With start of a new year, preparations for Ladakh trip this season are already on for a lot of people and one question that has been looming around last couple of years takes importance yet again. The question of self- drive rentals, of taxis rented outside Ladakh, of whether or not these can be used for a trip to Ladakh. Are non local taxis still banned in Ladakh? Some of the questions I have received so far this year are,
- Is Zoomcar still banned in Ladakh?
- Can you take a self-drive taxi to Ladakh?
- Is driving a taxi to Ladakh dangerous?
- Can a taxi rented outside be taken to Ladakh?
- Can a taxi rented outside Ladakh be used for visiting Pangong, Nubra, and Tso Moriri?
- Can a taxi rented in Srinagar be used to reach Ladakh and sightseeing around?
- Can a taxi rented outside Ladakh be used for a trip to Zanskar valley?
- Can you rent a motorcycle outside Ladakh, Manali or Srinagar and use it for Ladakh trip?
- Can you take a motorcycle rented outside Ladakh to visit Pangong, Tso Moriri or Nubra Valley?
These are just a few queries that I received in last month but it shows that there is a lot of confusion when it comes to renting motorcycles or taxis outside Ladakh. Just to give a little background, it all started in 2015 when Ladakh Taxi Union decided on their own that they will not allow anyone to rent a taxi or motorcycle outside Ladakh and use it for local sightseeing. I would like to stress on the phrase “on their own” here because there is no such law in place and if we actually go as per the law, any taxi that has an All India permit is free to be driven across the country, including Ladakh. So whatever Ladakh Taxi Union decided was their own self invented and implemented law. They did it in the name of “Eco system” of Ladakh which as per them was getting damaged because of people driving around on their own. Why did they do this, how could they do this and why the administration did not do anything about it is however an entirely different story.
We all know that Ladakh is a barren wasteland, a cold desert. Nothing really grows there and what makes it even more difficult is that this wasteland is accessible by road only for 5 months a year. People here are heavily relied on tourism as a mode of living and whatever they can earn from tourism is limited to just these 5 months. Almost everyone here is one way or another connected to making a living out of tourism and taxis are one of the most common ways to do it. I read somewhere on the web that majority of the locals here have bought cars on EMI basis and are using them for tourism purpose. They are to pay EMIs each month and save enough to support their family and all that money has to be made in just these 5 months. Everything was OK until the concept of self-drive taxis was introduced, especially Zoomcar. People would rent these taxis from elsewhere in the country, drive it up to Ladakh, use it for local sightseeing and bring it back home. This started to hurt the locals in Ladakh because then there taxis were just sitting ducks and weren’t getting used at all. Same concept applied to motorcycles as well. People would rent a motorcycle from outside Ladakh, bring it to Leh and use the same motorcycle for visiting nearby areas as well. Slowly this trend to grow and the locals in Ladakh decided that if they did not do anything, pretty soon their taxis and motorcycles will just remain parked and the only people renting those will be the ones who reach Ladakh by Air. Hence they came up with this law for their own benefits.
How could they do this and why there was no action taken against it? It is because the local administration is run by locals after all. Everyone in government offices there have their own taxis available for rent, as a mean of extra income. What followed after this in 2015 was quite unfortunate. Ladakh taxi union put up barricades and started checking vehicles. When they found taxis rented outside Ladakh, they stopped and sent those back to Leh. A few of the tourists objected to this and some events turned violent with vehicles getting vandalized and tourists attacked. When this got circulated over social media, it created a panic due to which people even cancelled their trips to Ladakh that year.
So coming to the questions, Is this law still applicable? The answer is that yes it is. When it comes to a taxi or a motorcycle rented outside Ladakh, irrespective of whether it is self-drive or with a driver, you can only use it as far as to reach Leh. No one will bother you on Manali to Leh or Srinagar to Leh highway. However, once you reach Leh, you must leave it parked at the hotel and rent another taxi or motorcycle in Leh for visiting nearby areas like Pangong Tso, Nubra Valley or Tso Moriri. To break it all down,
- Only taxis registered within Ladakh can be used for sightseeing in Ladakh.
- You cannot use a taxi or motorcycle rented outside Ladakh beyond Leh.
- Srinagar and Manali are part of it too. If you rented a taxi or motorcycle either in Manali or Srinagar, you cannot use in Ladakh.
- It does not matter if the taxi is self-drive or with driver. If it was rented outside Ladakh, it is good enough only until Leh.
- For visiting Zanskar, you must hire a Kargil registered taxi/motorcycle from Kargil. Even a Ladakh or Srinagar registration number would not do. For Zanskar, it has to be rented from Kargil.
- Another confusion remains to be around vehicles belonging to friends or family. These are again a NO. Only take vehicles that are registered either in your own, or your parent’s or sibling’s name. If you are doing so, then ensure that you are also carrying some sort of identification or document that proves your relationship with the owner of the vehicle. If the vehicle is registered in your friend’s name or even in your cousin’s name, best not to take it to Ladakh.
- If you are bringing along a motorcycle belonging to a friend, you will again have to rent a motorcycle in Leh for local sightseeing. Last year the locals set up check posts just before Khardung La ascent and near Sakti. They were stopping and checking all non-local motorcycles going towards Nubra and Pangong. Even though your motorcycle will have a white number plate, if it is not in your name they will send you back to Leh.
- Same law applies to large vehicles like tempo travelers or mini bus etc.
- There are no self-drive vehicles available in Ladakh. You must hire a local taxi in Leh with driver.
- Now the most important part, there is no restriction in place for private vehicles. As long as the vehicle is registered In your name and you have all the documents with you to prove it (RC, Insurance papers etc), you are free to bring your vehicle to Ladakh and take it anywhere you desire.
- If you are in a non-local taxi, it is not dangerous at all as long as you only use it to reach Leh. You may get stopped somewhere once you get closer to Leh but please be patient, produce all the required documents and you will be OK.
- Motorcycles too are subject to this entire frenzy. For local sightseeing in Ladakh, you must rent a motorcycle from Leh. For Zanskar, you would need to rent it from Kargil. If you are however on your own motorcycle, no such restriction applies.
- On a lighter note, there is no restriction applicable to Bicycle and Horses. If you are on either of these, feel free to pedal or gallop to anywhere you like.
Please do not try to work anyway around this and follow these conditions laid by the local taxi union. Do not take any chances of any sort thinking “let us see if anyone stops us”. Several of these incidents have already turned violent. Even some private vehicles were attacked because they were part of a convoy that had self-drive taxis in it. Tires have been deflated, windshields broken and in some cases, even the body of the vehicle was pierced with metal rods.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I would be glad to answer.