We will cover our entire Leh – Ladakh Road Trip as a series of articles. This article is Part 3 of the series on planning a great road trip to Leh-Ladakh.
This article will solely focus on things you must know before planning your Leh-Ladakh Road Trip. Read on.
Leh – Ladakh Road Trip: Important tips, dos and dont’s:
First things first, Health:
1. We highly recommend that you visit a doctor before your road trip. This is a must especially if you are prone to respiratory illness, allergies etc. Shyam has allergic rhinitis and bronchitis so we visited a doctor and got the medicines prescribed – just in case of an emergency. Also, I am prone to migraine attacks so I carried the medicine that works for me. It is important you do this because specific medicines are hard to find in Ladakh.
2. Carry basic medicines for cold, fever, stomach illness etc. with you because most of the time you will be traveling through regions that have little/no human presence.
3. Altitude sickness is for real. Do not take it lightly. Ascend slowly. Take a break at Leh. Give your body enough time to acclimatize. We carried Diamox, a medicine that combats altitude sickness. However, we did not use it. To be on the safer side, get it prescribed from your doctor.
4. Staying hydrated in Ladakh is a huge deal. Being on the road drains the energy, but you’ll still not feel thirsty. Weird? Yes it is. Drink lots of water throughout the day and oral electral / ORS, if required.
5. Eat simple food. Yak Cheese Pizzas and Ladakhi delicacies are all fine. But try to stay on a simple diet especially when on the roads. Also, taking laxatives are a good option as they prevent constipation.
6. Have a good stock of water bottles, biscuits and energy bars. These really help when you are driving through Nubra Valley and Turtuk where it is very difficult to find good restaurants.
We were extra cautious with our health this time. Last time we went to Kashmir, we fell sick terribly and it was difficult to get the medicines. Thankfully, this time around we were in good health. Except for minor headaches we were just fine.
This is very important for a hassle-free, neat trip. Take time to plan your outfits so that you do not carry extra weight. We traveled with just 1 rucksack and a small suit-case for a 10-day trip. And that was the best thing we did. In Ladakh, you are constantly on the move so it is important you pack wisely.
1. Throw in some woolens because the climate is unpredictable.
2. Make sure to mix match your clothes.
3. Carry colorful stoles and bandanas (Good for photographs and protects you from heat)
4. A good pair of trekking shoe is a must. And it mostly will suffice.
5. Sunglasses – much needed.
Carry the best Skin and Hair Essentials:
Ladakh is a dry and dusty region. Take care of your skin to avoid later regret. Use a sunscreen and moisturizer even if you think it is not required. Also, a lip balm with SPF is a must. If you are prone to dry skin, take extra care.
We used Lotus Herbal Safe Sun Gel (SPF 50), Neutrogena Lip Moisturizer (SPF 15), Neutrogena Hand Cream, Lacto Calamine Moisturizing Lotion, Forest Essentials Body Lotion. These 5 products worked very well for us. Do not carry too many products, just stick to what works best for you.
For your hair, carry a moisturizing shampoo and a very good quality conditioner. Again, this is important because the region is very, very dry!
At Ladakh, you are married to nature by all means. The restrooms at all the major tourist spots are very disappointing. Though, not a major concern for men, but, my dear ladies – you are going to have a tough time!
I saw some of the worst toilets in Ladakh. Most disappointing was the one at Khardung La Top. It was dirty, frozen and there were eggs inside the toilet. I wish I’d not stepped inside that place. If you are reading this, you are warned! Avoid the restrooms at Khardung La Top, Chang La Top and Hunder. Use the roads instead – you do not have an option. Make up your mind as you may have to pee and poop in the open! 🙂
Pee Safe is a good option if you find a manageable rest-room. It is an instant toilet sanitizer. Also, PeeBuddy gives you the freedom to stand and pee. Such a savior these products are. Otherwise, commune with nature and stock up on toilet rolls.
Nature is your only best friend in Ladakh, be prepared. 🙂
Unlike Kashmir Valley, it is easy to get tired in Ladakh. The altitude, terrain and the barren mountains can be daunting at times.
On our way to Turtuk, there was a time when we felt absolutely homesick. Tiredness, exhaustion and a bad headache did worsen our moods.
Remember, such feelings are common. We saw some bikers giving up and just sitting on the roads with hands on their heads because they could not drive any further.
This happens to most of the people. Your body gives up. But, just stay upbeat and move on. Because Ladakh unfolds magnificent moments when you are least expecting it. Stay calm and keep going.
Plan the trip well:
1. Have a rough note of the places you’d want to visit on any given day. Do not cramp your schedule. It is no fun in a place like Ladakh and it is okay to miss one or two places.
2. Starting early is the key to be on track and to avoid crazy traffic jams. Places like Zoji La, Khardung La and Chang La can have major traffic blockage because of the bad roads and construction activities.
3. It is important you keep an extra day especially if you are planning to head to Pangong Tso from Nubra Valley directly.
4. Pre-booking hotels isn’t a good idea, because the condition of the roads are not predictable. For Turtuk, Hunder – plan your booking once you reach Nubra Valley. For Pangong Tso – do it one day earlier based on your schedule. The hotel rates are negotiable – don’t be shy to bargain.
5. Prefer a different route for the return journey. For example – if you did Srinagar-Leh then return via Leh-Manali or choose to fly out of Leh directly.
6. Track the situation in Kashmir Valley if you planning to enter and exit from Srinagar during your Ladakh trip. The situation in Kashmir Valley changes like the climate does. We got stuck for 12 hours in Sonamarg because of the recent unrest in the valley. We recommend you follow the news if you are planning to enter / exit from Srinagar. Do not hesitate to choose an alternate route if you foresee problems in Kashmir Valley.
For tips on planning and itinerary read –
Read Part 1: Suggested Itinerary for Srinagar – Leh Road Trip
Read Part 2: An epic Leh-Ladakh Road Trip
Connectivity in Ladakh:
Connectivity is a huge issue in Kashmir and Ladakh. Airtel Pospaid works well in Kashmir Valley but stops after Zoji La. BSNL Postpaid works well in most of the places. In places like Turtuk, even BSNL behaves weird. No internet whatsoever. Trust you hotel’s wifi or the internet cafes in Leh for internet. We got a BSNL postpaid number from our Kashmiri friend, but we’d recommend you get one from your place if you do not know anyone in Kashmir / Ladakh.
Write / Print important details:
1. Have a print of your flight/train bookings and keep it handy. Do not trust the Internet.
2. Always note down contact numbers and address of few hotels that you’d like to check-in. You cannot do a last minute google search for obvious reasons. 🙂
3. Print your Medi claim/insurance cards – If you think this is silly, let me tell you that I know a person who lost his life during his trip to Ladakh for some reason. In an emergency – these details may help you.
Carry something for the kids:
The kids in Ladakh are more beautiful than the panoramas of Ladakh. Their twinkling eyes and their flushed cheeks… Ah! So beautiful!
It so happened with us that some little girls came in front of our cars and said ‘Roko!Roko!’ Thank god the driver applied the brakes on time. They stopped our car and asked us to give them chocolates. We did not have any chocolates but we gave them a bag full of cookies from Kayani Bakery (Pune). The happiness on their face was worth our back breaking journey. 🙂
So yes, carry something for the kids – chocolates, biscuits, anything. It’s just a nice gesture.
What you should not do in Ladakh:
1. Avoid selfies – The nature of the terrain makes it risky to try selfies. Tripods are a good alternative. Be responsible and safe.
2. Do not litter – It is sad to see remote places near Nubra Valley and Turtuk being littered with beer bottles, plastic wrappers etc. Do we really need to spoil the few places that are still serene?
3. Be kind to the locals – It was disheartening to see how young men and women were treating the waiters at some hotels. Is it fair to compare a hotel which is located 14,270 ft above sea level with the one in Delhi? At Pangong Tso, we saw folks commanding and making orders in a way that would belittle the locals. Remember, we are their guests. Let’s not downgrade them!
4. Do not risk – It was alarming to see many bikers who were drunk and driving. Such people cause problems for themselves and others. We also saw a couple with a kid doing the entire road trip on a bike. It may sound ‘cool’, but it really isn’t.
The main reason behind this post is to help anybody who is planning to visit Ladakh for the first time. It is only when you reach a place, you realize you could have planned better. For most of us, places like Ladakh is a trip of a lifetime. And we hope that this series of articles will help you in planning a great trip to Ladakh.
Be a responsible traveler and enjoy the deadly beauty of Ladakh.
You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again. – Azar Nafisi
True to that quote, We miss being in Ladakh. We miss the nomadic life we led for a few days. We miss the barren landscapes and the cobalt blue skies. The tents and the star-studded nights. We miss the golden sunsets and; offroading near glaciers and streams.
We miss being on the roads. We miss Ladakh. Truly.
If you’ve been to Ladakh, share your experience and tips in the comments below. I am sure it will benefit many readers.