Travel in Ladakh -10 essential tips.
Are you planning a trip to this incredible part of the world? If you are here are 10 things you need to know to make the most out of your time. Why should you listen to me when it comes to travel in Ladakh? Well, I have spent over half a year exploring the roof of the world independently and on a budget.
It’s a safe bet I will be going back again as honestly speaking, no other part of the planet has left such a deep impression on me as India’s high mountain deserts. I have not got the first idea about what part of travel here appeals to me the most. It could be the breathtaking scenery, the timeless culture, the unusual wildlife or perhaps the mighty Tibetan gompas. Who knows?
I am excited about writing this post as I have such a deep passion for travel in Ladakh. I will be sharing my personal tricks and tips I have found to be most useful. I am sure you will find this post to be of value if you are heading here. These are points that you can refer to again and again. So here we go let us jump straight in shall we?
Here is my video on this topic for those who would rather listen to something than read a blog.
Tip number one – How to get to Ladakh.
There are three ways to reach Leh, and I have taken all three. Option number one is to fly into the capital, and that cuts out days on the road. The downside to that is you can be quite sure you will experience at least some AMS symptoms. Dont have much planned for the first day or two.
Option number two is to come from Manali to Leh. You can make this journey by public or private transport, and it does not cost very much. However, you may as well get dropped off directly to the hospital as that would be more convenient for you. Manali lies at 2050 meters above sea level, and Leh is at a lofty 3500m. Just to make sure you get sick this route takes you over a couple of passes above 5000m and all within less than forty-eight hours!
It’s fine the other way around, but it should be avoided as a means to reach Leh. I have seen people crawling on the floor vomiting from altitude sickness on more than one occasion. I have not the first clue why this is even offered to tourists when it ends in tears for so many.
The third option is the least used as it involves you travelling through Kashmir and that’s not something many tourists are prepared to do. In Truth, it is quite beautiful, and I didn’t feel threatened the whole time I was there. However, I did find the sheer volume of scams to be draining on my soul. The upside to this route is it is a relatively gentle incline between Srinigar and Leh spread over at least two days. I found I experienced minimal symptoms, and it is also wonderful to take in the radical changes in the scenery.
Tip number two – what about Ladakh tourism packages?
I will start by saying dont bother booking any hikes, jeeps or camel rides before you turn up. I will cost you way more if you book it from your home town and you will have to keep to whatever it says on your itinerary. Most tour packages allow for a single day for acclimatisation and how long that takes is really down to the individual. Be kind to your wallet and book something from Leh where there is competition for your money.
Tip number three – Split the costs.
This is a follow on from the last point really. If you have the time, you can even split the costs for jeeps and treks. Tour agents in the capital put boards up for trips in the near future. During the high season, you will be able to join jeeps heading to the Nubra valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri pretty much any day that suits you. You pay by the seat in jeeps, so its a good idea to split the costs with other travellers. Aim for no more than four in your jeep for comfort as its a long, long drive. The advantages of splitting the costs for expensive long hikes or mountaineering should be self-evident.
I would implore you to take jeeps as well. You will want to stop often for photographs, and you won’t get that privilege with a bus. There are buses that run to the lakes but only every eight days and your permit conveniently only lasts for seven. So that’s out the question for you. You can get a shared jeep as far as Diskit in the Nubra valley. However, you will have to wait for unreliable jeeps back, and there is also the problem of getting somewhere of interest reliably.
Unless you just want to say you have been there physically, I strongly suggest you go by jeep. This will give you an infinitely better experience, and you are since you are only there once it makes sense.
Tip number four – take it easy and acclimatise.
AMS is a real issue here on the roof of the world. How badly it affects travellers is really very much dependent on the individual. If you fly into Leh, take at least twenty-four hours to do nothing. Stay in your room as much as possible and hydrate. On the second day, just stroll around town and visit the palace if you are feeling energetic. For a full detailed description of what to do to cope with the symptoms and prevent things from getting worse, check out another post, I made about travel in the Spiti Valley. It is very likely. You will experience at least a few issues with this, so it is certainly worth the read.
Tip number five – When is the best time to visit Ladakh.
Picking when you come here will greatly define your experience for the vast portion of us that is somewhere between late May and the end of August. The weather is glorious at this time of the year, and the otherwise moonlike landscapes are punctuated by ribbons of green from the barley fields. The high mountain passes open at some point in June so it will be possible to drive in and out making for the ultimate mountain experience. The days are sunny, and the nights are mostly mild.
Outside of this time, it becomes less enjoyable to travel here, although the passes remain open for a while longer. April is also a photogenic time to travel when the barely has just been sown, and there is still plenty of snow on the peaks. You will have to fly into Leh at this time, and although it will be considerably colder, you will have most of the whole state to yourself.
In June there is a national holiday, and there are many domestic tourists who make there way here. It can make it difficult to get a room anywhere. Book online way in advance assuming that’s even possible for your chosen hotel.
If you plan on taking on the Chadar Ice Trek, you will have to come at the coldest possible time. If this is you, then February is your jam. I must point out nights will almost certainly fall below minus twenty-five so make sure you wrap up nice and warm.
Tip number six – Protect yourself from the sunshine.
This could well sound like an inconsequential tip. In fact, the sun up here is brutal, and you must exsert caution whenever you find yourself exposed. Since you are a good deal closer to the sun, the UV rays will toast your skin cells, and I have found the best course of action is to cover up. Use high strength SPF sunscreen on any area you dont.
Also, wear glasses with UV protection as the sun is damaging to your eyes. Cataracts are major health issue with the local population, and there are several charities set up to help them with that. Hopefully, that should be a ringing endorsement that you should not forget your shades.
Tip number seven – Stay hydrated.
It may not feel like it, but you will lose a lot of water, especially if you are trekking for hours at a time. I found drinking ORS rehydration salts daily really helped with my wellbeing while out trekking. Stock up on these things as they dont only help when out walking. They only cost five rupees a pop and are available from just about any pharmacy. Avoid alcohol if it is possible as this will only dehydrate you further.
While out trekking make sure your guide, if you have one, has plenty of provisions and if you are on a homestay trek make sure you drink plenty in the mornings and evenings as you can only carry so much.
Tip number eight – make sure you stay well-nourished.
When you are out trekking, you burn a lot of calories, and after a few days into my first trek, I realised my body was not getting enough nutrition. I was on the Makha valley trek, and that involves you in staying in peoples homes. You pay some money, and in return, you get your meals, water and a good nights sleep.
The only trouble was my breakfasts was woefully devoid of calories. It was a baked potato, a carton of fruit juice and a boiled egg. It was not enough to power me for ten hours a day hiking in the mountains. After a few days, I became shacky, so when I returned to Leh, I gorged like a madman and decided not to do that again. Carry sweet snacks as it is ok to consume a truckload of sugar at this time.
Tip number nine – Get ready for no internet.
Say your goodbyes to your loved ones before you start your journey, so they dont worry. In theory, there is internet in Leh and Lamu Yuru, but I have known weeks at a time with nothing. Once I was up there with no net for the best part of six weeks without a drip of net connection. While I think it is probably good for our mental healths without the internet, it is not for an uninformed family. To avoid any loved ones you may have from panicking like crazy make it clear this might happen.
Tip number ten – Be honest with your limitations.
We all want to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, and Ladakh certainly provides the opportunity to do so. It all looks easy on paper when you are signing up for a twenty-day hike in the Himalayas. The reality is often very different, and there is not much you can do if you are halfway through and you decide trekking is not for you.
Your time up there can be as challenging as you want to be. If you have never tried high altitude hiking, you probably shouldn’t start with a massive hike along a route with no villages as this is insanely demanding. You could stretch those hamstrings on one of the homestay treks. They are multi-day walks where you can at least get a good nights sleep in a room with a hot meal.
Walking for ten hours a day and sleeping in a tent every night for the best part if a month is a fresh new bag of challenge. What’s more, you can legally do this epic walk yourself with no guides or pack horses as long as you had the relevant permits, of course. You would have to have a crazy amount of experience to make that plausible. I am merely highlighting that it is possible to push your limits as just as hard as you want.
The best way to see the state and the only way in many cases is on foot. That does not mean that there is no point coming here if you are not that way inclined. Many of Ladakh’s premier attractions are accessible by jeep, and I have made some spectacular road trips here. So there are many options on how you can make the most out of your time. You dont even need to stick to one.
I would advise you to ask yourself honestly, what are your limitations, and decide based on that. Dont wait to be in a smooth-talking tour agents office and get upsold something that you dont want. If you do plan on trekking without a guide research the routes as much as possible. Some routes like the Marka Valley or the Yapola Gorge are quite self-explanatory, and you will be sleeping in peoples homes anyway.
If you need a little inspiration for where you want to walk pick a copy of the Lonely Planets to guide to trekking in the Himalayas. This is a clear breakdown of various routes, and I refer to it a lot when planning my trips. It is also nice to be able to plan a route from your armchair in your home country. Fueling you travelling dreams gives you a reason to get out of bed on a Monday morning, doesn’t it?
In Summary of my post about travel in Ladakh.
So there you have it. They are my honest top ten tips for travel up there. While every journey is unique, I am sure you will find these tips useful on more than one occasion.
I must confess I enjoyed writing this post a lot as this is one of my most favourite destinations of all time to travel in. I hope you found it of value and it helps you plan your dream trip to this wonderful corner of the universe. It is a challenge to visit here, but the rewards are so high. I just can’t wait to return myself even though I have spent so much time here already. There is so much to discover that it would be hard ever to get bored.
If you have any questions about this or anything else you think I may be able to help you with, do not hesitate to ask. With that said, I am off to start another post. So until the next time my fellow intrepid travellers, happy hiking.
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