OverviewThis "baby" hill above the town of Leh in Ladakh is a great day trip for trekkers and climbers acclimitizing for bigger mountains like Stok Kangri. The town of Leh rests at the foot of the hill, making the hill easily accessible from all accomodations in Leh itself. The ridgeline up from town leads through the Leh Palace, then the Tsemo Castle ruins, and finally to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa (monastery) that sits near the highest point of the hill. This point is marked with a prayer construction complete with streaming prayer flags.
Views from the summit are spectacular -- the town of Leh and the Indus Valley lies to the north and west at the foot of the hill. The smaller hill of the Shanti Stupa lies across town to the north. Leh rests in the "Trans-Himalayan" region of India -- dividing the India Great Himalayan Range in the west from the Tibetan plateau to the east. Two smaller ranges surround the valley and are visible as distant snow covered giants -- the Ladakh Range to the east and the Zanskar range to the west.
In terms of more well known mountain ranges, the Karakoram Range (including K2) is directly north from Leh on the other side of the Ladakh Range. Well known high peaks in the Indian section of the Karakoram include Rimo I (7385m) and Teram Kangri (7464m) on the border of the Ladakh state. Note that K2 is at least 110 miles from Leh -- although the Stok Kangri page reports K2 visible on a clear day, I doubt it!
Nanda Devi is far to the southeast from Leh, separated by two states (Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal) and almost to the northeast corner of Nepal. The distance to Nanda Devi is at about 360 miles from Leh.
Leh InformationLeh is the capital of Ladakh and is situated at 3505 meters (11500 feet). Due to the altitude, acclimitization is required before moving on to strenuous hikes; thus the creation of this nice easy "hill" at only a mere 12,000 feet altitude!
Leh may be reached either by land transport or air transport. The land transport routes into Leh are closed during winter (due to heavy snow and avalanches in the passes). Also travel times from major air cities (Mumbai, Delhi) is quite long -- allow several days total travel time by bus through Manali.
Air transport is available from Delhi on India Airlines, Jet Airways and Air Deccan. Each offers one flight each day -- in the morning to facilitate an early arrival when winds are most manageable at the high altitude airport. During peak tourist season, the economy class is often overbooked so it is best to plan ahead for delays there. Also the weight limitation for gear (20kg for economy class and 30kg for business class) is enforced at Delhi. Flight time is about 75 minutes and, on clear days, has spectacular views of the India Himalayas en route.
RoutesThis hill offers a variety of ascent routes for climbers of all skill levels and predispositions.
The easiest ascent route is via a paved road which leads to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa. I was unable to determine how this road connects back into the roads of Leh proper, but any taxi driver should be able to lead you to the top of the road. From this point, the "hike" is about 250 feet up the closed paved portion of the road to the base of the monastery. Reaching the highest point required walking up through the monastery steps, and taking a fairly steep class 1/2 trail up an additional 100 vertical feet behind the monastery.
The typical ascent route is from the Leh Palace road near the entrance to the Leh Palace. This road connects to the main Bazaar Road in Leh south of the polo grounds and is labelled "Link to Leh Palace". You may also reach the Leh Palace entry by crossing directly through the Old Town section. This will require some amount of routefinding through the maze-like roads of Old Town, and potentially some class 2/3 climbing through people's back yards. If you find yourself doing this, remember to wave, smile and say "joo-lay" to people as you walk/climb through their yards. After reaching the Leh Palace road, an obvious dirt path switchbacks up the face of the hill to the monastery. Follow this class 1 path to the monastery and proceed as in the road route to the highest point.
A more interesting approach starts at the wall of the Leh Palace and ascends the ridge line directly. This leads through the Tsemo Castle (ruins) and then fairly directly to the monastery. This route can be done as class 2 with significant class 3 sections, but also gives options for class 5 climbing/traverses (mostly on the side of the ridge facing away from Old Town).
When To ClimbLeh is a place of termperature extremes. During winter, the town is covered in snow and temperatures in the -10/-20 C range are not uncommmon. Temperatures increase starting in May, and summer runs until September. In late May, day time hiking temperatures were comfortable, and this is recommended. July and August are the busiest tourist (and hottest) months for the region.
LogisticsNo fees or permits are required. Please be respectful of the gompa (monastery) and any areas marked with prayer flags as these are (obviously) religious areas.
No camping is allowed or recommended. You should avail yourself of the many lodging options in Leh (ranging from companies which provide tent camping to full hotels).
History of Namgyal HillIn 1533, the various factions of Ladakh (Mongols, North Indian monks, Changpas, and Buddhists) were united by the Great King Soyang Namgyal. Over the next years, the united Ladakhi were attacked by Kashmir and Baltistan forces. Namgyal led his people to victory against the combined force, and erected the ruined fort (Tsemo Castle) on the hill to commemorate the event. For this reason, the fort and the hill are often also called the "Victory Fort" and the "Victory Hill".
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