reminds you that you are in Ladakh.
The landscape around Lamayuru monastery is one of most spectacular things one could see on earth.
Lamayuru monastery popularly known as, "Yangdrung Gomp" is situated 126 km west of Leh, on the Leh - Srinagar highway. In ancient times there was a huge lake in this place. The great saint Nyimagung, made a prophesy saying: " May a monastery be founded in this place" and he then offered a votive water offering to all the naga serpent spirits who were the guardians of that place. The grains of that corn that formed part of this offering were carried by the waves of different places along the cliff side by the edge of the lake and when they had become mixed with the earth they sprouted forth as corn in the shape of a swastika. At the time when a monastery was later founded there it was called Yangdrung "swastika". In the 11th century the mahasiddha Naropa came to this place and the cave where he resided and meditated is still to be seen today. Then Rinchen Zangpo, the Translator came and built many temples and stupas and so the teachings of the Kadampa School came to flourish greatly there. Thereafter, for many years the monastery was administered by the Red Hats order of the Tibetan Buddhism., but later it was taken over by Digungpa order. Then the rituals and observances of the Digung Kargud School were introduced and the monastery received the name of Yangdrung Tharpaling.
Day 09: Uletokpo / Alchi / LehAfter breakfast we drive back to Leh Visiting Alchi on the way.
The village of Alchi in lower Ladakh is to be considered one of the most important cultural sites throughout the Himalayas. Consisting of four separate hamlets, the village contains numerous historic monuments of different ages and in various states of repair, the oldest and most famousof which is a monastic complex. The 1,000-year-old three-storied Himalayan temple, with its unique murals and iconography, is a fragile wooden structure. Confirmed a World Heritage site by UNESCO, this is one of only four surviving monasteries of the 108 founded by the Great Translator, Lotsava Rinchen bZangpo in the later 10 th and early 11 th century. The temple preserves some of the finest examples of Kashmiri art of the period
Following the tour of Alchi, we continue drive to Leh and get there by lunchtime. Upon arrival, transfer to your Hotel Spic n Span. The afternoon is at leisure and you may wish to walk into the bustling bazaar or catch up with your reading and postcards.
This evening we are invited to a typical Ladakhi home for high tea and interaction with different members of the Ladakhi family. The kitchen is the heart of the Ladakhi house.