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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ladakh, India

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Bound by two of the world’s highest mountain ranges, the Himalaya to the south and the Karakoram to the north, Ladakh is located in the far northern reaches of India, sitting on the western edge of the Tibetan Plateau at an average altitude of 10,000 feet under crystal-clear skies of the purest azure. The landscape is stark, yet incredibly striking, its dun-colored hills dramatically adorned with whitewashed Buddhist monasteries, many of them ancient.

Tibetan Buddhism is undeniably the focal point of Ladakhi life and is the major attraction for visitors. Many important Buddhist monasteries lie along the valley of the fabled Indus River, which flows into Ladakh from Tibet. Leh, at 11,400 feet, is one of the world’s highest capital cities and the base of operations for exploring Ladakh. To the west of Leh are the monasteries of Lamayuru, Likir and Alchi. Ladakh’s monasteries and palaces house original Buddhist artwork dating back to the 10th century, continuing to preserve a pure form of Buddhism that has largely disappeared from Tibet.

Ladakh is an arid, high-elevation desert situated in the rain shadow of the Himalayan range. As such, the region is shielded from the heavy monsoon rains that annually visit the Indian plains south of the Himalayas. Average precipitation in Leh is less than one inch per month. The mountain passes in the region can receive heavy amounts of snowfall, however, thus closing access to Ladakh during the winter months. As with any high-altitude locale, Ladakh is subject to changing weather conditions. Winter months see very cold weather and, at times, sub-freezing temperatures. Daytime temperatures start to warm up in May and become pleasant June through October. In these months, it’s best to layer clothing, as temperatures can vary throughout the day. It’s also important to keep in mind the effects of extreme ultraviolet light due to Ladakh’s high elevation.


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