Stok Palace & Museum (15 km)

There are two reasons you want to visit the Stok Palace & Museum. One, it is still the official residence of the royal family (who live largely in Manali) and, two, its setting. Like a jewel set in a beautiful crown of mountains, Stok Palace is built on a hill and is four storeys high. While the royal residence is on the upper floors, the museum occupies the lower storeys.

The palace was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century but the royal family later shifted to Shey Palace which was built in 1655. The royals once again moved back to Sotk, when Sikh General Zorawar Singh of Jammu invaded Ladakh in 1842. They the Namgyals were stripped of their power and moved to Stock across the Indus River.

Although the royal residence is sealed to visitors, you can visit the museum for a peep into the royal past. The museum displays a collection of royal jewels , ornaments, ceremonial dresses , crowns and royal jewellery. The piece de resistance are the sooth paintings, which are more than 450 years old. These are made from powdered gems. On display also is an ancient headdress that is still worn on important occasions and believed to have originated in Tibet. It is encrusted with turquoise, polished coral, lapis lazuli and nuggets of pure gold. The queen’s ancient turquoise-and-gold yub-jhur (crown) is another eye-catching exhibit as is a picture of the young king in sports shoes.

However, the knotted swords are most intriguing. According to legend, the Royal Oracle once had his credentials questioned in the presence of the king. To prove his supernatural powers, the oracle is said to have drawn the king’s sword and tied a knot with it.