Start and end in New Delhi! With the Cultural tour Top of the World Ladakh & Kashmir tour, you have a 22 day tour package taking you through New Delhi, India and 15 other destinations in India. Top of the World Ladakh & Kashmir tour includes accommodation in a hotel as well as flights, an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
In and around New DelhiArrival Day. You can arrive at your leisure and check in to our hotel, The Claridges, anytime after 2pm. You are free for the rest of the day until we meet at 6pm for drinks and a short tour briefing before dinner (not included). The Claridges is an exceptional 5 star hotel in the centre of New Delhi within walking distance of shopping precincts, parks and some of Delhis important historic locations. With a pool, spa, gymnasium, and a variety of dining and drinking options, The Claridges is an ideal place to begin your great Indian journey. India's capital is an exciting, busy and chaotic city. With a past that stretches far back into the mists of time, it is rich with the splendor and vitality of an eternal city. Divided into an ancient and a modern part, 1000 years of history greet the visitor at every step. Monuments, mosques, and forts from many different eras, bazaars, shops and museums lie scattered across its sprawling expanse. There is much to see in Delhi. If you arrive earlier than day 1, there is an opportunity to make more discoveries - the ruins of Qutb Minar and Purana Qila, Indira Gandhi Museum, Rajghat, Akshardam temple and the Lotus Temple are all recommended.
We have a half day sightseeing tour of New Delhi this morning. After a sumptuous breakfast at our beautiful hotel, we begin our day by visiting the vast Humayans Tomb, the majestic mausoleum built by a grieving widow for her Moghul Emperor husband in the second half of the sixteenth century. Rajpath, in the heart of New Delhi, is the seat of Indian government with its impressive British built Indo-Saracenic buildings - the Ministries, Parliament House and the vast Presidents Palace and estate as well as India Gate, the Arch-de-triomphe look alike that is Indias war memorial . Later we enjoy the serenity of the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, the largest Sikh temple in Delhi where we visit the bathing tank, the temples golden inner sanctum as well as the kitchens and dining hall where up to 10,000 people are fed daily. You might even like to grab lunch here a delightful plate of rice, dhal, vegetable curry and rotis. This afternoon you have the opportunity to relax by our hotel's beautiful swimming pool, have a manicure, pedicure or massage or maybe youd prefer to visit one of Delhis wonderful markets to enjoy a little retail therapy.
In and around ShimlaWe head off very early this morning to catch an express Shatabdi super-fast train to Kalka, from where we board the famous Shimla Toy Train that takes us up the mountain. The UNESCO world heritage Toy Train, built by the British in 1898 crosses over many hundreds of bridges, through more than one hundred tunnels and countless switchbacks and provides an historic and entertaining trip with the many local Indian tourists. We spend several hours on the train before alighting and travelling the rest of the way to Shimla by road. Once the summer capital of the British Raj, Shimla today is the capital of Himachal Pradesh state. It is a sprawling town set amongst spectacular cool hills with plenty of crumbling decaying colonial charm. In Shimla we are fortunate enough to stay at the beautiful and iconic Clarkes Hotel. Clarkes Hotel was Mr Oberois very first venture into the hotel trade and it was from this hotel that the legendary Oberoi Hotel chain started in the 1920s. Nowadays, Clarkes Hotel resembles a grand colonial bungalow, with all the elegance and grace of the British Imperial era. The 32 rooms and suites are tastefully appointed and some of them offer spectacular views of the mountains or Shimla.
Whilst in Shimla, we take a heritage walk to visit the Vice-regal Lodge, now home to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, the site of the signing of Indias Independence treaty. The walk takes us past the Mall and the Ridge with many colonial buildings that still grace the streets. Lakkar bazaar, especially in the evenings is a great place to do a little retail therapy for high quality souvenirs. There are literally dozens of quaint little tea houses and restaurants in Shimla and you are never far from your quintessential cuppa with a slice of cake should the fancy take you whilst you are out and about strolling around this hill station. Having experienced the heat in Delhi, you will have a complete understanding as to why the British moved their summer capital up to this charming little hill station and ran the entire country from up here, where it is pleasantly cooler than down on the plains
This morning after a delicious buffet breakfast at our hotel, we drive up to Jakhu temple, which is an ancient temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Hanuman, the Monkey God. It is situated on Jakhu Hill, Shimla's highest peak, 2.5 km east of the Ridge at a height of nearly 2,500 m (over 8,000 ft) above sea level. Although the temple is accessible by foot and cable car, we drive up saving our energy for an afternoon of exploring Shimla and surrounds. According to the Ramayana - the ancient hindu epic poem - Hanuman stopped at the location to rest while searching for the sacred herb Sanjivni Booti to revive Lakshman, Ramas brother after he was fatally wounded in battle in Sri Lanka. A giant idol of Hanuman was unveiled at Jakhoo Hanuman temple on 5 November 2010. At 108 feet (33 m), it surpasses the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, which measures a mere 98 feet (30 m). After our visit to the temple we go to Oberois Wildflower Hall a charming hotel on a nearby hilltop where we take a tour of the hotel and enjoy a late morning tea overlooking the mountain views to the north of Shimla. We return to Shimla and the rest of the day is free for you to take a walk, explore the markets or rest in our charming Heritage Hotel. You may even like to take in a Bollywood movie at the local Cinema.
We leave Shimla this morning and head deeper into the mountains today to Manali, the jumping off point for Ladakh, the Rohtang Pass, and the Spiti Valley. A centre for trekking, climbing, and other adventure sports, Manali is one of the most popular Indian summer resort towns. The drive is through the foothills of the Himalayas which are lush and green at this time of year. The Beas river, which we follow upstream, crossing it several times, will be flowing strongly as the snow melts in the huge mountains just to our north. The route is dotted with traditional Dhabas, all of which serve chai and snacks and we will have tea and toilet stops as needed. We will stop for lunch a short distance after Mandi, the largest town on today`s journey at our choice of Dhaba which will serve a range of North Indian snacks and curries, which will see us through to our destination at Manali. Upon our arrival we shall check in to our hotel and have drinks and dinner.
We will wake up refreshed after a good night`s sleep in our hotel and have a hearty breakfast! After breakfast we take a morning hike to a nearby village which was shown to us by a local and which has not yet been discovered by other guides and so remains untouched by tourists. Here we can meet the locals and experience traditional life in the Kullu valley. This is rural mountain India where between the villages we will stroll by apple orchards with stunning views of the valleys and snow capped peaks of the Himalaya. On the way back to town we will stop at a nice restaurant for a fabulous late lunch. Back in Manali you also have the opportunity to explore some of the temples around Manali, take a massage, shop in the markets or soak in the hot springs in nearby Vashisht. We will have dinner either at our hotel or at one of the many good restaurants in Manali. (Freshly caught mountain trout should be on the menu!). We advise that you start taking Diamox (half/morning, half/evening) today in preparation for our ascent to altitude from tomorrow. We strongly recommend it and have never had any of our travelers suffer either from AMS or any adverse effects, but please consult your doctor prior to the trip.
In and around JispaToday is Rohtang Pass day! We have an early breakfast at our hotel in Manali and then set out on the road to Leh. This is the first major pass on the traverse of the Himalayas, and gets the brunt of the heavy weather (tons of snow in winter!), which gave it the Hindi name Rohtang (which literally means field of corpses, as when the snow cleared at the beginning of summer, the unfortunate who were trapped in the pass were found!). The road will be relatively snow free at this time of year but is nonetheless a spectacular pass with amazing views on the way up and down. At a mere 4000 metres (13060ft) it is a teeny little pass compared with what lies ahead! We descend from the pass into the Keylong Valley, which is cut off from the outside world for 8 months of the year by the massive snowfalls in the Himalayas. The scenery is just incredible through this section. We arrive at our destination for the night, The Hotel Ibex, where we will have a relaxing drink and dinner. We are at high altitude in the Himalayas, so nightlife options are limited! An early night after dinner is probably the call here!
In and around SarchuOn our second day out of Manali we only have to cover about 86kms, but 86 km through the highest mountains on earth is a full day expedition with mind blowing scenery! We cross Darcha, ZingZing Bar, Suraj Tal and Baralacha La to reach Sarchu. Situated at an altitude of 4890m (16,040 ft), Baralacha La is a high mountain pass in the Zanskar region and lies above the snow line. It will be cold! We will take a break here and walk up a hill alongside the road which will assist us in acclimatization. After the pass we descend down towards Sarchu. Sarchu lies on the boundary of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir the barren grandeur of this place is similar to the Ladakhi landscape. We stay at our overnight camp at 4290m (14075ft) at Sarchu, which is only set up from mid May to the end of September because of the snow. We are deep in the Himalaya! It will be cold! The camp provides hot water bottles and plenty of blankets and we will have a hot but simple buffet dinner and unlimited hot tea! At this altitude hydration is extremely important.
In and around LehDay 10 is the most spectacular day of this drive. We have breakfast and tea at our camp and then we set off for Leh. In this surreal almost lunar landscape where the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful in its harshness and austerity, we go across the More (pronounced Moray) plains where the road has an average elevation of 4800 metres and is flanked by the Himalayan ranges on both sides. We head over two very high passes, the Lungalacha La (5059m - 16600ft) and the Taglang La (the second highest motorable road in the world) at 5359m (17582ft). The oxygen levels in the air are very low at this point on account of the altitude, but we will stop at the passes where we can walk short distances to the roadside shrines for photos. You will be breathing very thin air so the secret is to move slowly and breathe often and deeply so as not to overdo it. And don't forget to drink lots of water. We pass stunning eroded cliffs and mountains before descending down into Ladakh and the capital Leh at 3500m (11483ft). Once down the other side of the Himalayas, the road to Leh is a fairly new blacktop and we should make good time into the ancient mountain city.
Built in the 1600s, Hemis Monastery is a stunning Tibetan Buddhist Gompa (one of the largest in Ladakh) famous for its annual festival with ceremonies including music, ceremonial displays and the mystic masked dances or chhams. Chham dances are considered a form of meditation and an offering to the gods, providing merit to anyone who witnesses them. The Hemis Festival commemorates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava who is revered throughout the Himalayan regions as the second Buddha. This morning after breakfast, we travel the 40km to Hemis where the Hemis Festival is underway. We will have reserved seating in a prime position to enjoy the morning ceremonies and dances before grabbing some lunch at the eatery that has been set up for the festival-goers. After lunch we return to Leh, stopping for plenty of photo opportunities on the way.
After breakfast at our hotel we set off in a North easterly direction towards the Nubra Valley. We travel directly up out of Leh into the mountains with stunning views of the Leh valley and the Stok mountain range. After about 2 hours we cross over the Khardung La Pass, at 5602m (18380ft), the highest motorable pass in the world. We will stop here for a photo opportunity. There is even a chai wallah at the top of the pass, so those who fancy a taste of the highest chai in the world can do so! We head down from the pass into the remote Nubra Valley with green oasis villages surrounded by stark scree slopes, boulder fields, sand dunes and arid mountains. We stop for lunch at Khardung village which is roughly an hour from the top of the pass. Part of the old Silk Road between India & China, local communities once prospered as caravans of cloth, spices, gold & gemstones traversed this route. Tonight we will stay near Diskit, the regional capital of this part of the Nubra.
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we visit the 14th century Diskit Monastery, (one of The Dalai Lama`s favourite monasteries - he stays here whenever he visits Ladakh), with its majestic views, old temples and halls and a 32m high statue of the Maitreya Buddha facing down the Shyok river towards Pakistan. Double-humped Bactrian camels were abandoned here by traders and travelers in the centuries gone by and have thrived. There are now around 200 of these camels and you have the opportunity to take a camel-ride into the Hunder sand dunes. We also take spend the afternoon on a hike through local villages which are famous for their apricot orchards.
We head back to Leh, with another drive across the high Khardung La. We will stop for a snack if anyone is famished, but our plan is to push on through to Leh and have a late lunch there. The food here is very Tibetan and completely different to the rest of India, with dishes like Momos and Thukpas. Once checked back into our hotel we are free to spend the afternoon relaxing, or wandering the market in Leh where youll find many Tibetan market stalls and Kashmiri shops selling beautiful handicrafts.
Today we visit the Shanti Stupa, built in 1991 by Japanese Buddhist Monk, Gyomyo Nakamura and is part of the Peace Pagoda mission. The stupa offers wonderful views of Leh, the valley and the Stok mountain range. We also visit Leh Palace, recently restored and opened to the public. The Palace is in the centre of town on a hill with commanding views to the markets and streets below. After exploring Leh Palace, we drive to the nearby villages of Shey and Thiksey where well have lunch at a local restaurant. Thiksey Monastery is the largest such structure in central Ladakh. Located on a hill slope, its buildings are arranged in an ascending order of importance and are well spaced, from the foot of the hill housing the dwelling units to the top of the hill enshrining the monasteries and potang (official residence) of the chief lama. The monastery strongly resembles the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, the former official seat of the Dalai Lamas. After Thiksey we explore the Shey Palace and Monastery, built in 1655 as a summer retreat for the Kings of Ladakh while soaking up the beautiful, stark scenery produced by the river flowing through the valley creating a green belt of willow and poplar trees.
In and around UleytokpoAnother epic road trip awaits us as we drive west along another scenic Himalayan mountain road. Today is a relatively short drive to Uley with lots of stops enroute. First we stop to view the impressive confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers where the crystal clear blue waters of the Indus merge with the mineral laden brown Zanskar. We stop at charming Nimoo village for morning tea before heading on to explore the Fortress-monastery of Basgo. Basgo was an impregnable monastery/fort that was never conquered. Its location atop a hill towering over ruins of the ancient town is spectacular. While other monasteries in Ladakh were always built upon a hill, Alchi was hidden in plain sight within the village at ground level, thereby escaping attacks from invaders. Built in the 10th century, the shrines and temples are very different in style from other gompas and the Kashmiri artisans who created wall paintings and sculptures lent their own unique style to the detail in the temples. We will have a late lunch at a restaurant in Alchi before continuing for an hour to our overnight stop at Uleytokpo. Our resort is set on the banks of the Indus river and we can enjoy a spa at the resort and explore the banks of the Indus river.
In and around KargilAfter a night in charming cottages overlooking the Indus River in Uleytokpo (3040m - 9974ft), this morning we have breakfast at the resort and then check out and head on to Kargil, via our last monastery stop - Lamayuru. One of the largest and oldest gompas in Ladakh, Lamayuru has around 150 permanent resident monks. The town and monastery of Lamayuru are situated in what is known as Moonland - a series of undulating hills that resemble the surface of the moon - yet again another unique and spectacular landscape. We will stop along the way for a light lunch at our choice of local Dhaba, perhaps at the final outpost of Ladakhi Buddhism, the fascinating Mulbek Buddha statue. We stop the night at Kargil (2676m - 8780ft), the second largest town in Ladakh after Leh, and an ancient town in the area known as Baltistan. Dinner will be at our hotel.
In and around SrinagarAfter breakfast at our hotel, we leave Kargil and head for Srinagar. Srinagar dates back to the 3rd century BC with evidence that Emperor Ashoka built many stupas in the valley. Over the next 2000 years, Buddhist rulers strengthened the Buddhist traditions before the Hindus took over around 960CE. After the 14th century, the city came under the control of several Muslim dynasties, including the Moghals. The Sikhs also had control over the valley for a period before the British took control and installed Gulab Singh as the Maharajah in the mid 1800s. After our final mountain drive over the heart-stopping 3528m (11575ft) pass of Zoji La, we descend down into the beautiful, green and lush Kashmir valley, a stark contrast after the barren Ladakhi landscape. We stop for lunch at a restaurant in Sonamarg, and after lunch we make our way to Dal Lake, where we board Shikaras which will take us to our houseboats situated in a quiet and serene spot on the stunning Dal Lake. We have afternoon tea on our houseboats and then relax and watch life on the lakes of Srinagar go by. Kashmiri food is something special and we will be served a feast for dinner, prepared by our own cooks on the boats.
We have the day to explore the sights in and around Srinagar. After breakfast on the Houseboat we will go to town and see the old city and the famous Mosque. Experience has taught us that most people will want to enjoy spending much of the time relaxing on your houseboats which are gorgeously appointed and comfortable, with amazing food and beautiful views across a lotus field in the lake with the mountains in the background. In fact you dont really need to leave as shikaras pass by regularly bringing local handicraft sellers, money changers and even the ice-cream wallah to your boat.
We have another full day on the houseboats and after breakfast we will head into town again and visit the stunningly grand Moghul Gardens and Pari Mahal, the ruins of an old Moghul palace overlooking Srinagar. Today we will have lunch in town at a traditional Wazwan restaurant serving classic Kashmiri cuisine. After lunch we return to our houseboats in time for afternoon tea and spend the rest of the day relaxing onboard, perhaps doing some bargaining with a shikara wallah for some souvenirs. Dinner is once again a sumptuous affair prepared by our cooks.
After a free morning relaxing on board the houseboats after breakfast, we leave for the airport to catch an afternoon flight over the spectacular Himalayas to Delhi. Depending on the time of our flight, we may have a light snack at the airport or a late lunch in Delhi. Tonight, well head out for a final night dinner to a restaurant in Khan market to celebrate a remarkable journey across the top of the world.
Departure Day. We have breakfast together at our hotel and then have the rest of the day free. Check out is at midday and arrangements can be made to store bags if needed. Late checkouts may be possible if we make arrangements in advance. When you need to depart, one of our drivers will collect you in an air-conditioned car for your transfer to the airport.