10 Tips For A Memorable First Ladakh Trip
So your wanderlust is at the peak, you can feel the adrenaline rush, the mountains are calling you ( even though most of us can’t get any signals even in Metro cities 🙂 ) and you have decided to get Leh-ed? Good for you are about to experience one of the most rugged and beautiful places on earth. But let me also add that besides being rugged and beautiful Ladakh is also sacred and ecologically fragile, and it is not your everyday hill station so you need to prepare well in advance for your Ladakh trip. In this blog post let me share 7 Top tips for your trip to Ladakh.
Now the question arises why you need special preparation for your trip to Ladakh and how to do that
- Ladakh is not your everyday hill station it is a high altitude cold desert. What does that mean you may wonder. Well, let us say some of the most popular hill stations in North India say Shimla, Manali, Nainital, Mussoorie, Darjeeling, etc. all are within 1800-2100 meters height range. Now when we go to Leh the entry point to Ladakh for most of the first-time travelers we are talking about 3500 meters. This additional 1500 meter in height is a game-changer. More so when you travel to other parts of Ladakh and cross high altitude passes like Khardung La and Chang La etc that are at a height of around 18000 feet.
- The air is thinner at this height meaning there is less oxygen so you are breathless even after a short walk, more so in the first few days of your visit.
- You are much closer to the Sun so the Sun rays are much harsher and can lead to sunburn.
- The air is dry, very dry. As Ladakh is a high altitude desert the air is very dry due to lack of humidity so you tend to get dehydrated, but as you feel cold you may not want to drink water, this can lead to problem hence you need to maintain a good water balance in your body.
- The remoteness of the terrain leads to some peculiar problems that we will discuss in tips.
- Ladakh is a sensitive zone from the border point of view. On the east, we have China Border and on the west side, we have Pakistan border, both the borders are sensitive with heavy military presence due to security reasons.
Considering the above points here are some of the tips that I have gathered based on my personal experience as well as talking to some more seasoned Ladakh visitors and also some local Ladakhi folks who have helped in compiling this list of top tips to travel to Ladakh for a memorable trip.
- Take it slow on Day One in Ladakh: As Ladakh is at an altitude of 3500 meters and higher your body needs some time to acclimatize to the high altitude, dry air, and low oxygen level. To give your body time to adjust to the high altitude levels, it is recommended by doctors that you take it easy on day one. Stay in your hotel, have some garlic soup, relax, drink some water, maybe after a few hours of rest on day one go for a short walk. This will ensure your body gets time to acclimatize and you will be able to avoid AMS. Read this earlier post about AMS I have written earlier. It is much better to spend time getting used to the high altitude and rarified air and have a great trip later than rush into things and then suffer from AMS. Once you have AMS then your complete trip will be ruined with symptoms like headache, vomiting, etc. so better keep day one for rest.
- Get Your Inner Line Permits in Place: Depending on your nationality that is if you are Indian or a foreign traveler you may need permits for visiting remote areas like say – Pangong Tso, Turtuk, etc. What Is Inner Line Permit you may wonder? Inner Line Permit, or ILP, is a travel document issued by the Government of India which allows an Indian and foreigner travelers to travel to a protected area for a limited period. Obtaining this permit is mandatory for all travelers who are not locals. Foreigners visiting Ladakh are required to obtain Ladakh Protected Area Permit (PAP) before entering this region. The Inner Line Permit, or ILP, is valid for 3 weeks for Indians, and 1 week for foreigners. It should also be remembered that there is no limit on the number of times you visit a place within the valid period as long as you have the necessary permits with you. Inner line Permit is not required for visiting all the areas. It is only required for some areas like Nubra valley, Khardung La, Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Dah, Hanu Villages, Man, Merak, Nyoma, Loma Bend, Turtuk, Tyakshi, Chusul, Hanle, Digger La, etc. While you can get the inner line permit or ILP by visiting this link here. If you do not want to fill the form etc. it is a good idea to speak to your travel agency or hotel where you are staying and they will help you in filling the forms obtaining the inner line permit as per the latest requirement. It is always a good idea to keep these permits ready beforehand to avoid last-minute disappointment. Also due to change in the status of Ladakh from a part of the state of Jammu Kashmir to a Union Territory, there may be some changes in the permit requirements so it is always good to check the latest information before traveling. Here a small bonus tip I would like to add is that always carry your ID in original with you with a copy saved in the phone, as you may be asked to show your ID at some of the places. An ID will anyways be needed if you are traveling by flight so keep it handy.
- Carry Your Medicines: Outside of Leh and Kargil you may not find any medicine shops, some of the bigger monasteries like Thiksey Monastery and Hemis Monastery may have a Tibetian medicine practitioner available but you will not get any medicine shop unless you reach a town/village of substantial size, and even they may not have what you are looking for. So please carry any prescription medicine you are taking plus some common medicine that you may need. Many times we have a tendency that we will buy the medicine at the destination, that may not work in Ladakh so better stock up before you leave for Ladakh.
- Cash Is The King so carry enough: Ladakh is a remote area and the moment you move out of the big city of Leh you will not find any ATMs, mobile network is unreliable in most remote places so your payment apps like PayTM, etc. are not going to work. Most of the small shops/roadside dhabas etc. only accept cash. So make sure you have enough cash in small denominations ( 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 types to make payments for simple things like tea, snacks, etc. While most of the bigger guest houses and hotels will accept credit cards but in remote areas, if the network is not working they may insist on cash payment. Also, I want to clarify here that when I say cash I mean Indian Currency as outside of Leh, money changers are rarely to be found, so you should carry enough Indian currency. I know the image below is of US dollars, but that is for representation purpose only.
- Protect your skin and eyes: You may not feel it initially but the sun rays are harsh in these high altitude areas, so it is a good idea to always wear sunglasses when outside, and cover your skin by wearing full-length clothes. For a change forget your fashion sense and make sure you wear what will protect your skin from the ultraviolet rays. It is also a good idea to use a good sunscreen lotion to protect your skin, especially on the face as it may not be protected with clothes.
- Carry Postpaid Cell Phone only: Outside of Leh the mobile network is very sketchy and works intermittently and may not work at all in many of the remote places. But where ever it works only postpaid connections work. The prepaid sim cards do not work in Ladakh as of now so when you are visiting Ladakh make sure that you have at least one sim card that has a postpaid connection. *** Update *** Manish Lakhani Seasoned Ladakh traveler informed me that in most of the Ladakh Idea, Vodafone doesn’t work, only Airtel & Jio work in some parts and best sim for Ladakh is of BSNL. BTW Manish Bhai was the first one I took inputs on high altitude travel in one of the travelers meet he addressed.
- Travel In Group: I am sure the Solo Travelers will be very upset with me for this but like I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, Ladakh is not your everyday destination, more so if you plan to go on trek or bike ride, etc. to remote parts, then it makes sense to be in a group. This will ensure that in case you face a problem like a bike puncture or a health issue somebody is there to take care of you and take you to safety. This is even more important if you are traveling to Ladakh for the first time as you will have no idea about the terrain etc. Outside on the desolate deserted road, all hills look the same and once you are lost it can takes days to find you if you will be ever found alive. There is a reason they say “ Don’t be a Gama in the Land of Lama” Gama was a great wrestler who never lost a fight but in the thin air and rugged terrain of Ladakh all your bravado is of no use and no match to the forces of nature, so understand and respect that and better travel in a group specially if you are visiting the first time.
- Respect the local culture and customs: Most of the Ladakhi people are very friendly and only too happy to strike a conversation, help you with directions and even pose for a picture or two. But that does not mean we should take advantage of there kindness. I personally always like to take permission before I click images of people especially children and women as many of them are not comfortable getting clicked, same goes when you want to click the image of a monk. In most of the monastaries, photography is allowed except in the innermost sanctum sanctorum. When in doubt always ask and follow the rules. Also, you are not allowed to take images of any military establishments so don’t even try that. You will encounter many small stupas like structures called Chortens these are sacred structures and you should never climb them to take images etc.
- Do Not Litter: During summers Ladakh receives almost the same amount of visitors as the population of Ladakh, this puts a lot of pressure on the fragile eco-system of the area. Already we are facing receding glaciers, vanishing forests, and drying rivers please do not add to problems of the area by littering, leaving trash and polluting the rivers and water bodies. When you are trekking bring all your trash back with you in a small bag and dispose of responsibly. When you are camping or stopping your vehicle to eat, never leave the food packets, etc. on the road as they will pollute the rivers and some wild animal may eat them and get ill.
- Buy Some local Souveniers: Many of the small shops you will see in places like Leh Market as well as in some small villages you may find some local souvenirs being sold like handicrafts, semi-precious stone jewelry, woolen caps, etc. I always like to buy a few small souvenirs to keep as well as to give a gift to my friends and family. It is always a good idea to support business run by locals as this money directly goes into the local economy leading to trickle-down effects of tourism in these remote parts.
Besides these there is an important bonus tip for your Ladakh Trip: If you are planning to do a Ladakh trip in a hired bike or car make sure it is registered in Jammu & Kashmir as the local taxi & bike union do not allow hired taxis and bikes from Himachal or any other state. I am not sure how this will change with Ladakh becoming separate from Jammu & Kashmir, so I will update this blog once I have some concrete information on the same.
Well, dear traveler friend, I hope you have a memorable Ladakh trip and you leave Ladakh as pristine as you found it. Do share this post with your friends and family if you think they can benefit from this. Happy Travels, thanks for reading 🙂
My this trip to Ladakh was on the invitation of the only star luxury hotel of Leh > The Grand Dragon Ladakh. I really enjoyed my stay with The Grand Dragon Ladakh. You can check more about them here > The Grand Dragon Ladakh Hotel Review