How to Go Ladakh – Intensive Guide

How to Go Ladakh

How to Go Ladakh – Intensive Guide

Do you want to know how to go Ladakh? If you like the thought of experiencing a timeless, culture or visiting magnificent Buddhist monasteries that are all set in a breathtaking landscape then this blog is for you. 

The chances are you are already contemplating it since you are reading this post. However, before you actually travel to Ladakh you should read this post to make the most of your time here. 

Travel here is not without some sizable challenges. Conditions are harsh in the high Himalayas with much of the state only accessible by foot as there are only a few motorable roads. 

The good news is that I have spent over half a year traveling around Ladakh, so it is safe to say I have learned a few ways you can safely save a pretty penny. God bless the Internet.

Mask, Dance, Leh

Where is Ladakh India?

Ladakh is in the very far North of the country and is fringed by both Pakistan and China. The mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh lies directly below, completely separating these stunning high mountain deserts from the rest of the country.

Ladakh Situated In Which State?

The Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh is Part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is in the far right-hand corner of the state.

How To Go To Ladakh

The state’s remote location means you only have two options to reach it: fly or by one of the limited roads.

Stakna, Gompa, Indius river

How To Reach Ladakh By Air 

The are daily flights from both Delhi and Mumbai to Leh. Ladakh is open for domestic travel and travelers can board a flight from all central states in India including Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai. 

All airlines fly into the capital only. This cuts out days on the road. The downside is that you can be pretty sure you will experience at least some AMS symptoms. Please do not have much planned for the first day or two. Several domestic airlines head here, so do shop around for a reasonable price as they tend to stay in the high season.

How To Reach Ladakh by Land 

Getting into Ladakh by land is only possible between June and mid-October. During the rest of the year, roads remain closed.

Manali to Leh

Manali lies at 2050 meters above sea level, and Leh is at a lofty 3500m. You will likely become sick as this route takes you over three passes above 5000m within less than forty-eight hours! However, this route is acceptable if you travel from Leh to Manali.

Srinagar to Leh via Kargil

This option involves traveling through Kashmir, which is not something many tourists are prepared to do. In Truth, it is beautiful, and despite its ominous reputation I didn’t feel threatened the whole time I was there.

The advantage of taking this route is the comparatively gentle increase in altitude. You are less likely to feel the effects of altitude sickness along this route.

Buddhist, buddha, statue

Best Time To Travel Ladakh 

  • As I mentioned earlier Ladakh is in a rain shadow and completely landlocked at a high altitude. It is no small wonder that these factors bring dramatic changes to the climate. Each season is radically different from the next, so let’s consider what time is right for you.

Winter (November to March) 

These are the winter months with temperatures plummeting to minus 25 at night. The only roads in and out are completely closed. It can leave you with a very long wait for them to reopen unless you fly. Many hotels close during this time although there will be considerably fewer tourists around and Ladakh looks beautiful in the snow.

Spring (April to May) 

Many people decide to come at this time as there is still plenty of snow on the hills, and the barley begins to bring colour to the mountains. However, the passes will still be closed, making access impossible. Tourist numbers will be meagre and that leaves you to have a more authentic and less hassle experience, in my humble opinion.

Summer (June to August) 

Summer is the peak season for Ladakh, India. The passes are all open, and the meadows will be green and very photogenic. However, the roads in and out often suffer from landslides and flooding, creating delays for your journey. Ladakh is simply stunning at this time, and since it is in a rain shadow, there are often clear starlit nights even in the monsoon.

Ladakh in September to October

These are the autumn months when the leaves begin to change colour. The nights become freezing, and the tourist numbers begin to wane as the people of the Valley again get ready for the long cold winter.

Transportation In Ladakh 

  • Once in Ladakh, you will have to decide how you want to move around the few roads that connect this state. It’s a big choice with only a few options, so here goes.

     Travel by private Jeep in Ladakh 

Some tourists get around the state in the back of a massive white car, and if you are only here for a couple of weeks, then this will do nicely. If you are on an extended journey, this will be incredibly impractical as it will cost you thousands of rupees a day, and unless you are rolling in cash, this will wear your budget down quickly. Shop around for the best price for this as there is plenty of competition.

     Ladakhi Public Transport 

While inexpensive, they are not frequent and do not reach much of the state. The most significant issue is that they are unlikely to stop for you to take pictures. This can make you want to claw your eyes out while driving right past some of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever see. 

Gun to my head, I would say you are much safer on a public bus as many drivers who drive private cars come from the lowlands and come here to make a quick buck. The drivers are often unfamiliar with the roads. Whereas public bus drivers make these journeys all the time.

    Local Shared Taxi 

Another way to get around is a shared jeep. These will stop for photos, especially if you are in one with lots of other tourists. They frequently run to all major tourist areas in the high season, such as the Nubra Valley or Pangong Tso. You pay by seat, so they are affordable compared to a private jeep or taxi.

    Car rental in Ladakh 

Renting your own vehicle in Ladakh is an option but unless you are a super confident driver I do not recommend it as fatalities are frequent. If you feel lucky, you can hire cars, jeeps, or even royal Enfields motorcycles in Leh. Again shop around in town for what suits you. Take your time choosing as your life depends on it.

Tso Moriri, lake, mountain

Altitude Sickness In Ladakh

Altitude sickness or AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is caused by travelling too high and fast. Breathing becomes more difficult as you are not able to get enough air. It can become a medical emergency quickly if it is ignored.

AMS becomes an issue above 3000m and since the majority of the whole of Ladakh is above that, it is a real issue. Leh, for example, has an elevation of 3200m, well inside the danger zone of AMS.

How To Treat AMS?

  • Drinking plenty of fluids, not ascending too fast, avoiding heavy meals, alcohol, smoking, and taking frequent breaks will help you avoid AMS. Again something to take into consideration when planning a trip as you should not try to move too fast.
  • Mild symptoms can be treated with paracetamol. I recommend avoiding ibuprofen if you’re coming from the lowlands, as dengue fever can become rife and can exacerbate the condition, particularly during the monsoon (the most popular time to travel.)
  • Moving down in elevation will also help to treat your symptoms. Even 300m can make a lot of difference. Some people take Acetazolamide or Dexamethasone to tackle the symptoms or ascend faster.
  • I do not recommend this as it masks the symptoms and you will have no idea how bad they are. Given how severe AMS is, I don’t recommend using this cause of action despite your schedule.
  • Take it slow and remember that most of us are probably only there once in a lifetime. It’s better to absorb it all in and not try to rush.

 What to See In Ladakh?

Most of the tourist attractions are now open in Ladakh and some of the best places to visit in this incredible state are:

What is Leh?

Central Leh is like a living museum. Take your time wandering the narrow streets and take it all in.

Mountain, ,lake, snow

Tso Moriri Lake

Tso Moriri is a stunning high mountain lake 215 km from Leh. The route is stunning and culminates in this otherworldly shimmering body of water.

 Thiksey Gompa 

Thiksey gompa is incredibly photogenic. White-washed buildings cascade over a triangular rock and are instantly responsible. Visiting this fantastic place is sure to be very atmospheric and well worth the little bit of effort to get here.

Thiksey, Gompa, temple

Khardung-La Pass

The Khardung La pass is the world’s highest motorable road and is popular with both domestic and international tourists. Come here for incredible views or to purchase a T-shirt.

Nubra Valley

The Nubra valley has cut an incredibly scenic valley that will leave you jaw-dropped. These days tourists can carry on to Turok which fringes the border with Pakistan.

River, Nubra, clouds

 Magnetic Hill

Magnetic Hill is extremely popular with domestic tourists. It seems to be gravity-defying but in fact, it is an optical illusion. Your car will not run uphill although it does.

Royal Leh Palace

The massive royal Leh Palace crowns the capital and despite it being seriously dilapidated it is a delight to visit. Please do not consider visiting this on your first day as you will likely get sick.

Pangong Tso Lake

Pangong Tso is another high mountain lake that stretches over 150km over the Tibetan border. Pangong is far more popular than Tso Moriri so expect to pay more for your night’s stay. The lake is incredible and worth every rupee.

Chemrey Gompa

Chemrey Gompa is far less visited than Thiksey but no less spectacular. Visiting makes for an authentic experience and is picture-perfect. It looks spectacular as you follow the road around the emerald-green barley fields and is not to be missed.

Chemrey gompa, bright, summer

What To Do In Ladakh?

 There are some of the best things to do in Ladakh that you simply cannot miss including

Camping

You don’t have to be on a multi-day trek to experience camping in the wild. Ask around in Leh for tent hire or guides if you need one. Better yet bring your own. No one will tell you that you can’t camp here, which is terrific.

Cycling

Bike hire is everywhere in Leh and you can cycle to your heart’s content. Although I will point out you need to be of a reasonable fitness level. One of the most popular routes is to cycle up to the Khardung La Pass and roll down it again.

Sightseeing

Most of the key sites in Ladakh are accessible by bus, so there is no need to spend a fortune seeing all the beautiful things this part of India offers.

Food Tours

Traveling your tastebuds is one of the joys of what you are doing so get involved. Take a cooking course in the capital or try some of the more unusual things such as Nun Chai (pink salted tea with yak butter.)

Trekking

I can confirm unequivocally that a large portion of the charms of this state is only accessible by foot. I wholeheartedly recommend getting out there and stretching your hamstrings.

Mounatin, snow, glacier

Trekking In Ladakh

Many of us will be considering trekking in Ladakh because, as I have mentioned, there are only a few roads. Signing up for an all-inclusive trek can cost an arm and a leg so let’s see how I save money on this. The first step is that you don’t book anything before you leave your home! You will be paying for a middle man and who needs one of those?

Even if you are on a tight schedule, there is no point in booking anything before arriving in the capital as there will be intense competition for your money, especially for the shorter, more popular treks, and at least you can shop around. If you come in the peak season, people with whom you can split the costs and trekking tours will leave daily, so booking anything in advance is futile.

Ladakh Treks To Choose

There are countless treks to choose from that can suit anyone’s experience level or financial investment. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.

travelling to Ladakh, gary mason, trekker

 Markha Valley

Lasting between 4 and 9 days this is an excellent trek to start with. The whole trek passes through the beautiful Hemis National Park and is a homestay trek. 

That means there is little need for pack horses or a guide as there will be villages at the end of every day where you can seek shelter and food. You will pay a fee directly to a family for all your trekking needs. 

Because of that, the Markha Valley trek has the advantage of getting an authentic glimpse into Ladaki culture and is an excellent choice for those of us on a budget.

bacterian, camel, nubra

 Nubra Valley Trek

The Word is that the Nubra Valley trek is one of the most beautiful. I admit I have not done this trek since it is a relatively new tourist route. In a nutshell, you will drive to the tiny village of Hunter where you will sleep for the night and have the chance to ride on Backterian Camels across the valley floor before your trek. 

You will need a guide as there are no villages, and you will trek over several high passes. It is a challenging trek, but it is increasing in popularity since it is only 7 days. If you decide this trek is for you, please let me know about your experience.

Shepherd, grazing, meadow

Rumtse to Tso Moriri Trek

Oh yes! This trek is incredible if not challenging. Trekkers will drive to Rumste and walk to Korzok over several days. Some people do it in five and others in as much as 8. The trek will take you through stunning scenery via the tiny Tso Kar, another smaller high mountain lake, although it does not feel like it when you are walking past it.

This extreme trek will take you over several high passes and there is no accommodation on the route. Despite being one of the popular routes you are very unlikely to see anyone else. Well, except maybe the odd nomadic shepherd herding their sheep on the high mountain meadows.

Marmots, eating, mountains

Spituk to Matho

If you want to find out if trekking is for you then this is for you. It is comparatively easy and only lasts for 4 to five days. It also passes through a portion of Hemis National park, allowing you to spot some incredible wildlife

Spituk is not far from Leh and takes in several gompas making this perfect for families or those on a schedule.

Gary Mason, trekker, mountain

Lamayuru to Darcha Trek

This epic 18-day trek takes you across some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Indian Himalayas. However, a road runs right through the Yapola gorge past the Kyupa La pass where it’s just half a day to Lingshet. That is the opening to the fabled Zanskar valley. 

You can use this to your advantage if you hire a taxi cutting out days of trekking if you don’t fancy the whole trek. You will need a little trekking experience if you decide to trek past the Kyupa La pass independently. The advantage of taking a trekking agency is that homestays can quickly get booked up along this route as there are few.

Do you Need a Ladakh Tour Guide or Agency?

Well, that depends mainly on what trek you decide to do. I would advise you to ask yourself honestly, what are your limitations, and decide based on that rather than a smooth-talking tour agent trying to sell you something you don’t want.

If you plan on trekking without a guide, research the routes as much as possible. Some courses like the Marka Valley or the Yapola Gorge are self-explanatory as there will be very well-worn paths.

Your time in Ladakh can be as challenging as you want it to be. If you have never tried high-altitude hiking, you probably shouldn’t start with a route with no villages, as this is insanely demanding. 

Walking for ten hours a day and sleeping in a tent every night for the best part of a month is a fresh new bag of challenges. I think that is easy for anyone to understand.

Strangely, you can legally do these epic walks yourself with no guides or pack horses as long as you have the relevant permits. I strongly recommend not attempting that unless you are a well-seasoned trekker.

I recommend purchasing a copy of the lonely planets guide to trekking in the Himalayas for suggestions of routes and what it will take to complete them. 

If you decide to take an organized tour, you should look at the reviews as some are good and some are not.

Gary Mason, snow, prayer flag

How Much Money Required for Ladakh Trip?

How much money is required for the ladakh trip it depends on what you will do. If you are on an all-inclusive trip into the wilderness that will set you back considerably more than if you are getting a bus to a local monastery. The best thing I can do is look at how much I spend since I am on a budget.

  Accommodation

There is an insane number of choices of places to stay in Leh and how much you pay will be determined by your desired level of comfort. 

When I visit the capital I stay in the humble Tibet Peace guest house as the owners are friendly and it is comfortable. The most expensive room is a little over a thousand rupees in the high season, but there are many more for a few hundred. There are plenty of choices that cost way more. 

Outside of the capital, there is a good chance you will be staying in someone’s home, which is often all-inclusive.

  Food

Local food is extremely cheap and you can easily get a steaming bowl of Thukpa for less than a hundred rupees. When you are in Leh, you will have access to all the pizza and pasta you want, but it will cost a hell of a lot more. However, there is only a certain amount of times you can eat Thukpa before your soul begins to scream. You can only get tourist food in Leh and Lamayuru, which means that eating in Ladakh is exceptionally cost-effective.

  Alcohol

If you want to drink alcohol in Ladakh you can but it cost more than in the lowlands since every bottle has to be driven hundreds of kilometres. It is also heavily restricted because tourists get too happy with it and clog up the tiny hospitals. You can get a large bottle of beer from 150 rupees to 300 depending on where you buy it. 

It is important to note that drinking alcohol will not help you with altitude sickness, and consumption should be minimized. You will get drunk much faster up here, which is definitely not a good thing.

old woman, cooking, traditional

   Transportation

How much your transport in Ladakh will depend wholly on how you want to get around. Public busses are never more than a few pounds but private cars with a driver will cost upwards of a couple of thousand a day. Read the transport section above for more details.

   Entrance Fees

Lamayuru and the Leh Palace are the only places with substantial entrance fees and by that, I mean about 300 rupees. Aside from that attractions are either free or less than a bowl of Thukpa.

 Is It Safe To Travel To Ladakh Now?

Yes, it is safe to travel to Ladakh. Despite being a strong military presence there is no immediate threat to your safety. Although some people may find it alarming. When it comes to COVID-19 there is no mandate in play that says you need a vaccine. However, The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council has a lot of advice and regulations to hand out regarding COVID-19. To find out all the latest guidelines please click the link provided.

Korzok, lake, reflection

 FAQs About Ladakh

I will now answer the most frequently asked questions about travel to Ladakh. If you have any more, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below, and I will get back to you.

 What Is The Famous Food Of Ladakh?

Momos are Tibetan dumplings and quite delicious. I wholeheartedly recommend trying them and being forewarned that one bowl is never enough. Thukpa is also famous across the world and is similar to noodle soup. 

The food here is unlike anything else you will find in India because the people have had to make their food with whatever the land can supply and that is very minimal ingredients indeed. Most dishes include barley and you can expect it in everything, including your tea

old, woman, Ladakhi

 Clothing: What To Wear In Ladakh?

The sun is brutal, and you must cover up as much as possible. Dress accordingly to the seasons. You will need thick layers if you trek outside the primary season. Also, wear glasses with UV protection as the sun damages your eyes.

 What Is The Culture Of Ladakh?

The vast majority of the state practices Tibetan Buddhism, which is a highlight of visiting. There is also a sizable population of Muslims due to its proximity to Kashmir and Pakistan. That fact is emphasized by the daily prayer calls that fill Leh’s air.

 Famous Festivals Of Ladakh

The people here have many festivals since their culture is very ancient. However, some stand out more than others. Here are some of the most prominent.

       Hemis Festival

It is celebrated on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month at the magnificent Hemis Gompa. It involves the iconic mask dances to commemorate the birth of the founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet

      Losar

It is celebrated between the 8th and 30th of December to mark the new year. Celebrations go on for several days and are celebrated all over Ladakh. It is incredibly colourful and energetic and since it is in the middle of winter, there won’t be many other travellers.

       Sindhu Darshan

It is celebrated for three days during the full moon in June in honour of the mighty river Indus. It is understandably popular with tourists as the state will be full of them now. If you are here at this time experiencing this festival is an absolute must.

How Many Days Are Enough For Ladakh?

Since you will be unable to do very much for the first 24 to 48 hours it is not somewhere you can visit on the weekend. However, I think it is fair to say you can get a pretty good feel for this part of India within a couple of weeks. Although to see the state in any depth you should budget a month in my opinion as things move very slowly up here.

What is the Average Temperature Of Ladakh?

Month  Temperature °C Max / Min Rainfall 
January -3 / -25 9 mm
February -1 / -20 8 mm
March 6 / -6 11 mm
April 12 / -1 9 mm
May 17 / 3 9 mm
June 21 / 7 4 mm
July 25 / 10 15 mm
August 24 / 9 15 mm
September 21 / 5 9 mm
October 14 / -1 8 mm
November 7 / -7 4 mm
December 1 / -18 5 mm

Note* Ladakh only has an average of 13 rainfall days a year so water is precious. Please use it sparingly.

Which Network Works In Ladakh?

BSNL is the best network for Ladakh and has the most comprehensive coverage followed by Airtel and JIO. However, I would get ready to say goodbye to the internet for a while as access is just awful.

Accommodation in Ladakh

As you can probably imagine, in a land as harsh as Ladakh, accommodation can be both basic and limited outside of Leh. You can choose from quaint little cottages to basic bedrooms in the capital. It really is a case of whatever suits your budget or how much comfort you require.

Outside of Leh, you may be staying in someone’s home, especially in the villages. These tend to be full board. Homestays are good value and they provide a fantastic insight into Ladakhi life.

Tso kar, sky, grass

In Summary of my post on travelling to Ladakh,

I hope this post has been enlightening or, at the very least, an entertaining read. Let me know in the comments section if I did a good job as I want to provide you with the information you want.

To better understand how long you should travel to India, click the link. After all, your time is the most valuable commodity you have.

If you liked this post and it inspired you why not check out some of my other suggestions such as things to do in Varanasi or perhaps places to visit in Jaisalmer? Happy planning. 😎

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Gary Mason

Hi, there, folks. My name is Gary Mason, and as you can see, I have created a blog about travelling to South Asia.

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