Ladakh, open to tourism only since 1974, is a land of high passes, bounded by the Karakoram and the mighty Himalayas. The Indus with its tributaries acts is the lifeline for Ladakh’s scanty population.Ladakh covers an area of 97,000 sq kms, and has an average elevation of 3,500 m. It is often called ‘Little Tibet’, because of its topographical and cultural similarities with neighbouring Tibet. The rugged, arid Ladakh mountain-scape has been the subject of many a photographer and destination of world-class mountaineers. Its brackish lakes at high altitudes, picturesque peaks, charming mountain villages, expansive meadows, wildlife, monasteries, rich heritage, awesome physical features, and remoteness sets it apart from other favourite holiday hot-spot.
Owing to its rigid climatic conditions and other features, tourists are required to certain necessary precautions during their Leh Ladakh tour. Read the tips and suggestions mentioned below.
Area: 97,000 sq kms out of which nearly 38,000 sq. kms are under Chinese Occupation since 1962.
Population: Approx. 2.40 lakh in the 2 districts of Leh & Kargil.
Languages: Ladakhi including Balti / Purgi, Shina or Dardic, Urdu / Hindi.
Ethnic composition: Mongoloid/Tibetan, Dardic and assorted Indo-Aryan elements.
Altitude: Leh 3505 m, Kargil 2750 m
Rain-fall : 15cm, 6″ (annual average)
Clothing :Cotton & light woollens in summer and heavy woollens including down-filled wind proof upper garments in winter.
Leh is small enough to walk most places, most notable exception being the airport, for which it’s advisable to take a taxi for around 100 to 150 Rupees. DO NOT walk the first day as you may be a victim of AMS. To go to tourist destinations around Leh like Pangong Lake, Nubra Valley, etc., private taxis are available at taxi stands. The rates are decided by unions. A bargain of 10-15% is possible on theses rates if you directly contact the taxi driver and not go through travel agencies or through hotel taxi bookings. Alternatively, if you want to travel in a shared taxi, you can contact travel agencies and they fill find travel partners for you. This is payable on per person basis. As everywhere else, solo travellers may have more difficult time booking the tours as despite the abundance of flyers stating ‘Daily departures’, it is not a certainty. Even the popular tours like Nubra Valley may not be available daily for solo travellers. So, make sure that you book early.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Discover Ladakh clearly suggests all tours to Ladakh be planned in the months of May-September. Ladakh travel in months other than these may get really inconvenient.
When it comes to temperature and climatic conditions, the summers have a pleasant temperature. In winters, the temperature touches the extreme level. In winters, the temperature can go as low as -30 degrees in Leh & Ladakh and -60 degrees in Drass. Almost all the feasible water resources get frozen. During July and August, the maximum temperature can rise up from 20 to 35 degree Celsius.
In peak winters the temperature in Ladakh goes down to – 30 Degree Celsius in Leh and Kargil and – 50 Degree Celsius in Dras. Temperatures remain in minus for almost 3 months from December to the month of February. But on clear sunny days it can become very hot and one can get sun burnt. Rainfall is very less due to the geographical location of Ladakh. The rainfall is around 50 mm annually. It is the melting snow which makes the survival of human and animals possible. In the desert like landscape one may come across the dunes or perhaps occasionally to the dust storms.
PERMIT & PASSPORT
For traveling in Leh, tourists do not require permits. On the other hand, all foreign travelers are required to get themselves registered at Drass, Sarchu and Rumste if they are traveling through the land. For some restricted areas such as Tsokar & Pangong Lakes and Tsomoriri, Nubra Valley and Dhahanu, tourists require permits. It can be obtained from the District Magistrate of Leh through travel agents.
Anybody can fall prey to acute mountain sickness at an altitude of 10,000 ft above sea level. Therefore, it is necessary to take full rest on the day of arrival and get yourself acclimatized. People with high blood pressure and heart ailments should refrain themselves from planning a trip to Ladakh.
Note: Acute mountain sickness can occur to any one at an altitude above 10,000 ft. from the sea level. The most common symptoms of acute mountain sickness are headache disturb sleep loss of appetite, nausea, coughing, irregular breathing, breathlessness, lassitude and lack of concentration. Since Leh Town is situated at an altitude of 11,500 ft. above sea level. It is advisable to take the following precautions, so as to acclimatize your body properly.
- Take complete rest for the first 36 hours of your arrival at Leh. However, this period may vary with different people.
- Your body should get used to the lower oxygen levels.
- Incase you develop any of the above-mentioned symptoms, please consult a Doctor.
- Rescue and precaution for mountaineering and trekking in Ladakh
- Tourist undertaking mountaineering and trekking in Ladakh, whether in groups or individual, should take some precautions. There is no private aerial rescue agency in Ladakh and only as a life saving measure; engaging the Indian Air Force help in evacuation.
MONEY & CURRENCY
There are a very few hotels and tour operators which accept credit card (aka plastic money) but charge 2% service tax. In the main Leh city, various private banks such as State Bank of India, Jammu and Kashmir Bank, Punjab National Bank and Axis Bank have placed their ATM machine.
Since most of the markets and STD booths in Leh Ladakh region gets closed before 10 PM, it is better to get in touch with your near and dear ones before evening time. The General Post Office and Telegraph Office available in the Leh town also helps in communication. The state tourism board has its own wireless radiophone network that connects its offices at Leh, Kargil and Padum with those in Jammu, Srinagar and Delhi.
INTRA -CITY TRANSPORT
Leh offers a large fleet of tourist transport facilities with more than 2000 vehicles. Their taxis include Innova, Mahindra, Scorpio, Xylo, Toyota, Tata Grande and Maruti Van. There are several mini deluxe buses that are available in excellent conditions. The local drivers are well mannered and well acquainted with all the tourist sites in the region.
Unfortunately the Leh bus station is far from a highlight, it’s chaotic and poorly organised. There are two sections, one for local transportation within Ladakh, and one for the state run buses. The local buses get exceptionally crowded, times of departure fluctuate greatly, and there is no ticket office (just board the bus, and pay to the conductor). When planning a trip to a destination in Ladakh ask around to find when the departure time roughly is, and show up at the station half an hour early; ask people there what bus to take, don’t trust the destinations marked on the buses; take a seat and wait for the bus to depart. Then expect to spend at least an hour at the bus station. The state buses run to Srinagar, Manali, and even a direct service to Delhi (3 days away), there is a ticket office, and bookings are taken days in advance. The process here is more straight forward and less time consuming. Taxis have fixed prices (updated every 2 years) and can be arranged from the Taxi Stand along Fort Road. When available, you may also purchase a copy of the fare-booklet for Rs 20.
Dos and Donts in Ladakh
- Always carry drinking water and dry food.
- Take Disprin with you if you want to go to Khardung La, as it is very high altitude of 5359m.
- If you are not able to go further from a particular spot in day, do not move stay there, as road condition is very bad in some places and it would be very difficult to travel in night.
- Temperature in Ladakh is too low and if you will throw any biodegradable item, it will remain in the same state for very long time, especially in snow, people defecate and the shit remains in the same form for years, so please try the Ladakhi winter toilets.
- Use vehicles, which have good-ground clearance and are in good condition. SUVs like Tata Sumo Grande, Toyota Qualis and Highlander, Mitsubishi Pajero work best over there.
- Make a first-aid box and carry proper medicines for headache, fever, and vomiting also in it.
- There is electricity problem in Leh, so it is better to take extra batteries for digital products like camera, mobiles phones, etc. Charge them fully before leaving for the tour. You may not get electricity at some remote places and also because of the cold, the battery gets discharged soon.
- If you are planning to visit Leh-Ladakh on your bike, please make a group of 2 or more. Please do not go alone on bikes, especially Royal Enfield Electra or Bullet as it is very dangerous.
- People there are very friendly and hospitable. Respect them.
- If you reach Leh by air, stay that day and do not plan to go anywhere for that day, as you will need a day or two to acclimatize yourself. Drink plenty of fluids (that does not include alcohol), do not move much for the first two to three days.
- Don’t use Polythene bags. Ladakh is a “no polythene” zone. Kindly respect this and please carry back all the plastic you take with you.
- Refill your water bottles instead of buying new ones. Mountain water is good. If you have doubt, boil it and refill.
- Wear nice clothes covering your body while on roads, especially while visiting a Buddhist Gompas.