Ladakh is considered a remote region in itself and even though there is a definite increase in tourism here; it is mostly limited to some well-known places like Nubra valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. There are however several places in the inner part of Ladakh that are stammeringly scenic but not visited by that many people. One such extremely close to Indo-China border and hidden in the lap of mighty Himalayas is the small village of Hanle. This tiny hamlet doesn’t make it in the itineraries of many people; sometimes because of lack of time but mostly because of lack of knowledge. If you are traveling to Ladakh in near future and want to explore some of the remotest areas; below is information on how you can include Hanle in your itinerary and plan a visit here.
Hanle is located at a distance of about 255 kilometers from Leh. The valley is home to about a thousand people with around 300 houses in total. The close proximity to Indo-Tibetan border makes this village as highly sensitive and an Inner line permit is required to visit here.
The first question that comes to mind is what do you see in Hanle? While the primary attraction of course remains to be the natural beauty of the place, there are a couple of other interesting spots which makes it worth a visit.
Hanle Monastery: Sengge Namgyal, one of the most prominent kings of Ladakh and also nicknamed as “The Lion King”; died at Hanle on his return from an expedition against the Mongols, who had occupied Tsang and were threatening Ladakh. Hanle Monastery was built under his patronage and is currently home to 10 Lamas.
Indian Astronomical Observatory: Operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, It is currently the site for the second highest optical telescope in the world, situated at an elevation of 4,500 meters. It has one of the world’s highest sites for optical, infrared and gamma-ray telescopes.
Hanle Night Sky: Let me just summarize it by saying that you have never seen anything like it. You may have seen skies lit with starts multiple times before but it is an entirely different experience at Hanle. An annual rain plus snow precipitation of less than 10 cm, low ambient temperatures, low humidity, low concentration of atmospheric aerosols, low atmospheric water vapor, dark nights and low pollution make Hanle a perfect site for night sky-gazing. The clear view of the stars above from Hanle is the reason why the it was the chosen place for Indian Astronomical Observatory.
Peace and Tranquility: With only a few people around, almost in the middle of nowhere; this is a peaceful place that seems to be at a standstill in time. Just take a walk thorugh the valley, spend some time here alone and it will have an effect on you that will last for several months.
Scenic Beauty: Last but not the least, the amazing vistas all around alone make Hanle worth a visit. The beauty of the entire Changthang Valley is enough to inspire the awe out of anyone. The small mountains around Hanle is in sharp contrast to what you would have seen so far in your Ladakh trip.
Photi La: Further 24 kilometers from Hanle is a pass that not many have conquered. It is known as Photi La and is quite close to Indo-Tibetan border. Take a ride / drive to Photi La and talk to your friends about conquering a pass that only a few have been to.
How to reach Hanle
There are two ways that you can reach Hanle from Leh. The first and the quicker route is via Chumathang. Second route runs through Changthang Valley. Let me explain this with the help of a map. Click on the thumbnail below to view the map in full size.
Which route to choose depends on whether you are just visiting Hanle or including it in your itinerary while visiting Pangong Tso or Tso Moriri. Traveling via Chumathang, route will be as below.
Leh to Hanle via Chumathang
Leh – Karu – Upshi – Chumathang – Mahe – Nyoma – Loma – Hanle
Leh to Hanle distance
Total distance travelled will be about 255 kilometers in about 10 hours; depending upon your speed and the breaks you take.
Traveling on this route means that you will have to take the Manali Leh highway from Leh all the way till Upshi; a distance of about 50 kilometers roads on which are mostly in good condition. From Upshi, rather than continuing to Rumtse, take the turn towards Kumdok; from where it is a straight run to Mahe via Kere and Chumathang. Total distance between Upshi and Chumathang is around 130 kilometers and roads are a mix of good and bad.
From Mahe; continue another 50 kilometers to Loma which is nothing but a small village with handful of houses. At Loma check post, you will have to submit all your photography equipment. That is right; you cannot bring your cameras to Hanle as it is a photography restricted zone. Leave your cameras at the check post and then drive another 50 kilometers to Hanle on a smooth road.
Benefit of traveling on this route is that the road remains good for most of the part and you can easily do Leh to Hanle in a single day. Just start from Leh early in the morning and you will be in Hanle before the sun sets down.
Now let us take a look at Route number 2.
Leh to Hanle via Pangong Tso
Traveling via Changthang Valley means that you first reach Pangong Tso and continue to Hanle from there. The route of the journey will be as below.
Leh – Karu – Sakti – Chang La – Durbok – Tangtse – Spangmik – Man – Merak – Chushul – Tsaga – Loma – Hanle
Leh – Karu – Sakti – Chang La – Durbok – Tangtse – Erath – Chushul – Tsaga – Loma – Hanle
After reaching Tangtse; you have two choices. Either you reach Chushul while traveling through the villages of Spangmik, Man and Merak or you take the direct road from Tangtse to Chushul via Erath.
Pangong to Hanle
Take an early start from Leh as Pangong Tso is at a distance of about 160 kilometers and can take anywhere between 6-8 hours depending upon your speed. Drive on Manali Leh highway and from Karu take the turn towards Sakti. Road will be mostly good for this first 50 kilometers of the journey. From Sakti, start ascending towards Chang La top and then continue towards Durbok and then to Tangste. Around Chang La top, condition of the road will be bad however it will be good again until Tangtse.
Now from Tangtse, you can either go to Spangmik and then continue to Chushul via Man and Merak. Second choice is to head straight to Chushul from Tangtse via Erath. Difference here will be of the condition of the road. The Erath route is a tarred road all the way to Chushul however via Man and Merak is all dirt road right next to Pangong Lake. If you want a drive along the beautiful lake, then you should chose the Man/Merak road. If you do not mind a little away from the lake and would rather travel faster on a smooth road, or if you are in a Sedan or Hatchback, you must stay on the road via Erath.
From Chushul, the road conditions will be really bad with a lot of water streams in between. It mostly is a dirt trail until a little before Loma after which it is again a smooth run. Once you reach Loma, register yourself, submit photography equipment and continue to Hanle.
Pangong to Hanle Distance
Total distance between Pangong Tso to Hanle will be between 200 to 240 kilometers depending upon whether you chose to travel via Man and Merak or via Erath. Travel time will be less if you go via Erath and higher if you travel on the dirt road via Man and Merak.
How to Plan a Trip to Hanle
Hanle usually gets added to an existing itinerary to visit either Pangong Tso or Tso Moriri. I have never come across anyone wanting to visit just Hanle and going straight there. Below is how you can plan your trip so that you are able to visit Hanle village as well.
Day 1: Leh to Pangong Tso
Day 2: Pangong Tso to Hanle either via Man / Merak or Erath
Day 3: Hanle to Karzok (Tso Moriri)
Day 4: Karzok to Leh
This is probably the best way how you can incorporate a visit to Hanle to your Ladakh itinerary. Reach Pangong on Day one via Chang La, then travel to Hanle on Day 2 via Changthang valley, reach Karzok on Day 3 via Nyoma, Mahe, Sumdo and return to Leh on Day 4. Another alternate way could be that while you are returning from Karzok to Leh, you can take the road towards Tso Kar rather than coming back via Chumathang; refer to the map I posted above. If you opt for Tso Kar though, please keep in mind that you will have to cross Polo Kongka La around which the road is extremely bad. After visiting Tso Kar, you will exit at Manali Leh highway just after Pang from you will reach Leh crossing Tanglang La.
You can of course do it the other way around, reaching Tso Moriri on Day 1 and then to Leh from Pangong on Day 4. Another thing that can be done is to start your trip from Srinagar and while you exit at Manali Leh highway after Tso Kar, you can head straight to Manali from here rather than returning to Leh.
Accommodation at Hanle
There are no fancy hotels here which I think is given with the fact that it is just a tiny village. Paying guest is a good option of a stay at Hanle. Talk to any of the villagers and they will allow you to stay in their home and share their meal for a nominal charge. There is one guest house here as well by the name of Padma Guest House. It is a very small guest house with about 6 rooms; tariff is between Rs. 1000 to Rs. 1500 per day. Please do keep in mind that it is a very simple yet decent enough guest house. Rooms are quite clean, spacious and your stay here would be comfortable.
To inquire about this guest house, you can try calling Sonam Dorjay at 09469224302. However since there is no cell phone reception in Hanle, you may find this number switched. In that case, drop him a message or email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your query.
There is also a government guest house at Hanle Observatory. Earlier they allowed visitors to stay there but then limited it to government officials on work purpose only. You can try your luck though, talk to the in charge there and see if they will let you stay.
How to reach Hanle by Bus
Planning a trip to Hanle by public transport becomes a little tricky. The frequency of bus service or shared taxis towards Hanle is almost next to none. If you however want to reach here by Bus; then there are a few couple of buses you can use for the journey. Direct bus from Leh to Hanle is only on Saturday, at 6.30 AM from Leh. Fare for this bus is around Rs. 500.
Another bus you can use for this journey is on Tuesday, 6.30 in the morning from Leh. It goes from Leh to Koyul and passes through Loma check post. However, using this bus, you will have to get down at Loma and look for another mode of transport for final 50 kilometers from Loma to Hanle. This can be difficult and you may not actually find another mode of transport going that way at all.
Another bus that passes through Loma check post starts from Leh every Wednesday at 9 AM. This bus goes to a small village called Mood and crosses Loma. Challenge however will again be finding another mode of transport after you get down at Loma.
Shared taxis to Hanle
A local shared taxi will be extremely tough to find for Hanle. Locals usually do not travel that often between Hanle and Leh; and the ones that do use the weekly bus service. If you need to find a shared taxi; your best bet will be the tourist shared taxis that you can arrange via a tour operator. A lot of people also put up fliers at Internet cafes and resturants in case they need a travel partner to share cost of a taxi with. Keep an eye out for these kind of fliers and if you find one, it will be a cost effective and convenient way to travel to Hanle.
As it goes without saying, Hanle is located in a cold desert and the weather here is extremely cold and harsh. During summer, days can be moderately warm but the temperature really dips during night. Sun too is quite harsh here and you must carry some good sunblock lotion.
Hanle is very near to the Line of Actual Control, so one need to get Inner Line Permit to visit it. Read How to Obtain Inner Line permit for Ladakh to get more details on places that you need ILP for in Ladakh and how to get one.
Hanle is at an approximate altitude of around 4,500 meters. The altitude at the village can be a bit lower but Indian Astronomical Observatory here is at an altitude of 4,500 meters, (14,764 ft). Photi La, the nearest high altitude pass, about 30 kilometers from Hanle, is at an altitude of 5525 meters, 18,124 ft.
Acute Mountain Sickness at Hanle
Chances of anyone suffering from AMS at Hanle are actually quite rare. This assumption is based on the fact that in order to reach here, you would already have stayed or crossed through Pangong Tso or Tso Moriri which are at almost the same altitude as Hanle. So after spending time there, your body would already have adjusted and thus reducing the chances of AMS at Hanle. However, if you had trouble while you were at Pangong or Tso Moriri, or your AMS symptoms were quite serious, then I would strongly advise continuing to Hanle. If your situation worsens, medical facilities here are severely limited and the nearest hospital at Leh is 2 days away. For more details on acute mountain sickness, read How to Handle Acute Mountain Sickness in Ladakh.
Best Time to Travel to Hanle
Best time to plan a trip to Hanle can be any time between June and September when the tourist season is at its peak. You will have better chances of finding a place to stay and a mode of transport to travel by. The entire valley and the roads to it remain deserted for rest of the times and the only movement is of Indian Army and occasionally traveling locals. From December till March, the entire village remains covered under a thick sheet of snow. Life here around this time is quite difficult with water freezing everywhere. This is not really the time to be here because the extreme cold and high altitude may become too much to handle for us city folks. Snow starts to melt around April and by June; weather turns quite pleasant making it a perfect time to visit.
Tso Moriri to Hanle
Last but not the least, there is a third route that exists using which you can reach Hanle from Karzok (Tso Moriri); or vice versa. An ideal and better way to cover this journey will be to reach Sumdo from Karzok, then travel to Nyoma and Loma and continue to Hanle. An alternate route however runs through Charchagan La as shown in the map I posted above.
Most important thing that you need to remember that major part of this road is badly broken dirt road. This route is best suitable for a 4×4 SUV and I would not recommend taking a Sedan or Hatchback on this route at all. If you have a 2WD SUV, you may travel but only if you are really good at the wheel and know how to maneuver your car across tricky stretches.
To go this way, travel about 10 kilometers from Karzok towards Sumdo. You will come across a diversion where the road straight will continue to Sumdo and the one to your right will take you to Chumur. Turn on this road and continue towards Chumur via Charchagan La. You however will not be going all the way till Chumur. After traveling for about 50 kilometers, you will come across a diversion where the road to your left goes towards Chumur.
You however will take the road on your right towards another high altitude pass, Salsal La. After traveling for about 25 kilometers from the Chumur diversion, you will come across another bifurcation on the road. The one to your right will take you straight to Hanle after traveling for about 60 odd kilometers. The one to your left will take you uphill to another pass, Thit Zarbo La. After crossing the pass, you will exit between Nyoma and Loma; from here take right towards Loma and straight to Hanle from there.
Traveling on this route, you will also be able to cover three small but beautiful lakes; Lam Tso, Kyun Tso 1 and Kyun Tso 2.
Tso Moriri to Hanle distance
If you travel via Sumdo, Nyoma and Loma; distance between Tso Moriri and Hanle is about 150 kilometers. Traveling via Charchagan La and Salsal La, this distance would increase to 165 kilometers approximately.
Leh to Hanle road conditions
To summarize; road conditions on all the above mentioned routes will be as below.
Leh to Hanle via Chumathang, Nyoma and Loma: Mix of good and bad but mostly good; can be covered in a Sedan and Hatchback as well.
Leh to Pangong Tso: Mostly good with a bad stretch around Chang La top; doable in Sedan and hatchback.
Pangong Tso to Hanle: Mix of good, bad, ugly and really ugly; best for an SUV with good ground clearance.
Tso Moriri to Hanle via Charchagan La and Salsal La: Mostly a mix of bad and ugly. A 4×4 SUV is a must for this route.
I hope the information mentioned above regarding planning a trip to Hanle was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in comments sections below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.