Touch the Sky: Ancient Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist Kingdoms of the Indian and Ladakh Himalayas with Hemis Monastery Sacred Dance Festival

with Carol and Martin Noval
29 June to 20 July 2019

Drive over the Himalayas from Manali in the Kullu Valley to Leh, Ladakh – Explore stunning valleys of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, India's "Little Tibet"

Day walks, touring by deluxe a/c Toyota SUVs

Delhi – Kullu Valley – Naggar – Vashisht/Manali – Jispa – Leh – Thiksey/Shey – Hemis – Alchi – Lamayuru – Basgo – Leh – Delhi

"Life is good....especially when you share the perspective and friendships that a trip like yours offers." 

M. Rees
Jalori Pass

Join us on this on this cultural heritage tour in the Indian Himalayas in the vastly different high mountain regions of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, India's "Little Tibet." Our trip is carefully planned for gradual acclimatization.

The drive between Manali in the Kullu Valley and Leh in the trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh is widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s greatest road trips. It crosses three major mountain ranges, including the Great Himalayan Range itself, on an unforgettable pass, the BaraLaChaLa. There are up-close views of towering glaciated peaks; there are remote seasonal villages, some of them ancient staging posts for the caravans that made this historic journey, some of them sites of ancient mountain fairs, and some, simple agricultural villages in this remote land with a very short growing season, a life only viable because of extensive age-old extremely sophisticated irrigation networks.

Visit age-old Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries, explore fascinating bazaars, ancient stopping places on the old trade routes between India, Tibet and Central Asia. Take day walks through forests of cedar and pine, rustic mountain villages, meadows and Tibetan Buddhist monastery complexes.

The first part of our Himalayan tour is in the lush forested region of Himachal Pradesh, south of the Great Himalayan Range. Though influenced by European settlers – from Alexander the Great’s soldiers to the British who settled in these valleys in the 19th century – the cultural traditions and ritual practices of archaic Hinduism remain largely unchanged from ancient times.

The second part of the trip immerses us in Tibetan Buddhist culture. We drive over the Great Himalayan Range into the storybook high-altitude Tibetan Buddhist moonland of Ladakh where the oldest sects of Tibetan Buddhism still flourish.

From Delhi fly one hour to Bhuntar Airport near Kullu and drive one hour to historic Naggar where we'll spend four nights. Before driving to Naggar we'll stop for breakfast and visit the 10th-century Bajaura Shiva Temple, one of the rare surviving masterpieces of early medieval North Indian stone temple art and architecture. Situated on the Beas River, the Kullu Valley is lush, with towering cliffs, forests of sacred deodar (cedar) trees, powerful rivers, and waterfalls pouring out of the mountains. Slate-roofed, cedar-timbered Hindu temples overlook traditional villages and vast terraced patchworks of rice paddies and cornfields.

Here groups of villagers play kettledrums and massive curved brass horns, carrying their gods on shoulder-borne palanquins to visit neighboring deities in this "Valley of the Gods."

We stay in Naggar, an old capital and one-time home of Nicholas Roerich, an émigré Russian mystic and artist. Roerich's stately house is surrounded by a flower- and tree-filled garden with Roerich’s collection of archaic temple sculpture. His luminous water colors of the high mountains evoke the wonder and spirituality associated with the Himalayas. Naggar has many ancient temples dotted throughout the welcoming village.

It's a beautiful drive to a nearby rustic village with massive trees, rough-timbered houses and a traditional temple constructed in a seldom-seen style. The village is also home to a unique waterfall cafe where we enjoy the delicious local food of the valley.

Driving up the valley through orchards and forests of Himalayan cedar, we reach a luxury hotel where we'll spend three nights. Our balcony rooms have stunning views of the valley and the great range of mountains to the north. We'll take walks and explore the colorful Manali bazaar, the ancient pagoda temple of the goddess Hadimba set in a sacred groves of deodar trees, and high-altitude meadows with a grand sweep of snow- and glacier-capped Himalayan ranges. We'll also visit the ancient Vashisht Temple with hot-spring baths created by the Hindu god Ram for the convenience of his guru, Rishi Vashisht.

Leaving the Kullu Valley, drive over the Great Himalayan Range to Ladakh. The mountain scenery is out of this world. We'll drive over the dramatic Rohtang Pass into the Lahaul Valley. On our way is Keylong, a small mountain town with a colorful bazaar.

We'll stop for the night in the small village of Jispa and spend an extra day there exploring to enhance our acclimatization. Leaving Jispa we'll cross the awesome BaraLaChaLa and two other passes before reaching the Leh, the capital of Ladakh.

Leh, the principal city of Ladakh, still has the feeling of an age-old Central Asian trading center. Here merchants from all over India, Tibet and Central Asia, with their caravans, halted and traded goods on this crossroads of the silk, salt, tea and wool routes. Our deluxe hotel in Leh is set in a flower-filled garden with dramatic views over the Indus Valley to the Stok Range.

On a promontory overlooking the town looms the imposing nine-story mud-brick Leh Palace of the Ladakhi kings. Its design was the model for the Potala, the palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa.
Ladakh Dancer

Below the palace, an ornate 18th-century mosque dominates one end of the main bazaar street. Along this street sit women in traditional dress and top hats who come daily to sell fresh vegetables and fruit from their gardens – a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. A lane of traditional Kashmiri bakers bake delicious bread in Central Asian tandoor ovens and we sample some fresh from the tandoor.Ladakh’s temples and monasteries house some of the greatest treasures of Asian art.

The 1000-year-old Alchi temples, set in a grove of ancient willow trees, house monumental statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, each a masterpiece. The temple’s walls and the robes of the statues are richly painted in a Kashmiri style that vanished from Ladakh a thousand years ago and are among the few surviving examples of northern Mahayana Buddhist art uninfluenced by later Chinese-Tibetan cultural styles. In Alchi we spend three nights in a charming family-fun lodge and visit the owner's traditional Ladakhi home. 

Ladakhi villages are strikingly beautiful with flat-roofed Tibetan-style houses stylishly painted white, ochre and black. The Ladakhi kitchen plays a central role in daily life, especially during the long winter. The kitchens are graced by beautiful arrangements of cooking pots and utensils of many generations and large iron stoves decorated with auspicious symbols. Village women put on ceremonial shawls and often their distinctive Ladakhi "top hats" to tend their fields. Their carefully tended, terraced fields of barley and peas are irrigated with channeled snowmelt, marvelous feats of traditional engineering.

From Alchi we take an excursion to Lamayuru monastery, the most ancient monastery of Ladakh, set in a moonland landscape. Set amid an ocean of white limestone formations, Lamayuru Monastery belongs to an old “unreformed” or red hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The main prayer hall houses an ancient cave in which the unconventional founders of the sect, Marpa, Naropa and Milarepa, meditated. A small set of rooms contains rare 11th-century sculptures and wall paintings.


Explore the stunningly situated monasteries of Basgo, Hemis – and Thiksey with 12 stories of whitewashed buildings spilling down a hillside. One of Thiksey’s temples has a gigantic gilded statue of Maitreya, the Buddha to come, whose face is so outstandingly beautiful that it has become the iconic representation of Ladakh. The ancient citadel of Basgo is set in a surreal landscape with wonderful views of the village rooftops below. At the Hemis Monastery Sacred Dance Festival watch as monks in gorgeous brocade robes and fierce painted masks majestically circle, spin and leap to the haunting sounds of drums and horns while at the same time masked lama “jesters” joke with the enthralled audience.

At sunset watch the evening glow on Leh town from Shanti Stupa, the peace stupa on a mount overlooking Leh.

It's a short and stunning flight over the Himalayas to Delhi. Back in Delhi, we explore the great sites in Old and New Delhi, ancient temples and colorful markets.

Travel by deluxe a/c SUVs, mountain flights with incredible views. Stay in charming and well-appointed boutique and luxury mountain lodges and hotels in fabulous locations. Enjoy a wide range of great food: Himachali, Tibetan, Ladakhi, Indian and Continental.

The cost of our 2019 22-day Himalayan tour is $7600 per person (single supplement $1600). Group size 8-10 persons. This price includes hotels, admissions, all meals, snacks, mineral water and soft drinks, domestic and international airport transfers, two internal flights (Delhi-Kullu and Leh-Delhi), road transport by deluxe SUVs.

More Himalayan Tour Photos taken by our travelers are on our Trips Into India Facebook page.

About traveling in the Himalayas with us:

"My trip with you replays itself in my mind quite often and makes me more eager every day to go back to India. I have been on quite a few tours and trips, many purported to be "educational" about history and culture of an area. None of them came close to yours. In the end, the leaders of the tour are the key to the experience."

Barbara McD.

"I feel so privileged to have seen parts of India through your eyes. You two just raised guiding to a new level. What Joy! Simply cannot wait to put on my India travel shoes again and, best of all, experience the wonders with you two at my side."

Margrit V.
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