Leh town offers a number of sightseeing options for the visitors. A historic town that served as the royal capital of the Old Kingdom, it is dominated by the nine-storey palace built by King Singge Namgyal in the grand tradition of Tibetan architecture, which is said to have inspired the famous Potala in Lhasa built about half a century later.
Above the palace, on the Namgyal Tsemo hill, are the ruins of a fort, the earliest royal residence built by King Tashi Namgyal in the 16th century. The associated temples remain intact, but they are kept locked except during the morning and evening hours, when a monk from Sankar Gompa hikes up the hill to attend to the butter-lamps in front of the images.
Down in the historic bazaar, the main sites to visit are the Jo-khang, a newly built Buddhist temple, and the imposing historic mosque founded in the late 17th century standing, almost opposite. But the pleasures of Leh are not confined to the visiting of monuments and sites. For locals and visitors alike, a stroll along the main bazaar, observing the varied crowd and looking into the curio shops is an engaging experience. A particularly attractive sight is the line of women from nearby villages sitting along the edge of the footpath with baskets of fresh vegetables brought for sale. Behind the main bazaar, Chang Gali is less bustling but has interesting little shops selling curios and jewellery. Further on are the labyrinthine alleyways and piled-up houses of the old town, clustering around the foot of the palace hill. In the other direction, down the bazaar, are the Tibetan markets where one can bargain for pearls, turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli and many other kinds of semi-precious stones and jewellery, as well as carved yak-horn boxes, quaint brass locks, china or metal bowls, or any of a whole array of curios. When tired of strolling, one can step into any of several restaurants, some of them located in gardens or on the sidewalks and serve local, Tibetan, Indian and Continental cuisine.
Or one can strike off away from the bazaar, past Zangsti and the Moravian Church to the Ladakh Ecological Centre and appreciate the work being done by this NGO in applying folk technology to meet the demands of modern life in Ladakh. From here a footpath across the fields leads to Sankar Gompa, which is half an hour’s walk away.
Or one can leave the main road from the bazaar near the Moravian Church and turn off to Changspa, an attractive suburb of Leh, lying below the hill on which stands the imposing Ladakh Shanti Stupa, which can be reached by a winding road. Down past the Tourist Information Centre in the old dak Bungalow, follow the Fort Road to Skara, another pretty and prosperous suburb of Leh town, and admire the earthen ramparts of Zorawar Singh's fort, now housing army barracks. This road continues onward, swinging around the village to meet the main highway near a crossroad, where the roads from Srinagar and Manali meet. A branch of this road turns southward and traverses the interior of Skara to meet the main highway near the airport, an excellent drive through the heart of the sprawling village.
There are also several attractive sightseeing and walking destinations within a 10-km radius of Leh. Sabu, a charming village with a small gompa, nestles between two minor spurs of the Ladakh range, about 9 kms away from the town. In the same direction, but nearer town is Choglamsar, with the Tibetan refugee settlement including a children’s village, a handicrafts centre devoted largely to carpet weaving and the Dalai Lama's prayer-ground, Jiva-tsal. And in the opposite direction, about 8 kms on the Srinagar road, is the turning for Spituk village and its imposing monastery.