Ladakh Calling? Here's what you need to Know!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

All you want to know about Kashmir - Ladakh *
* All means all that I know that I can tell you. Everything comes with a star these days! ;)

Every second plan I hear these days is Ladakh. Every second travel query I get is about Ladakh. There are two kinds of people in my world - Those who have visited Ladakh and those who haven’t. So I guess it only makes sense to write this post now better than later because it is Ladakh Season this summer!The next time you hear Guns & Roses sing “She’s got the eyes of the bluest skies”, it is this blue that will come to your mind once you’ve seen the amazingly clear skies of Ladakh. I usually do this kind of post at the end of the series, but I am hoping this post is going to drive me in the coming days to finish the series and maybe help you in planning your itinerary. Also please note that I would still like to see Ladakh as the remote land of mountains and it's seeming inaccessibility and lack of commercialization is what makes it so special. I hope you do not go there looking for citylife luxuries, coz if you do there will be someone who is listening to you. And soon Ladakh will be another Kerala. 

The northernmost state of Jammu & Kashmir consists of three main regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The three different regions have three distinct geological and cultural features. Jammu is the major city in the Jammu region, Srinagar, the capital city of the state is situated in Kashmir region and Leh being the largest settlement in Ladakh region. As you go into the arid lands of Ladakh from the lush valleys of Kashmir, one cannot help but struggle to find relation between the lands just left behind to the lands he just entered. 

Photographs from Ladakh -


Wildlife of Ladakh
15 Images from Ladakh in Color
Ladakh in Shades of Grey

So what’s the big deal about Ladakh?

The arid cold desert that lies at a staggering altitude ranging from 9000ft to 25170ft is going to leave you gasping for breath. A Land like no other bound by two ranges – the Great Himalayan Range and The mighty Karakoram Range on the other side, it is a marvel sculpted by wind and water over time. Barren slopes, unbelievably colorful lakes, lofty mountains, impossible climbs, amazing glaciers, striking monasteries set in the most unimaginable settings will draw you into this Land of Endless Discoveries leaving you wanting for more.

How do I reach Ladakh?

Leh is the only major town of Ladakh region. Leh is accessible by air during all seasons and is accessible by road only a few months a year when the snow thaws. Air India, Kingfisher and Jet Airways fly in and out of Leh all through the year from Jammu, Srinagar, Chandigarh and Delhi. 

Leh is situated at a strategic location that falls along the ancient Indo – Tibetan and Indo-Sino trade routes. The ancient routes have now been modified to become the only two access roads to reach Leh – from Srinagar or from Manali. One is the 434km long Leh-Srinagar highway and the other being the 475km long quintessential Mecca of road trips, the Leh – Manali highway. J&K Tourism board runs buses on these two highways with an overnight stay at either Kargil(Srinagar – Leh Route) or Keylong/Sarchu(Leh – Manali Route). Manali is around 14hours from Delhi by bus. You could also hire taxis at a fixed rate at the Srinagar/Manali taxi stands either on a sharing basis or full occupancy depending on your needs. It takes two days for each of these journeys and these roads remain open for only few months a year starting from May/June through September/October. 
Check this site for the status of these two highways - http://leh.nic.in/

If you plan to ride your own vehicle on these roads, your vehicle needs to have high ground clearance and the highway passes through the most remote uninhabited lands. So you better be prepared to handle any emergencies on your own. There wouldn’t be any mechanics for miles and help doesn’t arrive soon. More on these highways and the journey can be found at the bottom of this page after the FAQs. 

Do I need to worry about that AMS thingy that keeps coming up during every Ladakh discussion?

Yes, absolutely! Leh being at an altitude of 3500meters (11,500ft), the altitude difference is considerably high for us plain dwelling denizens. The air gets thinner as the altitude rises above 10000ft and oxygen levels are reduced by 40%. This means our bodies have to function at this reduced oxygen levels and this cannot happen overnight. Those who travel by road have a better chance of acclimatizing than those who fly to Leh directly. Either way, you need to accommodate for at least a day or two for acclimatizing in your itinerary.  Take it slow the first two days refraining from any sort of physical exertion. It is advised to take rest and stretch it a stroll in the city but nothing more than that. Let your body adjust to the oxygen level and atmospheric pressure changes. If hit by AMS the only cure is coming down to lower altitude which would probably spell doom for your trip as nearly everything in Ladakh is at a higher altitude than Leh.

 The primary symptoms include Headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of sleep, loss of appetite etc. Staying hydrated is also of key importance. Once acclimatized, AMS is not much of problem. But stressing yourself even before your body gets a chance to adjust could have serious repercussions. 

Okay, Now that I have acclimatized, what do I see/do?

There are plenty of things to see/do in this land of endless discoveries. Be it trekking, sightseeing, rafting in Zanskar, exploring the cultural Buddhist connection and or maybe biking on the most unforgiving roads in the most inclement weather suits you – there is something to do for everyone. Since I haven’t trekked much in this region I leave it for you to experience and enlighten me. 

Prime attractions for sightseeing are as follows:
 The Lake Circuit : Leh - Pangong – Tso Moriri – Tso Kar - Leh
  • Pangong Lake, at an altitude of 14000ft is a brilliant blue lake shared by India & China at a distance of 150kms from Leh. Requires one day to visit.
  • Tso - Moriri, at an altitude of 15000ft is another high altitude lake set in the desolate landscape of Rupshu at a distance of 220kms from Leh. Night halt at Karzok village by the lake side. Requires two days.
  • Tso - Kar and Statsapuk - Tso are two salt water and fresh water lakes respectively which can be accessed upon taking a diversion from Taglang La. Can be done on the return journey from Tso Moriri to Leh.
 The Nubra Valley Circuit : Leh – Khardung La - Diskit – Hunder – Panamik – Sumur - Leh
  • Khardunga La is believed to be the highest motorable road at 18300ft situated at a distance of 37 kms from Leh.
  • Nubra Valley is nestled in the lap of Karakoram Ranges. The capital town of Diskit is at a distance of 118kms from Leh - attractions include the rolling sand dunes and hilltop monastery
  • Hunder, 125kms from Leh is noted for it's small population of the double humped bactrian camels.
  • retracing the path and a diversion at Khalsar to the left will take you to Sumur, 115 kms from Leh, famous for Samstaling Monastery.
  • Further ahead, lies the hot sulphur springs of Panamik, 140kms from Leh.
 The Drok Pa Circuit: Leh – Dah/Hanu Settlements – Chiktan – Kargil.
  • 163kms west of Leh lies the Dah/Hanu villages of community tribe Brokpa, who are believed to be descendants of a lost Aryan Tribe. Contrary to the stark Tibetan features of Ladakh people, these people have distinct Aryan features.
  • Coming towards Namika La from Dah/Hanu takes you through the ruins of Chiktan fort.
  • Night halt at Kargil.
 The Zanskar Valley Circuit : Kargil – Pensi La – Ringdum – Padum and beyond - Kargil
  • 140kms from Kargil upto Penzi La lies the beautiful Suru Valley with Nun-Kun massif rising in the background. 
  • From Penzi La, you get complete views of the majestic Drang Drung Glacier.
  • It takes one whole day to reach Padum in Zanskar valley from Kargil. Leh - Padum cannot be done in one day. Needs a night halt at Kargil.
  •  Zanskar is virtually untouched by the winds of change owing to its inaccessibility. Zanskar is also known as Land of Religion with the highest concentration of Gompas(Monasteries)
 And the grand monasteries of Course.
  • Shey, Hemis, Thiskey, Lamayuru, Samstaling, Likir, Stakna, Chemrey, Takthok, Matho, Alchi, Spituk, Phyang, Rizong are a few of the many prominent monasteries of Ladakh.
More details about this after the FAQs.

What about Inner Line Permit?

Most of these areas require you to take Inner Line Permit from Deputy Commissioner Office, Leh. You could ask your tour operator/ hotel manager to arrange this for you. Just the names of all the travelers are required to get the permit. It is not possible to visit any of these places without the permit. It is advised to take photocopies of the same as you may be asked to submit the permit at the checkposts. 
Protected Area Permits are required for visiting Khardung La, Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Dah-Hanu areas.

Where do I stay?

Leh town has all kinds of accommodation facilities – starting from luxurious to budget. There are many family run guest houses which cater to the basic needs and are simple although meals will not be catered to. Pangong, Tso Moriri and Nubra Valley do have a resort set up luxury campsites in these locations. At all the other places like Karzok, Diskit, Hunder Kargil, Padum, guesthouses/campsites/lodges will be your best bet. 
Check this link for phone numbers of few guesthouses- http://leh.nic.in/Tourism.htm

How do I travel around Leh?

You could rent a bike at Leh, hire a taxi (Some SUV like qualis) or use public transport (which runs at a very less frequency). You might find that the taxi charges are exorbitant but consider the fact that these roads are nothing like our tarred highways. Rugged, treacherous and untamed would be my best description for lack of better words.  Be prepared to shell out anything from 5000 to 14000 INR for 150kms to 450 kms. While you are at it, keep a watch for the super whacky signposts all along the way. Check this link for taxi fares - http://leh.nic.in/Tourism.htm

How about the weather in Ladakh?

It is said that Ladakh is the only place where one can get sunstroke and frostbite at the same time. The sun pierces at this altitude and the winds are very cold. Make sure you do carry a good sunscreen to avoid sun burns and the evenings/nights get very cold. Even the daytime will be very cold if the cold winds are blowing. 

How many days will be required for a comfortable visit to Ladakh?

Depending on how much of Ladakh you’d want to visit, the number of required days will change. Reaching Leh by road itself is going to take two days and leaving Leh by road will be again two extra days. Do keep in mind that most of the time you will be traveling in Ladakh. Each of these places will take one whole day or would require a night stay.  A minimum of 10 days would be sufficient. If you plan to include Zanskar region in your itinerary as well, note that reaching Padum in Zanskar Valley only takes two whole days from Leh. An ideal time period would be a month or two to explore this awesomeness but all I can say is if only wishes were horses. ;) 

What is the best time to visit Ladakh?

The best season is obviously the only time when the two highways open providing connectivity with the mountain town of Leh. May – October would be the ideal season but do enquire about the status of these highways before planning your itinerary. Winter Travel in Ladakh might be an interesting option as you can still reach Leh by air. But in this case make sure you do advance hotel booking for them to make arrangements for the visit.

Want to tread off the beaten path?

There is Marsimik/Marsimek La located 42kms from northwest tip of Pangong which is supposedly the actual highest motorable road as opposed to the popular notion that Khardung La is the highest. Apparently Tibet hosts even higher motorable passes. 
There is also a road connecting Tangste to Diskit directly passing through Wari La. This road will save you the detour of going to Leh and the going to Diskit. There is a direct route connecting Pangong to Tso Moriri through Chushul – Tsaga – Loma – Nyoma – Mahe. This route used to require special permission from Home Minister Office, Delhi as this road runs very close parallel to Indo – Chinese Border and only army usual treads on this path. But now, the good news is the route is finally open for domestic tourists starting 2010 and you can get the permits at DC office, Leh itself! The usual route will have you retrace the path till Karu and take the diversion to Tso Moriri. 
Now these roads are off the beaten track for a reason. These are not completely motorable roads and might only indulge the adventurous. 

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24 comments

  1. Very informative! I want to add it to my list now. :-)

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  2. Aditya KambampatiMay 6, 2010 at 12:59 PM

    I have thousand questions in my mind..other that what you wrote..may be i can call you and ask them....I am planning for two week trip..in june or july..! Nice information..

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  3. Well written and informative! Smita asked me to read this and this was an amazing read.

    I am heading to this region in June, and am stuck with two buffer days but no absolute plan on what more to do. Was hinting on doing the Pangong Tso - Hanle - Tso Moriri circuit but wanted to know if that is doable or not with just 2 extra days. Any suggestions?

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  4. Great write up and very informative. My friends were planning a trip and sure this is a guide for us .

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  5. This is an excellent Post buddy... sent it to all my friends who are planning a trip to Ladakh this June!! Someday I will go too..

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  6. ## Matt - Thanks! Do visit Ladakh ..I am sure you will love it! :)

    ## Adi - Sure! Happy to help.. shoot questions right away! :)

    ## GameSetCatch - Thank you.. Glad Smita asked you to read this. :D
    Pangong to Hanle in a day might not be possible IMHO. Although if you could camp at Chushul which is further ahead of Pangong towards Hanle, it might be doable You'll have to consider carrying extra fuel i guess. Chushul to Tso Moriri can be done the next day.

    This guy Praveen has done this route - read his log at http://praveenkm2.blogspot.com/2009/07/day-139-july-25-chushul-to-hanle.html

    ## Bhargav - Great to know! Happy tripping in Ladakh. :)

    ## Nishant - Thanks much dude! Glad if this post will be useful to anyone. :)
    And yes, someday you *should* go to Ladakh.

    ## joshi daniel - Thankings.. :D

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  7. Thank you very much for the detailed write-up..first time commenting on ur blog... ur blog is absolutely amazing...makes me want to return to India and travel!!!..

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  8. Lovely... I dunno when am I gonna make it to Ladhak.. But life's a waste without being there atleast once...

    In search of Sanjeevani herb to Konganar Cave
    The White Dress to Work

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  9. ## Shweta - Hey thanks a lot! I myself recently discovered it's gonna take a long long time to explore all of India. Drop by my blog soon for more travel tales. :)

    ## Bhushavali - That is true. Life changed after visiting Ladakh. ;)
    Hope you get your visit to Ladakh soon.

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  10. hey.. this post is really cool. very informative as well. I want to do Leh sometime in the next couple of months..
    i am a traveler and do a bit of travel writing at http://tra-well.blogspot.com

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  11. Comprehensive post, good starting point to prepare for a trip to Leh.

    I hope someday I can take off a couple of week and make it to this part of our country...Thomas

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  12. ## sneo - Thanks and Welcome to my blog! :)
    Will check out your blog soon.. And do keep visiting.

    ## Thomas - Thanks.. am trying to put up all Ladakh posts as soon as possible.
    I hear Ladakh is great for birding as well.. and who knows, you might spot a snow leopard as well. :) I hope you get to visit Ladakh soon.

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  13. Great. Very well written.
    How many days did u go for.. and di u guys go in a big group
    Me and my husband plan to go there in 2nd and 3rd week of july... Was wondering is it better to go in group or ok to go alone as well

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  14. ## Nupur - I went twice to Ladakh now. Once for 5 days and second time for 12 days and still it doesn't seem enough. :)

    I went with my family. So we were a group of 5. It is perfectly fine for just the two of you to go as well. The only advantage you'd get if traveling in a big group is sharing the cost of the hired vehicles. And even if you are not in a big group, you can join any of the shared vehicles available. Just ask your hotel manager about this. He can arrange.

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  15. Hey

    im definitely visiting leh this July, the pics are just heavenly

    keep going

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  16. ## Shubham - Hey Thanks! :)
    Wish you a wonderful time at Ladakh this July.

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  17. you provide more information so that some one will find ready rackoner

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  18. this blog <3

    few question i want to ask hope if u dont mind
    1st How many days it will take to complete this list as i am eager to knw :D
    2nd i just want to know that did u people stayed in 1 hotel & gone to different different place
    3rd is this place are connected like nearby so i can cover 4-5 place every day :)


    if u dont mind can i get a list thru mail vipinair@outlook.com how to cover all this places in short trip :)


    Love
    Vipin Nair

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  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  20. Hey such a great information for those who want to enjoy trekking in Ladakh.

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  21. Great pic of laddakh , if looking for ladakh tour packages contact us

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  22. Hi, I would like to know if it's a kid friendly place. we r planning with our 9 yr old kid. In the month of July.
    Thanks

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  23. Neelima, I am so excited, I keep stalking your blog, just to keep reading and reading about Ladakh! LOL

    ReplyDelete

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