There is a fair amount to see and do in Leh itself, but the real highlights of the Leh Valley are the many monasteries between 10km and 20km from town.
Matho Monastery is one of the best located in Leh, high up the valley side with stunning views. The contrast is extreme between irrigated greenery and barren rock, surrounded by snow capped mountains, a similar landscape to my travels last year in the Hindu Kush.
The building itself was attractively laid out around a courtyard.
Off which were various temple rooms, beautiful, colourful and intricate.
Thikse Monastery is much larger, built on the side of a hill, but has basically the same layout. As one of the most popular sights in Leh it can apparently get very busy, but it pretty quiet when I visited late morning in August. The India budget airline Jet Airways went bankrupt earlier in the year, which was one explanation I heard for fewer tourists in Leh this year.
The variety of temples were similar to Matho in form but the details were different and exquisite. It felt older, though these buildings are under constant renovation, with the 12m high Buddha installed in 1980.
In this incense filled temple the statues were mostly covered, to be revealed on special occasions.
The 17th century Shey Palace was the summer palace of the local kings. It is mostly closed for renovation but the royal temple can be visited, and is home to the largest Buddha in Ladakh, over 12m tall and installed in 1633. There is also a sizeable chorten spire outside.
About 15km from Leh, Stok Palace is where the Ladakhi royal family moved to from Leh Palace in 1840. Built in 1820 it is still the home of the Ladakhi Queen. Inside is a fascinating museum filled with objects from the royal family, though no photography is allowed unfortunately.
Spituk Monastery was the last one I visited and I was suffering from monastery fatigue by this point. There was nothing that wasn’t better elsewhere, but is it the closest to Leh itself, just past the airport.