Most of my writings on Ladakh so far have been around how to reach Ladakh, where to stay, how to move around, what to see there and activities to indulge in. Taking a different approach this time, in this article, I will talk about what NOT to do in Ladakh.
The list below includes activities that a person should either completely avoid or should practice caution with. The information below is based on my own experience of Ladakh but please feel free to comment and add to the list any other point that I may have missed.
What NOT to do in Ladakh
Below is a list of 10 items that I recommend you avoid doing when it comes to Ladakh. The most important thing you need to remember about Ladakh is that it is not your usual weekend getaway; not a place where you can just pack your bags and go.
It is a cold high altitude desert that you are headed to. Here, the weather is harsh and the terrain is challenging. You need to respect the region in order to truly enjoy its beauty. One small mistake here is capable of ruining your entire trip and send you back home packing.
Do Not go to Ladakh Without a Plan
A trip to Ladakh requires meticulous planning and several days to materialize it. Before you start your journey, you need to gain knowledge about the place and the weather here. Have an itinerary laid out, know your accommodation choices, and prepare yourself both mentally and physically.
If your plan is a road trip, then you need to pay close attention to your vehicle as well. Get it serviced and anything that seems dicey should either be repaired or replaced.
Also read: 10 reasons why you should NEVER visit Ladakh
Traveling with no plan at all and just going along the road may sound cool enough. But in the case of Ladakh, it is better to lay out a plan and try not to deviate from it.
I am speaking this out of my own personal experience. Just because I deviated from the set plan, I once ended up spending the entire night sitting next to a dirt track, hoping that someone will pass us by the next morning, lost in the middle of nowhere.
The next time I made the same mistake, we almost got lost and reached our destination at 1 in the night; only to find the entire village deep in sleep. This time, we ended up sleeping on the floor of a tea stall with whatever blankets the kind shop owner could arrange for us.
Gaining knowledge about Ladakh before you reach there and having a well-laid itinerary will just make your trip simple. I highly recommend that you do so.
Do Not Ignore Acute Mountain Sickness
For most people, acute mountain sickness remains to be a term unknown until they first start planning for a trip to Ladakh. It happened with me as well. I did not even know that something like AMS or high altitude sickness even existed.
Almost all of us in our lives have been to a hill station at least once but never felt or gave mountain sickness a thought. We tend to not take it seriously because we have never suffered from it. We do not even know how it exactly feels like when AMS hits you. This can really spoil all the fun out of your trip.
To being with, AMS more or less feels exactly like you are suffering from a high fever. You have to consider it seriously. It gets even more important if you caught a flight to Ladakh.
No matter what age group you are in, how good an athlete you are, how many hours you spend in the gym a week, or how many trips you have been to in the Himalayas. You are bound to suffer from AMS if it is your first time in Ladakh.
For some people, these symptoms are very less while others suffer for a complete day or two. You can take precautions to reduce the symptoms. But in the end, your body needs time and rest to acclimatize and there is really no other way around it.
Do Not Underestimate the Roads or the Terrain
You may have been on numerous road trips or done a lot of traveling. you may have had your fill of off-roading but you cannot make the mistake of being over-confident in Ladakh. The roads here are challenging and can be treacherous if you were not careful.
You need to take the journey slow and be careful. Understand the fact that you are driving through a region that gets buried under snow come winter. BRO has to work these roads straight each year. One small mistake can see you drive off the road and downhill, or at least cause serious damage to your vehicle.
Do Not go by the Distance
A lot of people tend to plan their trip by looking at the distance. If they see 500 odd kilometers, the immediate thought is that they can easily cover it in 1 day.
Time and distance however do not really work together in Ladakh. Even on a straight freshly laid road, you cannot make the mistake of speeding. There will be dips in between which can really break your vehicle if you were at a great speed.
There will be stretches that will severely limit your speed down to merely 15-20 kilometers per hour. You will be crossing passes and climbing up on a twisting narrow road cannot be done at 60-70 kilometers per hour.
To be on the safer side, plan a total journey of about 150-200 kilometers for one day; nothing more than that. There cannot be absolutely any speeding here at all.
Also read: Mobile Phone Services in Ladakh
Do Not Drink and Drive
Need I explain this anymore? Driving while under the influence of alcohol in Ladakh will be fatal; there is no other or simpler way to put it.
Do Not Take Your Eye off your Child
If you were traveling to Ladakh with your child, you will need to constantly monitor and keep them under check. They will be way more excited to be at a new place than you. They will still run and jump around and in the process, exert themselves.
This exertion will trigger AMS and a child will not even be able to tell you clearly how they were feeling. Keep a close check on their eating habits, do not let them tire themselves, protect them from the cold and harsh environment and monitor constantly for any symptoms of mountain sickness.
Read How to travel to Ladakh with children or infants for further details on precautions you need to observe while bringing a child to Ladakh.
Do Not Take a Dip in the Lakes
This I speak out of my own experience. I am probably one of the very few who were foolish enough to take a dip in Pangong Tso. This was during my first Ladakh trip more than a decade ago.
Ladakh back then was still a bit deserted. That day, I along with a friend of mine, were the only tourists on the banks of Pangong. Thinking it will be an experience of one of a kind, we walked in the lake till the water was until our thighs, sat down, took a quick dip, and ran out.
Also read: What clothes to pack for Ladakh trip
Was it an experience? Yes, it was but a nightmarish one. Pangong is a saltwater lake and that saltwater entered all the wrong places. There was no place there for us to even wash it off.
However serious concern was that it was something extremely dangerous and we could have even died. Our entire “in the water” time was in seconds, not even a full minute. Yet it was enough to turn our bodies numb for the next one hour, give a serious headache for rest of the day, and trigger cold for the rest of the trip.
If I had lost my footing while running in and out of the freezing cold water, I could have drowned. I could have even suffered from thermal shock or hypothermia.
Please do not risk this. Lakes in Ladakh are not for bathing or swimming. Water is freezing cold and before you even know it, your entire body will go numb. Even washing your face with water that cold will cause the famous “Ice cream headache”.
Do not attempt this.
Do Not go Topless
The reason why I kept it in this list of things not to do in Leh Ladakh is that a lot of people do this, especially at the high altitude passes in Ladakh. They will take their shirts off, go topless and then try to click a macho picture with their bikes in front of the board reading the name of the pass.
This while sounds like a perfect picture to share around with friends can have serious implications. Standing at the top of a pass with your body exposed to cold winds will make you highly prone to falling ill; which will definitely ruin the rest of the trip. It is more or less one minute of fun but the results can be dangerous.
Do Not Take Non-Local Rented Vehicles for Sightseeing
Non-local taxis, self-drive rentals, motorcycles rented in another city except for Leh are only good enough to bring you to the city of Leh. Using it for sightseeing in Ladakh is not allowed and you must not take the chance.
There have been incidents where such vehicles were attacked and vandalized by locals; even some tourists I heard got hurt. If you reached Leh in a non-local rented vehicle then please leave it parked at your hotel in Leh and rent another vehicle there for visiting other places in Ladakh.
For more details on this ban, please read Non-local taxis and rented motorcycles banned in Ladakh.
Do Not go Sightseeing without Inner Line Permit
Inner Line Permit is a mandate to visit areas like Nubra Valley or Pangong Tso. You do not need this permit to reach Leh but will have to obtain it from there for the journey ahead. Please do not ignore this. There are check posts in between and if you did not have the permit, they will send you back to Leh.
Also read: How to Obtain Inner Line Permit for Ladakh
Do Not Litter
Ladakh is bound to leave you mesmerized and inspired to visit again. It is a small piece of heaven that I believe every Indian should be proud of. Littering in such a place and staining its beauty must be at all costs avoided. Please respect the region and help the government to keep it clean.
Do Not be an Over-Confident Fool
Adding this one more point here after seeing this fellow trying some stunts while riding down from Khardung La towards Leh during my last year ride to Ladakh. What came next? Well, there was a stone that he could not avoid and since neither of his feet was on the ground, he took a nasty fall.
As a matter of fact, he missed the cliff by just a few inches. Slightly harder fall would have seen him tumbling down the hill like the old Jack. Please, do not try this. Ladakh is a place to soak yourself in its natural beauty; not to show off what you can or cannot do on a motorcycle or in a car.
Do Not try to Get Closer to the Dogs
The dogs in Ladakh are NOT friendly. There have been incidents when the dogs have attacked, killed, and even eaten people. You do not believe me? Search Google for Dog attacks in Ladakh and go through the results. The dogs here are a menace to both people and the wildlife.
In Leh city and popular tourist places, they will mind their business as long as you maintain distance. In remote areas though, they will chase vehicles and attack you if they got a chance. Read The Beasts of Changthang Valley – Ladakh for my experience with these dogs and then also take a look at the comments section. Be very careful with a dog around.
Do NOT camp in the Middle of Nowhere
Self-camping is sure fun and Ladakh is a great place to do so. But out here, you need to be very careful about picking the spot to pitch your tent. Do not go self-camping in a remote area where there is no one around for miles.
Stay closer to a human establishment. If you want to do self-camping, do so either near an existing campsite, dhaba, or a villager’s house nearby. The risk is of bad weather, wildlife as well as the dogs. Read Camping in Ladakh – Campsites & Self-Camping for more details on this.
Do NOT take Shortcuts
At several places, you will come across shortcuts going uphill and connecting the loops of the winding road. These shortcuts may look inviting in terms of saving time and going off the road but you cannot risk it. These are steep, tricky, and can result in a nasty accident.
See the picture below. This is from Gata loops on Manali to Leh Ladakh highway. This fellow was trying to skip a loop by taking a dirt track straight up, as a shortcut. What shocked me was that he had his family in the car as well and still he attempted this.
What followed was something that should not happen to anyone. The car stalled because the climb was steep and in order to get it moving, he lost balance. The entire vehicle came rolling down and landed on its side. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. I request you to not take chances like this.
What Not to do in Ladakh – Conclusion
And that is pretty much my list of what NOT to do in Leh Ladakh. The most important however will be to not sit in your hotel room and explore as much as you can. You must not stop clicking pictures because Ladakh will present you with a thousand opportunities.
I hope the information above was of help. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below, or at our Community Forum, and I will be happy to answer.