From 527 visitors in 1974, when Ladakh was first thrown open to tourists, to 327,000 tourists in 2018, there has been an exponential rise in the footfall of tourists visiting Ladakh, a Himalayan region of Northern India. The increase in footfall of tourists means extra income and a means of livelihood for the locals. As a result, almost 70% of the population in Ladakh are dependent on tourism to put bread on their tables. These are the people who own hotels, operate travel agencies, and work as guides, taxi drivers and porters.
The floodgates for tourism was opened in 2011 when the arrivals of tourists in Ladakh breached the six-figure mark as 179,000 tourists visited this Himalayan region.
So, what makes Ladakh a perfect destination for tourists from all over the world?
We will highlight a few factors that have led to a manifold increase in the footfall of tourists in Ladakh.
Ladakh is a cold desert situated at an elevation of more than 3,000 metres above sea level. The barren landscape due to scant precipitation, more than 300 days of bright sun, bright blue skies, majestic snow-capped peaks and mountains make it a unique place in India.
Rich culture and heritage
Ladakh and its people are deeply rooted in its centuries-old rich culture, heritage and tradition. This Himalayan kingdom once ruled by the Namgyal dynasty for almost four centuries has braved attacks from Tibet, Chinese, and even Mughals have countless stories to tell to the tourists visiting Ladakh. The centuries-old forts and palaces are living examples of the rich culture and heritage of Ladakh.
Monasteries and stupas
Being a Buddhist-dominated region, Ladakh is dotted with countless centuries-old monasteries and stupas that are revered and worshipped by the locals. Famous monasteries of Ladakh such as the Alchi gompa are 11 centuries old and its wall paintings are the finest in the whole of Ladakh or the world. Then, there is the Thiksey monastery that has a striking resemblance with the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. No doubt, thousands of tourists throng to get a glimpse of this beautiful monastery.
Ladakh is blessed with natural beauty. Although it is almost impossible to single out places that define the true beauty of Ladakh, three areas, namely Nubra, Sham and Changthang stand out as all three have varying landscapes. While Nubra has almost everything- barren land, desert, both barren and snow-clad mountains, and greenery, Sham is the greenest part of Ladakh. Sham is home to some of the finest and oldest monasteries and cultures in the whole of Ladakh. Changthang, on the other hand, redefines the example of natural and virgin landscapes. Changthang is spread across thousands of kilometres and some of its areas have still not been explored by tourists.
Pangong and Tsomoriri lake
It is amazing to see two beautiful lakes in Ladakh which is a cold desert. But Ladakh is almost a Pandora box and it is difficult to fathom what it will unravel next. Pangong lake and Tsomoriri lake are nature’s gift to Ladakh. The beauty of these crystal-clear lakes is further accentuated by mountains of different colours and the bright blue sky. Almost 60% of the 134 km long Pangong Lake lies in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Tsomoriri Lake, on the other hand, is almost 29 km in length and is situated at a distance of 220 km from Leh. What adds to the beauty of both these lakes is that tourists can meet nomads on the way from Leh to either of these lakes, especially Tsomoriri, and can enjoy a cup of tea at their tent or rebo.
It is impossible not to talk about Ladakhi food when you are in Leh. At the end of the day, when tourists are tired, hungry and thirsty and they satisfy their palate with savoury, mouth-watering delicacies, it is bound to rejuvenate them. That is what food in Ladakh does to tourists. Although local delicacies like momos and thukpa have become a household name in other parts of the country and world also, it is altogether a different experience to eat these foods in Ladakh, that too at a local restaurant. Tourists should try chhutagi, skyu, gur-gur (churned butter tea), and chhang (local barley made of barley), tsampa (flour made from roasted barley) when they are in Leh.