Are you planning a trip to Ladakh? Worried how to go about it? This guide to holiday in Ladakh is your one stop store to let you know about the issues and challenges and how to prepare for your trip to Ladakh. Whether you are a seasonal biker, a devil on wheel who loves road trips or a family with kids and elderly, I talk about all that you need to know when you are planning your summer vacation in Ladakh.
Latest Update on Ladakh by Road Status (2016)
Good news is that Zojila Pass that connects Srinagar to Leh via Kargil through National Highway 1D is now open (As on 01st May 2016). That means it is now possible to travel to Ladakh by road via Srinagar using your own private vehicle or by hiring taxi/cab. It also means that bikers looking to conquer Ladakh by Motorcycle can choose this route to arrive in Leh.
Do remember to check for road status updates online as landslides or snowfall may stall the traffic movement. In my personal opinion, the fastest update on Ladakh road status is available here. However devilsonwheels.com and bcmtouring.com are other two most wonderful sites for information on Ladakh in particular and road trips in India in general.
Ladakh: An Introduction
Made up of and bound by Greater Himalayas, Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India is the ultimate destination among the adventure and thrill seekers. It is one of the last abode where you could witness the ancient tantric Buddhism in practice.
The allure of this barren yet awe inspiring destination lies in its high altitude mountain passes, turquoise lakes, desert in the air and spectacular monasteries. Ladakh is a must include item in your Bucket List if you love adventure and thrill. There are some of the most exciting treks in Himalaya that you could undertake in Ladakh including the daring Chadar Trek over frozen Zanskar River.
If you are a game for road trips then you get to ride on some of the highest motorable roads in the world if you undertake a trip to Ladakh by road especially the Leh Manali Highway with as many as 5 mountain passes and the spellbinding and thrilling ride on Gata Loops and Morey Plane.
But thrills and magnificence apart, Ladakh with most of the places that you visit during your holiday located above an altitude of 10,000 feet is a challenging terrain. You do need to prepare and plan for your trip to Ladakh so that it leaves you with unforgettable memory to cherish and not to repent.
Yet another thing to keep in mind while planning for your trip to Ladakh is that it is a sensitive area with borders close to both Pakistan and Nepal. And that it is a inhospitable terrain with low accessibility and hence bereft of modern technologies when it come to your stay in hotels and sightseeing.
In short it is a mountain terrain and you shouldn’t expect luxury. Access to what you have normally…like ATMs, Petrol Pumps, Cell Phone Networks, food of choice and hotels with Wi-Fi internet are negligible or even absent.
So if you are still want to have that unforgettable summer vacation in Ladakh or that ultimate trip to Ladakh on Motorcycle to witness the charm of Himalayas and ancient tantric Buddhism in practice, read on and prepare for your Ladakh holiday in as fool proof way as possible.
Acclimatization in Ladakh
One of the foremost issues while preparing for your Ladakh holiday is the issue of acclimatization. The base for holidays in Ladakh is Leh, the administrative center which is located at an altitude of 11,500 feet (3,500 meters). If you are traveling to a place located above 10,000 feet, the one thing that you should be aware of and prepare for is acclimatization.
If you are not acclimatized to high altitude air pressure and low oxygen condition, it could lead to acute mountain sickness (AMS) which manifests itself in severe headache, vomiting, nausea, anorexia and dizziness along with lack of sleep – and believe me when I say – which is not as sweet as being Sleepless in Seattle – but a rough and painful experience.
The best practice in acclimatization is to spend the first 2 days of your Ladakh trip in Leh itself especially if you have flown by air for your holiday. For bikers and road trippers acclimatization starts automatically when they cross Keylong on Leh Manali Highway and Kargill on Leh Srinagar Highway.
But even for them it is best that they stay put for the night at Darcha or Keylong especially if not of healthy disposition and not at Sarchu (at avove 14,000 feet) on Leh Manali Highway for better take at acclimatization to high altitude condition.
For those taking Leh Srinagar Highway, acclimatization is seldom an issue as they gain altitude gradually. Even then, it is best that they spend the first 2 days of their Ladakh vacation in Leh itself.
Health Concern for Elderly and Children in Ladakh
As opposed to the commonly held belief, it has been observed that elderly and kids cope better with acclimatization. It is even possible to travel to Ladakh if you are asthmatic should you take precautions and adequate measures.
Here are a few measures everyone should take irrespective of age and gender or medical condition:
1. Spend first 2 nights in Leh for acclimatization to high altitude conditions.
2. Keep acetazolamide or similar medication to cope with AMS (better if you consult your doctor for medicine to keep). It is always helpful if you take the medicine 24 hours before you arrive in Leh more so if you are flying by air to Ladakh.
Since Nubra Valley is located at lower altitude than Leh, you need not take diamox but do take it if you are feeling headaches or Nausea if you are traveling to Pangong Tso Lake or Tso Moriri which are located at an altitude above 14,000 feet.
3. Don’t rush at high mountain passes like Khardung La or Chang La. At that altitude oxygen level is really low and you could even faint or have serious health issued if you are running around in excitement. The key to best experience is to keep calm and enjoy the breathtaking scenery without losing the breath.
4. Don’t stop too long at the top of mountain passes. Have a look, roam around, sip your tea and move on.
5. As opposed to common belief, dehydration does not lead to AMS. Do drink water but not plenty. Just a liter of additional H2O will keep you hydrated enough.
6. Take Leh Srinagar Highway for better shot at acclimatization if you are going to Ladakh by road.
7. Do the local sightseeing on the second day of your arrival in Leh for acclimatization as well as optimal utilization of your holiday. Thiksey Monastery, Shey Palace, Hemis Monastery, Leh Palace etc. are your best bet on second day of your holiday in Ladakh.
Alternatively, go the other side to Pathar Sahib Gurudwara, Magnetic Hill, river rafting in Indus near Nimoo or photo away at the confluence of Indus and Zanskar River on the 2nd day of your Ladakh trip.
8. If you are in Ladakh on a long vacation, do the Nubra Valley first if you have also planned for Pangong or Changthang (Tso Moriri). That way you acclimatize well for trips to these high altitude terrains.
9. Descend immediately if detect signs of AMS and visit a doctor or an army base for treatment and medications.
10. Control your appetite and avoid heavy meal. Have light meals at frequent breaks.
11. Avoid alcohol for the first 2 days.
Inner line Permits for traveling in Ladakh
Starting 2014, inner line permits are not required for Indian Nationals to travel to most of the destinations in Ladakh. The places which don’t require inner line permit include Pangong Tso, Tso Mori Ri, Nubra Valley, Panamik, Changthang, Hunder, Karzok etc.
All you will need to produce at military check posts where earlier a copy of inner line permit had to be submitted is an identity card to prove your nationality. It could be your voter id, driving license or your passport etc.
However if you are taking the Pangong Tso – Tso Moriri round trip, you’ll still need to apply for the inner line permit rule for which will remain the same as of previous years. The places for which Indian Nationals still require innerline permits include Hanle, Chusul, Tsaga, beyond Loma bend, Chumur, Marsimik La and Batalik sectors.
Owing to the proximity to the sensitive shared borders with Pakistan and China, it is mandatory to apply for and obtain inner line permits to travel to some places in Ladakh. Rules are different for foreigners and Indian nationals.
Here are some rules regarding the inner line permits and how to apply for and obtain them:
- Permits are issued at Leh DC office by filling and submitting inner line permit application form
- DC office in Leh is located next to Polo Ground and it remains open from 9 AM to 5 PM
- It’s always wise to arrive as early in the morning as possible to avoid rush especially in peak season
- It is always wise to download this inner line permit form and fill it in advance and carry self attested photocopies of nationality proof and Photo-IDs (license, voter ID, passport etc.)
- Inner line permits are valid for 3 weeks if you are an Indian and 1 week if you belong to foreigner country
- Carrying self attested photocopies of nationality proof and Photo are a must to obtain inner line also called protected area permits
- Besides permit application form, you need to write a request application letter addressing DC of Leh – Ladakh district for the approval of your permits
- Permit fee include 3 components which are Rs. 200 per person as environment tax (one time) + Rs. 20 per person per day as wild life protection fee and Rs. 10 Red Cross Donation
- Carry 5-10 copies when traveling as you’d need to hand them over to check posts that you’ll cross. If you’re doing just Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso then 5 copies will suffice but you’d need more if you are doing Pangong Tso – Tso Moriri via Chusul – Tsaga – Loma – Nyoma.
- Inner Line Permits are not required for Zanskar and Suru Valley
If you are planning to travel to Hanle and Changthang or to go to Tso Moriri via Chusul from Pangong Tso then don’t rely on any one else (as in hotel staff or travel agent) and fill your own permit form. The places that you need to mention in the form would include:
Man, Merak, Chusul, Tsaga, Loma, Nyoma and Hanle.
What to Pack for trip to Ladakh
Packing well is planning well when you are traveling for a holiday either solo, with friends or family. Since Ladakh is a cold place with most of the settlements located on high attitude, you need to take extra measures to cope with the weather condition.
Located as it is in Greater Himalayas, Ladakh remains cold for all part of the year. However expect strong sun in daytime. During the day temperature rises but fall swiftly after the sunset. Warm jackets, pullovers, hand gloves etc. comes handy in Ladakh.
Here’s a list of things to pack for Ladakh trip:
Carry at least 2 warm jackets to keep you warm
Also ensure that you are carrying thermal innerwear and more than just one set to preserve as much body heat as possible.
Carry sun glasses as the sun rays are harsh at high altitude and also to protect your eyes from ill effect of sun rays at snowy patches
Keep sunscreen lotion (at least SPF 30) and apply generously to protect your skin
Carry scarves/mufflers to protect your neck and ears from cold
ATM and Money issues in Ladakh
There are many ATMs that are now operational in Leh so carrying money in cash is no longer recommended. However, if you are traveling to inner places in Ladakh such as Nubra Valley, Changthang or Pangong Tso and Zanskar, do carry cash with you as there are no ATM facilities at these places.
Shops and hotels don’t except card payment so keep cash to pay upon arrival in Leh to avoid the hassles of hotel booking and going to ATMs.
Accommodation in Leh Ladakh
Don’t expect five star luxuries when it comes to hotels in Ladakh. The accommodation outside of Leh town is basic and even in Leh there are only a few 4 star hotels. Most of the hotels and guest houses in Leh do provide hot water once or twice a day even if they do not provide it round the clock.
Depending on your level of comfort, you could get a room as affordable as INR 1000 for 3 persons per night (that’s 333 per person). Then there are some quality lodges, guest houses and hotels where per night cost for a room could be anything from 3 thousand to 6000 per night.
Outside Leh, it’s a different story. In places like Tso Moriri, Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley expect only basic accommodation. “Luxury” tents are also available at Pangong Tso which offer running hot water at attached toilets but they come at a price. Homestays are the most affordable option with price as low as INR 500 per night. Don’t expect hot water though at this cost.
You don’t need to pre book your stay at most of the places in Ladakh as there are enough accommodation options to cater to the demand of tourists. Pre book only if you are looking for a deluxe stay as they get booked early. However homestays and basic tent accommodation need not be pre-booked.
What to expect when it come to eating in Ladakh
One of the interesting (intriguing) things in Leh town is that you’d find a number of Cafeterias all claiming to be the German Bakery. May be there’s something special about being a “German” bakery in Leh.
Good options are available when it comes to eating in Leh. Don’t expect a variety of sumptuous cuisine especially if you are venturing out of Leh. Only basic Ladakhi food is available in places like Changthang , Nubra Valley and Spangmik.
How much will it cost for holiday in Ladakh
Depending upon how you are traveling and the number of days you will stay in Ladakh, your budget may vary from anything from INR 5000 to a few lakhs.
Traveling on personal vehicle is the cheapest and best way to reach Ladakh after the bus service from either Manali or Srinagar.
If you are interested in traveling to Ladakh by bus read my latest article on Travel to Ladakh by Bus.
- Live a Maharaja Life aboard Maharajas Express with IHPL Special Charters
- HOHO Bus Delhi