High on the Himalayas

Land of the High Passes, Ladakh - Personalised Vacation
Categorised in: India Popular Wildlife

icture-postcard lakes and belief-defying mountains jell seamlessly with a ruthless temperate climate and an unforgiving terrain. Glaciers lay nestled in magnificent valleys, monasteries dot the slopes, clouds flirt with snow-clad hills, and seemingly barren precipitous ridges stand tall under a resplendent sun.

At India's northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir, nature's fearsome brawn meets its unparalleled beauty. The Land of High Passes is also a canvas of amazing contrasts.

Watch this video to find out why time lapses better in Ladakh.

But Ladakh's flagship feature is the ever-dynamic and nearly ethereal interplay of the indomitable brilliance of light and the irrepressible mystique of shade. And it rolls on ceaselessly.

The azure water of a lake basking in sunlight can turn indigo in the shade sans a moment's notice; a rock face, just now an icy-cold slab of stone whispering sinister secrets to the featureless sky, can glitter like a vivacious goldmine at the incidence of a ray of the late golden sun. The alchemy is uncanny.

Ladakh is a paradox that strings life with the lifeless. Its scale is astonishing, magnificence humbling and existential fabric positively awe-inspiring because it is a bridge between the earth and the unearthly.

With sensational landscapes, vibrant people, rich culture and exotic wildlife, it is rather like a Test match wicket that offers something for everyone and everything for the keen-eyed. And when you embrace its ethereal landscapes, culture and people in toto – all at an average of 4800m, you will find yourself getting high – high on the Himalayas.

What you will see and experience:

The capital of Jammu, Srinagar, called the 'summer capital of India', lies in the beautiful Kashmir valley and is world-renowned for the scenic Dal Lake. A night on a quintessential Kashmiri houseboat is a delightful way to experience the life of the locals, who for years have lived in floating houses and traded in floating markets that sell spices, clothes and food.

At the sightseeing sites of Leh, Thikse, Stok, Hemis and Shanti Stupa, savour the rich culture and heritage of the region that make Ladakh such a unique place. The monasteries inhabited by lamas and Buddhist paintings and sculptures offer a wealth of opportunities to make images and stories throbbing with cultural intrigue and chromatic richness.

At Pangong Tso, you will discover a new scale for size. An international lake that is 134 kilometres long, it stretches to Tibet and has the Line of Actual Control with China running through it. Although said to be bereft of fish, the lake supports a rich population of birds in the summer, and around its water, a number of mammals thrive. In the winter the lake freezes completely but in the summer it gleams with the magnificence of a polished jewel and the serenity of an elegant bride.

At 4,595 metres (15,075 feet), Tso Moriri, the largest of the higher Himalayan lakes that are entirely in India, stands as a paradise for landscape photography with brackish water and a backdrop of whitish mountains. 34 species of birds and many mammals, including the lynx and the Tibetan wild ass favour this area, for it is as much a wildlife haven as the strongest antonym for the word 'eyesore'.

The Tso Kar, literally meaning 'salt lake', completes the trinity of high-altitude lakes to behold near the roof of the world, with turquoise water set amidst the spectacular ambience of verdant greenery. Apart from the salt concentration around the water, the other noticeable feature is the plentiful wildlife around, including the red fox, tibetan wolf, little owl, brahminy duck, bar-headed goose, pied avocet, and different sandpipers and gulls.

At 5,600 metres (18,368 feet), you will experience the dizzying Khardung La, one of India's highest motorable roads, historically significant for lying on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia, used by around 10,000 horses and camels annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hundar, north of the pass.

Reached by passing the imposing Khardung La, the Nubra Valley lies to the south of the Siachen Glacier and the Karakoram Pass. Home to capital Diskit and the village of Hundar separated by several kilometres of sand dunes, it is inhabited by the Balti. And with monasteries, giant Buddha statues and a picturesque river flowing through the valley, you'd very soon wish that you lived here too!

Famous for the 1999 war, Kargil is a town that belies its embattled history. Used mostly as a transit stop between Srinagar and Leh, Kargil houses a war memorial that is worth a visit to understand the war and its happenings. There is also a museum where pictures, artefacts and other interesting information on the war are on offer.

The oldest of Ladakh's numerous monasteries, the Lamayuru stands on the Srinagar-Leh highway at 11,520 ft but even higher in terms of allure.

When you should visit:

Due to its cold climate, Ladakh isn't exactly a destination for all seasons, with June to September being the best months. Wildlife enthusiasts in search of the snow leopard, and hardy travellers desirous of experiencing the rawness of the Himalayas may venture in the freezing months of December through March. April-May and October-November are marginally better, but many of the passes remain closed.


At Toehold, we are passionate about travel and photography just as you are, which lets us understand your needs and travails perfectly. And we use our insight and experience to plan your vacation to perfection, so all you have to do is enjoy yourself and make memories for a lifetime.

Here are just some reasons you should leave your next holiday to us: expand to read more »

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the requisites to visit Ladakh?

    Apart from interest in nature, adventure travel or exploration, people and culture, a minimum level of fitness is essential. If you're unsure of your fitness or suffer from chronic altitude sickness or a known illness, please consult your physician before signing up.
  • Why is fitness required to visit Ladakh? What will be the climatic conditions?

    Even if you visit during the summer (June to September), the weather will be cold at night with the average temperature around 10-15 ° celsius. The demand for fitness arises from the predominantly high altitudes you will be in, which entail thinness of oxygen and physiological conditions.
  • What photography equipment do you suggest for this Tour?

    For landscape and architectural photography, a good wide-angle or ultra-wide-angle lens is a must. A short or medium fixed telephoto or zoom lens will help you make 'compressed landscape' images, abstracts and do candid people or street photography. You may also bring along a portrait lens, such as a 50mm or 85mm lens, to make high-quality portraiture. A full-frame (35mm) camera with compatible wide-angle and fisheye lenses will allow you to make the most of the opportunities, especially whilst shooting inside the monasteries. Finally, a long telephoto lens (300 to 400mm) will enable images of wildlife. If you do not have appropriate equipment, there is no need to fret. Toehold offers an exhaustive array of cameras and lenses for hire, so you can always hire what you need. Click here to see what we offer.
  • How different are your Personalised Vacations from ordinary tours?

    Unlike travel agents who plan your vacation from a remote destination to places they sometimes haven't experienced themselves, our Personalised Vacations offer a comprehensive toehold to experience a place through the knowledge and of experts who know the places first-hand. Besides, your holiday will be meticulously planned by making use of the best local contacts we have at every destination.
  • What are the chances of sighting a snow leopard in Ladakh?

    Although the snow leopard is very much an inhabitant of the regions you will be visiting, a sighting of it is not probable due to the shy nature of the animal. Talk to us to plan a tour focused on finding the snow leopard.
  • What is the scope of services you offer as a part of a Personalised Vacation?

    Absolutely everything! From booking the travel tickets and arranging for a comfortable stay to suggested itineraries and planning places of interest, Toehold takes care of all the details of your vacation.

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  • Location:
    Jammu and Kashmir, India
  • Best time to visit:
    June to October
  • Recommended min. duration:
    7 nights/8 days
  • Salient attractions:
    Landscape and nature
    High passes
    Lakes and river confluences
    People, culture and monuments
    Himalayan wildlife
  • Popular activities:
    Driving, biking and cycling
    Birding and wildlife watching
  • Important wildlife:
    Black-necked crane
    Little owl
    Upland buzzard
    Blue sheep (bharal)
    Tibetan wild ass (kiang)
    Himalayan marmot


Did you know? Photography enthusiasts joining this Tour and every other Toehold Personalised Vacation are eligible for a nett discount of 10% on all equipment rentals. Talk to us to avail of this offer!