Are you interested in Tibetan culture, want to meet the Dalai Lama, do monks make you shutter happy? Then I have news for you, Leh is the place, not Tibet, to get your fix. Why head to India instead of Tibet you ask? It’s much more affordable and less restricted. Here is a quick comparison of Tibet vs. Ladakh
Having your own transportation makes Leh much more accessible than Tibet, our choice the iconic Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle
The biggest barrier to visiting Tibet are the requirements for entry including a guide and permit. It took us a painstaking 10 days and many sleepless nights to obtain the appropriate papers and arrange guides for Tibet. However, Leh requires nothing more than a long bus trip or short flight. Leh is the perfect place to visit for non-planners, the budget conscious and independent travelers. There’s nothing like the magic of discovering the charms of Tibetan culture at your own pace with your own transport in contrast to being tied to a guide’s schedule. (Want to learn how to visit Tibet? Click here to learn how we did it).
The gigantic Sakyamuni Buddha at Thiksey Monastery
The history and culture in Tibet are incredible, Potala Palace’s gold and gem encrusted stupas alone are worth the trip. However, the monasteries in Ladakh are stunning. Thiksey Monastery in particular not only looks similar to Potala, but offers a 14 meter high Buddha that the Dalai Lama himself purports to be the most beautiful statue he has seen. In addition, you have plenty of time to explore the monasteries rather than being ushered through with a guide.
The Stakna Monastery set in the desert with a stunning mountain backdrop
While Tibet boasts Mount Everest, the views in Ladakh are breathtaking. Monasteries perched between Leh’s arid desert and the snowy Himalayan peaks make it the most photogenic place in India. Better yet you can stop and enjoy the views where ever you want because you hire your own transport. Leh is truly a photographers dream, we stopped constantly to snap another photo of our surrounds.
Lunch at Phyang Gompa
The people in Tibet are kind and always have a warm smile. However, in Tibet it’s difficult to communicate due to the language barrier, whereas in Ladakh everyone speaks English. We enjoyed the hosts at our guesthouse so much we shared dinner with them every night. It was over home made meals we learned about Ladakh and Buddhism from our excellent hosts. In addition, at Phyang Gompa we were invited to eat lunch with the monks during our visit. Who needs a guide when you can chat with the monks one-on-one over vegetable curry?
Prayer flags flying form Stakna Gompa
While you won’t fight crowds in Tibet due to the restrictions and cost of permits, Ladakh is much friendlier on your wallet. Transport, lodging, admission tickets, and even souvenirs are substantially cheaper than in Tibet.
Leh was my favorite place in India, the genuine people, pristine surroundings and deep seated Tibetan culture make it hard to argue that Tibet is worth the extra hassle. Tibet was my favorite place in China, which makes my endorsement of Leh all the more impressive. If you are planning a trip to India make sure you take the time to head north to Leh, a great alternative to closed off Tibet.
WHEN YOU GO:
- Fly to Leh. The other option is a grueling, but beautiful bus trip from Manali.
- Prepare for altitude, give yourself extra days to acclimatize if you haven’t been at altitude recently.
- Motorcycle is the best mode of transport to visit nearby towns and monasteries, but make sure you have experience as the roads are not well groomed. (Read the Traveler’s Guide to Motorcycle Rental here)