Julay Leh, as visitors flock to the cold desert
Leh: `Julay Leh`, the traditional Ladakhi greeting, is on the tongues of thousands of visitors who are flocking to Leh to escape the summer heat which is baking the rest of the country this summer season.
Bikers, backpackers and the average holiday makers are experiencing the cold desert region, which is a delight for most of the first timers, as snow covered mountains in May, sprouting greenery and water bodies that change colour in the sunlight is a sight unique to the region.
"All kinds of tourists visit Ladakh to experience a very different kind of landscape, culture, traditions and peaceful surroundings," Phuntsog Dorjay, a tour guide and travel industry entrepreneur said.
"Over the years Ladakh has gained immense popularity amongst tourists of all age groups, from bikers to backpackers and families on holidays. The destination has something different to offer to everyone."
Dry and snow covered it may seem, as it was shown in the latest award winning commercial film ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, but come mid-May till the early period of August the entire region is transformed into a beautiful green belt.
And Ladakh is not as dry as it seems: the 134-km- long Pangong Lake stretched between India and China at an altitude of 14,270 feet and made famous by the Aamir Khan starrer ‘Three Idiots’ is a star attraction.
Beside Pangong, there are several lakes and the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers in a gorge which is partly filled with ice is a sight to marvel at.
A cycle ride till the Khardung La Pass, the world`s highest motorable road, is another adventure that awaits those visiting this region.
Not just the natural beauty of mountains, lakes, streams and rivers, but even the cultural diversity of the region is another promising aspect that enchants visitors.
The confluence of Ladakhi and Tibetan culture can be seen in monasteries like Thiksey and Hemis. Monks performing their daily rituals whose sights, sounds and aromas can be experienced during the early morning prayers attract not only foreigners but Indian tourists alike.
(Leh Palace is a former royal palace overlooking the Ladakhi Himalayan town of Leh
"Early morning prayers are very popular with tourists who want to see and experience the daily rituals and life of monks," says Dorjay.
Then there are the Shanti Stupa, Shey and Leh Palace and other historical buildings which are a major draw for tourists.
And if the search is for some quiet time, away from the stresses of the modern world brought upon by the ever ringing mobile phones or the traffic laden roads of downtown Leh, one can take a stroll in the countryside, which offers unique sights and sounds of birds and local wildlife.
The diversity and numerous attractions and activities that can be pursued here have made travel and tour operator MakeMyTrip to focus on attracting young clients with customised tour options for the region.
"Ladakh has grown in popularity over the last few years as an adventure destination for Indian families," said Mohit Gupta, chief business officer- holidays, MakeMyTrip.
"We are aiming to reach out and target different segments of travellers with our customized offerings for young people who want to do their own bike-hires and just need accommodation and flights, group bookings for women travellers, families who want recreational facilities for their kids and smaller groups looking for private vehicles."
The growing tourist traffic has made airlines add more flights and capacity.
"We have added four flights per week to Leh, from our original schedule of three flights per week, this summer season," a senior Air India official told IANS in New Delhi. "It is not only us, others are also set to increase their frequencies once the season sets in from mid-May."
Air India also organises three charter services for the army from Jammu, Srinagar and New Delhi.
Currently, only three scheduled passenger carriers - Jet Airways, Air India and GoAir - operate flights to the destination.