Ladakh has a real altitude. Many of the highest motorable
roads in the world are in Ladakh. In fact, the name Ladakh
means “land of high passes” (la means pass). Leh, the capital, is about
11,400 feet above sea level and several days of
acclimatization are necessary after arrival. Even then, the
scarcity of oxygen makes brisk activity -- like walking fast
or climbing stairs -- a challenge.
For the first several days in Ladakh I wandered easily around Leh and also visited some of the Buddhist monasteries within 30 minutes or so of the capital. After acclimatizing, I traveled to Nubra (over Khardungla, reputed to be the highest motorable road in the world, at 18,400 feet), Lake Pangong (over Changla at 17,590 feet), and Tsomoriri, returning via Tsokar (over Tanglangla at 17,493). The lakes (tso means lake) are at altitudes between 14,500 and 15,500 feet, where the breezes are brisk, the air is clean, the sky is brilliant, and the water is all sorts of bluish.
Ladakh is in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but it’s separated by a day’s worth of mountains and has none of the same political or ethnic issues. It’s a dry country with pockets of flora -- from the heights of Leh Palace, for example, you can see more clearly the extent of the city by its greenery encased in the browns of the surrounding hills.
Mountains and monasteries (Tibetan: gompa). Mostly the monasteries are sited on hills or in the mountains and climbing steps is a necessity. Views of them and from their roofs tend to be spectacular (see also photos taken in Spiti in the himachal gallery). Typically, the sanctuaries -- which contain the libraries and the wall paintings and the devotional space -- are locked, and can only be opened by key-bearing monks. Most of the sanctuaries have large photographs of their head monk and of the Dalai Lama.
I was fortunate in having a driver for most of my trip who could speak English. He also introduced me to an aspect of the country I could not have found in a conventional itinerary -- he had me over for lunch at his home where I met his family. Many of the portrait photos in this gallery are of his relatives.