Friday, 30 October 2015

How to plan a trip to Ladakh

Ladakh - The land of passes, enigma and awe!

A first timers' guide to plan a trip to Ladakh

 I have certain deep travel cravings every now and then. It is during such times, I list out all the places I want to visit and try to research as much as possible and plan well in advance.

My trip to Ladakh in August this year, finally cured (only for the time-being) my travel lust for the mountains. With almost 2-3 months of research and planning, my better half and myself embarked on what was going to be the best journey of our life (so far). I will briefly outline our itinerary, what to pack and where to go in this blog.

Sonmarg - enroute Srinagar to Leh
As most of us planning a trip to Ladakh are well aware that there is scope for altitude sickness, we chose to travel by road instead of flying in to avoid it. Our trip was going to be a circuit, starting from Hyderabad via Delhi via Srinagar to Leh and back to Hyderabad via Delhi via Manali.
We delayed booking our tickets and hence had to shell out a little more, however if you can plan well (better than us that is) and book in advance it will be much lesser.

Also, I would recommend planning a trip in September as opposed to August, as it would still be raining on and off in August and the risk of landslides and roads getting cut off is very high. This will surely result in losing a few days.

Below is a map of the circuit we took.

Our modes of transport:

Hyderabad to Delhi - Flight (to and fro @ Rs. 6175 per person)
Delhi to Srinagar - Flight (Rs. 8076 per person)
Srinagar to Leh - Road (Rs. 14000 cab shared by 4 people)
Leh to Manali - Road (Rs. 11000 cab, did not find anyone to share)
Manali to Delhi - Road (Himachal Pradesh Tourism overnight bus @ Rs.1300 per person)
We started our journey from Hyderabad on 1st August. Below is our detailed itinerary.

1-AugHyd-Srinagar: night stay in Srinagar12335001800450
2-AugSrinagar to Kargil: night stay in Kargil8901001000150
3-AugKargil to Leh: night Stay in Leh1320NA800NA
5-AugLeh local sightseeing920100800400
6-AugLeh to Pangong: night stay at Pangong6107202200NA
7-AugPangong to Hanle: night stay in Hanle330NA2100NA
8-AugHanle to Tsomoriri to Leh330NA800NA
9-AugLeh to Nubra valley: night stay at Nubra50060900NA
10-AugNubra to Leh: night stay in Leh800NA8003000
11-AugLeh to Keylong: night stay in Keylong590NA700NA
12-AugKeylong to Manali; Manali to Delhi: night stay in Delhi550700NANA
13-AugDelhi to Agra, Mathura, Vrindavan880717025002250
14-AugDelhi local sightseeing94012802500NA
15-AugDelhi - Kurukshetra - Delhi-Hyderabad15303500NANA
Leh-Pangong-Hanle-Tsomoriri-Tsokar-Leh TaxiNA30000NANA

Including our flight tickets and taxis to and from airports, our total expenditure was Rs.1,32,000/-

Serene Pangong

Where to go, What to see:

  • The route from Srinagar to Leh is via Sonamarg and it is absolutely picturesque. 
  • One can visit Kargil war memorial, drass on the way
  • We stayed at Silk Route inn which is bang opposite the Suru river in kargil, just a little outside town. Spacious rooms for Rs. 1000/-. Food was decent.
  • Kargil to Leh route is astounding as the landscape changes every few kilometers.
  • On the way to Leh, one can visit, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Indus-Zanskar river sangam, Lamayuru monastry, Moonland, Mulbek
  • Hanle is the last village, beyond which lies the China border. It has an observatory and one can see the telescope that captures images and sends them back to Bangalore
  • The route to Hanle is very scenic and we can spot plenty of Pashmina sheep, wild asses and Yak
  • Hanle has the best night sky and is rarely cloudy. One can see the milky way and lots and lots of stars which are not visible in our cities due to light pollution
  • Tsomoriri is a clear blue lake as compared to Pangong Tso, which changes colors and is a salt lake
  • On the way to Nubra valley, one can experience Khardungla pass at an altitude of approximately 18000 feet above sea level. Make sure you climb all the way to the top for a breathtaking view
  • On the way to Pangong, we come across the chang-la pass which is only a couple thousand feet less than Khardung-la. The view is awesome and so is the soup/maggi
  • One can visit, Leh palace, Stok palace, Hemis monastery within the local sightseeing
  • Visit Diskit monastery on the way to Nubra valley and ensure you take a ride on the double humped bactrian camels at Nubra
  • We rented a bike in Manali and saw Vasisth hot springs, Hidimba temple, club house (not worth your time), manu temple in the few hours time we had before we boarded the bus to Delhi
  • While in Delhi, we visited Agra, Mathura, Vrindavan, Kurukshetra and local Delhi sightseeing with the Delhi tourism bus which charges Rs.500 per head to cover all important sights
Fresh snow at Khardungla


  • If this is your first trip to Ladakh, I would advise to avoid renting a bike and seeing the place instead, because firstly, the terrain is unfamiliar and there are plenty of icemelts. We are unused to the altitude and might be prone to altitude sickness, if there is a flat tyre or you run out of petrol, it might be several hours since a vehicle might pass by for help
  • If you do plan to hire a bike, it is better to travel to Leh and rent a bike in Leh as Himachal Pradesh registered bikes are not allowed to ply in and around Leh
  • Innerline permits are required if you want to travel to Hanle, Tsomoriri and Panamik. It is advisable to get innerline permits a day in advance  at the district collectorate office at Leh
  • Innerline permits will cost Rs. 360/- per person and it is recommended to do it yourself rather than pay double the amount to hotels
  • Plan for extra days in case of landslides as the roads might be closed for 2-3 days at a stretch
  • You can save a day by not staying in Tsomoriri and avoiding Tsokar altogether as there's not much to do/see that's very different from Pangong
  • Tsokar lake is dried up, no point spending time on it
  • Don't book hotels in advance, there are plenty of guest houses available for as low as Rs.500 - Rs.800 per day
  • It is recommended to stay in the wooden cottages at Pangong as the temperature drops drastically towards evenings and the cement structures or tents will not help keep warm
  • Hotel Lamayuru in Leh has decent food
  • On the way to Kargil, you will find people selling a box (about 20-25 in each box) apricots for as low as Rs.20/-. Make sure you have them, they are the best you can taste. Other fruits are very expensive
  • Do try the butter tea while you are there, it's a radically different experience
  • DO NOT litter. Leh is a plastic free zone
  • DO NOT travel to Manali by road, the roads are in pathetic condition. Instead, fly back from Leh to Delhi as it will save you a considerable amount of time and money
  • If travelling via Manali, make sure to halt for the night at Keylong as it is far too dangerous to travel after dark 
  • Also, if you plan to travel via Manali, be prepared to not eat for a long time, as it is difficult to find any food on the way
  • There is an older route from the top to Lamayuru, where one can get a fantastic view of Moonland. It is recommended to view it from the top

What to carry:

  • Woollens: Sweater, cap, gloves, socks (atleast 5-6 pairs), thermals (you will most likely require them at Pangong only)
  • One rain jacket
  • Make sure you carry candy (CANDY not chocolates) like mango bite as it will help deal with altitude sickness
  • Carry snacks like Haldiram's bhujia, biscuits, Britannia cake as it may be a while till you find something to eat
  • Carry a rucksack rather than cumbersome suitcases. Will surely make your life easy
  • No need to carry blankets, most hotels and guest houses will provide you with blankets and comforters 
  • Always carry a cap as it can get quite hot and bright during the day
  • Drink plenty of fluids to overcome acute mountain sickness
  • Carry essential medicines such as crocin, domstal, avomin, ORS, Zandu balm,aristozyme

Places where we stayed:

  • Srinagar - JH Bazaz guest house - Rs.1800 per night
  • Leh - Jamspal guest house, Fort Road - Rs.800 per night
  • Pangong - Wooden cottages at Spangmik - Rs.2200 per night (yes it is expensive) including dinner and breakfast
  • Hanle - Padma guesthouse - Rs. 500 per bed
  • Nubra valley - Habib guest house - Rs.1000 per day (including food)
  • Keylong - Hotel Snowland - Rs. 700 (I don't highly recommend this place)
  • Delhi - Bloomrooms - Rs.2500 per night (highly recommended; they also provide drops to key places, free wi-fi)

Helpful contacts:

  • Rigzin - 09622954779; A retired army personnel running cab services in Leh
  • The Leh - Ladakh bible