Ladakh is a district in the Jammu and Kashmir state of India. Leh is the largest city in Ladakh, also, the base city for a Ladakh trip. The entire region is commonly referred to as ‘Leh-Ladakh’ by tourists. All the information shared in this Leh-Ladakh itinerary post is based on our own experiences. This post will not talk about motorcycling or biking in Leh as it is not our forte and we have no personal experiences with motorcycles in Leh.
Situated at an altitude of 3500 metres, Leh is surrounded by mighty mountains. There is no single spot in Leh from where the Himalayas are not visible. The Main Bazaar Road is a pedestrian and bicycle friendly cobblestoned road, quite touristy, very clean market square. Equipped with ATM, multicuisine restaurants, budget eateries, curio shops and regular counters selling stationery and groceries, the Main Bazaar Road is always humming with activity. Motor vehicles are not allowed in this square.
Adjacent to it are Zangsti Road and Upper Tukcha Road—both lined with numerous travel and tour operators’ shops. Many budget accommodations cluster around these places. The Leh bus stand is farther 1.5 kilometres away from the Main Bazaar Road. Sonam Norboo Memorial hospital, the government hospital in Leh is about 2 kilometres away from Main Bazaar Road.
I have met the best of the best people of India in Ladakh. I can write a whole post on the kindness, simplicity and honesty of the Ladakhis. We are in love with Ladakh, 10% because of its geographical beauty and 90% because of the locals. But let’s reserve this topic for some other time.
Contents (Click here for quick access to the subsections):
AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is real — Your Leh Ladakh itinerary can be disrupted by AMS
After visiting Ladakh two times, I am certain of one thing— never take AMS lightly. Precautions should be taken so as to keep AMS at bay. One should know what to do in case AMS suddenly strikes. AMS is mainly caused by lack of oxygen coupled with a significant altitude change in a very short time. There is no way to know beforehand if a person would suffer from it.
Travellers flying to Leh from the plains are most prone to develop AMS. Travellers who reach Leh by car from Manali are also in the greater risk zone as some patches of that road are higher in altitude than Leh. Most of the people travelling through this route take a night halt at Sarchu, a place with altitude 4390 metres, compared to 3500 metres at Leh.
Travellers who reach Leh by car via the Kargil-Leh road from Srinagar are least prone to get hit by AMS. It is the best route to acclimatize.
Symptoms of AMS and how to deal with it
There are many symptoms but the ones that we know of are headache, nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, confusion, dizziness and shortness of breath. If you feel any of these please check your oxygen level immediately. Personally, we suffered from shortness of breath and headache.
Blood oxygen monitors are generally available with all accommodation providers and pharmacists. We were charged INR 20 per head for checking at a pharmacy.
The government hospital in Leh, Sonam Norboo Memorial Hospital won the cleanest government hospital tag in the year 2015-16. If your blood oxygen level drops critically or if you fall sick just after arriving, visiting the hospital is the best way to handle the situation. In my own experience, when one of us fell ill due to AMS the person was immediately given a bed in the hospital and put on an oxygen mask. The mask was removed after a couple of hours when the blood oxygen level was back to normal. Even after that, the patient was put under observation for around 3-4 hours and discharged only when symptoms didn’t relapse. The doctors and nurses are very attentive. Foreigners would need their passport and visa copy to get admission.
Precautionary measures to fight AMS
Drink a lot of water the entire time you are in Ladakh. After arriving in Leh, rest for 48 hours in your hotel to acclimatize – do not lift anything heavy or do any physically strenuous work. We did the mistake of lifting our luggage right from the moment we arrived at Kushok Bakula airport. We also committed the mistake of going on a brisk walk down the market on our first evening of arrival. Please don’t repeat our mistakes.
Diamox is the medicine generally prescribed to cure AMS temporarily. The doctor asked us to take Diamox twice a day for three days. Although ideally taken for a day or two before you depart for Leh, it can help on the spot as well. But, sometimes people allergic to certain elements (like sulphur) are not authorized to use Diamox. So consulting a proper doctor before taking the medicine is advised. If the doctor deems it safe, don’t hesitate in taking Diamox as prescribed. Dosage may differ from person to person. Taking Diamox will increase your urge for urination greatly. Some people may feel a tingling sensation in their feet. Consuming bananas after taking Diamox can reduce these side effects.
Carry small cubes of camphor and keep on smelling it at intervals. At night while sleeping keep the camphor cubes at four corners of the room.(Not sure about the scientific accuracy of this one. But it really helped us a lot, even if the effect was psychological.)
Go to Khardung La-Nubra Valley, Pangong and Tso Moriri in this order. The progressive order of sleeping altitude matters when trying to acclimatize. Sleep at the lowest altitude then gradually go up. Carry an oxygen cylinder in your vehicle when going on long road trips to Nubra Valley, Pangong and Tso Moriri. Teach yourself how to use the cylinder and only hire a driver who knows the same. Take a note of the presence of all the hospitals and medical facilities in all the villages in Ladakh that you plan to halt at night during your trip.
Renting oxygen cylinders
Oxygen cylinders of various capacities can be rented from Ladakh Oxygen Plant at Old Leh Road for varying number of days. Before going to the Pangong-Tso Moriri roadtrip, we rented a giant cylinder of capacity 20 litres for INR 1500 per night. The caveat is that, a local need to be present with the outsider while renting, in our case, our taxi driver for the trip, Yasen, helped us. If you go on your own then they will charge INR 10000 as security deposit over and above the daily charge.
Contact– Ladakh Oxygen Plant (Mohd . Iqbal) – +91 9906991393 , +91 9419178162
Address- Old Road, Opposite Hotel Shangri La.
Transportation in Ladakh
In Ladakh the taxi rates of the various routes are fixed by the taxi union. Every taxi driver has a small Taxi Union booklet containing the rates. Though it sounds simple the actual act of calculating the transportation cost on a customised itinerary is a bit complicated. The rates are revised on a yearly basis.
For Pangong and Tso Moriri route only Xylo and Innova cars ply. For Nubra, Kargil (Sham valley-Dha-Hanu-Garkon) and local sightseeing routes Xylo, Innova and Eeco plies. Innova is the costliest followed by Xylo and then Eeco.
If you have time, you can take the risk of keeping your itinerary flexible and hire the car after reaching Leh. Numerous operators flock the Zangsti Road, Old Fort Road and Upper Tukcha Road. If you are going solo or if you are a team of two, interested in splitting cost, then keep your itinerary flexible and check out all the advertisements hung on boards outside these tour operator shops. If you don’t find any matching your interest and suitability then contact the operator and put up your own advertisement free of cost.
There is only one problem of this otherwise brilliant tourist self-pooling system—you can get stuck with strangers you dislike.
We went on a 1 night-2 day trip to Nubra Valley from Leh in this way. We had three co-passengers—two tourists from Delhi and one from Bangalore – in our car with us. Unfortunately, the going got tough with the Delhi guys.
People planning on taking public transport can opt for the Leh-Pangong(Spangmik, Merak, Chusul) bus which plies every Saturday and Sunday. It halts at Pangong for 1 night and returns the next day to Leh. State buses from Leh travel to Tso Moriri(Karzok) and return the next day every 10th, 20th and 30th of the month. Locals often take shared cabs departing early in the morning near the polo ground in Leh to reach Diskit (Nubra Valley). Tourists can tag along in the local shared cabs as well. They cost INR 400 per seat one way.
The travel operator from whom we booked our cars
LFTTA (Ladakh Family Tour and Travel Agency) — A smart local girl from Khalsi, Dolma Tsering runs this relatively new shop at Upper Tukcha Road. We booked our Leh-Nubra-Leh car for 1 night 2 days from her. Impressed by her service and dedication, we also booked from her our car for Leh-Sham Valley-Dha-Hanu-Garkone-Leh for 1 night 2 days.
Dolma also works as a trekking guide and is very well informed on the local culture, wildlife and history. We had spent a considerable amount of time in her office interacting with her. We observed that most of her clients are foreigners. She can speak Ladakhi, Hindi, English and French. What we loved about her is that she is very keen on employing local girls and empowering women. On our Leh-Nubra-Leh trip we encountered some problems which were swiftly handled by Dolma. On requesting her, she also set up meetings with certain locals who provided immense insights on the regional stories I was working on as a freelance journalist. I have seen her working in her office till 10’o clock at night and again coming to work at 6 in the morning. She definitely loves her job.
Punchok, the driver provided by Dolma was however more experienced in driving trucks and less in handling tourists. He was inexperienced in terms of operating oxygen cylinders to patients in case of medical emergency. But, he was reliable and friendly nonetheless, just like other Ladakhis.
Con- She sometimes overcharges so it is advisable you consult the taxi union booklet too while negotiating with her.
Chamba — We booked our car for Leh-Pangong-TsoMoriri-Leh for 2 nights 3 days from Chamba two weeks prior to our arrival. He was responsive to our queries when we called him from Mumbai. Once we reached Leh, we wanted to meet him in person before commencing our roadtrip. Oddly, he always avoided the meeting.
But the driver he provided, Yasin, forced us to overlook Chamba’s flaws. ‘Yo Yo’ Yasin, a Honey Singh fan is a very skilled tourist driver. A mere 22 year old, he is enthusiasm personified – always running around, never complaining and ever-smiling. He was experienced and knew how to operate the oxygen cylinder in case of medical emergency. He was the sweetest, funniest and obsessed with taking photos. Eventually, we did meet Chamba once we completed the trip.
Contact- Chamba (9596979829 , 9906999808 )
Our own experience with transportation in Ladakh
We initially planned on taking the local shared cabs near Polo grounds for our trip to Nubra but many logistical problems presented themselves. Firstly, the distance to the Polo grounds from the Main Bazaar Road where we were staying was considerable. So in order to catch these cabs successfully we needed to get ready and start walking with our luggage from our hotel as early as 5.30 AM. Please note we had with us a heavy oxygen cylinder, the weight of which we had to bear on our shoulder. Also, to keep AMS at bay we were trying to stay away from all sorts of heavy lifting. So, the idea of waking up early and walking with luggage to get an uncertain seat while simultaneously trying to keep up with the precautions of AMS was impossible to chase. The problems do not end there. Once we reached Diskit, we had to find another cab to take us to Hunder, the village by the white sand desert, which will obviously cost extra. Again, while returning we have to hire a private cab from Hunder to Diskit before hopping on the shared cab to Leh. Not to mention in the local shared cabs we would have to probably sit with our own luggage on our lap. The journey would certainly be physically taxing, given the extremely bad road conditions near Khardung La.
To avoid the logistical problems we put up our own advertisement at LFTTA seeking co-passengers for a Leh-Nubra-Leh trip. We set off with all the people who responded to it. Since this was last minute, we couldn’t get a Xylo or Innova and ultimately settled with an Eeco.
Our Leh-Pangong-Tso Moriri- Leh stretch was pre-planned with Chamba. For this stretch we already had an awesome couple to tag along with us much before our trip commenced. We did this journey in an Innova car.
Later, we booked us an exclusive Eeco car for the Leh- Sham Valley- Dha Hanu Garkone- Leh trip for 1 night 2 days from LFTTA.
For local sight-seeing around Leh we hired random taxis from the nearest taxi stand.
Our Ladakh Itinerary and cost of transportation:
Day 1: INR 370 (Eeco full car) – Leh airport to guest house in Leh near Zangsti Road by taxi.
Day 2: Rest in Leh
Day 3: INR 3000-3500 (Eeco-full car) . Leh local sightseeing by hiring random taxi— Sindhu Ghat, Shey Palace, Thikse Monastery, Stakna monastery and Stok Palace.
Unfortunately, we don’t remember exactly how much we spent on this day, hence the approximation.
Day 4: INR 1000 (Eeco full car) . Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa. (We were overcharged on this trip.)
Day 5: INR 4500 (2 seats for Leh-Nubra-Leh trip). Leh to Nubra via Khardung La and Diskit. Overnight at Nubra.
Day 6: Nubra to Leh.
Day 6: INR 1200 (full car) . Leh – Hemis Monastery by random taxi. Overnight at monastery.
We were enticed by the idea of staying at a monastery. When an opportunity presented itself, we couldn’t say no to it. It was Hemis festival the next day and we were obsessed with getting the best seats. Hence we preferred staying at the monastery premises rather than staying in Leh.
Day 7: INR 0. Hemis Monastery – Leh. Overnight in Leh.
We met a very kind Bengali gentleman at the Hemis festival who gave us a lift on his vehicle and dropped us in Leh. The man, Saibal Mukherjee, is also a very talented documentary film maker. You can check his work ‘Mystery at Jatinga’ . It is about the bizarre bird suicides that happen in Jatinga in Assam.
Day 8: INR 40 (2 seats) . Leh – Sindhu Ghat by state bus. Sindhu Ghat – Leh by taking lift from a local Ladakhi man. (Did I mention how friendly Ladakhi people are?)
There were posters all around Leh about the Sindhu Ghat festival. So we travelled to the spot to quench our curiosity. There was a Punjabi cultural show with arrangement of a langar— a practice of serving lunch free of cost to all who show up.
Day 9: INR 20500 (full car Leh-Pangong-Moriri-Leh trip) Leh – Merak (a village by Pangong lake). Overnight at Merak.
Day 10: Merak – Karzok (a village by Tso Moriri). Overnight at Karzok.
Day 11: Karzok – Leh (via Chumathang hotsprings). Overnight in Leh.
We shared our car with another couple, so our effective cost was INR 10250, i.e, INR 5125 per head.
Day 12: INR 12000 (full car Leh-Garkone-Leh) Leh – Garkone (halting at Magnetic Hill, Sangam point, Likir, Domkhar)
Day 13: Garkone – Leh (halting at Takmachik and Alchi)
We booked the car for this route exclusively and visited houses of many locals for the sake of interviewing people for stories that I was covering at the moment. Dolma arranged some of the meetings. So, INR 12000 more or less included her charge of being the fixer.
Day 14: Rest in Leh
Day 15: INR 500 – Guest house to Kushok Bakula Airport. Flew back to Mumbai.
Obtaining the Inner Line Permits for Ladakh trip
To get entry to Nubra Valley, Pangong (Spangmik and beyond), Tso Moriri (Karzok), Hanle and Dha-Hanu villages, one needs to have proper permits. You can consult with your tour operator, cab driver or accommodation provider well in advance and ask the person in question to arrange a permit for you.
Alternatively you can do the same yourself. Applications for permits are accepted through online mode only. This is the necessary webpage – http://www.lahdclehpermit.in/ .
You must fill in all the details and print requisite number of copies of the permit. Once you reach Leh, visit the Tourist office near Looms of Ladakh women Co-operative and opposite the Taxi Union office. Stand in the queue, pay for the permit and get all the copies signed by the official. Once it’s done, take sufficient photocopies of each signed document.
There are 8 circuits in total and you need to know which routes you will be taking and your exact itinerary in order to fill the permit. However, if you want to go with a flexible itinerary like us, we suggest you fill in the entire date range that you plan to stay in Ladakh and select all the circuits. Take 8 printouts and get them signed by the official.
We wanted to keep our options open so we issued the permit for 14 days, almost the entire time for which we were in Leh. We also selected all the circuits so we could later decide on-the-go which to pursue and which to drop (if any). We paid INR 1280 in total for this, i.e, INR 640 per head.
Things to remember while applying for the permit
The website is not at all user-friendly and very buggy, so take screenshots and pdf(s) at each step. Your number of printouts of the permits should at least be as many as the number of circuits you intend to visit. The queue at the Leh tourism office gets long during peak season, so visit the office as soon as it opens (9 AM). Permit to Hanle is not issued from the Tourism office but from the DC office. Get sufficient number of photocopies of the signed permits. When we were on our way to Garkon(via Dha-Hanu), only one photocopy was used as there was only one checkpost. But, when we travelled to Karzok, more than four photocopies were used. Photocopying is as expensive as INR 10 per copy in Leh.
Accommodation in Ladakh
We stayed at Khan Manzil Guest House run by a Kashmiri family just two minutes away from Main Bazaar Road. Zaheer is a very helpful man who runs the guest house. The guest house was basic but incredibly warm (even without heater) and clean. We paid INR 1200 per night in June of 2018. Our room was on the top floor. Inside the well carpeted room there were two sidetables, one c.r.t television, two chairs and of course a bed. The bed, linen, pillows, blankets, curtains and the furniture were very clean. The large glass window offered splendid views of the snow capped mountains. The washroom was modern with western toilet and 24×7 running hot and cold water. There is a patio from where guests can enjoy unobstructed views of the mountains. There is also a common WiFi which works well.
There is no restaurant attached with the property but meals prepared by the family can be arranged on request. But, it takes a lot of time so it is advisable to make the request at least two hours ahead of your tentative meal time. In my experience the food was good and the price was reasonable.
This property is only available online through Hostel World. Alternatively, you can just call up Zaheer a couple of weeks before arriving and book the room. We did a telephonic booking and it didn’t involve any money. We stayed here the entire time we were in Leh (9 nights).
The only con that I can think of is that the guest house is subjected to frequent power-cuts, so keep a torch ready at night.
Contact- +91 9419278663 / +91 9419179459 / 01982-252192 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Hunder, Nubra Valley –
This booking was done by LFTTA on our behalf at Dreamland Guest House and Camping. The charge for a double room for one night including breakfast and dinner for two was INR 1800. The guest house is new and is run by people who are originally from Khalsi. The room, washroom, living area and dining area were spotlessly clean. Provision of 24×7 running hot and cold water was present. The staff were nice. The vegetarian buffet dinner was sumptuous and exceeded our expectations. The buffet breakfast was equally lavish. In the common dining area we bonded with some co-travellers. The lawn was well manicured, rich with vegetation.
The only con was that this property is very far away from the sand dunes region. But, it wouldn’t be an issue if you have your own vehicle.
The budget accommodation nearest to the sand dunes is Happy Day Guest House. It costs INR 1200 per night for a twin room not including food. There are a few shops and eateries around this guest house.
Contact- +91 9469734141
Staying at the Hemis Monastery guest house is not for everyone. Financially, it would make a big dent in your budget if you don’t have a private car and relying on hired taxis for transportation. The one way charge from Leh-Hemis is INR 1200. It is impossible to get a taxi back from Hemis to Leh. Your only option is hitchhiking. We stayed in the monastery as we wanted to capture the best possible spot early next morning to cover the Hemis Festival. The room was very large, with two sidetables, one chair and three comfortable beds and blankets. Inspite of the thick carpet and curtains, it was very cold even in the end of June. The corridor was dark and shabby. We were probably the only tourists staying in that floor of the guest house, the rest were monks. The entire floor had only one washroom. The worst part is that the washroom was absolutely pathetic and faeces laden.
During the festival the charge per room per night is INR 1500. On non-festival days they charge INR 900. Carry your own food as finding food may be challenging on non-festival days.
Contact- +91 9469222688 – This is the contact of a Lama at Hemis who is responsible for the guest house bookings. The booking is telephonic and it doesn’t involve advance payments. It is advisable you contact him in advance. The monks are generally busy, so you may not get a room if you suddenly turn up without informing in advance and the in-charge is away during your visit.
Merak (Pangong) –
People generally stay in the tents at Spangmik– a tourist village. Merak is 20 kilometres ahead of Spangmik and this 20 kilometre drive is along the shore of Pangong. It is spectacular to say the least. This village by the shore of Pangong houses around a hundred villagers. Some of them welcome guests. Dorjay Delbu Guest House is one such homestay. The room and washroom was clean and comfortable. The room was well carpeted with a cozy bed and a sidetable. Through the glass windows Pangong lake is clearly visible. Hot water is arranged in buckets on request. The washroom is modern with a western toilet.
A vegetarian dinner of rice, lentils, salad, chapatti and vegetable curry was prepared for us by the lovely lady of the house. Breakfast had the option of bread-omelette or parantha and curry. The cosy kitchen-cum-dining room is the heart of the house.
We were charged INR 2000 per night for a room for two including tea, breakfast and dinner for two. We booked it from Mumbai prior to our arrival in Ladakh by contacting the concerned person over phone and paying an advance of INR 1000.
Contact- +91 9906993462, +91 9469526909, email@example.com
Karzok (Tso Moriri) –
It is hard to prebook a budget accommodation in Karzok. There are providers who arrange stays in tents which can be booked online. Mostly these are expensive and the facilities don’t even include basic medical equipments like oxygen cylinders in case someone develops AMS. Also, the banks of Moriri gets bone chillingly cold and windy, so some might find living in a tent an uncomfortable experience. Almost all the locals allow visitors to stay in their residences; however, some of the homes may lack western toilets and might only be equipped with Ladakhi compost toilet.
We booked a room with attached western toilet at Dolphin Guest House, right opposite to the Karzok monastery. We did spot booking and somehow managed to get the last available room with attached toilet. A large bed with clean linen, a sidetable and a chair were its only facilities. The room was small and carpeted. Large glass windows offered mesmerizing views of the lake on one side and the street on the other side. The roof offered unobstructed view of the lake and the village, but there is no staircase, just a cane ladder.
We were charged INR 2300 per night (after bargaining) for a twin room with tea, breakfast and dinner.
Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org , +91 9419856244, +91 9906995628 Karzok is extremely remote and connectivity is sporadic. Most of the time the contact numbers are of no use and you just have to rely on booking a room on spot. The influx of tourists rises every year so try to reach as early as possible to get the best possible accommodation.
Garkone (Aryan Valley) –
This is one of the remotest of villages that I have ever travelled to, but more on that later. We travelled to this village to get a taste of Brokpa culture. Our abode in Garkone was Payupa Guest House — the house of the chieftain family of the village. You need to have a considerable amount of fitness and urge to see lesser known subcultures of the World to make yourself walk through the rocks for around 20 minutes to reach this homestay. In this true-blue homestay, we stayed in a big carpeted room with giant glass windows overlooking the mountains. There were two beds, clean linen, side tables, chairs and a low-raised dining table. The washroom was Indian. Some rooms have attached washrooms, others don’t.
A vegetarian dinner of chapattis, spinach, paneer (cottage cheese), rice and daal (lentils) was served to us at night. During breakfast we were provided chapattis, omelette and home-made yoghurt.
The family took very good care of us and we are still in contact with them. Before our trip, I called them up only once from Mumbai to know their charges but never booked it as our plans to reach Garkone was uncertain. Due to connectivity issues we failed in contacting them from Leh. So we just turned up unannounced at Garkone and followed the arrow marks on the rocks tagged “Payupa Guest House” to reach the place.
We were charged INR 2000 per day for a twin room with tea, breakfast and dinner for two. Additional INR 500 per local if we want to click pictures of them in their traditional Brokpa attire.
You can give my reference or this website’s reference to Nawang Tserap while making the booking. He is a high school headmaster by profession and a great guy to acquaint with.
Food in Ladakh
In all the villages that we travelled to, we ate home-made vegetarian meals by the families hosting us. Non vegetarian food, particularly meat, is very rare and expensive in the villages. Meat is reserved mostly for special occasions only.
Gur-gur chai or the butter tea is a staple across Ladakh. We absolutely loved the buttery, soupy, taste of the tea and drank uncountable cups of it. This is one drink that you should never miss when in Ladakh.
In the city of Leh, all types of Indian cuisines and several middle-eastern and European cuisines are abundantly available. From chic open-air cafes and plush roof-top restaurants to ordinary eateries, Leh has something for everyone. Note that popular fast food chains like Pizza Hut, Dominoz, KFC, Burger King etc which have cropped up in most of the hill towns of India are thankfully still absent from Leh.
We generally ate at the various eateries in LBA complex near Rendezvous German Bakery. The ambiance was chirpy but the food was spicy. Lamayuru Restaurant on the Main market square is also another average restaurant one can dine at. In the evening, kebab sellers barbeque chicken and mutton openly on the cobblestoned corners of the Leh Main market. The kebabs are delectable. In the super narrow alleys of Leh adjacent to the Central Asian Museum, small unsung shops sell a kind of flatbread typical in Ladakh in the morning. We followed the locals and bought a few for ourselves.
During the trip we deliberately stayed away from spicy food fearing AMS and ate home-made food from our hosts. On the second last day of the trip I unfortunately indulged in some yummy spicy food from a place with questionable hygiene, the next day I developed an upset tummy and was put on medication.
I wrote about every minute detail which I could recollect; in case I missed sharing any logistical information please ask away in the comments below. Change is the only constant, the data I shared in the post would surely become dated someday, but you can help me in keeping this post fresh by sharing updates with me in the comments section below.
Have a happy journey!