Eka Experiences

Kharyog: A Timeless Journey in the Capital of Ladakh

Team Eka

It is easy to confuse Leh Ladakh with its rustic barrens having a worn-out charm. Even at a first glimpse, the city tries to put itself under a misguiding veil. For a traveler, it is essential that the book is never judged by its cover. 

The preconceived notions about Ladakh shift, as one gradually takes a grand entry through the gates of Kharyog. It has the transformative ability to take you back through the fabric of time. Traveling not only lets you connect to nature but also makes you open to the journey of life. Let us have a sneak peek into this mystical land that has seen turmoil, peace, instability, and tranquility. Yet, it has successfully evaded the ravages and kept its essence intact.

Yarkund Mission
Photo taken by Edward Francis Chapman in 1873, part of the Dunlop Smith Collection: Sir Charles Aitchison Album of Views in India and Burma. The view looks across the bazaar towards the Leh Palace in the distance. The( Yarkand Mission of 1873-74 )
Leh Palace and Old City Ladakh Leisure Tour_Eka Experiences
Present day view of Leh Palace and a section of Kharyog below

A Bird’s Eye View of Kharyog

Kharyog, or mkharyog, as pronounced by the locals isn’t a specific location. In the Tibetan dialect, Khar refers to the palace and Yog refers to below. So, the expanse of area below the palace was considered to be included under Kharyog. 

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, Kharyog was the epicenter of Leh, the capital of ladakh, which made it a central hub of all stately activities. It was only during the mid-19th century that the Dogra dynasty of Jammu and Kashmir invaded the place and sent the royal family into exile. Despite the sad past of political turmoil, Kharyog has maintained its essence within its inner not-so-known parts.

A Grand Welcome Through the Maney Khang

Kharyog used to have five gates that opened at 6 in the morning and were closed by 8 at night. The main gate was made of wood and was known as the Maney-Khang. Two of these entry gates were also Buddhist stupas or Chortens that were major religious spots. Once you enter the town, you could see a jostling of activities with blacksmiths, dyers, bakers, and people chirping at all nooks and crooks. 

The chortens that also acted as gates or Kagans were a bustling hub of social activities. People gathered here for community prayers, discussions, and buying essential commodities. At present, the Maney Khang has shifted but the stupas continue to exist. Now, walking past the main market, one would’ve reached the royal kitchen gardens known as the Lobding or a land inundated with leaves.

Leh Palace and Old City Ladakh Leisure Tour_Eka Experiences
Leh Bazaar with the Palace above: Photo by Claude Rupert Trench Wilmot (1897-1961) from The Lost World of Ladakh

An Open Bioscope to the Social Past of Kharyog

The old capital of ladakh was fortified from all sides with a high wall, the entry points being the five gates or Kagan. The region consisted of an average of 120 houses that were arranged in an interesting hierarchy. 

The closest aides to the royals with higher positions in the court had their homes just below the palace. During marriages, this was an important standard that indicated social importance. The 9-storied castle of Kharyog was built by Tsemo Namgyal, from the Namgyal dynasty and the entirety of the region was divided into two compartments, each with 60 families. 

There was a prominent wall between these two settlements whose remnants exists even today. Inhabitants of the area shifted in an interesting seasonal shifting pattern between their summer and winter abodes. The former was called Gunsa and the latter was referred to as Yaksa. Yaksa was located amidst the greener parts of the valley and Gunsa was towards the rugged and barren parts.

Captain Robert Melville Clarke. Leh High Street. 1861.
Photo by Captain Robert Melville Clarke. Leh High Street. 1861 - ‘From Simla through Ladac and Cashmere’.
Leh City homes_Ladakh Leisure Tour_Eka Experiences
A section of Kharyog with the Namgyal Tsemo or Victory Peak at the top

Enchanted Alleys

All major roads through Kharyog are mainly accessible by pedestrians even today. Closely knit with a string of old-world architectural pieces, some roofs shade over the uneven roads. Bearing the footsteps of centuries, these roads are a spectator to the bittersweet moments of the pedestrians that have passed through them. 

Two major roads were the Chutey Rantak and Nowshar. The former consisted of a barley mill that supplied tsampa (Barley sattu), a staple of the locals. ‘Nowshar’ on the other hand was the home of Basti Ram, who founded the main Bazaar. His haveli or mansion still stands today at the edge of the market. 

Moreover, the community hall of Kharyog was also situated in Nowshar making it an important section of the town as well. The area was known as the Chang Gali referring to the indigenous local beer that was sold by the local women in the alleys. 

A Traveler’s Treasure: Today’s Kharyog

The curious eyes of a traveler should always try to find the hidden gems that are often overlooked. In this former capital of Ladakh, when gazed at, at a superficial level, you will only see a city adorned with its old-world charm and history. Yet there are plenty of gems that are easily overlooked.

Just when you have taken a stroll through the hustle-bustle of Maney Khang, you’ll reach the Sankar monastery. The 9-foot majestic sculpture of Avalokiteshwara or Chenrezig at the forefront was actually excavated at a depth of 4 feet from the floor of the monastery. 

If you want to immerse yourself in a peaceful ambiance, you can also visit the Mahakal temple which is located on the Victory peak of Kharyog and the Padmasambhava or the Chenzerig temple. Most of them are bejeweled with beautiful wall paintings and rock carvings that date back to the time when Kharyog was built. 

During the 1620s, Muslim traders started trading in Ladakh, during which they asked the locals to build a mosque in Tshas Soma or a contemporary garden. It is quite a pleasant scenario to see community brotherhood amidst all of these diversities.

The present-day Chutey Rantak houses some of the finest bakeries that are inspired by South Asia, Kashmir, and Tibet. With the most amazing Kulcha and Kablama (baked dough delicacies), you will be greeted with a generous and enticing waft in the air. The Balti bakers, that originally built the barley mill still make bread and have continued their generational occupations. 

In this street you’ll find small bakeries with the baker sitting cross-legged at the top of an insulated Tandoor (Furnace), occasionally taking out the crispy bread from its inner walls.It is often said that the path to a heart starts from the stomach and Kharyog has ample spots where you can taste mind-boggling delicacies while having a chit-chat with the locals.

 For the aesthetes, there’s more to be revealed. A 400-year-old tree resides here, that was originally planted by the royal teacher guru of Sengge Namgyal, the king of Leh. This tree is a mark of reverence to the local deity Tsug Tor. What is even more fascinating is that it is now taken care of by the local Sikh community who call it the Datun Sahib, or the toothbrush of Guru Nanak

Nowshar, on the other hand is the perfect tourist hub with vibgyor-tinged shops that sell traditional attire. The Tipi, Stutung, Bok and Kos are a people’s favorite and you may may even try or buy them while clicking pictures. 

Not only this, every essential or esoteric commodity is sold along the road. Astrologers, metalware artisans, and vendors can be seen thronging the streets. As a traveler, the architecture of Kharyog is a sight to behold. With dusty sandstone-like appearances, some of these houses are part of the first 250 settlements of the area.

A shop front in Nowshar selling Ladakhi robes, ritual objects and a variety of textiles.
A shop in Nowshar Photograph by Monisha Ahmed. Courtesy LAMO Visual Archive.
Leh Mosque
Jama Masjid square with a crowd of traders: Photograoh by Rupert Wilmot, 1934 from Lost World of Ladakh:
Covered Pathways Leh
Pathways in the alleys of the Kharyog_Photograph by Monisha Ahmed, 2017; courtesy LAMO Visual Archive (Sahapedia)
Balti Bakery Leh Ladakh
Balti bakers making bread. Photograph by Sharad Gohil, 2010; courtesy LAMO Visual Archive (Sahapedia)

An Eternal Souvenir

The historic Kharyog, as an inherent part of the old capital of Ladakh, is filled with surprising elements that will leave you awestruck. Even the dilapidated ruins of the oldest parts are now being restored gradually for you to relive the past immersively. If you want to visit this place on your Leh Ladakh Trip or want to do a personalized heritage walk,  feel free to connect with us.  

We will be happy to curate something special for you! Upholding responsible travel above all, it is the duty of every visitor to respect and maintain the heritage status of this incredible place. Once you visit, you will be compelled to carry the memories of Kharyog as the eternal souvenirs of your Ladakh journey.

And that’s not all folks! Ladakh is a treasure chest of adventures. From the vibrant Hemis Festival to the thrilling Snow Leopard ExpeditionTso Moriri TrekSham Valley and the frosty beauty of the Kashmir Winter Trek, there’s something for every soul-seeking adventure. Can’t wait to see where your feet take you next in this mesmerizing land!


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Team Eka

Team Eka

Contributed by our team of experiential travel experts, explorers and storytellers.