Leh, Ladakh, India travel guide and things to do: Nine must-do highlights


Settled by nomadic herdsmen and Buddhist refugees in the fourth century, Ladakh has kept alive many of its folk traditions. The Festival of Ladakh, held every September, showcases popular entertainments such as mask dancing, archery and medieval polo. The festival takes place in venues across Leh but culminates on the city's polo field.

See lehladakhindia.com/festivals


Since the release of the Bollywood comedy 3 Idiots Ladakh has been on the bucket list of young motorbike-riding Indian travellers. The mountain enclave is a paradise for anyone on two wheels. Ladakh Bike Hire Rental has 500cc Royal Enfield bikes for R1600 ($32) a day – but you must produce a valid driving licence and photo ID. Guided trips to the Nubra Valley are available.

See ladakhbikerental.com


Greet the dawn from the rooftop Thiksey Monastery and later join the monks for morning prayers in this 15th century Buddhist monastery. Located on the banks of the Indus River, the atmospheric hilltop Gompa, 19 kilometres from Leh, commands fine views of the snow-capped Himalayas. Visitors are free to explore the rambling complex, which houses priceless artworks, statues and ancient painted scrolls.

See thiksay.org



Shambolic, noisy, odorous Leh is not celebrated for its culinary offerings, but Bon Appetit on Chang Spa Road enjoys a cult following among tourists and wealthy locals alike. The menu offers a curious mix of European, Asian and Indian dishes, but the view of the mountains from the terrace is pure magic.

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With its high mountain passes, fast-flowing rivers, picturesque villages and fresh alpine air, Ladakh is an ideal place for hiking. Experienced guides are readily available in Leh – you can also hire tents and sleeping bags. Dreamland Trek And Tour offers guided treks of varying length, plus rafting, mountain biking and camel-riding options. Allow sufficient time for your body to adjust to Ladakh's high altitudes before attempting any rigorous exercise.

See dreamladakh.com


Traders have been selling their wares on the streets of Leh since Genghis Khan was a boy. Nothing much has changed. The Main Market is packed with stores selling Tibetan jewellery, thangka paintings and pashmina shawls. For something authentically Ladakh check out Jigmat Couture, a contemporary fashion house which sells a range of hand woven shawls, waistcoats and long coats. The wool is locally sourced and woven in the traditional style. The flagship store is located in the Tsaskan Complex, but its creations are also on display at the Texture Museum on Balkhang Chowk.

See jigmatcouture.com


Serving hearty breakfasts and European-style cakes and desserts, Apple Tree Restaurant is cheap, cheerful and packed. Located near Leh Main Market, this informal cafe serves Indian, Italian, Mexican and European dishes, plus freshly made juices and healthy teas. There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options too. Great for quick coffee, a good value meal or a spot of people watching.

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Tucked away down a dusty village road, Saboo Resorts offers a delightful taste of Ladakhi rural life – and panoramic mountain views. The property, located 7km from Leh, consists of 15 flat-roofed cottages and a cosy dining room. The cottages are modestly decorated, but equipped with modern bathrooms, TVs and private verandahs. George, the attentive owner, can arrange transport, guided tours and seats at a local polo match.

See sabooresorts.com


India has cricket and hockey, but Ladakh has prayer wheels and polo. The local version of polo dates to the 17th century and is still played throughout the western Himalayas. Most villages have their own team, and supporters are fanatical. Games, which are divided into two 20-minute halves, are fast, competitive and largely incomprehensible. A traditional Ladakhi band adds colour and noise to the occasion. The Ladakh Polo Festival is held in Chushot every July.

See ladakhpolofestival.com



Mark Chipperfield was a guest of Abercrombie & Kent and Singapore Airlines