Mobile Phone Services in Leh & Other Areas of Ladakh
In the last few years, tourism in Ladakh has been on rise and what once was considered a destination for adventurous types now also gets considered for family vacations. A friend of mine visited Ladakh this year and had to get in a queue to get his picture taken in front of the board at the top of Khardung La which means that places where earlier you won’t find a living soul for miles have now started to get crowded. With that being said, the fact remains that Ladakh is still a region that gets cut off from the rest of the country for several months altogether in Winter and where even some of the basic amenities are missing in several areas. One of such amenities is mobile phone and internet connectivity which is still hard to get in the upper Himalayan region. Add to that the fact that Ladakh is part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and is right next to the Chinese border which leads to several restrictions that get applied due to the sensitivity of the region.
How are the phone services in Leh and other areas of Ladakh?
Well the first thing that you need to know while planning your trip is that only a postpaid mobile connection will work in Ladakh. This actually applies to not only Leh but several other parts of Jammu and Kashmir as well. Only prepaid connections bought within J&K will work in Ladakh and parts of Kashmir, all other prepaid connections from rest of the country will remain non-functional. If you are a prepaid mobile phone user, then you should get either get yourself a new postpaid connection or carry one of your family member’s phone.
Which network works in Ladakh the best?
In terms of network providers, BSNL or MTNL connections work the best in Ladakh. They have the widest coverage range followed closely by Airtel. It is because of the fact that only BSNL, MTNL, Aircel and Airtel have networks in Ladakh. For other operators, if they have a roaming agreement with these companies, your phone will work else it will not. However it is safe to assume that almost all the companies have agreements with each other so if your phone is able to find a network, it will register itself on it and your phone will come back to life.
Do Mobile phones work on Manali Leh highway?
For Manali Leh highway, your phone will be off the network as soon as you start to descend on the other side Rohtang Pass. There is a possibility that you may continue to get network until Jispa and Darcha but do not really count on it.
Until the top of the Rohtang Pass, you will have full connectivity but as soon as you start climbing down towards Lahaul Valley, network will either completely be gone or may remain on and off. BSNL or MTNL work the best in this area too and chances of getting network until Jispa or Darcha is highest on their network. For rest, just assume that you will only be connected till Rohtang La . You will get the connectivity back once you start getting close to Leh, somewhere after Upshi but this too is not 100%. Of all the times I went to Ladakh, only once I got the network before I reached Leh. For rest of the times, I remained off the network until a few hours after reaching Leh and it was sometime in the night that I got the network back. Since only BSNL and Airtel have networks here, chances of catching the network fast are best with both these operators. For other operators, I believe they take a while to register on these networks and hence the delay in getting the connection back. Best would be to call your folks back home while you are either in Manali or at Rohtang La and let them know that your phone would not work for next 2-3 days and that you will call them after you reach Leh.
How is the mobile phone service on Srinagar Leh highway?
What I mentioned above for Manali to Leh applies for Srinagar Leh highway as well. Your phone will become useless after leaving Srinagar and will remain so for most of the journey until you have reached Leh. BSNL and MTNL users can hope to get network at Sonamarg and Drass as well and there is a high possibility of getting the network for all operators at Kargil and Lamayuru but again, do not really count on it. BSNL and Airtel phones will jump back to Life as you reach outskirts to Leh. For other operators, it may take a couple of hours before you are back on the network. Better to call back home and inform your family that they may not be able to reach you for next couple of days until your reach Leh.
Mobile Phone Services In Leh
No matter which network provider you use, you will get full connectivity in the city of Leh and areas around it. Things however start to change as you start to move away from the city, i.e., towards Nubra valley or Pangong Tso.
Mobile Network in Nubra Valley
For Nubra Valley, your phone will remain operational until about Khardung La top no matter which network you are on. Post that, once you start descending in to Nubra Valley network will pretty much remain gone except for Diskit and Hunder where you may or may not get a network. BSNL has good coverage in Nubra valley so if you are using a BSNL or MTNL phone, chances of your phone remaining alive in Nubra valley are high.
Phone Connectivity at Pangong Tso
Towards Pangong Tso, your phone will go off network the moment you take the turn towards Chang La, somewhere around Sakti; post which it will not work until you reach back Leh. There is a high chance of getting the signal back in the village of Tangste but there is absolutely no connectivity around Pangong Tso.
Mobile Phone Coverage at Tso Moriri
Tso Moriri : Pretty Much the same as Pangong Tso. Absolutely no phone connectivity in Karzok and your mobile phone will be useless after you leave Leh. There is however a chance of getting the network in Chumathang.
Do Mobile phone work in Chushul, Hanle, Loma and other regions of Changthang?
This will be the route you take to reach Tso Moriri from Pangong directly, via Chushul, Loma, Hanle and Nyoma. Absolutely no connectivity in this region, no matter which network operator you are with. I have heard that BSNL covers this region but my phone never worked here. My friend had a BSNL postpaid connection but even his phone remained dead.
- Mobile connectivity in Zanskar Valley: No connectivity. Your only chance of getting the signal are in Kargil.
- Agham Shyok Road: No phone connectivity on this route
- Wari La route: No phone connectivity here as well.
- Mobile data connectivity in Ladakh: You will get data connectivity wherever the network is available but it will be too slow. As far as I am aware, only 2G data is available in Ladakh but I may be wrong about this.
- STD or Satellite Phone Service in Ladakh: You can find a phone booth, either a normal or satellite phone. at Diskit in Nubra Valley, Tangste, Phobra, Merak near Pangong Tso, Karzok at Tso Moriri, Chushul and Hanle in Changthang and Padum in Zanskar. However being in a remote region, chances of finding the booth open and operational is always under question.
Can or should you buy a new Sim in Ladakh?
A little off the topic, but if you are thinking to buy a new phone connection while in Ladakh, a BSNL or MTNL, then you might as well just forget about it. It is not really an easy task to get a new connection over there for people from outside the state of J&K. It is not even that wise either to get a new connection for just a matter of few days so better stick to your own postpaid plan and keep your family and friends informed about when your phone will not work. However if you are a foreigner, you may apply for a prepaid phone connection by submitting photocopies of your passport and two passport sized photographs.
Fax and post facilities are available in Leh, Padum, Kargil and Nubra valley. In leh, you can easily find an Internet Cafe but in remote areas of Ladakh, no internet service may be available.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to comment and ask and I would be glad to answer.