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6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear

6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear

Leh Ladakh, the Land of Passes is known for its mesmerizing landscapes, tranquil monasteries, Buddhism, rich culture, and calmness. Despite being a high-altitude desert the place has an amazing architecture too and the perfect example for it is the grandiose Leh Ladakh Palaces. We all know about the famous palaces and forts of Rajasthan but a very little is known about the Leh Ladakh Palaces. Recently on our Leh Ladakh road trip from Delhi, we got the chance to explore some of the amazing Castles.

6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear

The Leh Ladakh palaces are centuries old architecture marvels, situated on the hilltop hidden from the rest of the world. From their construct and scale, we could very well guess that these Leh Ladakh Palaces might have been majestic during their time and now only their ruins and rubbles exist. The so condition can be the result of extremely harsh weather, natural forces, vandalism, violent events and other heart-wrenching destructions. We really suggest you check out these 6 Leh Ladakh Palaces on your Leh Ladakh trip; before they or their ruins completely disappear.

Leh Ladakh Palaces

1. Chiktan Palace/ Chiktan Khar

Built in: 16th century

No. of Stories: 9

Location: 75 km from the Kargil town on Srinagar – Leh highway, 12 km inside from the diversion.

Route

Entry Fee: Free

Reached by: Car and few stairs

Chiktan Palace -6 must visit Leh Ladakh PalacesRuins of Chiktan Palace/ Chiktan Khar on the hilltop

The Chiktan Palace or Khar (Khar means Palace), is one of the masterpieces of Leh Ladakh Palaces. It is believed to be a cousin and taller than the Leh Palace. Khar is located deep in the valley on the barren huge rock along the river Indus. The construction was done using rammed earth, mud, stone masonry and timber on the designs of architect Shinkhen Chandan but now only the ruins exist. Once the Palace had a rotating room which used to rotate itself with the airflow. There too was an underground tunnel meant for taking water to the Palace from the spring located at foot hill.

Chiktan Palace - 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces
Close-up of Chiktan Khar Source

The Palace was initiated by Baltistan King Tahtah Khan in the 8th century but he died before completing it. Later it was completed by King Tsering Malik in the 16th century. The Dogra King of Jammu couldn’t see the growing popularity of King in the area, so he planned and attacked the castle.

The Chiktan Palace was attacked several times but it stood intact until the 19th century; representing a symbol of unity and strength. In the 20th century, the government allotted money to the Royal family of Chiktan to construct government hospital at Chiktan Village but they planned to save the allotted money; instead removed bricks and wood from the Palace walls for construction. Seeing this, villagers too started removing the left wood and bricks for their personal use. Today, the palace is in a state of massive decay and what is left as ruins is because of the false stories spread about ghosts.

Chiktan Palace : 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear
First view of ruins of Chiktan Palace from Chiktan Village

At Chiktan, there is a Polo ground (known as Shagaran) where horse polo used to be played and is still played on the special occasions.

2.Leh Palace 

Built in: 17th century

Stories: 9

Location: On Hilltop overlooking the Leh city, 2 km from the main Leh market

Entry Fee: Rs 15 per person and Rs 25 for Camera

Reached by: Car or hike from Leh Palace

The Leh Palace dominates the city from the hilltop and is the highlighted structure of the heritage town, Leh. The Palace is intact but in the dilapidated condition. The continuous restoration work here is controlled by ASI – Archaeological Survey of India. The Palace is made up of mud bricks, mortar, wood and the ceilings are supported by wooden rafters. The Leh Palace too is built on the designs of architecture Chandan, who constructed the Chiktan Palace. The highlighted architecture of Leh Palace is its buttressed walls and overhanging balconies from where one gets the panoramic views of the whole city. On looking down from the terrace, we saw how well the monotones houses are packed together in the Leh city, completely camouflaging against the backdrop mountain.

Leh Palace: 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear
Evening view of Leh Palace

The Leh Palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal; 5th King of Ladakh in the 17th century as his own residence. The Royal family occupied upper floors for their own living whereas lower floors were used as store rooms and stables.  In the 19th century, the Dogra King took over the control of Ladakh and moved the royal family to Stok Palace. Today the rooms and corridors of Palace have been converted into a museum; housing paintings, and photographs. The Palace too has temple inside, which houses the statue of Lord Buddha and other deities. Years old religious texts too are kept here in a well-preserved manner.

Overhanging Balconies in Leh Palace: 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces, before they disappear
Overhanging Balconies in Leh Palace

From the third and fourth floor onwards; in front, one can see the Polo ground which is now a Leh’s taxi stand.

3.Castle Tsemo Namgyal

Built in: 16th century

Stories: 9

Location: Lies on the Namgyal hilltop above Leh Palace and can be seen from everywhere in Leh

Reached by: Car, staircase from Chubi, or steep hike from the Leh Palace

Tsemo castle: 6 must visit Leh ladakh Palaces, before they disappear
Way for hike to Tsemo Castle from Leh Palace

The Castle Tsemo Namgyal was built by King Tashi Namgyal on the hilltop. The Palace offers 360-degree views of the Leh city and the prayer flags on the top flutter in the full swing which is a delight to eyes and ears. Here, only the part of the castle, watchtower, and wooden balcony are intact, rest is completely devastated.

View of ruins of Tsemo Castle and Tsemo Monsatery from eight floor of Leh Palace: 6 must visit Leh ladakh Palaces
View of ruins of Tsemo Castle and Tsemo Monastery from eight floors of Leh Palace

Near to it is the Tsemo Namgyal monastery built in the 14th century. It houses a three-story high gold statue of Maitreya Buddha and various manuscripts.

4. Shey Palace

Built in: 17th century

Stories: 3

Location: On Hillock Shey, overlooking the Shey Village. 13 km from the Leh city on Manali – Leh highway;

Route:

Entry Fee: Rs 20 per person

Reached by: Climbing a trail and few stairs; moderate level

The Shey Palace was the summer capital of medieval Ladakh region. It is located on the hilltop beside the Indus River and one need to climbs a trail and few stairs to reach the palace.  The Palace is intact and is maintained by ASI but the fortress ahead to it is a complete wreck. The Palace is made of mud, mortar, and wood, with the overhanging balconies.

Shey Palace: 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear
Shey Palace

Shey Palace and the Shey monastery were built by Deldan Namgyal, the 6th king of Ladakh in memory of his father Sengge Namgyal (Leh Palace). In the 19th century, when the Dogra King invaded Ladakh, the royal family left this Palace too along with Leh Palace and moved to Stok Palace. The Palace has the largest Namgyal Chorten which is the Victory Stupa of Ladakh and its top of which is made of gold.

Shey Palace and ruins of Fortress from village Shey : 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palace before they disappear
Shey Palace and ruins of Fortress from village Shey

The fortress above the Palace is believed to be the capital Fort during the 10th century and it was established by the descendants of Nima-gon, the ruling dynasty of Tibet.

Shey Palace and Fortress: 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces, before they disappear
Shey Palace and Ruins of Fortress

The Shey Monastery houses a 7.5-metre high statue of Lord Buddha Sakyamuni which is gold plated and studded with precious gems. The lamp lit in front of the statue is believed to hold enough butter, to keep it lit for a year.

Shakyamuni Lord Buddha at Shey monastery: 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear
Shakyamuni Lord Buddha at Shey monastery

5. Stok Palace

Built in: 19th century

Stories: 4

Location: 15 km away from the Leh city on the Stok road.

Route

Entry Fee: 50 Rs.

Reached by: Car

The Stok Palace is the last Palace of Kings of Ladakh and is the present residence of the former royal family of Ladakh. The Palace has 77 rooms, overhanging balconies, beautiful gardens, and library that have 108 volumes of the Kangyur (Teachings of Lord Buddha). The part of the Palace has been converted into a heritage hotel.

Stok Palace: 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear
Stok Palace

The Stok Palace was built by King Teswang Tundup Namgyal in 1825 and the last king of Ladakh died here in 1974. A part of Palace is a living museum which includes Kings Room, Queen’s room, Palace Gompa and traditional Kitchen and is open to the visitors for fixed hours. The Kings room has a crown, silver chortens, Chestnut coins and the beautiful traditional Thangkas. The Queens room has a crown, beautifully studded headdress of Queen known as Perak, and the necklace of Balti Princess Gyal Khatun. In Ladakhi Kitchen there are traditional utensils, clay pots and low height tables for dining. The Palace Gompa contains some ritual dance masks and Frescoes. The Stok Palace has a huge open courtyard and a rooftop cafeteria offering splendid valley views to the visitors.

Artifact at Stok Museum (used to carry Wine): 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces
Artifact at Stok Museum (used to carry Wine)

The Stol Palace hosts annual dance festival “Stok Guru Tseshu” every year in December – January.

6. Zamskhang Palace in Nubra Valley

Built in: 17th century (According to locals but not much is known about it)

Stories: 3

Location: On the hilltop

Reached by: Trek from Tegar Village near Sumoor in Nubra Valley

The Zamskhang Palace, not known to many is another example of excellent architecture and one of the beautiful Leh Ladakh Palaces. The Palace was the former residence of Kings of Nubra. It is built with mud, stone, and mortar and has a huge open terrace. Today, the Palace and Stupas from outside look in complete disrepair and ruin state. Only the Prayer room is intact which is adorned with several paintings, Thangkas, and the sculptures.

Zamskhang Palace: 6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear
Ruins of Zamskhang Palace

The mountains ranges of Nubra Valley were pit stops of the Silk Road trade route. So, the Palace used to house the pilgrims and traders who in return left the clay artifacts. These artifacts are housed inside and around the Chortens and Stupas. Inside the Palace, there are beautiful frescoes and paintings, which have still retained their beauty.

Sculpture in Prayer room of Zamskhang Palace: 6 must visit Palaces before they disappear
Sculpture in Prayer room of Zamskhang Palace  (Source)

We must say these Leh Ladakh Palaces might have been timeless beauties and would have stood high in the past but who could fight against the mother nature and natural forces. These Palaces completely depict the histories of kingdoms lost forever. So, these Leh Ladakh Palaces and their ruins are a must visit on Leh Ladakh trip before they completely disappear.

You might be interested in checking our other posts from Leh Ladakh

Leh Ladakh Road trip from Delhi

A walk with Indian soldier at Kargil War Memorial

Nubra Valley: The Valley of Flowers in Ladakh

A day at White Lake Tso Kar in Ladakh

Attractions on the Srinagar Leh Highway

Ladakh-The land of High Passes

All you need to know about Leh Ladakh Inner Line Permit



67 thoughts on “6 must visit Leh Ladakh Palaces before they disappear”

  • Nice Photo post Suruchi! Looking at the data on Polo, I wonder if this game has not been properly preserved in the hills. The Leh and Stemo castle, I bet would look stunning around a golden hour. Great colours for the sun’s reflection!

  • Ladakh has been popping up in my Instagram feed a lot lately and then I just saw this. I think I’m being given a clear message to go exploring ASAP. And I love exploring ancient forts and palaces with my kids; they have such great questions.

  • Wow. I love the amount of detailing. Leh Ladakh has been on my list for quite awhile. I’m definitely going to use the details in your blog when planning my trip. I love the fact that you have mentioned when each of it is built which is good information.

  • I seriously had to take a really close look at each picture to make sure that I wasn’t looking at outtakes from Game of Thrones. And my attention was definitely caught by this palace that had a rotating room that moved with the airflow. Such brilliance the ancient people had. Hope I could be in the presence of this grand display of architecture.

  • It’s such a shame that some of these are in various states of demise. It would have been amazing to see that rotating room in action. It’s good that some places are still functioning though, hopefully they won’t disappear.

  • Loved reading your post. I should admit I never thought about Leh Ladakh as a travel destination. Leh Ladakh has never been on my radar (I don’t know really why ?) but now I feel like I definitely need to go. I particularly love the Shey Palace and the Stok Palace.

  • How amazing that such palaces still exist, and allow us to imagine how grand they once were! I’ve heard about Ladakh a few times recently, so maybe it’s one for the bucket list 💙

  • Thanks for the insight into Leh Ladakh Palaces – you really did get to explore some stunning castles! Some serious architecture marvels. Sad that many have now been reduced to rubble but it’s fun to imagine what they would have looked like in their day. It looks like the Leh Palace is still in a pretty reasonable state for touring. The fortress above Shey Palace looks really interesting – so much history! The Stok Palace looks like it’s still in top shape – I would love the opportunity to stay in the heritage hotel. Thanks for the tip – what a way to spend overnight in India, staying in a palace!

  • I’ve been reading a lot of posts about this place and I never thought that there are castles and ruins in this high-altitude desert. The stories in every castle are interesting and thank you for sharing it. I just do hope that some of the castles like the Chiktan Khar will be preserved well through restoration. The locals must see it as a jewel because of its historical and cultural significance. On the other hand, I think I will put this place in my bucket list before all the ruins crumbled due to natural occurrences.

  • A side of India I was unaware of. These palaces or palace ruins are majestic. I would have loved to see Leh palace in its heyday. And Stok palace for a taste of a more modern palace.

  • Leh and Ladakh are dream destinations. But I haven’t been there yet as my small daughter might not be comfortable at such altitude. But I must say Suruchi, after reading this post I feel like going there as soon as possible. I don’t want to miss visiting these charming palaces at all.

  • Looks like we’re heading to the Leh Ladakh palaces soon so! It’s a shame that their structures are starting to fall apart, it would be sad to lose so much history but I guess there’s not much that can be done with the weather!

  • These are such beautiful buildings but it’s disheartening to know how vulnerable they are. It’s not hard to imagine how a mild earthquake or an act of vandalism or even just a few more years of harsh weather could reduce them to rubble. I hope they get the protection they deserve

  • Thanks for sharing this very informative post. I had never heard of the Ladakh Palaces before so it’s always nice to find out abut new places. I think they all look great with some great architecture and history. But I think the Shey Palace and Zamskhang Palace would be my top pick. I like the fact that they are not reachable by car and that you need to hike there. A bit of hiking is always great!

  • The palaces of Leh-Ladakh are pretty spartan compared to other palaces in India. But their simplicity is really beautiful and elegant. I especially loved the windows and balconies of Leh palace. They have such a beautiful and symmetric elegance. It is sad that most of these palaces are in poor shape. Hope more efforts are put in to restore/conserve these treasures.

  • Oh wow, what an interesting post. I never even heard of these palaces and now I want to check them out. I am hoping to get to this region of India one day so hopefully I get the chance to do this before they disappear. 🙁

  • I remember seeing building ruins in Morocco. There, the buildings are made from mud and straw, and have to be rebuilt every ten years or so. The ruins that we saw were not that old (perhaps 10 or 20 years?) and may well be gone by now. It’s interesting how fast places can change due to the environment.

  • Even after visiting Ladakh for six times, I can’t get enough of it. I saw all the places you mentioned above on my first trip. After that, I have always gone to the more offbeat parts and that too in off season as you get to see the real beauty of Ladakh at that time.

  • Wow! Even the ruins here look magnificent . I’d most like to visit the Stok Palace and see the Kings and Queens room. Plus the view from up there must be gorgeous!

  • It is really tragic that these places are at risk of being destroyed. Is their only risk neglect? Hopefully, this will raise awareness and increase tourism and then make them more popular and more likely to be saved.

  • I love how every palace is full of history. It’s just sad that it might disappear one day, but I hope their stories will live on. My favorite is the Stok Palace! The view around it is just beautiful!

  • Wow for the price of some of these I definitely need to go see before they are gone!! I had no idea there were so many palaces!! My favorite is the Shey Palace with all the wood mixed with stone. So beautiful.

  • Stunning pictures! I love how old the palaces are and how they’re still pretty much in tact! We don’t have that many structures in my country that are nearly that old, so this is pretty awesome to experience!

  • Some really beautiful palaces and architecture that you photographed really well! I think Stok Palace is my favorite. The worn palaces are beautiful in a way, but it’s sad that they are decomposing so much that they will disappear. Is there no money for repairs or is it just general apathy that the government doesn’t really care to do the necessary repairs?

  • I hadn’t heard of Leh Ladakh until now, but it certainly looks like a really interesting place. It’s incredible to see all of the artifacts and palaces are still in such good shape and sad to know they may not be one day.

  • It is sad that no one had initiate to restore these artifacts and old buildings. Such a shame if these will completely vanish.

  • Oh my! I haven’t heard of the palaces of Leh Ladakh and its really scary to know that they’re disappearing.. I really hope these are brought under ASI or some protection and preserved before they’re totally lost. Shey Palace looks just too stunning!!!

  • Wow, this is absolutely breathtaking, I just love it . I can’t believe that northern parts of India don’t get as much recognition as the rest of the country. I’d love to return to India and this time experience the north. I love the mountains and the photos of the architecture blending into the landscapes are so tempting…

  • THe only palace that I managed to go to was the Leh palace 🙁 How I wish I had time to do the rest of them. Shey palace looks so intriguing. Love your pics. Cheers

  • I have been to Leh palace twice. I also explored the nearby heritage buildings on foot. The sweeping views of Leh city from the palace are spectacular. I had not even heard of the Chiktan palace before I stumbled upon this blog. I must visit it next time.

  • Your pictures are beautiful! These places seem great to explore and hopefully they don’t disappear anytime soon so more people get to enjoy it. It’s great you got to see them now just in case they aren’t around for long!

  • Out of all these I have only been to two! Leh Palace and Shey Palace they were. We attempted visiting Stok but it was shut on that day. The rest I never knew they existed. Thank you so much for informing the world about them through your blog.

  • These are truly amazing works of architecture. I am amazed with Chiktan Palace and how it overlooks the town below. I have to visit these soon!

  • This was such a detailed post. Leh Ladakh has been on our list for quite some time now. We will be using this blog post for the details when planning our trip. PS: Really cool pictures too. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Woow! I never knew there were so many palaces in Ladakh. I have only seen the Leh Palace and the royal home at Turtuk. But after going through your post, looks like I should plan another trip to explore the amazing places that I missed visiting.

  • Oh no, all those beauty.. I can’t bear to see them disappear just like that. Definitely have to add this to my travel list! Well written out 🙂 Thanks!

  • Hey, great post on these palaces! Such beautiful architecture! I hope these stay around forever. Everyone should be able to have a chance to share in their beauty. Great informative post!

  • Palaces of Ladakh are crumbling facades of yesteryears, still surviving the harsh landscape. I suppose Stok Palace is one of the best preserved. The wine container hanging from the ceiling is so fascinating. I would love to see the interiors in detail.

  • They’re all magnificent, but there’s something pretty darn special about Leh Palace it seems. The photos make that structure seem larger than life, and I’d love the opportunity to come and visit and see for myself.

  • Castles and palace ruins are some of my favorite places to visit. These palaces that you have showed us are all fantastic! Chiktan Palace is so old, no wonder there are ghost stories surrounding the ruins.

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