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.
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.
Entry Fee: Free
Reached by: Car and few stairs
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.
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.
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.
Built in: 17th century
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Location: On Hillock Shey, overlooking the Shey Village. 13 km from the Leh city on Manali – Leh highway;
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 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.
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.
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.
5. Stok Palace
Built in: 19th century
Location: 15 km away from the Leh city on the Stok road.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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