Things to know before planning Leh and Ladakh trip – Safety, climate & packing tips

Things to know before planning Leh and Ladakh trip – Safety, climate & packing tips

More than a decade ago Ladakh was considered a destination for adventure travelers. I still remember one of my colleagues went to Ladakh in the early 2000s and after his return, he showed his photo albums with so much proud. Over the years this outlook changed and Ladakh became a popular travel destination among regular travelers. There are several places to visit in Leh Ladakh for a solo traveler or a family traveler. I kept on planning but nothing materialized for a long time. Finally, my Ladakh trip happened when I was least expecting it. I booked everything only 4 days before the travel date.

Even after booking I was very nervous because it is a hard terrain and I was taking a solo Ladakh trip. One of my friends told me that she had a lot of problems due to the high altitude and she got unwell & could not enjoy.

Despite all these apprehensions I decided to travel solo to Ladakh for 9 days. I traveled by air from Delhi to Leh and vice versa. Most of the tours cover popular places of Leh Ladakh in 7 days. So mine was a slow pace Ladakh trip in comparison to regular tours. This gave me extra time to explore local places and get a better perspective of Leh and Ladakh.

Why Ladakh is known as Land of high passes

There are 20 high altitude mountain passes in Ladakh. In the local language, a mountain pass is known as “La” and multiple is known as “Dhak”. So “La” + “Dhak” and that’s how the Ladakh got its name and also known as “land of high passes”.

Ladakh is also known as “The land of Broken Moon” as there is barren terrain with lakes, “The Last Shangri-La” due to it’s close proximity to Tibet and “The Land of the Mystic Lamas” as there were many monasteries with mystic Lamas.I at Khardungla pass in Ladakh

Is Ladakh safe to travel?

Before my Ladakh trip, I was skeptical if it is a safe place to travel. There is a lot of information available on the internet about Leh and Ladakh but most of it is related to road travel and bike trips. Lots of the people travel to Ladakh in groups on bikes or Suv’s from Delhi or Manali to Leh or Srinagar to Leh. Some adventure junkies travel by road on regular buses.

It is fun to travel by road on bike or SUV or bus but it is not possible for lots of travelers due to several reasons. Most of the travelers like me want to have a Ladakh trip but they need a different perspective, which is of a regular person. Lots of people want to go to a new place for a vacation, which is an easily accessible and safe destination.

Even today after so many years, Ladakh is still considered as a difficult travel destination. I came across many families who consider Leh & Ladakh a difficult place for a holiday. There is still a mental block and many people advise their children to visit some other place instead of Ladakh. It may sound amusing to some people but then it is a reality.

My travel style is simple and I travel the way 80% of the people travel to a new place. Ladakh is a high altitude desert so, it is better to go slow. The air is thin and it takes a day or two to acclimatize to the altitude. When traveling by road acclimatization happens automatically as one drives from Manali or Srinagar to Leh. If traveling by air then go slow and take a day’s rest before going into Ladakh sightseeing mode.

Important questions about safety in Ladakh

Ladakh is it safe for solo female travelers

I traveled solo and from that perspective, I can say it is one of the safest places to solo travel in India. People are nice and helpful, they treat women with respect. My hotel was away from the main market and on a couple of occasions I returned after dark but I never felt unsafe. No one stopped or crossed my path. Though I wish that I should have carried a torch as most of the streets had very little light but nonetheless, it was safe. I am at Shey Palace Leh Ladakh

What about Chinese incursion

There is news of Chinese incursion every now & then. These news highlights that the Chinese soldiers are getting into the Indian territories of Ladakh. These incidents happen too far from all the popular tourist places visited in Ladakh. These Chinese incursions are at least 2 traveling days distance from Leh, Pangong Lake or Nubra valley.

Road conditions in Ladakh

The roads conditions are unpredictive in Ladakh even though BRO maintains the roads on a regular basis. Most of the roads connecting main towns of Ladakh are in driveable conditions but don’t expect multilane roads. At some places, roads are so narrow that barely two vehicles can cross at a time.

Moreover, when you go towards Nubra valley via Khardungla pass or Pangong Lake from Leh, there are chances of bad stretches of roads. Infect you never know when a road will wash away. Yes, this can also happen.

When I drove from Leh to Nubra valley the road condition was good. When I returned the next day afternoon, there was water flowing on the road like a waterfall. Due to the strong current of water, the road was washing away. My driver told that this happens every now and then in summer months when glaciers start melting due to the rise of temperature. Border road organization (BRO) of India quickly repair the road for vehicle movements still you can get stuck for a few hours at any given time. So expect the unexpected in Ladakh.

Moreover, if a person had not driven in the mountains or hill stations of North India then he or she should not drive in Ladakh because roads are full of twist and turns. At some places, one needs to maneuver narrowly with deep valleys on side of the road. Road near Leh on the way to Khardungla pass

Unrest of Kashmir

If you are flying in and out from Leh then there is no issue because Ladakh is too far from all those areas. Even if you are traveling by road through Srinagar and Kargil it is safe to drive because there is no trouble or militant issues in popular tourist areas.

Shelling from Pakistan

Ladakh is too far from Pakistan’s shelling range and there is no issue in this regard.

Is it ok for Elderly and infants to travel to Leh and Ladakh

Elderly people with heart conditions or breathing issues should avoid Ladakh because medical facilities are minimal. In the main city of Leh, there is a hospital with decent medical facilities. For any major issue, the doctors refer to Delhi or Srinagar hospitals.

If a person has these issues then consult your doctor before traveling to Ladakh. I have met 2-3 people above the age of 60-65 years and they had no issue while traveling in Ladakh.

It is ok to travel with children above one year though as a parent one should take all the regular precautions. Few more tips for traveling with elderly parents. Stok Palace sitting area near wall

Can I drive a rented car or hire from the local taxi union

This is an important point for people traveling by car from Delhi or Manali. In 2015 there were few incidents when local taxi union of Ladakh attacked the people driving on rented cars.

If you are driving in Ladakh then make sure that vehicle is on the name of the person driving or present in the car or close relative. Incase the car is on the name of your relative like a brother, sister or parents then make sure that you have documents to confirm the relationship.

If driving on a rented or borrowed vehicle then you can not use it for sightseeing in Ladakh. Only personal vehicles are allowed for sightseeing in Ladakh. Otherwise, you have to hire a taxi for local sightseeing and visiting the surrounding town. It may sound absurd but this is an important point to remember while traveling to Ladakh by car.

Best time to visit Ladakh

The Ladakh is the perfect destination for summer months which starts from the month of April in plains of India. At the same time, tourism starts in Ladakh. The best time for visiting Ladakh also depends upon how you are traveling. It depends if you are taking Ladakh trip by road or by air.

Ladakh trip by air

If you are traveling by air then May to September is the best time to visit Ladakh. In case if you like to see snow then April is also a good time to travel.

Ladakh region falls into rain shadow zone and due to this, there is practically no rain. There is no issue with monsoon rains when traveling by air because beyond Zoji La Pass from Srinagar and Baralacha Pass from Manali side, Ladakh gets no rains. There is an advantage when traveling by air in comparison to traveling by road because Ladakh air travel window is longer than by road.

Ladakh trip by road

This is one of the most preferred ways to travel to Ladakh by any adventure seekers. There are two ways to travel to Leh i.e. one from Delhi via Srinagar & Kargil, another is from Delhi via Manali. Most of the road trippers go through one route and return by another route. It is considered a must do the trip for people who like offroading or biking trips.

Srinagar to Manali road open in mid-May and Manali to Leh highway opens in the first week of June. The ideal time for a Ladakh road trip in June. From July onwards monsoon rains start in full swing. There are moderate to heavy rains in Manali and till Baralacha Pass. Due to this sudden landslides occur on the highway and road get closed for traffic.

From mid-September to mid-October is also a good time to travel to Ladakh as roads are repaired after the monsoon season. It starts getting cold in October as temperature goes falls to zero degrees Celsius. From Zanksar river to Leh

Ladakh climate

It is a high altitude desert with practically no rain throughout the year. It remains very dry throughout the year. In summer months the highest temperature goes till 24 to 25-degree Celcius and lowest temperature touches 10 to 11 degrees Celcius.

In winter months the maximum temperature is around zero degrees and minimum goes till minus 15 degrees Celcius.

Best season to visit Leh Ladakh for Chaddar trek is between mid-January to mid-February. This trek is known as Chaddar trek because the upper part of Zanskar river is mostly frozen. There is a thick layer of ice on the river, which is like a sheet and that’s why it is known as “Chaddar trek”. The literal meaning if Chaddar is a sheet.

There are no regular tourists in Leh and Ladakh during winter months from November to March. Most of the hotels and accommodations remain close in winters. Infect some of the Ladakhi people shift to plains in north India during winter months.

Packing list for Leh Ladakh and what to wear

It is easier to get almost everything in the Leh market but keep in mind that there is a chance that you won’t get the exact things. There are shops but they have limited stocks. When packing for Ladakh trip keep in mind that it is not like any other hill station in India. The climate conditions and altitude are quite different, so pack your bags wisely. Here is my packing list for Ladakh trip in summers.

Clothing for Ladakh

While packing clothes keep in mind that it can be cold in summers but it may get quite warm during the day. You should carry clothes which can be worn in layers because the temperature keeps on fluctuating.

In the sun it feels hot and as soon as you are in shade it feels cold. Evening and mornings are cold because Ladakh is a dry desert.

So carry a couple of warm inner but keep regular full sleeve T-shirts, which can be worn in layers. Which you can be removed easily while traveling if it feels hot.

Things to carry –

* Jacket – 1

** T-shirts 1 for every day + 2 extra

* Bottoms – Keep a couple of Jeans and trousers

** Undergarments – 1 for every day

* Cardigan or front open sweatshirt – 1

** Windcheater – 1 and it can double up as a light jacket

* Socks – Few pairs

** Cap – 1 for protection from the sun

* Stole – 1 to 2 and keep them handy when traveling as it gets windy at places like Pangong lake.

** Shoes – Keep one pair with laces and another slip on because you have to take off your shoes every time you visit a monastery or religious place.

* I advise that you keep a couple of track pants also, which can be worn during the day. This I am advising from personal experience.

* Sunglasses – 1 and preferably with UV protection

After arriving in Leh, I suddenly had swelling in my whole body and it was very uncomfortable in jeans. I had a bad habit of over packing and during Ladakh trip that really helped me. I was carrying a couple of track pants and leggings, which came very handy when I had swelling. Though after 4-5 days the swelling problem subsidized. Everybody reacts differently in different conditions and I had swelling in my body at high altitude.

Don’t pack short skirts, shorts, and tank tops.
Prefer cardigan over pullover.

Carry the regular toiletry bag with shampoo, face wash, body wash, hair conditioner, toothpaste, and toothbrush. Other then these carry a good quality moisturizing lotion because Ladakh is a dry desert.

Also carry a lip balm, sunscreen lotion with at least 40 SPF. If your skin is dry then carry mustard or olive oil or vitamin e oil. Use these every night because the skin gets dry very fast in Leh and Ladakh.

Also, check my packing list and what to wear in India.

Medicine

Keep Diamox tablets for altitude sickness and acclimatization issues but don’t take it if you are not very uncomfortable. You may have a slight headache and restless sleep for a couple of days, which will eventually go.

Keep Avomine or any other medicine for prevention from motion sickness and vomiting in hilly areas.

Also keep your regular painkiller, fever, and cold tablets.

It is better to pack some band-aids, pain-relieving spray or cream, crape bandage i.e. your regular first aid kit.

Carry some eatables

Carry some nuts, chocolates and energy bars in the bag. Some people lose appetite due to AMS (Acute mountain sickness) for them it is better to take something in between to get energy.

Also keep electrolyte solution or glucose powder, which is also helpful in maintaining energy in case of AMS. Here are some useful tips for stay fit while traveling.

The food is non-spicy in Ladakh. For some people, it becomes more difficult to eat blend food when appetite reduces. So, if you like spicy food then may carry a small bottle of a pickle with you.

Drink a lot of Water

Water helps in acclimatization, so drink lots of water. Dehydration can complicate health issues at high altitude. Always carry one liter of a water bottle and drink water at regular intervals.

When traveling to Pangong lake, Nubra valley or Tso Morari keep at least 2 to 3 liters of water in the car. From my personal experience, I can vouch that water helps a lot in handling mountain sickness and altitude issues.

Avoid aerated drinks because they can cause dehydration.

Carry cash

There are ATMs and branches of several banks in Leh and you can easily withdraw money.

There are no ATM in Nubra valley and Pangong lake area, so carry cash when traveling to these areas.

If you are traveling by road from Manali to Leh then carry cash for your entire journey because there is no ATM on the Manali highway.
When traveling from Srinagar to Leh then also carry cash for on the way requirements. There are ATM’s in Kargil but at times they run out of cash.

In Leh, credit cards are accepted by a few shops. It is better to carry cash because sometimes swipe machines don’t connect with the server for payment. Carry cash for meals.

Mobile phone network in Ladakh

Only postpaid phones work in Ladakh region as well as in whole Jammu & Kashmir. The BSNL connection is best among rest. After BSNL, Airtel and Jio have maximum connectivity. I personally carried Vodafone and it worked well in Leh & surrounding area, at Khardung La pass, and in Nubra valley.
It didn’t work while I was traveling or at Pangong lake.

If possible carry a BSNL postpaid connection because it has maximum connectivity.

Mobile data is very slow and you can get at the most 2G network speed.
Most of the hotel provides Wi-Fi connection so use it for the data network. In case there are no signals in mobile use WhatsApp for calling to your loved ones.

While traveling in Leh and Ladakh connect with your loved ones as and when you get signals because you never know when you get signals next time. Send SMS to your loved ones because messages will go asap as and when you get little network.

Taxi for sightseeing and local trips

Cost of a taxi is too high in comparison to what we get in plains. The Leh-Ladakh taxi union is very strong, they fix the rates at the beginning of the tourist season every year.

If you are looking to hire a taxi for visiting Pangong and Nubra valley then the cost of the taxi will be too steep.
A two day trip to Pangong lake or Nubra valley will cost anything between 10,000 to 12,000 INR. If you hire a taxi for local sightseeing it will cost between 2,500 to 3,000 INR for a day.

If on a budget then walk around in the Leh market and check for the flyers outside shops or restaurants. Most of the solo or couple travelers paste flyers with their travel details and contact numbers. Contact them and arrange to share the taxi. It will cut your travel cost to Nubra Valley or Pangong lake. You can also paste these flyers and other people can contact you.

Permit for Ladakh

Indian tourist need “Inner line permit” for visiting Ladakh, it is valid for 3 weeks.
Foreign travelers need “Protected area permit”, it is valid for 1 week. You can apply for an online permit before traveling or obtain it in Leh.

If you are traveling through an agent then they will arrange it for you. The process is simple and fast.
Keep a couple of photocopies of your ID and address proof because you may need these while traveling to Nubra or Pangong from Leh.

These are some basic tips to keep in mind before planning a Ladakh trip. It is a beautiful place to enjoy the beauty of mother nature. A trip to Ladakh needs slightly more planning than any other trip in India. Once you have sorted on all these points, it will be the most memorable trips of your life.

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