Apart from the tons of places to visit within Leh city, there are a lot of interesting attractions within 20 km radius around the town that are equally spectacular and guarantee a very calm, peaceful and soul searching experience.
While most of the tourists head back to city after visiting Hall of Fame, almost a kilometer ahead lies one of the oldest monasteries of Ladakh- Spituk Gompa which is secluded but captivating.
Some 8 km from Leh city is one of the oldest monasteries- Spituk, also known as Pethup Gompa among locals. Founded in the 14th century. Spituk means Exemplary and this monastery got it's name when a translator, Rinchen Zangpo, visited this place and said an exemplary religious community would rise here. The monastery has a massive statue of Kali whose face is covered for the entire year but for one day during the annual festival held at the monastery. It also has a fine collection of antiques such as ancient thankas, arms and masks.
Situated on a hill, the Spituk monastery offers view of the Indus river and the surrounding hills plus uninterrupted and amazing views of Leh airbase from the parking lot. The revving of a massive engine echoed around the valley and for a while we were only able to hear the aircraft hidden behind the hills and out of nowhere like a magic trick it appeared just few meters away from us and a couple of feet from the mighty hills. We were very lucky to see an air force cargo plane make a dramatic landing just a couple of hundred feet away from us. The pilot has to be exceptionally skillful to land a jumbo jet in such challenging terrain and short run ways.
We decided to head from Spituk monastery to one of the best monuments in whole of Ladakh - Stok Palace and Museum. Stok gompa was founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus in 14th century. It has a library that houses 108 volumes of Kangyur- a collection of teachings of Lord Buddha. The Stok Palace was built in 1820 and is still the summer home of the Ladakhi Royalty from the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh.
It is thousand times better and well kept than Leh Palace. This amazing wooden and brick monument is far away from the city and hence sees far less tourists. The best part was the road that lead us to this monument. In the middle of nowhere with absolute gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding hills, there was spotless tarmac road taking us to Stok and several small chortens announced the arrival of our destination.
The Stok museum is a rich source of information into the royal life of the Kingdom. Age old antiques are preserved and kept in best condition with different galleries dedicated to different artifacts. There are around hundreds of fine stunning exhibits, each a rich source of valuable information and the most amazing exhibits were 35 lively Thankas from 1500- 1530 AD, water container made of Yak skin, elaborate gold and silver ornaments embedded with precious stones, a very intriguing knotted sword- a steel sword completely twisted like a knot by the oracle of the Kings. Plus gold weighing scales that are 500 years old, antique locks, trumpet made of human thigh bone, last but not the least an absolute gorgeous, spotless elaborate ancient Tibetan kitchen. This is just the glimpse of the best of the museum.
Right at the entrance of the museum is a massive wine fermenter made out of Yak skin. Also, within the museum is a chorten made of gold and studded with precious gems dedicated to the Queen. Photography inside the museum is prohibited. There is an entry fee of Rs 70 for Indians. It remains open during the summer months from May to October from 8 am to 7 pm. If you have deep pockets you can even stay in one of the rooms here, the tariff starts at Rs 20,000 per night. There is an amazing cafe that serves good food and offers stunning views. Their mint tea is a must try. The views of Chortens and a huge Buddha statue makes it picture perfect.
There are 3 different ways to reach Spituk gompa and Stok Palace- One is a kachcha or rugged country road and the other one is by accessing the highway. The best route would be to back track to Leh town and then take the Leh-Manalai highway road till Choglamasar and post that take the deviation to Stok Palace. Though the kachcha road is a tough terrain, the scenic beauty that it offers makes it worthwhile. It would be a great idea to take this road if you want to enjoy the scenic beauty, landscapes, and the river giving you company and if you are in no rush to reach the Palace then this would be perfect.
We ended up taking the rugged country road, Stok Road starting from Spituk Gompa via Spituk village. This road is sans tarmac and is a very bumpy ride with mud and slush giving you company. But the advantage was we were the only people on the entire stretch and we had the massive Indus river giving us company. Though covered in dust for most part of the road, it was fun riding through remote parts of Ladakh enjoying the natural beauty.