Tsemo Fort (Victory Fort)

Watching over Leh Palace, as it were, is a 15th century fort atop a rocky ridge, its whitewashed walls appearing to rise seamlessly out of its featureless, muddy perch. Don’t expect an imposing fortress. It‘s small and was built by Tashi Namgyal, founder of the Namgyal dynasty that once ruled Ladakh. More a royal residence than a bastion, Tashi Namgyal named it ‘Tsemo Fort’ to signify his victory (or ‘tsemo’) over the then local ruler of Leh. From the commanding view he had atop this ‘fort’, Tashi Namgyal was literally master of all he surveyed. At the base of the fort is a monastery that comprises two temple buildings, one of them containing an 8-mt-high gold-faced Maitreya Buddha statue.

Tsemo Fort is visible from almost anywhere in the town and is a defining feature of Leh, so there’s no way you can miss it. You can drive up to the fort or, if you prefer to whip up the appropriate mood, you can walk up a dusty trail that takes about 15 minutes – as Tashi Namgyal, probably did!

Leh Palace was built around 200 years after Tsemo Fort, by a king who descended from Tashi Namgyal. It is located lower down on the same ridge. The two structures are naturally connected by a zig-zag path but avoid trying to scramble up the incline.