Every year around this time, we get a number of phone calls and emails from people trying to plan their trip to Ladakh. So the good folk that we are, we decided to write a few pointers which can help you plan your Ladakh trip better.
When to go
The most popular time for a trip to Ladakh are the summer and monsoon months (May to September). However, travelers who want a truly off beat experience can head there in Spring, Autumn and Winter as well. Flights to Leh operate through out the year.
Several monastery festivals (Tsechus) are held in the winter and they are an amazing experience if you can bear the bitter cold, find a place to stay in Leh (most hotels are shut in the winter) and live in difficult conditions in Leh(water pipes freeze in the winters and getting water is a bit of a hassle).
The road to Leh from Manali and from Srinagar typically opens up in the months of May/ June and closes again by October. So for people interested in the road trip to Ladakh, this is the only window of opportunity.
How to go
There are 2 ways of going to Ladakh
By road – Driving from Manali to Leh or from Srinagar to Leh. Unless you’re in some kind of a tearing hurry or are in one of those shared jeeps which drive non-stop and reach in 16-18 hours, it takes 2 days to drive to Leh from either of these places.
Shared Jeeps/ Buses (1 day, 16-18 hours ones) – Cheapest, crammed, and you’ll miss the entire landscape and the Jeep will be full of people who don’t care about anything except getting to Leh as quickly as possible. If you’re a photographer, you’re in for a VERY tough time with this option.
Shared Jeeps/ buses (2 days) – Cheap, but again full of people who won’t want unscheduled stops. The landscape will rush by and you’ll lose a lot of chances of photography en route.
The best options
Get hold of a group of friends and hire a vehicle exclusively to yourself. Stop wherever you like and enjoy the trip to the fullest. Expensive, but worth way more than the money you will spend on the vehicle. A travel company will be able to organize this easily and the company’s experience will go a long way in helping you get the most out of your trip.
If you’re an individual, sign up with a good travel company’s fixed departure trip. This might be the most expensive option for the road trip (hey companies need to make money too you know), but the company’s experience and planning will help you get the most out of your trip.
By Air – The flight from Delhi takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. During season time, there are multiple flights from Delhi to Leh every day. Some airlines fly via Srinagar or Jammu to Leh. So check that option if you want to visit Srinagar or Jammu on your trip.
During the season, this is the most expensive option even if you book well in advance. The pro is that it takes you there super fast, the con is that on the first 2 days you can’t do anything till your body acclimatizes to the altitude. Also, you miss out on the superbly awesome spectacular scenery which the drives will give you.
Go for the flight option if you’re short on time.
5 to 8 days – Take the flight, do the touristy stuff and come back. The trip will typically include a combination of the following
- 1 day of acclimatizing
- 1 day monastery tour (Shey, Thikshey, Hemis, Stok)
- 1 day trip to Pangong Tso
- 1 day inside Leh visiting Shanti stupa, Leh palace etc
- 1 day of Magnetic Hill & Pathar Sahib
- 1/2 day trip of Khardung-la
- 1 day trip to Alchi/ Lamayuru
- 1 day trek (for longer treks in this time frame, you will have to leave out most of the other stuff)
9 to 11 days – Now we’re talking. In this duration, you can do the drive from Manali to Leh or Srinagar to Leh and fly out of Leh after exploring all of the above, plus
- Overnight stay at Tso Moriri
- Overnight stay at Pangong Tso
- Rafting on the Zanskar/ Indus
- Downhill mountain biking from Khardung-la
- Overnight stay in Nubra valley and short hiking there
- Day treks around Stok, or towards Alchi side or in Nubra valley
- Short 2-3 day treks
12 days or more – You will absolutely LOVE your trip. In that kind of time frame you can do the complete drive from Manali to Leh and then to Srinagar or the opposite.
If that much driving isn’t for you, you can include Alchi & Lamayuru to your trip, do a couple of short hikes in Ladakh and go deeper into the Nubra valley or Zanskar region. Okay, so for the last couple of things you will need a little more time.
What to keep in mind
Altitude sickness – Unless you’re driving from Manali/ Srinagar to Leh, you will need to rest on the first 1 or 2 days in Leh and not do anything strenuous. Your body will need that much time to get acclimatized to the altitude and the cold weather conditions.
Inner line permits –
For visiting several places like Khardung-la, Pangong Tso and others you need an inner line permit. If you’re going with a company, they will get those organized for you. Otherwise, you will need to apply for permits in Leh. Starting May 2014, Indian nationals Do Not need inner line permits in Ladakh region
Foreigners with Diplomatic passports – Several places like Pangong Tso, Khardung-la and Nubra valley may be out of bounds for you. To visit these, you may need special permits. Check before you go.
Identity proofs and permits – Ensure that you have several copies of you ID proofs and of the permits. You may need to submit them at various places en route.
What all can you do/ see in Ladakh
1. The scenery – the natural beauty of this place is simply surreal. Lofty snow covered mountain ranges, lakes, the barren landscape all are too beautiful to be expressed in words.
2. Adventure sports – In Leh, you will have options for rafting in the Zanskar and Indus rivers (all difficulty levels), mountain biking – Khardung-la or Pangong Tso or towards Alchi and Lamayuru or in Nubra valley.
3. Trekking – This place is a trekker’s paradise. From easy grade hikes to difficult climbs, all levels of trekking are available in Ladakh. Check out the Stok Kangri climb, or the treks in Markha valley or the ones in Nubra valley, each is better than the next.
4. Photography – The place is so beautiful that you’ll anyways become a photographer. But if you’re truly interested in developing your skill, the light conditions, the landscapes, people and everything else in Ladakh are just perfect for learning & enhancing your photography skills.
5. Visit monasteries – Ladakh has a rich cultural and Historic heritage. For the enthusiast, there are a number of options to explore monasteries and temples in Ladakh.
6. Off beat places – There are a number of tiny villages in Nubra valley, Zanskar, Tso Moriri region and at several other places which are still off the beaten track and are away from the tourist circuits.
Go out there and explore all these spectacular places. After all, you’re not going to become a story teller if you’re going to repeat others’ stories!
That’s it from us for the time being. If you have any questions or need help in planning your trip, do send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Feel free to add your own tips or ask us questions in the comments section below.
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