Forts Palaces

The section of the Indus Valley from Upshi down to Khalatse, a stretch of about150 kms, is the region's historic heartland as well. It is dotted with all the major sites connected with the former kingdom's history, starting with Leh, the royal capital since the building of the Leh Palace. Some distance upstream the Indus is Shey, Ladakh's most ancient capital, with its palaces and temples. Downstream the Indus are the ruins of Basgo, located just above the highway, and Tingmosgang, situated a short distance up a side-valley, both served as royal capitals when the Old Kingdom was temporarily divided into two parts during the 15th century. Just across the Indus from Leh is Stok village which was assigned to the deposed royal family in lieu of the loss of the Leh throne to the Dogra conquerors of Ladakh. Stok Palace, where the royal family now lives, houses a museum of artifacts associated with the Namgyal dynasty.


Leh Palace - This is an impressive piece of architecture which lends to the town an impressive backdrop, rendering to Leh the ambience of a heritage town. It catches the attention of the tourists almost immediately due to its dramatic location on the Palace Hill, overlooking the town. It was built as the royal residence by King Singge Namgyal during the 17th century. Although much smaller in size, Leh Palace resembles the Potala in Lhasa, built over half a century later, and believed to have been inspired by the former. The Palace is built in the medieval Tibetan architectural style, featuring colossal inclined buttressed walls and protruding wooden balconies. It is nine storeys high; the upper floors accommodated the royal family, while the stables and store rooms were in the lower floors. Leh palace was the home of the royal family until they were exiled to Stok in the 1830s. The Victory Tower set above the palace was built to commemorate the victory of Ladakhi soldiers over the invading Balti army in the early 16th century. Leh Palace is currently being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is open for visitors and the roof provides panoramic views of the town and the surrounding areas.

Shey Palace - Shey palace (12 kms) is the most important citadel of Ladakh, both from historical and cultural view point. Located on a hillock above the bed of the Indus, it was the ancient capital of the kingdom. It is also believed to have been the capital of the pre-Tibetan Chiefs of Upper Ladakh, presumably the descendants of Kesar, the folk hero of the Tibetan cultural region. The ruined remains of an ancient fortification above the present palace indicate the antiquity and importance of the site. Inscriptions found at the site by A.H. Francke suggest that Shey was the capital fort of the whole kingdom which was established during the 10th century by descendants of Nima-gon, the fugitive prince from the central Tibetan ruling dynasty. It became the formal capital of the Namgyal dynasty during the 16th century.

There are several places of worship incorporated in the palace complex. These include the temple containing the gigantic copper-gilt image of a seated Sakyamuni, which was commissioner by King Deldan Namgyal (late 17th century). The lamps burning in front of this image include an enormous one of silver encrusted with turquoises, which is said to hold enough butter to keep it burning for a year. Within the complex there are two Tantric shrines as well as a temple of the Buddha Amitabha, the meditation Buddha.

The other place of worship is a temple called Tresthang Gonpa located outside the main palace building. It also contains a gigantic image of a seated Buddha, installed by King Singge Namgyal (mid 17th century). This image is so large that one walks around the base of the image on the ground floor and then around the shoulder and head when one ascends to the next floor. It is believed that Nepalese craftsmen were specially brought for erecting this image. These craftsmen were subsequently settled at Chilling, where their descendants continue to carry out their craft in metals. The walls surrounding the image have very fine mural paintings of the sixteen Arhats and other Buddhist personalities such as Padmasambhava, Atisa & Tsong-kha-pa. The annual festival of Shey Srubla is held in this monastery.

Stok Palace:- Stok Palace (20 kms) is the present residence of the former royal family of Ladakh, after the Namgyal family was divested of their rule by the Dogra invaders during the mid 19th century. The palace was built by King Teswang Tundup Namgyal in 1825. The last king of Ladakh died here in 1974. The palace has a museum displaying the heirloom of the royal family besides religious art objects. In the queen's chamber can be seen royal ornaments such as the beautifully crafted turquoise studded perak (head dress), the queen's crown as well as the necklace of the Balti Princess, Gyal Khatun. In the king's room there are exquisite thangkas on display, including a set of 35 depicting the life of Sakyamuni, which is said to date from the 16th century during the reign of Tashi Nmagyal. Other artifacts here include silver chortens, the king's crown, a 7th century image of Avalokitesvara as well as jade cups, fine porcelain and ritual objects.


The Palace Gompa is situated behind the museum and contains some ritual dance masks and frescoes. The annual festival of "Stok Guru Tseshu" is held here during December-January. On this occasion the Oracle of Stok appears and answers questions relating to future events.

Castle of Tingmo-gang - Tingmo-sgang lies at about 92 Kms west of the Leh. The castle of Tingmo-gang was built at the time when Gragpa Bum, younger brother of the 17th century Ladakhi king Takspa Bum-Lde was ruling over Sham area. A contemporary construction to this is the Red Chapel "Tsuglagkhang Marpo "containing a 3-storey high image of the Buddha Maitreya. It was also during this period that the self-originated image of Avalokitesvara from Assam (Kamrup) was brought & installed in the castle of Tingmosgang.

Copyright © 2011 Caravan Travels & Tours