Things To Keep In Mind While Planning For A Trip To Ladakh
Ladakh is not a place for a weekend trip, neither a destination for which plans can be made in haste. A trip to this Himalayan highland demands meticulous planning well in advance if you want to truly immerse into the nature, enjoying the place and not having to worry about few things very unique to Ladakh. Below are some of the points we believe are important to consider. These are the thing to keep In mind while planning for Ladakh. We followed these points and planned well in advance to ensure we had an unforgettable holiday.
1. Plan Early, Book Early:
Trip to Ladakh demands a well-planned itinerary involving planning well ahead of the trip and making all bookings according. This starts with booking flights to and from the city of Leh from various big cities in India or planning a journey by road from either Sri Nagar (via Kargil) or from the hill station of Manali. You should book the flights or hire a car early enough to finalise your travel dates. Since last decade Ladakh has gained immense popularity among domestic travellers and international audiences as one of the top destinations in India. This has resulted in hotels getting booked way before the holiday season starts. Therefore, booking a suitable hotel within your budget well in advance is the best possible way to avoid disappointment with hotel unavailability or paying higher price later. We booked our flights and all hotels around 6 months ahead of our scheduled trip.
2. Book Taxi Early:
Our vehicle for the Ladakh trio with reliable taxi driver Sonam Namgail
This is a well-known fact now that during peak tourist seasons of June, July and early August tourists in large number arrive in Ladakh due to its increased popularity as a top destination in India. This has resulted in scarcity of taxis for majority of the tourists who depend on rental taxis for travel within the region of Ladakh to visit tourist attractions and sightseeing. As per the local regulation, taxis from outside Ladakh are not allowed to take tourists for sightseeing. Tourists are only allowed to rent taxis from Leh Taxi Union where all local taxis are registered. And as the number of taxis are finite, many tourists are faced with a problem of inland transport after reaching Leh and find themselves without a taxi. Therefore, book a taxi well in advance by contacting the drivers via Leh Taxi Union and pay a small deposit to ensure you have a car to take you around once you arrive. Also, Leh Taxi Union has price list for all sightseeing and destination on their website which is transparent and travellers are charged fairly for hiring a taxi. For our trip we contacted a taxi owner 6 months ahead and confirmed the price and paid the deposit.
3. Altitude Sickness And Medication For Travel Sickness:
Diamox is a commonly recommended medication to flight AMS
Entire region of Ladakh is considered as high-altitude region due to its average altitude of 10,000 feet and above. Leh, which is often considered as gateway to Ladakh is situated at an altitude of over 10,600 feet. Due to this high-altitude, majority of the travellers coming from the plains and low altitude regions to Ladakh suffer from mild or in some rare cases severe altitude sickness or AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Some of the main symptoms associated with altitude sickness are headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and general tiredness. Air tends to be thin in regions of high-altitude like Ladakh where breathing enough oxygen initially can be proven challenging causing altitude sickness. After arriving in Ladakh while the body starts to get acclimatised to the high altitude, taking Acetazolamide (commonly sold over the counter as Diamox in India) helps with altitude sickness. We took Diamox for first 3 days after reaching Leh while our body was getting acclimatised. Even with Diamox we experienced mild symptoms of altitude sickness on Day 1 – we had mild headache and nausea, felt tired, and lost our appetite. However, from day 2 we felt much better and by day 3 our body got acclimatised well.
Long journeys though winding mountain road can give rise to motion sickness for tourists
Another health issue many travellers face with while in Ladakh is travel or motion sickness. Ladakh is a mountainous region with bending and winding mountain roads which make you motion sick while traveling by car from one place to another, especially during long journeys. The common symptoms of travel sickness are very similar to some of the altitude sickness like nausea, vomiting and dizziness. The best way to tackle travel sickness is by taking travel sickness medication like Dimenhydrinate commonly sold as Gravol or Promethazine commonly sold as Avomine in India. We took medication for travel sickness regularly during long car journeys in Ladakh which helped us keep away travel sickness and enjoy out trip.
4. Spend Enough Time In Leh To Acclimatise Once You Arrive:
This point is related to altitude sickness and acclimatisation and can have a significant impact on your overall trip to Ladakh. In medical terms altitude over 8,000 feet is considered as ‘high altitude’ until 12,000 feet and anything between 12,000 to 18,000 feet falls under ‘very high altitude’ category. Many travellers tend to spend very little time in Leh (which is already falls under high altitude category) before venturing out to even higher region of Ladakh like Pangong Tso within first 24 to 36 hours of arrival. This sudden increase in elevation in most cases can give rise to moderate to severe altitude sickness as body does not get enough time to acclimatise. This is especially dangerous for people with other co-morbidities. In many cases travellers are forced to go down to lower altitude for safety, jeopardizing the entire travel plan.
Therefore, it is best to spend first 72 hours in Leh which gives the body enough time and chance to acclimatise to the high region before going higher. As per the current report when this blog was written, the local Government in Ladakh has made it mandatory for travellers to spend the first 48 hours in Leh and surrounding areas before venturing out to higher altitude regions. We spend first 72 hours in Leh and went out for Leh local sightseeing and day trips from Leh to attractions in Indus River Valley and Sham Valley which are almost of similar altitude as Leh. This gave us ample time to acclimatise.
5. Ensure Obtaining Correct Permit As Per Travel Plan:
As many tourist attractions in Ladakh are near or very close to the ‘Line of Control’ with Pakistan and ‘Actual Line of Control’ with China, domestic and international travellers require a permit from the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office in Leh to visit these areas. The areas that come under the permit are in Nurba valley, Khardung La pass, Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Turtuk, Chushul, Dah and Hanu village, Man and Merek village, Nyoma and Loma Bend. No permit is needed to visit places around Leh such as places in Indus River valley, Zanskar valley or Suru valley.
Protected Area Permit that we obtained in Leh from DC Office
This permit is called differently for Indian and international travellers:
Indian Travellers – Inner Line Permit
International Travellers – Protected Area Permit
Travellers are required to obtain this permit in advance from the DC office in Leh. The permit can be obtained either online or by going to DC office which is open Monday to Saturday and even on Sundays during peak tourist seasons. Inner Line Permit is valid for three weeks and Protected Area Permit is valid for two weeks. As an international traveller you need to specify the places you wish to visit as the permit will list the places that you have applied for. In most cases when travel agents apply for international travellers includes all applicable areas that require permit in the application. Also, it is not mandatory to travel with the same travel agent who has applied the permit for international travellers.
Indian passport holders can easily self-apply and pay online to get the Inner Line Permit. For international travellers, only government registered travel agents can apply for the Protected Area Permit. If you are an international traveller and can agree with a travel agent to use their name while applying online for the permit, you can apply online yourself. You will need to select the name of the travel agent from dropdown menu. We found it easier to have the travel agent apply for us. The process takes a day and can be obtained after arriving in Leh. We gave our passport and the required money for the permit to the front desk of the hotel who arranged the permit for us via a travel agent on same day. The charge for the permit includes INR 400 per person as Environment fee and 50 INR as Red Cross Fee each person, plus INR 150 service change per person for the Travel agent applying for the permit. Important to note is that children are also required to pay the same fees as adult travellers. Once the hard copy signed permit is obtained a few photocopies of the permit should be made. This is because all check posts along the protected area though which you will pass through will keep a copy of the permit.
6. Rent And Keep Oxygen Cylinder For Supply In Case Of An Emergency:
In cases of moderate to severe altitude sickness where an individual struggles to breathe adequate oxygen normally, steady supply of oxygen artificially is needed for safety. Altitude sickness or AMS does not depend on age or fitness level. Even the fittest person can fall victim of AMS at higher altitude, and at that moment an oxygen cylinder can be the difference between life and death. Therefore, while travelling to high regions in Ladakh you are required to carry oxygen cylinder in case of an emergency. However, in Leh, in majority of cases, travellers are not required to rent and keep oxygen cylinders as hotels keep their supply of oxygen for visitors and hospitals in Leh also provide support in an emergency. Renting an oxygen cylinder is always required while travellers are going to remote locations like Nubra valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri where medical facilities are not readily available like Leh city. Keeping oxygen cylinder will give crucial time to get back to Leh city in case of acute AMS while in the remote areas of Ladakh.
We hired our oxygen cylinder from Leh Oxy Care
Oxygen cylinders can be rented from the city of Leh for various lengths of time. The cylinders come in various sizes from handheld bottle for oxygen shots to various size of cylinders which can provide constant supply of oxygen for different lengths of time. Majority of the travellers rent oxygen cylinders for 3 days when they travel to the higher altitude of Nubra valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. A medium size cylinder can provide constant supply of oxygen for approximately 10 to 11 hours and in most cases is adequate to carry while going to higher region from Leh. While renting the oxygen cylinder the supplier demonstrates how to open and use the tank and will also supply accessories like pipe supply and breathing masks. Check with supplier to ensure the cylinder is full while renting. Point to be noted here is if the cylinder is not used at all, no money will be given back while returning the cylinder.
We rented a medium size oxygen cylinder from Leh which cost us INR 2500 for 3 days. During our trip thankfully we did not have to use it.
7. Drink Plenty Of Water To Stay Hydrated:
Drinking plenty of water in high altitude helps with AMS. It’s always advisable to drink plenty of water and at regular intervals during the entire Ladakh trip. Its best to buy few big bottles of water when you arrive at Leh and keep this supply in the car for your travels. Hotels do supply with bottle of water for free in the room, however that will not be sufficient in most cases. We purchased a dozen of 2 litres bottled water from Leh on arrival from a grocery store which was sufficient for us for the entire trip.
8. Pack Moisturising Cream And Sunscreen In Your Suitcase:
Ladakh is a dry place where air contains very little to no moisture. This can result in dry nose and in worst case nose bleeding from dryness. The best way to prevent this is by applying a heavy moisturising ointment on the lining of nose. Same goes with dried lips, applying ointment regularly will help keep lips moist and prevent cracking. We purchased a tube of Boroline (very popular all-purpose moisturising cream in India) on the recommendation of a local shopkeeper and it worked like a treat.
Also, with no cloud cover in Ladakh during summer don’t forget to use sunscreen.
9. Avoid Smoking And Drinking Alcohol:
Smoking may aggravate condition of altitude sickness. Therefore, its best to avoid smoking while travelling to Ladakh. Same goes with alcohol, as consumption of alcohol to any extent while travelling to high altitude places like Ladakh can worsen the symptoms of altitude sickness. Further alcohol dehydrates body which is not something you need while trying to acclimatise. Try to avoid consuming alcohol while holidaying in Ladakh, we stayed completely sober during our 9 days in Ladakh and our trip was no less enjoyable!!
10. Don’t Rush, Take It Slow And Enjoy The Surroundings
Ladakh is a place which demands slow-paced travel
Ladakh is a place to enjoy at a slow pace. Specially once outside the city of Leh, life is more laidback and relaxed. Trying to match up with this slow pace allows travellers to enjoy more with greater attention to the little details. Also, the peaceful vibe of Buddhism lends very well to the peaceful nature and surroundings of Ladakh. Try not to rush while visiting any tourist attractions, whether it’s a monastery or a place with natural beauty. Take time to absorbing the surrounding, feel the nature and reflect inwards!
11. Dress Comfortably And Modestly:
Ladakh has number of monasteries and gompas open to visitors as Ladakh is a place for spirituality beside endless natural beauty. While visiting monasteries and gompas it’s important to dress modestly to show respect. I wore shorts and full trousers both while visiting monasteries and was not stopped for wearing shorts. While visiting Gurudwara Pathar Sahib visitors are offered full trousers as well as head cover by the temple management.
Dressing comfortably goes a log way
Apart from being respectful to the local religion and culture, Ladakh is also located at high altitude and weather can be on the colder side in many places during the evenings, especially in remote locations in Nubra valley and Pangong Tso area. So adding some breathable layers keeps your comfortable in the changing temperatures. Carrying something warm comes in handy, especially when you are in Nubra Valley and in Pangong Tso.
12. Respect Local Community And Their Culture And Nature:
Visitor are expected to respect the religion and culture while visiting religious places
Ladakh is home to many tribal and ethnic communities like Changpa, Balti, Drokpa, Mon and many more. These communities mainly follow Tibetan Buddhism and Islam and have their own culture, customs and traditions which they have safeguarded for generations. So, while visiting these communities, their religious places such as monasteries or the mosques, it’s important to respect their culture as an outsiders. Same applies to Ladakh’s unique natural diversity which needs to be preserved for generations to come. Therefore, it’s imperative to respect the nature while visiting the land of Ladakh.
Please do note that we are not medically qualified individuals. All information you have red above are based on our own experience and internet research. If you are travelling to Ladakh in future, before making your booking we will strongly suggest you consult with your family doctor/physician about altitude sickness/ acute mountain sickness and what medication to take during your trip based on your health condition. If you have respiratory problems, asthma or any other serious medical condition, we will strongly recommend you consult your family doctor/physician before making any travel plans to Ladakh.
Some useful link on Ladakh for further information
General Information on Ladakh tourism: https://leh.nic.in/tourism/
Information on Inner line permit / Protected area permit: https://www.lahdclehpermit.in
Information on Ladakh Taxi Union and rates for renting taxi: https://www.ladakhtaxiunion.com