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About Ladakh

About Ladakh

Nestled high in the Himalayas on India’s Tibetan Plateau, Ladakh is truly a hidden gem. This high altitude desert landscape provides a stunning backdrop for such rich and colorful Buddhist traditions. Ladakh provides one of the last glimpses into traditional Tibetan culture available in the world. In fact, at times Ladakh was part of Tibet. Ladakh & Tibet had a number of conflicts over centuries until the 13th century when they developed friendly relations. Ladakh remained an independent kingdom until 1834, and it is currently a district within the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Ladakh only opened to tourism in 1974, and 30,000 foreign tourists visit Ladakh each year. 

Want to know more about Ladakh? We recommend reading Helena Norberg-Hodge’s book Ancient Futures to get a better understanding of this beautiful culture and the challenges it faces.

About Thiksey Monastery

Thiksey Monastery was founded in the mid-1400’s along the banks of the Indus River. The monastery’s temples, halls, and living quarters span over 12 stories on a picturesque hill, earning it the nickname “Mini Potala” for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Thiksey is affiliated with the Gelugpa, or Yellow Hat, school of Tibetan Buddhism, and there are 2 additional monasteries, a nunnery, and 12 temples that operate under Thiksey’s care. The monastery’s head lama, Ngawang Jamyang Jampa Stanzin Rinpoche (or, Thiksey Rinpoche for short), is a well-respected, influential, and progressive voice within the Ladakhi community. He has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Ladakhi lamas (monks) and laypeople since his narrow escape from Tibet during the Chinese invasion.

bj and dalai lamaWhy Travel With Us?

RetreaTours has a very special relationship with Thiksey Monastery. BJ Graf has been visiting since 1995 and has fostered extremely close ties and friendships with the lamas. This intimate personal connection allows us to reach deeper into the culture and community, breaking bread with monks in their homes. We have been bringing guests to Ladakh since 2006, and in 2015, we created the first yoga retreat ever hosted at Thiksey Monastery. With our unprecedented access to ancient prayer halls and intimate friendships with Thiksey’s monks and their families in the village, our Ladakh guests always come away inspired, moved, and uplifted.

BJ was invited to serve as Thiksey Monastery’s official photographer in 2010 and 2016 for two very special Thiksey-sponsored events with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In addition to capturing these moments in photos, BJ enjoyed some conversation, good-natured ribbing, and a good luck head rub by the Dalai Lama himself.  

Butter Tea

A Ladakhi staple, gurgur cha is made with tea leaves, salt and butter in wooden churns.

A Natural High

Ladakh’s highest point reaches 25,171 ft (7,676 m) and its lowest point a “mere” 9,000 ft (2740 m).

Western Archaic Tibetan

Another name for the Ladakhi language, which has 130,000 speakers in the world.

High and Dry

Ladakh is a high-altitude desert that receives an average of 4″ (10 cm) of rain annually.

Don't be Dense

Ladakh’s population density is just 3 people per sq mi—that’s .01% of New York City’s.

Jullay-redThe Ladakhi Aloha

If you learn one word of Ladakhi, let it be “Jullay.” This all-purpose phrase means hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. There is even a song about the word “jullay” which says “The good word that brings friends closer is jullay / The good word that make strangers friends is jullay.”

39 hours

That’s the amount of time you save when you fly from Delhi to Leh (1 hour) rather than drive.

Don't be Dense

Ladakh’s population density is just 8 people per sq mi—that’s less than .03% of New York City’s.

39 hours

That’s the amount of time you save when you fly from Delhi to Leh (1 hour) rather than drive.

Jullay-redThe Ladakhi Aloha

If you learn one word of Ladakhi, let it be “Jullay.” This all-purpose phrase means hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. There is even a song about the word “jullay” which says “The good word that brings friends closer is jullay / The good word that make strangers friends is jullay.”

Our attitude about ALTITUDE (click plus sign to expand)

Altitude Sickness Prevention

Our home base at Thiksey Monastery rests at a lofty 11,500 ft (3350 m).  We plan our first few days very lightly, to allow you to acclimatize. However, there are things you can do before and during your trip to help your body adjust to the altitude.

Click here to read BJ’s take on how to prevent altitude sickness, as someone who has traveled extensively at high altitudes and never had ill effect and is an avid reader on the subject.

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness (AMS)

Click here to read Lauren’s suggestions to natural therapies to begin before your trip. Lauren is a Board-certified Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine with a speciality in the world of dietary supplements.

How to Stay Healthy while Traveling…Naturally!

 *All of the information here is for reference purposes only and is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed health care professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health condition or disease. If you are experiencing medical issues, you should contact your medical health care provider.

"More Tibetan Than Tibet" (click plus sign to expand)

We often get asked if we lead tours to Tibet. For the foreseeable future, the answer is an unfortunate “no” (unfortunate because we would love nothing more than to go ourselves). Instead, we bring curious and engaged guests to Ladakh, located on the Tibetan Plateau in India. Here they can see Tibetan culture that has been unadulterated by Chinese persecution. While in Ladakh (and all of India), we support Tibetan-owned businesses at every turn. Ladakh is truly one of the last glimpses into traditional Tibetan culture available in the world.

We consciously made this decision based on the atrocities the Chinese government has inflicted upon Tibet, beginning in the mid-20th century and continuing until today. Under no circumstances do we support Tibet’s exploitation by China. Please read here FreeTibet.org’s travel guide for more information about the pros and cons of visiting modern-day Tibet.

One of the gems of Thiksey is the figure of Maitreya, the Future Buddha, which was consecrated in 1983 by the Dalai Lama. This 49′ tall statue has a two-story temple built around it, surrounded with vivid wall paintings depicting the life of the Buddha. Upon seeing the Maitreya, the Dalai Lama said,

Rinpoche, you are very lucky. This Maitreya is very beautiful. Even if you see this Maitreya again and again, you will never see it enough; you will always want to see it more–you will never be satisfied. I have seen many statues, but this Maitreya is very special for me. I have never seen a Maitreya like this before.”

Perhaps the most important lesson of Ladakh has to do with happiness. Only after many years of peeling away layers of preconceptions did I begin to see the joy and laughter of the Ladakhis for what it really was: a genuine and unhindered appreciation of life itself. In Ladakh I have known a people who regard peace of mind and joie de vivre as their unquestioned birthright.

~Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures