In the last few articles on Zanskar Valley, I provided details on how you can travel from Kargil to Padum; where you can stay and also provided an exhaustive list of all must visit places. Continuing in the same series, in this particular post, I will talk about mobile phone connectivity in Zanskar valley; places where you can expect to find network and which one will have the widest coverage here. I will also include details on phone services in general and internet connectivity as well. Hopefully after reading through the information below, you will have a better picture on the topic; but if there are any other question, you may ask those in the comments section towards the bottom of this page.
Tourism in Ladakh has increased drastically in last few years. What once was a destination only for either foreigners or adventure junkies now receives hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Someone said to me a few days ago that Leh has started to look like second Manali now and it is quite true. The effect of this tourist mania can now be seen in Zanskar as well. Maybe not so much yet but the number of people visiting here too has started to increase. With this, the availability of basic amenities is improving too. Finding a place to stay even in remotest parts of Ladakh and Zanskar now is not that difficult anymore. Phone connectivity in these places however still remains to be a challenge. Hopefully it will get better too in coming days but until that happens, below is the current situation of mobile connectivity in Zanskar valley.
In order to get to Zanskar Valley, you will first have to reach Kargil. You will then take the road to Padum via Sankoo, Panikhar, Prakachik and Rangdum. The stretch between Kargil and Rangdum is Suru valley and the area after Rangdum is actual Zanskar. Amenities are better in area closer to Kargil and in Suru Valley; and it starts to feel remote as you get closer to Padum. Road condition too is quite good until Sankoo and only deteriorates as you get closer to Padum.
Postpaid Phones Only
The first thing you need to remember here is that only postpaid connections work in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is not just about Zanskar but in the entire state actually. It doesn’t matter which network you are on; if your phone has a prepaid connection then it will be dead as soon as you enter the state. Same logic applies to Zanskar as well. The only chance of your phone working here is if you were carrying a postpaid one.
Also Read: Public Transport Services in Zanskar Valley
Only BSNL / MTNL Works in Zanskar
BSNL has the widest coverage in J&K and is the only service provider whose connection may work in Zanskar. Other networks like Airtel or Vodafone will only work either in Srinagar or Leh City. A BSNL / MTNL connection will however give you much wider coverage but only if it was a postpaid one. I agree that the voice quality will be bad and connectivity intermittent but you will at least remain connected. Even if you were not able to make a call, you will at least be able to send a text out. If you had a prepaid BSNL or MTNL phone, then it won’t work anywhere in J&K.
Mobile Connectivity in Zanskar Valley
You will have full BSNL connectivity in Kargil but it will be dead soon after you start on your way to Padum. In Suru Valley, network will come and go around Sankoo but it will be completely dad for rest of the way until Padum. Your phone will come alive again in Padum but it will still die at regular intervals. Voice clarity will be really bad and sometimes the call may not go through at all even though you were on network. If you leave Padum for local sightseeing; like towards Zangla for example, your phone will be dead again.
Pathetic is the word that I will actually use to describe data connectivity in Zanskar valley. You will get 2G data connectivity in Kargil and Padum but it will in fact be slower than even 2G. Your only chance of a stable internet connection will be if your hotel was providing the same in form of WiFi. I know for sure that hotels in Kargil do provide free Wi-Fi but I am not sure about Padum. The ones I have stayed with were budget guest houses with no wi-fi but I have heard some guest houses have started proving the same these days.
Also Read: Local Sightseeing and Accommodation in Padum
Carry a Power Bank if Possible
Electricity is not really that big a problem in the region. You will be able to charge all your electronics in Kargil and Padum but just to be on a safer side, bring a power bank if at all possible; specially if you were planning to camp. Considering the remote nature of the region, electricity may not be available in Rangdum or Padum. A power bank will also come in handy if you use your phone to click pictures and videos.
Also Read: Zanskar Valley Road Map
Hotels in Kargil have landline phones that you may use to make calls if your phone wasn’t working. There is a satellite phone facility in Padum that you can use in case of emergency. I did not find (or go looking for) a phone in Rangdum so cannot really comment on it. Locals too are very helpful in these places. So if your own phone wasn’t working, you may ask your hotel owner for his cell. You will of course have to pay him for it but would at least be able to make a call.
Inform your Folks
Last but not the least, for their peace of mind, you must inform your family about the limitations above. Let them know that you will be in areas where a phone may not work so that they don’t start worrying. A friend of mine did not tell his family about phone connectivity and went to Ladakh only to find that his father filed a missing person FIR back home when they could not reach him for 3 days straight. You must let your family know where you intend to be on which date and where will your phone not work. In case something went wrong, they will at least have an idea of your last known whereabouts. In addition, whenever you are able to and could get your hands on a phone, call home and inform your folks that you were OK.
Also Read: Kargil to Padum Travel Guide and Road Map
I hope the information above on mobile phone connectivity in Zanskar Valley was of help. If you have any other questions; or need any further details; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.