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Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, Leh's dramatic Himalayan landscape puts it on many travellers' bucket lists. It's known for treks through the surrounding mountains and for centuries-old Buddhist monasteries. Although it's part of northern India, the culture here has more in common with nearby Tibet and you'll see prayer flags fluttering from weather-beaten stupas and shrines everywhere you go. At night, high altitude and low light pollution means that the sky glows with thousands of stars.
You can stay in a Leh hostel filled with colourful murals, places decorated with traditional fabrics or a 150-year-old typical Ladakh house. Leh hostels tend to make the most of the mountain views with large windows – some also have a rooftop terrace or café. You can find free Wi-Fi and room options such as female-only dorms, and many hostels in Leh can help you arrange trekking or bike hire.
Leh is small and easy to walk around, with many fascinating areas to explore. Travellers are advised to get acclimatised first, before attempting anything too energetic. In the narrow streets of Moti Market (Leh's old bazaar), you'll find shops selling antiques, jewellery and Tibetan curios, plus local handicrafts such as pashmina shawls. To the south, the town Choglamsar has a centre for Buddhist culture and learning. A few hours' drive away, there are spectacular trekking and hiking trails around the saltwater shores of Pangong Lake.
Top sights in Leh include 16th-century Leh Palace, perched above the town – easily reached with a short hike. You can see a gigantic Buddha statue at 15th-century Namgyal Tsemo Monastery or turn an 800-year-old prayer wheel on the way up to Spituk Monastery, home to monks and a monumental sculpture of Khali, a Hindu goddess. Hemis Monastery is the largest in the region and hosts a colourful two-day festival in June or July each year.
Leh used to be only accessible via roads which close during winter due to snowfall. The Manali-Leh Highway is usually open from June-October and the Srinagar-Leh route from May-December. Buses and hired cars travel both routes (around two days' drive) and due to the altitude, travellers are recommended to drive in, then fly out. You can also take a domestic flight from Delhi to Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport (Leh's airport), open year-round. The easiest way to get around the region is by hiring a private jeep as taxis can be difficult to hail; local bus routes are also limited.