This is Little Tibet. Located in India's northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, much of Ladakh's monastic architecture, as well as its culture, is akin to that of its neighbour. Monasteries perch precariously in the foothills of the Kunlun Mountains and majestic Himalayas, while resplendent bodies of water, such as Pangong Lake, sparkle, their crystal depths clear under blue skies. Distinctive high-altitude cold deserts stretch across vast plains, while in the base of the lofty valleys, sand dunes roll, patterned by natural forces.
Within this striking landscape, where India, China, and Pakistan meet, ancestral traditions have endured. Landakhis and nomadic tribes go about their ancient ways relatively untouched by the modern world, the region only opened to tourism in 1974. It is the "land of high passes." Inhabitants of the Himalayan kingdom's largest town, Leh, live at 3,500 metres above sea level. The wanderings of nomadic Tibetans take them beyond 4,500 metres. Such are the altitudes that those with lungs more accustomed to sea level will take time to acclimatise, and visitors to Ladakh are encouraged to do little but lie prone for at least the first day. This in itself is a challenge, for outside the windows or beyond the flapping canvas of the yurts lies the kind of dramatic scenery that takes away what breath is left. With visitor numbers on the rise, the time to take in the abiding charm of this magical land is now.