Hanle – Hidden gem of Ladakh and home for Indian Astronomical Observatory

Hanle – A small beautiful simple village

Hanle is just a hamlet (smaller than a village) close to Indo-China Border. Located on the banks of Hanle river this small village has played an important role in the Silk Route. It is a site of Hanle Gompa (monastery) built in the 17th century on a hillock overlooking the Hanle grasslands. Recently it is also home for Indian Astronomical Observatory, making it one of the world’s highest sites for astronomical observations.

Hanle Gompa (Monastery)

The village is home for 300 people with simple living. Major occupation being agriculture and sheep farming. Given the climate and harsh conditions agriculture is viable only for a couple of months. They mainly grow vegetables. Sheep farming is famous here which produces the world famous Pashmina wool. Pashmina wool is a fine type of kashmiri (also cashmere) wool which became famous during British rule.

Hanle Monastery is the home for about 10 monks while another 33 do come and visit. It is built in the 17th century under the supervision by the then Ladakhi king Sengge Namgyal.

Indian Astronomical Observatory

Indian Astronomical Observatory is built in 2000 and inaugurated in 2001 by the then Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. It is operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics. It has 2 telescopes and the biggest one being 2-meter diameter one. It is called Himalayan Chandra Telescope named after Nobel laureate Subramanyam Chandrasekhar.

Apart from there are High Altitude Gamma Ray telescopes (HAGAR) commissioned in 2008. It has 7 telescopes with mirrors attached to it. A Himalayan Gamma Ray Observatory (HiGRO) is being set up by Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the Bhabha Atomic Research Center. Another major telescope is under commissioning stage.

Why so many telescopes is being setup in such a remote location close to such a senstitive area (it’s proximity to disputed Indo-China border)? It is because Hanle is one such place where you have 250-300 days without cloud cover with annual rainfall close to 10 cm. It is far from major cities so less light pollution and yet not very far from any villages. Such observatory requires constant monitoring and upkeeping. Considering all these parameters hanle is selected for any astronomical observations.

Sensitive Area – Security by ITBP

Like I had earlier due to it’s proximity to the border, this area is constantly under the watch of ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) and Indian Army. Foreigners can visit this place but cannot stay overnight. They have to return back by evening from Hanle. Even for Indians and non-locals they can stay only for 2-3 days.

How did we reach Hanle

There are 2 routes to reach Hanle.

From Leh city – The popular route

Distance – 250 kms
Route – Leh-Shey-Thiksey-Hemis-Upshi-Nyoma-Mood-Hanle
Highlight – This route takes you through the Indus river and you will never get bored of the journey

From Pangong Lake – We have taken this route

Distance – Ideally 230 kms. But a short cut running through the lake will cut the distance by 30 kms. So it is around 200 kms.
Route – Pangong Lake-Spangmik-Merak-Chusul-Rezang La-Mood-Hanle
Highlight – Driving through the Pangong Lake for close to 40 kms will mesmerize you.

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