When we talk about Leh Ladakh, we all talk about the colorful monasteries, vast landscapes, cobalt blue sky, high passes, high altitude lakes and the Tibetan culture there. Nobody talks or indeed tells about the grandeur unique Leh Ladakh Palaces there. During our 13-day road trip to Leh Ladakh, we made it a point to explore some Leh Ladakh Palaces and one of them was the majestic Leh Palace.
About Leh Palace
Overlooking the Himalayan Leh town, on the top of Tsemo Hill lies the former palace or residence of Royals known as Leh Palace. Locally, the Palace is also known as Lhachen Palkar. It is a 9 storied structure one of its own kind erected in 17th century. Indeed it was the tallest of all structures during its heydays.
The Leh Palace looks quite distinct from the other Palaces of India – quite simple, yet elegant and its greyish black dun color merges well with the surroundings. Palace has almost no signage board except the history board at the entrance and various board markings on the floor levels. So, scratch your head, make guesses and talk to the guards to find out facts about the Leh Palace, exactly as we did.
Ticket for Leh Palace – For Indians Rs. 15/- per person & Foreign Nationals – Rs.100/- per person. Camera charges are Rs. 25/-
Timings– From sunrise to sunset
History of Leh Palace
The construction of Leh Palace was initiated by Tsewang Namgyal, the founder of Namgyal Dynasty in 16th century and was completed by King Sengge Namgyal, the 5th king of Ladakh in 17th century. It is said to be the replica of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, except being smaller in size .
The Palace was the residence of Royals till it was attacked by the Dogra force. During the attack Leh Palace suffered quite losses and family was shifted to the Stok Palace. Today, the palace stands still but is in battered shape. The restoration work here is carried out by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Architecture of Leh Palace
Leh Palace is a perfect example of Tibetan architecture. It has 9 stories in total, out of which Level 1 and 2 lays separate from the rest Levels. The lower two floors 1 and 2 were used as store rooms and stables whereas the upper floors were used as their residence by Royals.
The Palace has no such plush flamboyant décor, to attract tourists or travelers. It is simply made of wood, mud, sand and stone. The uniqueness is the way 9 floors are laid down on the slanting hill and its buttressed walls. The materials used in the construction are used with a purpose. Mud keeps the rooms warm in winters and cool in summers. Wood acts as insulator and prevents loss of heat. Sand is used as a gluing material in between the stones.
Level Third – Entrance
After parking our car, a long cobbled road took us to the main Palace entrance. We thought it to be the first floor but it was actually third. So, the main entrance to the Palace is at third level. The entrance has wooden pillars and some ferocious Lion carvings on it, decorated with Tibetan clothes.
From there started the long dark corridors with the maze of several small rooms with low entrances. The whole place from inside looked gloomy and some of the rooms had now been turned into the exhibition halls.
The only attraction we saw in these rooms were the huge glass windows which gave the panoramic view of Leh town and Polo ground. And irony is now the Polo ground is just a taxi stand. We also heard the guide describing that King used to sit here and watch the Polo match. Isn’t that the example of a luxurious life?
Level Four – Khatok Chenmo
The end of corridor at third floor had a steep staircase which took us straight to the level four. The open courtyard in the front here, offered the magnificent view of Leh town whereas the sides had beautiful, geometrically designed windows and overhanging balconies. The windows were decorated with yellow prayer flags, making it highly contrasting and appealing. On the other end I could see the staircase leading to the top floors and the curiosity was juggling in me was to reach the top soon.
Before we could climb to the next level; we saw the signage reading Duk – Kar- lakhang, also known as the temple of Royals. Being hesitant is removing our shoes, we skipped going inside the temple. But the multiple pair of shoes outside completely depicted that Temple is still active and used for offerings. On inquiring we got to know, the Temple houses a statue of Lord Buddha and several ancient religious literature’s. And from there, we further climbed the stairs to reach the next level.
Level Five – Hall of Public Audience
Again the zigzag, low lying corridors behaved no less than a maze to us. Indeed, I and Tashi were lost in our own direction and simultaneously were searching for each other. Here we saw a huge naturally lit room i.e. Hall of Public Audience, now used as an exhibition hall by ASI. There were several murals and paintings in the room. Some of them appeared to be more than 500- 600 years old and were now in dwindling state.
Level 6 – The Royal Apartment
The Level 6 appeared to be more open and spacious courtyard. Also. the view of Leh city was widening with increase in every level. In the center of Level 6, stood the top surface of Hall of Public Audience, giving ample light to the room. On one end of courtyard, there is a The Royal Apartment, secluded from everything whereas the other end lead to the trailing stairs to next levels.
Level 7- The Last Courtyard
The steep stairs from Level 6 took us to another higher level of courtyard, offering most thrilling panoramas of Leh city. The views were so contrasting that probably one can get confused looking at his own pictures. If one side of the Leh city is painted in green, the other side is probably painted in the dun shades and the front had a tint of both.
From here, you also get a perfect view of Tsemo Namgyal Castle, built by King Tashi Namgyal in 16th century.
Level 8 and Level 9 of Leh Palace
The last two levels 8 and 9 looked more broken down as compared to the rest levels and were closed for the public. The Guard sitting at 7th level told us that probably these levels also had been the royal rooms used for their own living.
Level 1 and 2
Now the only left part was Level 1 and 2. We wanted to go down and explore it but it was already time for sunset and Palace to shut down. So, we just clicked some shots of the same from level 3 while exiting. And these levels were used as stable and store house of Royals.
How to reach Leh Palace
Leh Palace lies almost 2 kilometers away from the main Leh Market on the hilltop. There are two options to reach here. One is by driving till the palace and second is climbing the steep slopes from the Leh market. The first one is more easy but the second one is more adventurous. The climb make you pass through the Ladakhi houses and shops and it can be covered in 20-25 minutes.
Some Important Tips
- Leh Palace is dark from inside, so Nyctophobic people be prepared for the journey
- Doors are really small. So, mind your head. Indeed, you will also find the boards quoting “Mind your head” with in the palace
- Carry a water bottle to stay hydrated as it really gets tiring while climbing up and down
- Wear flat shoes and comfortable clothing
- Remove shoes before entering the Temple
- Listen to the guards and don’t enter the prohibited areas as they have a valid reason to stop you from entering them. Palace is almost in broke down state, so be safe
- Don’t lean against the overhanging balconies and windows
The visit to Leh palace is a journey to the primitive world. Its starking grand building is quite unique as compared to the other palaces of India. It clearly depicts the royalty and the power Royals had enjoyed. And the best is views- if on one side you see bustling Leh town, then on the another is Stok Kangri and Zanskar Himalyan range. We still can’t get over the views we had enjoyed and lived there.
That was all about our experience. Have you visited the Leh Palace or you want to visit it? Do share your thoughts on the same in comment section. You can also pin it or share it with friends and family.