When it comes to adventurous trips, the Ladakh trip tops the list every time. But can you blame it? It’s the perfect place to experience the real adventure of traveling up to the high altitudes.
And that’s not it, you explore various magical lakes, ancient monasteries with rich histories, beautiful landscapes, and delicious regional food.
But planning a trip to Ladakh is a tricky thing, it’s not just like planning trips to other places. Because weather in Ladakh is unpredictable and many other things add up once you visit there. So, to be prepared, you need to plan in advance for every possible situation.
Let’s go through all the important steps one by one that you should take before going on a Ladakh trip whether, with friends, with a partner, or on a solo bike trip:
Things to Bring for a Trip To Leh Ladakh
Planning a trip to any destination requires planning. Packing will be an integral part of your trip. Packing is a key part of any trip to Leh Ladakh.
There are very few amenities in the region, such as ATMs, fuel stations, mobile connectivity, and eateries. This is a list of the essential items you should have when planning your trip to Leh-Ladakh.
Whether it’s a friends group journey or a Leh Ladakh Bike Trip alone, it is important for you to carry all the essentials. It is important to carry warm clothes along with you as you know that it is cold there throughout the year. But with that, there are other items that come on the essentials list.
- Accessories– Carry woolen caps, scarfs, hand gloves, and socks with you to cover all the body parts that are mostly exposed in the chilly winds.
- First aid kit– You need to be prepared for emergencies so, carry antiseptic cream, cotton, some medicines like aspirin, medicine for stomach & headache, medicine for motion sickness, etc. because you don’t know how the change of weather can affect you.
- Cash– There are still some places that prefer money over digital payment. So, it’s better to carry sufficient cash with you during your visit. As there are only a few ATMs and that too in Leh city only. It might help you in times of emergency.
- Food items: Carry some dry food items that are easy to carry in your handbag or backpack. At high altitudes, you might lose your appetite and not feel like eating but you need to keep your energy intact. You can carry dry fruits, healthy biscuits, and even some energy drinks.
Clothing and Footwear
High altitude in Leh Ladakh can cause frequent temperature changes and rapid weather changes. It is important to have the right clothing and footwear for Leh Ladakh. To keep warm and comfortable, you should have multiple layers of clothing.
You should have regular, full-sleeve cotton sweatshirts, sweatshirts and comfortable lowers or track pans. Also, you will need a few pairs of socks, thermals as well as thermals, caps, gloves, mufflers, and jackets. When visiting Leh in winter, woolies and thermal innerwear must be worn.
You can bring a cardigan, pullover or sweatshirt if you are traveling in the summer. For the cold months of winter, you should bring thick woolens and jackets. Because the weather can change quickly, it is a good idea to have a windcheater or waterproof jacket with you. This will save you from looking blue when taking those amazing photos!
Your choice of activities will determine the best footwear. If you are only going to be sightseeing, then comfortable sneakers or sports shoes might be the best choice. To cross streams during the monsoon, ensure you have waterproof boots and furry boots in winters. Frostbite can cause serious injury to your feet. If you are going to try something crazy like swimming in icy water, ensure you have warm clothes and shoes.
You’ll need to have some accessories to protect your skin against harsh conditions. Sunglasses with UV protection and sunscreen lotion that has SPF 30 or higher are essential.
A good moisturizer and sunscreen lotion with SPF 30 or higher is a must. High altitude and dry conditions can cause severe skin problems. This section contains packing tips for Leh Ladakh.
You can use a little mustard oil to moisturize dry skin. This is why it’s part of our Leh Ladakh packing tips.
Toiletries are an essential part of your packing list. You should have a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hand sanitizer, shampoo, deodorant, and tissue. Although some hostels or hotels may provide basic toiletries, it is always better to bring your own, especially for conscious and sustainable travelers.
You don’t know what medical facilities and services are available if you travel to unknown places. It’s better to bring the medications you are likely to need in such an environment. Keep band-aids, Dettol, Savlon antiseptic liquid, and pain balm (Move and Iodex) along with pills for stomach aches, body pain, and headaches.
Instead of warming up by a fire, why would you venture out into the cold Leh night to search for pills? It’s not possible.
A basic kit of medical supplies will suffice for most people, but you should have a larger one if your plans include hiking or trekking in Leh.
Diamox, the most common treatment for Acute Mountain Sickness is. If you don’t know anything about AMS, it is a very common problem for tourists. It is a good idea to consult your doctor before you take any medication, especially if there are any medical conditions. Always carry glucose and a hand sanitizer.
Permits and Documents
You might need permits to enter certain restricted or protected areas in Ladakh. To travel to Leh, Indian citizens will need an Inner Line Permit. Foreign nationals will require a Protected Areas Permit.
You should have multiple photocopies of your permit and proof of identity. You should also bring your medical insurance and a few passport-sized photographs of yourself.
Water and Food
We’ve already mentioned that not all Leh Ladakh locations have many shops or eateries. You are allowed to bring a few snacks such as biscuits, chocolates, and dried fruits. You should not pack too many of these items, as you could accidentally increase your carbon footprint.
You may be wondering how? Don’t throw away the packaging! Keep enough food for snacking and use eco-friendly packaging. Leh Ladakh should be treated like a treasure.
Some people find water in Ladakh hard. You can also carry bottled water if this is not your style. Keep hydrated whenever you travel to higher elevations. These tips on packing for Leh Ladakh do not cover all of the ways you can become a sustainable traveler. But there are many other options, so make sure to read them.
Google Maps is not a good source of information about time frames.
We now drive in almost all countries that we visit. Google Maps is often used to calculate the distance we will need to cover. This seemingly common-sense method isn’t applicable in chaos. Google Maps is not the best tool to determine how long it will take to drive a particular stretch of road during your trip to Ladakh.
Let me give an example. The distance from Gulmarg in Jammu & Kashmir to Kargil is 230km. It takes 4-5 hours to write. It takes you 12-13 hours to drive yourself to Ladakh. To avoid treacherous roads and long driving hours, it is a good idea to start your day early.
You’ll find it takes you longer than any map says.
These winding roads will take you longer than any map would.
DO NOT be afraid to stop at unannounced stops on the way
Safety is not the only reason to start driving early on your way to Ladakh. The road trip to Ladakh is among the most scenic in the country. There are amazing panoramas around every corner.
Every 10 minutes, we stopped our cars to take photos of the dazzling rivers, rainbows, azure skies, and glaciers. We found that drives that were supposed to last 2 hours often took us 4 hours. But this is Ladakh, and the journey is what really matters. You will be astonished!
Do not rely on mobile connectivity or expect to have good service.
Ladakh has very limited mobile connectivity. Jammu & Kashmir has only postpaid Airtel and BSNL connectivity. You will not be able to get connectivity once you pass Sonmarg during your Ladakh road trip. Connectivity is very limited in the town of Kargil.
Airtel connections are available in Leh City, while BSNL connections can be found in all major tourist areas of Ladakh, including Leh City, Pangong Lake, and Nubra Valley. Mobile data is a myth in these areas – there’s no 3G connectivity so it’s almost impossible to surf the internet with your phone. A perfect excuse for a digital detox
The good news about the internet in Ladakh is that it is quite fast when the wifi connection is working properly. Free wifi is available in most guesthouses, B&Bs, and cafes as well as hotels. Internet access is possible in the area via BSNL landlines, but these are ‘down” (i.e. It is not available for whole days at a stretch. You might be able to get internet in Ladakh if you are lucky. But don’t count on it or you will be disappointed.
You’ll find happiness in Ladakh if you are happy to disconnect for a few days. For wifi fiends such as yours, you can expect to be frustrated very frustratedly
Do not forget to check your paperwork.
Ladakh lies close to borders with neighboring countries, so there is a large army presence in the region. You will require special permits to enter certain areas of Ladakh if you are not a citizen of India.
You should have all documents necessary to rent a car. Remember that rental cars are prohibited in Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso since 2015. You will need to rent a taxi to get to places outside of Leh City if you have rented a car from Leh.
Ladakh is a desert that receives less than 100 mm of rainfall per annum. Ladakh’s water supply is primarily from glaciers. The glaciers are receding due to climate change, which is causing severe water shortages.
Sonam Wangchuk, an innovator engineer, created the idea of ” ICE STUPA” to address this problem. These artificial glaciers store winter water and can be used in spring.
Global warming isn’t the only reason for water shortages. On average, a tourist in Ladakh consumes 75 liters of water daily, while a local uses 21 liters. Many hotels in Leh have drilled bore wells to meet the tourists’ water requirements. Guesthouses are now encouraging tourists to conserve water and use short showers. They are also using the Ladakhi traditional dry toilets again instead of flush toilets.
Do not blindly follow your GPS
We blindly follow our GPS (we love Maps. me!!). We have found the same thing in all countries that we travel to. This is not a good idea for India. While your GPS will always direct you to the fastest route, there are high chances that roads along this route could be in very poor condition. Here’s an example of a mistake that we made while driving through Ladakh.
Our GPS told us to take a shortcut towards Gurdaspur (Punjab) after crossing Jalandhar (Punjab). We followed the GPS instead of driving towards Pathankot and following the highway. This was the worst decision ever! We ended up spending over two hours driving around Gurdaspur, which was a terrible condition.
These are the 3 steps to avoid making these mistakes.
You can read up on the route before you go. There are many blogs and websites that provide information about these routes. You should read some recent entries to keep you informed about the state of roads in that area.
Keep your eyes on the road as much as you can, even if your GPS tells you otherwise.
Ask locals. Indians are friendly and willing to help you.
DO NOT forget your sunscreen
For a complete list of all the things we packed for Ladakh, please refer to our packing guide for road trips in Ladakh.
You, like me, can easily burn if you don’t have enough sunscreen. Even in the coldest weather, Ladakh’s sun can still shine brightly. Avene and Kiehl’s sunscreens are favorites. Shiseido also makes great sunscreens.
Your lips and skin will feel dry and parched from high altitudes. You should always carry an ultra-moisturizing lip balm that has a high level of SPF.
Ladakh has very unpredictable weather, it may rain some days, some days are sunny and others are incredibly chilly. So, do your homework before planning for the trip, and check when the weather is moderate.
It’s given that the best time to visit Ladakh is between mid-May to October. During this time you can plan your bike trip as well because almost all the major routes open up during this time.
If there are some specific places in mind to visit there, then check if when they are going to be open for visitors so you can plan accordingly.
You learned about the best time to visit Ladakh, earlier. But who has control over sudden climate changes Ladakh is one of those places which have very unpredictable weather?
So, you need to check for the routes that you are going through. Because due to snow or certain climate changes most of the routes get closed as they are risky to travel.
Some routes get closed for travelers and open only for civilians during the evening, keep a checklist of those places and plan your further trip according to it.
Even if you plan each step wisely, there still might be some delay on certain routes due to snowfall so, be prepared for such instances too.
Your body is not capable of adjusting to completely different weather that easily. So, when you start planning for a trip to Ladakh, start exercising a bit or you can do different physical activities like cycling, walking, etc. It helps in strengthening your body parts and makes them strong.
You can also include some breathing exercises too, it helps in breathing properly at high altitudes where the oxygen level is comparatively low.
There are several other things that come to mind while we start planning. Include them in your checklist along with the above-mentioned and you’re all set to go. Planning makes it easier to enjoy the trip and experience the adventure with fun.
Take care when driving
Only on-road transport is available in Leh-Ladakh. You have two options: you can either drive yourself or hire a taxi. Some roads are very bad. They are also often affected by landslides and traffic snarls.
Before you set out for your destination, make sure the roads are open. You might not be able to find a petrol station in remote areas so make sure you fill your car with diesel or petrol. It is best to start early in the morning, as Ladakh has a lower average speed. In case Google Maps fails due to poor internet, keep an offline map.
Only drive a car or motorbike if you’re well-equipped and comfortable on rough mountain roads. Many stretches of the road are at risk of stone falling from the hills below.
In the area of the shooting stone, do not slow down or stop. Helmets are essential for cyclists. Always have spare parts such as puncture kits, tire tubes, and cables on hand. Vehicle breakdowns are very common in Leh Ladakh.
Mobile connectivity is not available
Due to its proximity to China and Pakistan, Leh-Ladakh has been designated a sensitive region. It is also located at an altitude higher than the rest and therefore very remote. It is therefore difficult to find a network in the most remote areas.
Only post-paid networks will be allowed in this area. Your mobile phone may not work if you have a pre-paid one.
Make sure your friends and family are aware of your plans. They won’t be worried if you aren’t available for hours. Remember that help is always available if you are stuck. This is important to remember and plan accordingly.
ATM in Ladakh and Money Issues in Ladakh
Leh has many ATMs, so cash is not a good idea. You should bring cash if you plan to travel to Ladakh’s inner areas, such as Nubra Valley or Changthang, Pangong Tso, and Zanskar. There are not ATMs at these locations.
Hotels and shops don’t accept card payments so bring cash upon your arrival in Leh to avoid any hassles with hotel bookings or going to ATMs.
Accommodation in Leh Ladakh
Hotels in Ladakh don’t offer five-star luxury. There are very few 4-star hotels in Leh, and the accommodation is quite basic outside of Leh. Even though they don’t provide hot water 24 hours a day, most hotels and guesthouses in Leh provide hot water at least once or twice daily.
You can get a room for as low as INR 1000 per night for three people (or 333 per person) depending on your comfort level.
There are also quality guest houses, lodges, and hotels that offer rooms at a reasonable price. The nightly rate for a hotel room can range from 3000 to 6000.
It’s quite a different outside of Leh. Tso Moriri and Nubra Valley require only basic accommodation. There are “Luxury” tents available at Pangong Tso that offer hot water and attached toilets, but they do come with a cost.
The most affordable option is homestays, which cost between INR 500 and 800 per night. However, you won’t get hot water at this price.
There are plenty of accommodation options available in Ladakh so you don’t have to book ahead. If you’re looking for a luxurious stay, pre-book only. Homestays and basic tent accommodations do not need to be booked in advance.