Drive from Leh to Alchi
The drive from Leh to Alchi is relatively easy and not as spectacular as the Manali-Leh route. Somewhat gentler terrain comes as a relief and its beauty has a compelling attraction of its own. The journey to Kargil is 231km with some flat stretches on a good tarmac road and can be completed in a day (8 hours driving time). However, unless you are tired of sightseeing, or in a tearing hurry to get home, the journey is best broken into two parts. Although logically you would expect to stop at Lamayuru, we recommend staying at Alchi (only 64km from Leh and a quarter of your journey), or a well-appointed camp on its outskirts. Lamayuru has limited accommodation of the most basic type while Alchi has good places to stay and eat at reasonable prices – and the clincher of course is its beautiful location by the river!
If you are keen on sightseeing, another reason to make Alchi the night halt is the gompas you can visit en route to it on the first day: Phyang Monastery, Basgo Monastery and Likir Monastery. The next day you can see Alchi and Rizong Gompas before continuing on, past Lamayuru Gompa, on to Kargil via the Fatu La and Namika La passes.
Leh to Alchi: The Journey
The first stop on your journey, after a late, relaxed breakfast, can be the monastery at Phyang. It is located four kilometers off the main highway and is 21km out of Leh. Built in the fifteenth century by the founder of the Namgyal dynasty, the gompa is at the head of a side valley, above a quaint village. Belonging to the Red Hat sect, the central statue in the Dukhang is one of the Amitava, flanked by Avalokiteswara and Tilopa. It is not a hot spot for tourists but it is an active monastery, famous for its Tse-Dup festival held in July/August.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib
Your next stop can be at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib that lies on your route, 25km out of Leh. This is most un-gurudwara like in its outward appearance and resembles a mini-army camp – not surprising since the army maintains it!
According to legend, in 1517 when Guru Nanak was on his way back after a two year journey to Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet, he stopped and spent time here. The inhabitants of the area complained of being tormented by a ‘rakshas’ who lived on top of the hill. Guru Nanak is said to have gone into deep meditation and his power thwarted the rakshas’ attacks on the locals. Frustrated rakshas decided to eliminate this threat to his domain and rolled a huge rock down the hill, straight at Guru Nanak Ji. Thrilled at his victory, he descended and placed his foot on the rock to roll it over, discovered that it had taken on a wax like character and molded itself around his foe! Finding his own foot now entrapped in the rock, begged Guru Nanak’s forgiveness and vowed to serve the very people he had hitherto tormented.
The Gurudwara holds the rock with the imprint of Guru Nanak’s sitting body and is visited by people of all the faiths.
The next stop is not one to be missed – around 5km further, you will find a sign on your side of the road that reads “Magnetic Hill”. Park your vehicle, turn off the engine, release the brake and you will find yourself moving uphill for a good 10ft or more, without any external assistance! The explanation for this gravity-defying feat is something as mundane as an optical illusion but you be the judge!!
The Confluence Indus & Zanskar Rivers (Sangam)
Five kilometers further, you follow the Indus running through a deep gorge, and emerge to view a dramatic confluence of the muddy Indus with the sparkling blue Zanskar (Remarkably, in September you find the Indus clearer than the Zankar!). The confluence occurs just short of Nimmu (36km from Leh), that has the inevitable rash of dhabas for visiting tourists but not much else to mark it.
Basgo is the next village en route and is only 6km from Nimmu. One cannot fail to notice the remains of an impressive fort on the hillside and a series of dilapidated chortens towards the end of the village. Basgo was used as one of the royal residenses between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the fort was considered impregnable, having survived a three-month siege by the combined Mongol – Tibetan army in the seventeenth century. You can drive up to the two surviving gompas, which lie just below the fort. The higher, Chamba Lha Khong gompa, is better preserved and was consturutced in the sixteenth century by King Tashi Namgyal’s son (Chamba is the Ladakhi word for Maitreya). The Serzang (Gold and Copper) Gompa was built in the next century and has a richly carved doorway and a large Maitreya statue whose head is only visible by climbing up to the gallery.
A short drive ahead of Basgo is the turnoff to Likir Gompa, which towers over a village of the same name. The 5km road completes a half circle leading to the top and provides great views, from different angles, of the stark white cluster of buildings and recently built golden Buddha statue reaching towards the heavens. Founded in the eleventh century under the direction of Tibetan Monks, it was taken over by the Gelugpa order in the fifteenth century. The present structure dates back to the eighteenth century, having been rebuilt after a devastating fire.
Returning to the main road, the turn off to Alchi village is only 2km ahead. After crossing the Indus, a steep winding road ascends 2km, past a collection of chortens, to the picturesque village of Alchi. Its location, the beauty of its gompa and the availability of comfortable accommodation is rapidly making Alchi quite a favourite of tourists. Unlike other gompas you actually walk downhill through the village to the unassuming entrance to the Chos-kor (religious enclave) – a complex of five unique temples surrounded by a white mud wall with a patchwork of cultivated fields alongside. It is a charming walk winding past village homes midst apricot trees, with channeled water gurgling alongside as you approach the Dharma Chakra Monastery. A path to the right leads past two large and a row of small prayer wheels, down to the river where you can sometimes spot deer drinking on the opposite bank at dusk. At the entrance are three chortens with vivid paintings on the inside walls and ceiling. Just beyond the entrance is the library containing rare manuscripts and a statue of Avalokiteswara.
Distances: Leh to Alchi
|Destinations en route Leh to Alchi|
|Leh – Phyang|
|Leh – Pathar Sahib|
|Pathar Sahib – Nimmu|
|Nimmu – Basgo|
|Basgo – Saspul|
|Saspul – Likir|
|Saspul – Alchi|
photo credit: Bino Caina Alchi via photopin (license)