Ladakh Photo Expedition



Ladakh Photo Tour 16 Days

Tour commences at Delhi ; Overnight in Delhi

After breakfast, meet up with the Shoot Director, who will mentor the team throughout the tour. Have an ice-breaking session with the shoot director and discuss the photography you are interested in taking. Make sure you show your previous photographed photos to your mentor in order to seek his guidance. The capital of India-Delhi is a fantastic place to shoot pictures. In the morning get ready for the Himalayan Adventure

Fly to Leh, Ladakh – Rest and acclimatization – Leh Fort – Tsemo Palace – Shanti Stupa – Overnight at Leh hotel

Fly to Leh, Ladakh – Rest and acclimatization and then head for Leh Fort, Tsemo Palace and Shanti Stupa
This morning, fly to Leh, Ladakh which is a 90-minute flight. The flight is a great chance to photograph the top of the Himalayan Mountains. The views will take your breath away — and so will the Leh landing, partly because the aircraft descends through the mountains in a series of steep zig-zags & into Leh’s tiny but well-equipped airport.
Acclimatisation is vital, so we’ll take it slow on arrival: we’ll settle in at the hotel where your Shoot Director will brief you on the visual delights and challenges coming over the next few days, and what to expect when you are out there shooting and exploring.
Early afternoon, we’ll set out by car to the 17th-century Leh Fort, the most famous landmark in town. From the Fort there’s a short trail up to Tsemo Palace; the light walking can help you acclimatise, but we’ll gladly rush you to the top by car if you prefer. At the top is a big reward: sweeping 360° views of Leh, the valley and its surrounding mountains, which includes the well-known Stok Kangri Peak, towering in the distance at a height of 6,137m.
Late in the afternoon, we head to Leh’s other great panoramic point, the Shanti Stupa. The view from here is quite different to the one from Leh Palace: you get a sense of the huge mountain spaces, and the illuminated town in the late ‘blue’ evening light makes for compelling images. Then we’ll go back to the hotel.

Phyang Tserup – Overnight at Leh hotel

On the hills above the village of Phyang sits its grand red-and-white monastery. There has been a religious structure here since the 1500’s but the historic connections go back even further because this monastery honours the founder of the Drigungpa School, some 850 years ago.
This is a relatively large and grand monastery, much visited compared with tiny and remote Korzok where we will find ourselves in another few days. The paintings, murals and thangkas are just a visual delight, and you’ll be taken aback by the antique bronze images — many hundreds of years old — adorning the walls and displays alongside fearsome masks, stuffed animals and rare Buddhist artefacts.
We’re here during Phyang’s annual monastery festival, Phyang Tserup, and everything is presented at its best — including a gigantic, five-storey-high thangka which is brought out only during the festival we are attending. In the main courtyard, complex and ancient dramatizations of legends are acted out by monks wearing rich costumes and fierce masks. The drums bang, the huge trumpet-horns clarion, the bells ring and cymbals clash — and the attending crowd watch the spectacle with a breathless zeal.

To the Nubra Valley –Khardung-La pass – Exploring the villages – An encounter with Royalty – Portraits and people

After breakfast, visit Nubra which means garden in Ladakhi — and it aptly describes parts of the surprising northern Ladakh valley we’re visiting today. Surprising, this valley is home to all of the following: a high-altitude desert, complete with Bactrian Camels and wind-carved dunes; vast fertile tree-lined grassy expanses; sky-reflecting blue lakes; and huge tracts of golden barley and purple lavender.
To get to the Nubra valley, we head out from Leh on a picturesque five-hour journey over Khardung-La, which claims to be the highest motorable road in the world. Whether or not you accept the proud sign at Khardung-La Pass claiming to be 5,602m above the distant Indian Ocean, this place is pretty exclusive and a few group souvenir photos are certainly in order. This high point behind us, we descend to Diskit in the Nubra valley — at 3,144m actually lower in altitude than Leh — and drive along the banks of the Shyok river, where a bit of patience, a touch of luck and a long telephoto might capture your red fox, partridge, hare, weasel and migratory ducks resting in river pools.
If the light is good you’ll be asking to stop every mile or so to capture an amazing atmospheric river valley landscape, a field of shockingly vivid lavender or yellow barley, or just to ask our Shoot Director to set us up with an impromptu roadside shoot with passing Ladakhis.
And here in the Nubra villages, we have other fascinating local encounters waiting for our cameras: Ladakhi people going about their everyday lives, special opportunities for portraiture, and even a meeting with a family with a story of unbroken royal lineage.

In the Nubra Valley – The dunes at Sumur – The monastery at Diskit – The road to Baltistan – Overnight in the Nubra valley

Here, high up amongst the world’s tallest peaks, with snowcaps glinting in the distance, the last thing you expect is a sand dune. But thanks to the peculiarities of local geography and the natural rain shadow of the Himalayas, that’s precisely what we find at Sumur — and they make for a fascinating, often surreal forms and landscapes in the low light of morning.
Later, we head to the Diskit monastery — a real cliff-hanger, this one, clinging in a picturesque pile to the side of a precipitous hill.
We’ll engage with the monks and shoot inside and outside the monastery: this is a productive and beautiful place to shoot, rich in character and worn textures, with fabulous rooftop views over the valley.
As we leave the monastery, another photo opportunity is the massive 32m tall Buddha statue, recently built with local funding (including a rumoured 8kg of solid gold) and consecrated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2010. It sits impassively on a hillock below the monastery, all red and green and gold, a surreal sight in the late evening sun as it gazes steadily down the Shyok River.
And we’ll carry on down the valley road to the home of the Baltistan people, some of the most charming and photogenic people we’ll be meeting on this trip.

Time with the Balti people – Friendly faces in remote places – Overnight amongst the Balti people
Your Shoot Director is not just a professional, highly published photographer: he’s an ethnographer too, and he’s in his element because today he leads us to a remote, little-visited village close to the border with Pakistan. In fact, in cultural terms we enter Baltistan, most of which falls geographically under Pakistan’s control.
Baltistan is noticeably different from what we’ve seen over the last few days. The language, the culture, the mode of dress and the history are connected with Ladakh and Ladakhis, but where we find ourselves today is a small and picturesque Muslim settlement whose people draw upon Tibetan and Dardic ancestry with a liberal sprinkling of Kashmiri, Arab, Persian and even Turkish influences. It’s a stunning combination in a friendly and welcoming ethnic group, little-visited and even less photographed.
Under your Shoot Director’s sensitive guidance, we’ll meet and mingle and get permission to photograph the lives and livelihoods of the residents of this narrow valley. As we talk, have tea and take photographs, we’ll be surrounded by wheat-fields, the sweet scent of sun-drying apricots, the mighty Karakoram mountains (we’re just a 100 miles or so from mighty K2, the world’s second-highest peak) and thought-provoking insights into a lovely people caught up in a complex history and an even more complex future.
Time with the Balti people – On to the dunes and camels at Hundar

Today, we’ll spend another morning with our new friends amongst the Balti people, then take to our vehicles for the drive to Hundar.
Here once again we take time for photographic experimentation in a high-altitude desert, taking advantage of the crystal-clear light and pure Himalayan air. The famous grey-white dunes at Hundar have been sculpted by winds barrelling down the Shyok river valley. It’s a great place to explore: nearby towering dark mountains dwarf the human figures below while sunlight, cloud and moisture are the lead actors staging an awe-inspiring special-effects show for us over the Shyok valley.
Take your kit and go exploring, looking for abstracts and landscapes — or ask your Shoot Director to show you how he would approach the opportunities in these billowing sands.
Even when you know what to expect, this surreal desert can take some getting used to: in a single photograph you can capture desert dunes, camels and impossibly high mountains with snow-capped peaks. Sometimes it seems perfectly natural; sometimes, it looks like nature got it wrong, mixing up the stage set with the wrong photographic backdrop.
We’ll shoot here for a good while, learning how to manage the captured colour of the sand (silver to grey to white) and, light permitting, how to use shadows to emphasise the wind-patterned ripples. Then we’ll scout around for the small, often hidden water-pools fed by underground springs, which could give us brilliant creative opportunities for sky-mountain reflections in our landscape shots.
Back at our comfortable Nubra guesthouse, we’ll chat and socialise, participate in a group review session, or just settle down with laptops and cameras and start counting the treasures we’ve collected over the last 36 hours with the Balti people.

Return to Leh – Over Khardung-La pass – Overnight at Leh hotel

Come morning, we pile into our vehicles and depart the Nubra Valley, taking that long, winding road over the Khardung-La pass back to Leh. With the right weather, this has got to be one of the great scenic drives in the world: the views, the mountains in the distance, the hairpin bends and the photo opportunities as clouds move in and out, dappling the land below and painting it in varying intensities of colour. After checking back in to our hotel, we’ll spend the afternoon exploring Leh and its market.

To Korzok and Tsomo-Riri lake: Road trip over Tanglang-La pass – Tso-Kar lake and landscapes – The azure lake – Overnight at Korzok fixed camp or guesthouse

Over the next three days we’re going to encounter some of the strongest impressions and most powerful image possibilities of the entire tour — and yes, that’s saying an awful lot given the amazing days of photography we’ve already had here in Ladakh.
Today, over a long road trip, we’ll encounter mountainscapes so vast that the average wide-angle lens will still feel claustrophobic. We’ll transit high passes, drop into stunning valleys so elevated that plants, animals and people must struggle to eke out a living even in the summer, and we’ll engage with nomads whose identity, well-being and ancient way of life are under threat, ironically, from the improvements an increasingly wealthy India is bringing to their lives.
We’ll set off early in our vehicles, cheating the formidable mountain barrier standing between us and our destination by driving a road so looped and contorted that it looks like a vandal has scribbled on the map. Crossing at Tanglang-La, the second-highest pass in Ladakh at 5,359m, we enter the Rupshu valley and witness landscapes distinctly different from the ones we’ve so far experienced over West. The spaces here are just as deep and tall — vast ranges where all the peaks are over 6,000m in height — but the open spaces are wider, the lakes are vast and filled variously with salt and fresh water. This is the high Changtang Plateau.
If time permits and the light is beautiful, we’ll stop awhile at Kyagar Tso, a small but stunning lake en route to Korzok. All the while, we’re looking for that elusive but ever-present combination: light, land forms, water and colour, sky and cloud formations, and when these come together you’ll begrudge even the essential pauses to change batteries.
And then we move on again through the high plateau until we reach our lodgings at Tsomo-Riri Lake — perhaps our most amazing lake yet.

At Korzok: Korzok Gustor festival – Masks, dances and the big stick – Korzok village – Overnight at Korzok fixed camp or guesthouse.

Today we’ll witness and shoot our second monastery festival — Korzok Gustor, held in the monastery at Korzok on the edge of Tsomo-Riri lake.
Your first impression will be of crowds, colour, and an anticipatory buzz. Ladakhis from valleys far and wide have been drawn to this spot like honeybees returning to the hive: Changpa nomad families and colourfully dressed locals of all descriptions are here to witness days of pure religious theatre. Of course, all of this high drama and religious fervour takes place against the stunning backdrop of snow-capped peaks and Tsomo-Riri Lake itself. When you do wander down to Tsomo-Riri, you’ll gasp, you’ll rub your eyes in disbelief, and you’ll shoot, because there is something about this high-plateau setting — the constantly shifting colour of the salted water, the tawny buffs and tans of the surrounding snow-capped peaks, the mirror-reflectivity on calm days that puts sky and clouds both above and below your photograph’s horizon-line — that inspires every photographer.

Up close with the Changpa – Goats, kids and goat-kids – Korzok village – The other side of Tsomo-Riri – Overnight at Korzok fixed camp or guesthouse.

Tsomo-Riri Lake is a beautiful high-altitude lake on the shores of which sits the little hamlet of Korzok, where we find ourselves this morning. We’re here for the beauty of the lake, for small but stunning Korzok Gompa, and for a close engagement with the Changpa nomadic people.
We’ve come out this way to camp, like the Changpa, on the shores of this stunning salt lake — albeit we’ll be enjoying slightly more up-to-date facilities.
At Korzok monastery and in the village around it, you come face to face with the collision of an ancient lifestyle with the 21st century. Increasing prosperity, the lure of the comforts of modern life, economic pressures, the dying out of old traditions and emergence of new opportunities… many young Changpa today will choose not to bring up their families in the yak-hair tents of their parents.
Your Shoot Director, a Ladakh veteran with many Changpa friends and acquaintances, is here to get you close — real close. Although impossible to predict as the nomads come and go, expect to shoot in their tents over smoky stoves and altars and sheepskin beds, play with their children, walk with their animals and, sometimes, just sit quietly as they chatter, soaking up the atmosphere and taking truly privileged photographs.
Perhaps, too, you’ll find yourself shooting with a story in mind rather than single images. We promise you much to think about and many contradictions to resolve. For example, how should we feel about the popularity of Pashmina goods — one of their key sources of income — when this drives them to keep more sheep and goats on a hard-pressed land, and delivers to them the funds to buy the 4x4s that displace and push their ancient yak- and horse-herds into decline?
Later, we’ll take a break from this intense encounter and explore the beauty of Tsomo-Riri Lake. Our Shoot Director has some special vantage points up his sleeve and, with the right light; photographic miracles could be waiting for us.

Return to Leh – With luck, Tso-Kar Lake – Overnight at Leh hotel

After breakfast we leave the spectacular serenity of Tsomo-Riri and head back on the long mountain roads to our comparatively hectic base at Leh.
If time and weather permit, we’ll detour around Tso Kar, another spectacular mountain lake, where we may see kiang, marmots, blue sheep, gazelle, antelope, lynx and — with extreme good fortune — even snow leopard and grey wolves. On the wing, horned larks, sand grouse, bar-headed geese, black-necked cranes and many more varieties. A lot of these are under threat from retreating glaciers and diminishing snows which release ever-smaller quantities of water into the lakes, resulting in lake shrinkage and habitat loss.
Tso-Kar used to be gently mined for its salt by the Ladakhi and Tibetan nomads — this is another high lake with no way of losing water except by evaporation so, over centuries, the salts washed in with the meltwaters build up to create a brackish potpourri rather than the pure eau-de-Himalaya you might have expected.
This is the roving-ground of the Changpa, who are technically nomadic pastoralists. For these incredibly hardy and amazingly cheerful people, almost everything they have comes ultimately from plants — which provide food for their animals, which in turn provide them with meat, cheese, butter and even the roof over their heads. Plant life at these rarefied and cold heights is tenuous and fragile, hence the nomadic lifestyle which sees the Changpa up sticks and move from one temporary encampment to another, literally seeking fresh pastures and avoiding overgrazing.
We’ll reach Leh by evening, exhausted but exhilarated, with a comfortable and pleasant night ahead and exciting new explorations tomorrow morning.

To Moonland – Lamayuru Monastery – Life in a secret village – Overnight at Leh hotel.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all in Ladakh, along comes Lamayuru.
A number of very shootworthy spectacles bring us here. There is a stunning cliffhanger of a monastery, and as the light changes we’ll choose the right moment to be visiting the interior of the monastery or waiting at a favourite vantage point for an award-winning confluence of sky, land and monastery.
Then there’s the landscape itself around Lamayuru. Again, at the right time of day, mesmerising forms of light and shadow emerge from the spectacularly crumpled landforms that give this area its informal tag of “moonland.”
There’s a charming and authentic village — Lamayuru itself — where all the tourists go. And then there’s where our Shoot Director takes us, a remote, hard-to-get-to place, where the people and lifestyle photography opportunities come thick and fast.
So many reasons, in fact, that we’ll stay the night here in a simple but competent guesthouse before our return to Leh the next morning.

Moonland at dawn – Back to Leh – Hidden lanes, byways and shopping in Leh – Overnight at Leh hotel

For the intrepids amongst us, our Shoot Director will lead an optional trip into the moonscapes of Lamayuru, leaving well before dawn to capture the first delicate fingers of morning light. (If you’d rather just have a lie-in and a relaxing local stroll, you sure can!)
When the dawn-hunters return with their morning catch, we’ll get back on the road to Leh and spend the rest of the day at leisure there, exploring the market and the old mud town alleys, or perhaps teaming up with our Shoot Director for a guided foray looking for people, conversations, experiences and photographs amongst the friendly people of Leh.
Leh may be a relatively small town (population around 30,000) but it’s played an important role as a stopover on the ancient Indus Valley trade routes between Tibet, Kashmir and China. Traders heading for exotic places like Yarkand, Khotan and Kashgar made Leh an important commercial hub, bazaar and bartering point. And it’s into this old bit of history we delve today, as we saunter through the medieval lanes and alleyways of Leh’s Old Town, shooting as we go, grabbing images of mud-brick houses, crumbling chortens and slices of town life.
All the alleys lead to the main bazaar, where we’ll photograph the daily goings-about of shopkeepers and vendors. Excellent portrait opportunities present themselves here: you’ll give that mid-telephoto a serious workout.
Here we’ll lurk by ancient archways, waiting for that little playing child to walk into frame and give us that splash of colour and interest. Here too, the ladies chatting on their doorsteps, the sudden crowd around the tandoor ovens as men stop for fresh bread to put on the family table.

Thiksey and conches at dawn – Shey Palace and the chorten field – Hemis – Close-encounter portraiture – Overnight at Leh hotel

Today is the last full day of the tour!
At the first glimmer of dawn we’re up, heading out the door with a portable breakfast to shoot one of the most photographed monasteries in Ladakh.
Forty road minutes later, we’re at Thiksey. And Thiksey (especially in the right light) is simply spectacular. Tier upon tier of buildings rise on a crag above the River Indus, white fronts bouncing the prevailing light back at you against the deep Ladakh sky. With chortens in the foreground and the monastery buildings in the middle distance, you’re shooting practically before you’ve got out the car.
And it gets better — way better. We ascend to a monastery rooftop and the wide zooms come out fast, because here stand two monks, side-lit by the dawn light, blowing conch shells and huge bass horns to rouse the villagers from their beds in the green valley below. Who knows, maybe one of your favourite images of the trip will click right then and there.
We wander next through the monastery complex, the photo opportunities coming thick and fast. (You know those iconic National Geographic-style Tibetan/Ladakhi/Buddhist shots that got you all fired up about coming here in the first place! — They probably came right out of this same monastery.
The daily morning rituals — prayers, breakfast, the shaven-headed little monks buzzing around with their chores; spinning meditation wheels; mysterious low-key 500-year-old monastery interiors draped in rich fabrics, propped by scarred wooden posts and gnarled beams and lit by smoky shafts of morning sunlight; and this wonderful 15m Buddha that everyone shoots and then ponders how to shoot differently.
Everything a travel-shooter could want is here: tiny details, strong shapes and symmetries, colour contrasts, patinas and textures, low-light interiors, landscapes over the valley, human interest, observational shooting…
We tear ourselves away to go a few minutes north to Shey, a palace and a monastery that also tumbles splendidly down a hillock. Once the home of royalty — the Namgyal Kings were required to father their sons here — it now houses the largest metal statue of Buddha in Ladakh. It’s 7.5m high, built from Zanskar copper hammered out into sheets on a nearby rock and gilded with five kilograms of solid gold. Spectacular shooting.
From here we head to the ancient graveyard, where row upon surreal row of chortens rise from the barren expanses. We then head for a close encounter with traditional Ladakhi lifestyles: in a farmhouse, where we will be offered butter tea and photographic opportunities into both contemporary and old Ladakhi homes and ways of life. It’s a unique mix of real-world people encounters and insights, with opportunities to make beautiful occupational portraits.
Back in Leh we’re free to stroll around, exploring, shooting and grabbing opportunistic slices of life in the narrow, ancient lanes and archways. Want to get in behind the scenes at the tandoor where they’re churning out roti for hungry passersby on their way home? A word from your Shoot Director, friendly crowds part and before you know it you’re in the thick of the production line.

Flight from Leh to Delhi – End of a journey

We’ll catch the morning plane back to Delhi, gazing wistfully downwards as we climb above the Himalayas. When we first flew in, these mountains were daunting strangers; as we leave, we’ll know them at least a little better — and will be taking special moments back home with them on our camera cards.
On arrival at Delhi airport, the tour ends. You’re perfectly positioned to catch your international flight home or, if you’ve decided to extend your time with us to shoot Delhi, Agra or Jaipur, the next adventure begins.
Hope you enjoyed the shutter bugging in Ladhakh J