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Leh City Guide

LehThe main town of the region, is dominated by Sengge Namgyal's nine-storey Palace, a building in the grand tradition of Tibetan architecture, said to have inspired the famous Potala in Lhasa, which was built half a century later. Above it, on Namgyal Tsemo, the peak overlooking the town, are the ruins of the earliest royal residence at Leh, a fort built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century. The associated temples remain intact, but they are kept locked except during the morning and evening hours when a monk toils up the hills from Sankar Gompa to attend to the butter-lamps in front of the images.


Down in the bazaar, the main sites to visit are the Jo-khang, a modern ecumenical Buddhist temple, and the imposing mosque dating from the late 17th century almost opposite. But the pleasures of Leh are not confined to the purposeful visiting of sites. For locals and visitors alike, a stroll along the main bazaar, observing the varied crowd and peering into the curio shops is an entrancing experience. A particularly charming sight is the line of women from nearby villages sitting along the edge of the footpath with baskets of fresh vegetables brought for sale to town's people. Chang Gali, behind the main bazaar, is less bustling but has intriguing little shops selling curious and jewelry; and further on is the labyrinthine alleyways and piled-up houses of the old city, cluttering around the foot of the palace hill. In the other direction, down from the bazaar, are the stalls of the Tibetan traders where you can bargain for pearls, turquoise, coral, malachite, lapis lazuli and many other kinds of semi-precious stones and jewelry, as well as curiously carved yak-horn boxes, quaint brass locks, china or metal bowls, or any of a whole array of curious. When you're tired of strolling, you can step into any of several restaurants, some of them in the open air- in gardens, or on the sidewalk - which serve local, Tibetan, Indian and Continental cuisine.

Or you can strike off away from the bazaar, past Zangsti, the old coppersmith's quarte, past the Moravian Church to the Ladakh Ecological Centre. From here there is a footpath across the fields to Sankar Gompa- a half an hour walk.

Or you can leave the main road from the bazaar near the Moravian Church and turn off to Changspa, an attractive village, and practically a suburb of Leh, lying below the hill on which stands the modern Ladakh Shanti Stupa, accessible by a winding road. Down past the Tourist Information Centre in the Dak-Bungalow Complex, you can follow the Fort road to Skara, another pretty and prosperous suburb of Leh town, and admire the earthen ramparts of Zorawar Singh's Fort, now housing army barracks. This road continues onward, swinging around the periphery of the village to meet the main highway near a crossroads where the roads from Srinagar and Manali meet. A side road taking off from here traverses the interior of Skara to meet the main highway near the airport, an excellent drive through the heart of the sprawling village.

Too far for a stroll, not far enough to be called a trek, there are several attractive destinations within a 10-kms radius of Leh. Sabu, a charming village with a small gompa, nestles between two southward-stretching spurs of the Ladakh range about 9km away. In the same direction, but nearer town, is Choglamsar, with the Tibetan refugee settlement including a child's village, a handicrafts centre devoted largely to carpet-weaving, and the Dalai Lama's prayer-gournd, Jiva-tsal. Some 8km on the Srinagar road is the turning for Spituk Gompa, and village. On of the gompa's main features is the chapel dedicated to the Goddess Tara, with twenty-three images of her various manifestations.


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