"A one-time highly flourishing trade center along the historic Silk Route, Leh has forever been romancing with awe and mystery. With enough fantasmical elements to conjure up a swashbuckling story by someone like Robert E. Howard, this city spins a web of attractions that you would seldom find anywhere else. With colorful prayer flags fluttering on rooftops, lofty mountains walling the city (as if) from foreign winds, sprawling valleys cradling opulent meadows of green, mud brick houses that seem to emerge right off the face of the mountains, a silence broken only occasionally by somber ritualistic chants – Leh is your earthly ground for a cosmic experience. It is here that you will break your shackles from the outside world and become a wanderlust meanderer. "
Much of Leh’s history came to light only after the Tibetan prince Skyid lde nyima gon (Nyima gon) established the kingdom during the late 10th century. However, it’s also certain that the region had been a trade route for the Tang dynasty and even ostensibly known to have been active as early as the Kushan period. One of the grandsons of the anti-Buddhist Tibetan king Langdarma, Nyima gon contributed to the growth of the city by setting up various castles and towns, including Shey, the ancient capital of Ladakhi royalty. He described this move, which was in complete contrast to his grandfather’s beliefs, as his efforts to provide religious mileage to his ancestral dynasty, the Tsanpo.
Interestingly, religious coexistence, especially between Buddhism and Islam, existed even before that during the prevalence of the Namgyal dynasty in the eight century. During this period a harmonious Ladakhi society thrived with both the communities displaying a deep religious tolerance for each other. It was only when political considerations crept in that harmony gave way to differences. Several social efforts to subdue this unwanted change pursued for long and the most recent and influencing one came in the form of the Dalai Lama’s appeal for religious pluralism in 2003.
The Islamic character of Leh, a region in the Mughal province of Kashmir, took shape in the later half of the 17th century when the Kashmir Nawab demanded the construction of a big Sunni mosque in exchange for helping Delegs Namgyal, the then ruler, in averting a Mongol invasion. Thus began a compromised harmony of two religions, which was easily evident through an unusual blend of both Tibetan and Islamic forms of architecture used in the mosque for one. This mosque was built below the Leh Palace, which was constructed by King Sengge Namgyal around the first quarter of the 17th century. However, even this discernable courting wasn’t destined to last for long because Kashmiri forces stormed the palace in the mid 19th century and forced the royal family to abandon it. The family moved south and set up their residence in Stok Palace in the Indus Valley, which still continues to be the official royal residence even though the royal family is no more there.
Leh isn’t a place that’s big enough to make you dependent on transport facilities. You can easily trek your way around most of the attractions at a leisurely pace. In fact, people enjoy trekking rather than hopping on any possible transport vehicle, which is why taxis are available only for the purpose of traveling to the airport.
Tourist Traps in the City
Leh has its fair share of tourist traps and it owes its prevalence to the growing influx of visitors every year.
Kashmiri shops and shopkeepers are the ones you need to be careful about. You are likely to be quoted steep prices for any commodity that you see there, including Pashmina shawls and blankets. Don’t hesitate to bargain aggressively. Beware of fake Thangkas as well. For antique and original ones, try the Tibetan art centers.
When hiring taxis to nearby places of attraction like Nubra Valley, Sumur, Panamik and Diskit, make yourself very clear about what you want. Some drivers would promise a comfortable ride with a maximum of five people but would cram up about 10 in the vehicle. Talk to the taxi stand operator and reach a mutual agreement before starting.
People in Leh are a very peaceful lot and sensitive to cultural and religious issues. Try not to hurt their sentiments by doing something that they disapprove of. Always take prior permission before you click pictures of people, especially monks and lamas.
Ladakhi people are known for their hospitality. Acceeelings.