Leh to Kargil
There are many fascinating sights close to the Leh–Srinagar road but hopping by very limited public transport is slow going: other than Leh–Kargil and Leh–Srinagar through buses, the only options west from Khalsi are Leh–Dha buses (daily) and four other weekly services to Chiktan or Fokha. Lamayuru and Khalsi both have a couple of taxis but tracking them down is hit-and-miss.
The deep cut Shyok and Nubra River Valleys (permit required) offer tremendous yet accessible scenery with green oasis villages surrounded by thrillingly stark scree slopes, boulder fields and harsh arid mountains. There are sand dunes, monasteries, a ruined palace and – at Turtuk – a whole different culture (Balti) to discover.
This rural village has become a regional tourism magnet thanks to the world famous Choskhor Temple Complex, founded in the 11th century by ‘Great Translator’ Lotsava Ringchen Zangpo. The four main temple buildings are small and unobtrusive but they contain original interior murals that are considered the crowning glory of Ladakh’s Indo-Tibetan art.
Sumur, Tegar & Panamik
The Nubra River proper descends towards the Shyok from the heavily disputed Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground (between India and Pakistan). The upper secton follows what is reputedly one of Ladakh’s most spectacular mountain valleys. However, foreigners can't visit this area as standard Nubra permits only allow travel as far as Hargam Bridge.
Once one of Ladakh’s royal capitals, Shey is an attractive, pond-dappled oasis from which rises a central dry rocky ridge, inscribed with roadside Buddha carvings. Along the rising ridge-top, a series of fortress ruins bracket the three-storey, 17th-century Naropa Royal Palace, whose wholesale reconstruction is nearing completion. The palace temple contains a highly revered 7.
Chemrey & Takthog
Spectacularly viewed across barley fields and buckthorn bushes, Chemrey village is dominated by the beautifully proportioned Thekchhok Gompa covering a steep hillock with a maze of pathways and Tibetan buildings. Above the appealingly wobbly 17th-century prayer hall, the Lama Lhakhang has murals blackened to semi-invisibility by butter-lamp smoke.
Leh to Diskit
The Nubra road zigzags up stark bare-rock mountains for around 1½ hours to Khardung La, which at 5602m is claimed, albeit disputably, to be the world’s highest motorable pass. Descending again look for marmot and dzo (yak-cow mix-breeds) around the pretty pond known rather misleadingly as Tsolding Buddha Park.
Set among mountain-backed badlands, low-paced Lamayuru is one of Ladakh’s most memorable villages and an ideal place to break the Kargil–Leh journey. Picturesque homes huddle around a crumbling central hilltop that’s pitted with caves and topped by the ultra-photogenic Yungdrung Gompa.