Ladakh

Spectacularly jagged, arid mountains enfold this magical Buddhist ex-kingdom. Picture-perfect gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries) dramatically crown rocky outcrops next to fluttering prayer flags and whitewashed stupas, while prayer wheels spun clockwise release merit-making mantras. Gompa interiors are a riot of golden Buddhas and intricately colourful murals and home to red-robed monks. It's a little corner of Tibet marooned in the furthest reaches of India.

Though threatened by a rapidly increasing number of visitors, Ladakh has much to teach the West regarding ecological sustainability. Most Ladakhis are cash poor yet their traditional mud-brick homesteads are large and virtually self-sufficient in fuel and dairy products, and barley used to make tsampa (roast barley flour) and chhang (barley beer).

The walls of dramatic mountains that hem in Ladakh make for an unforgettable landscape, but be aware that road access requires crossing tortuous high passes, which close from around October to May.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Ladakh.