If you are looking for a detailed Ladakh itinerary you can read my Ladakh trip guide here. If you are researching about places to visit in Leh, keep reading. When a person from the plains finds herself at a staggering height of 3500 metres, her potential is somewhat reduced. When we landed at Leh airport in Jammu and Kashmir district of India, we wanted to rush around and tick all the boxes in the ‘places-to-see’ list. Blatantly ignoring the AMS prevention guidelines we strolled in the market on the first day. Our overconfidence was kicked out when on the second day husband woke up with a throbbing headache and oxygen level below 70. Thankfully, we had the luxury of having enough days at our disposal.
At the risk of using a cliché, Leh is beautiful from whichever angle you look. Even if you decide to do nothing but sit in the balcony of your accommodation you will be charmed by the fluttering prayer flags with a backdrop of whitewashed mountains. But if you decide to travel, here is an exhaustive list of places to see around Leh in a day.
Places to visit in Leh in a day:
Situated just 8.6 kilometres away from Leh, Sindhu Ghat is much more than a beautified shore of the Indus river. It offers sweeping vistas of the barren mountains. Sindhu Ghat is also a place where celebrations take place and cultural festivities are organized. This isolated promenade is equipped with aesthetic arched balconies. With paved tiers of seats for spectators it acts as an open-air theatre.
We visited the site twice during our stay. During the first time we came across a large group of men from Leh taxi union enjoying a picnic on the river bank. The picnic involved archery, traditional dances and a good amount of trumpet blowing by local instrument players. On our second visit, the site was hosting the ‘Sindhu Darshan’ festival — a festival with Punjabi cultural shows and provision for a langar (community kitchen where meals are free for all).
Duration of visit – 15-30 minutes
Shey Palace and monastery
Just 5 kilometres ahead of Sindhu Ghat, Shey Palace hangs from a sheer cliff. Shey is a quiet, picturesque village with sprouting green trees and sunkissed blue skies— and Shey Palace offers ample vantage points to soak in the beauty of the village. Much of the palace now stands in ruins. The central shrine consists of a three storied copper gilded statue of Lord Buddha embellished with precious stones.
Oddly, around the parking space of the Shey Palace we saw some beggars— the only place in Ladakh where we witnessed begging.
Entry fee to sanctum – INR 30
Duration of visit – 45 minutes
After driving for about 5.4 kilometres from Shey Palace, when you see a cluster of white buildings huddled together on a hilltop you know Thikse Monastery is here. It is the largest monastery in Ladakh with Frescoes adorning its walls and cheery colourful doors. Thikse Monastery is associated with the Gelug sect of Buddhism it resembles the popular Potala Palace in Lhasa (Tibet). A magnanimous gate beautified by murals and sculptures welcomes you inside. The gate also marks the parking space. A thoroughly maintained spiral walkway with intermittently spaced chortens and prayer wheels would bring you to the central courtyard. There are pops of colours everywhere —from the intricate doorways to the murals painted on the walls, to the thangkas revealing stories from Buddhist scriptures. It is advisable to get a guide who can explain to you the stories behind the murals. A complex network of staircases links all the temples within the monastery.
We found our moment at Thikse while watching the unobstructed view of the beckoning valley below from the giant windows of the library room.
Entry fee – INR 20
Duration of visit – 1.5 hours
Lunch – There are some restaurants around Thikse, so have lunch in one of them before continuing your journey forward. If you skip eating near Thikse, you would get your next eatery around Hemis.
Stakna monastery is built on a hilltop which resembles a tiger’s nose. 7.7 kilometres from Thikse, the Stakna monastery is dedicated to the Drugpa sect of Buddhism. Unlike Thikse and Hemis, Stakna monastery is not thronged by tourists. The route to reach Stakna is blissfully beautiful. Rapidly moving clouds cast interesting shadows on the dusty roads. Stakna is located on the left bank of Indus, so one needs to cross a bridge constructed over the turquoise blue water of the Indus to reach the monastery. With no villages nearby and hardly a human in view, it is hard to believe Stakna is a part of overpopulated India. The monastery is four storied with fluttering yellow clothes from its windows and vibrant doors.
We were the only visitors at Stakna on the day we travelled. Also, the main sanctum of the monastery was closed as the monk responsible for its upkeep was absent on that day. We literally wandered inside the monastery and knocked on doors to ask the monks about the main sanctum. The monks were kind enough to answer all our queries patiently.
Duration of visit – 30 minutes
12 kilometres ahead of Stakna lie the Hemis Monastery dedicated to the drukpa lineage. The monastery is strategically placed in the remotest corner of a dusty mountain in what looks like no-man’s land. Hemis monastery is famous for the Chaam dances the monastery organises annually at Hemis Festival to celebrate the birthday of Padmasambhava in the month of June/July. Known as the richest monastery in Ladakh, Hemis also has an attached guest house where visitors can opt to stay. The courtyard is the best place to admire the elaborate wood architecture. History enthusiasts would be happy to spend sometime in the Hemis museum.
We visited Hemis monastery on a separate day from Leh and not as a part of daytrip from Leh as we intended to stay at the monastery guest house. We were very close to spotting the Milky Way at night, but unfortunately, the chilly wind drove us away from the surreal outdoors.
Entry Fee – INR 50
Duration of visit – 1.5 hours
Stok Palace and museum
Tucked within the barren mountains of Ladakh, 40 kilometres from Hemis and 15.2 kilometres from Leh, Stok Palace stands three storeys high. The landscape is surreal from Stok Palace, showcasing numerous white chortens and a tall golden statue of seated Buddha on a hilltop. The palace was established by king Tsepal Namgyal. It was in this palace that he later took refuge when his other palace in Leh was conquered by invaders. The striking structure has now been turned into a museum and heritage hotel. The museum displays utensils, jewellery, outfits, photographs, furniture and stationary used by the royal family. Photography is not allowed. There is a cafeteria attached to the palace which offers panoramic views of the valley.
We were the only people present in the palace when we toured it. A local lady and her child guided us once we bought the tickets. One by one she opened the 6-7 locked rooms which serve as the museum. When we toured the palace, we had no idea the palace also houses a heritage hotel. We came across it later while researching online during writing this post.
Entry fee to the museum – INR 50
Duration of visit – 50 minutes
Established in Leh by King Sengge Namgyal in the 16th century, the Leh Palace is now taken care of by the Archaeological Survey of India. The royal family abandoned the palace and took refuge in Stok Palace when the Dogras attacked Leh. The nine storey high stone edifice towers over the city. Some of the rooms have been transformed into galleries displaying artefacts used by the royal family. Some portions of the palace are in ruins. The palace is very humble and not much impressive per se. However, the rooftop and terraces provide striking views of Leh. It is a perfect spot to click Instagram friendly photos.
Since this building is situated within Leh itself, it remains crowded all the time. Most of the vantage points are always occupied by tourists posing relentlessly for flawless photos.
Entry fee – INR 15
Duration of visit – 1 hour
Perched on a hillock in Leh, the Shanti Stupa or Peace Pagoda is an imposing white dome with two levels. It was built by Buddhist monks of Japan and Ladakh to promote world peace and tolerance. The base of the dome is well paved and offers spectacular views of Leh valley. Etched on the walls of the first level of the Pagoda is a golden dharmachakra with two deers. The second level features a meditating Buddha along with golden floral carvings and characters from the Buddhist pantheon. Best time to visit the stupa is sunrise or sunset hours.
Duration of visit – 0.5 – 1 hour
Stroll in Leh Main Market
In the evening, stroll in Leh Main Market and shop till you drop. Leh Main Market is the most eventful square of the town. Its cobblestone streets are pedestrian friendly. Restaurants, cafes and shops line the two sides of the street. The conveniently placed seats constructed for weary travellers to sit and take a break add to the charm. Eateries around the Leh Main Market area serve mainly European and Indian cuisines. Cakes, croissants, pastries and other baked goodies are abundantly available to complement your evening coffee.
Apart from the Leh Main Market there is a Tibetan Refugee Market which we checked out. We used to stroll in the markets of Leh every evening and according to us the best things to buy in Leh are dried fruits like Khubani.
Additional tips for those who worry a lot:
In order to follow the above itinerary, you need to get ready, finish your breakfast and start from Leh atleast within 10 AM. During summer Leh experiences longer daylight hours. Sunsets happen around 7.30 PM. The locals are incredibly good and trustworthy. Hiring a private car or motorcycle is the only way to successfully complete this itinerary and move around Leh. Public transportation is not reliable. Apart from Sindhu Ghat, Shanti Stupa and Leh Main Market, all the other destinations mentioned above require climbing several stairs and slopes.
That’s about all! Have a happy journey.
Do you think I missed adding something? Can you recommend something to improve the article? Comment away and let me know!