Leh is 475km (295 miles) from Manali

The region of Ladakh, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, has often been described as a moonscape, a desolate high-altitude desert kingdom of mysticism and mystery. It is all of these, and more, a thoroughly awe-inspiring world of harsh reality, with few luxuries. Local lives are centered around Buddhism, yaks, and survival, and more recently on the small tourism industry that sprouts in the relatively warmer months of the year (July-Sept).

Leh, Ladakh's capital city, is little touched by rain, but the extreme cold during the long winter season means that this remote region remains isolated for much of the year. Come June, however, when the tourists begin to trickle (and then pour) into Leh, the sober, somber slumber of this remote high-altitude town lifts along with the temperatures. Situated in a fertile valley at the foot of Namgyal Tsemo peak, 8km (5 miles) northeast of the Indus River, Leh is deeply reliant on this short, intense tourist season. From June to September the surrounding barren mountains and distant snowcapped peaks are the perfect natural backdrop for the verdant fields and avenues of trees that cluster around the whitewashed, flat-roofed buildings.

Developed as a market for traders from across the North India belt, Leh was an important stop for travelers traversing the challenging caravan routes to Yarkand and Kashgar. The Silk Road brought Buddhist travelers, and today the population remains predominantly Buddhist. You can spend up to a week exploring the town and the numerous Buddhist monuments within a 2- or 3-hour drive of Leh; far better, though, to head off to more remote (and less touristed) monasteries, such as Lamayuru. If you plan properly, you can head over the Khardung-La (the highest motorable pass on earth) into the spectacular Nubra Valley to discover more remote and time-trapped villages and monasteries, set against extraordinary slopes. Adventure-seekers can get caught up in river-rafting on the Zanskar and Indus, high-level mountain-climbing, or treks into remote, barren wilderness regions, which can easily extend your stay by an additional week, or more. The more laid-back traveler will be rewarded by awe-inspiring excursions to high-altitude lakes such as Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri.