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.
Also read: How to Handle Acute Mountain Sickness in Ladakh
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.
I found your blog very helpful and have added it to my favorite pages. I appreciate your list of “Dondoos”, I have a similar list for India based on my own experiences and on observing foreigners make mistakes with bad consequences. You are making very good general points, many of which are not obvious, which should be considered by all potential visitors. So the comments with anecdotes like “I did dondoo #n and nothing bad happened to me” miss the general point, deny your experience which you are sharing and may make people a bit more complacent.
Couple of thoughts:
Dogs: Yes, please be wary of village dogs, whether stray or not. Great, if you are a dog whisperer or Crocodile Dundee and know how to behave with strange dogs, but if not, remember that village dogs are trained for protection and are unpredictable. Same with yaks, they are not domesticated, not fluffy pets, nor are they even cows. Watch for herds of sheep/goats on mountain trails, stay on the uphill side, the herd can easily push you off without any ill intentions on their part.
Litter: Please don’t litter! My kids and I walked along the wide flat west shore of Pangong lake and picked up 10-15 chiwda and chip packets from the ground and from in the water near shore. This to me is identifiably trash from tourists. That said, we also discovered piles of “local” trash behind the walls and cliffs of high monasteries – 4-5 feet deep, 10-15 feet diameter piles of plastic bottles, brought up by the devout to donate oil for the lamps in the temples. Sadly, this (garbage out of sight but just over the temple boundary) is common all over India.
Dipping in lakes: I took prolonged dips in Pangong (after checking with some of the locals if it was okay. The Indian Army soldiers sometimes do so as well.) and toweled off immediately. Even after that, I was itchy from the salt until the next day when we got back to Leh and I washed off. The western part (In India) is much more brackish than the eastern part in the territory occupied by China, by > factor of 10. I didn’t experience any numbness – was it due to the salinity or due to the cold? I regularly dip in glacial melt streams and found Pangong not that cold. The flowing streams and rivers (not the Indus!) are quite clear and fresh, and I shared a dip with some local schoolboys I met who were on their way back home after school. That water was cold, even in late summer, and the flow takes away heat very quickly. One of the kids overcame his shyness and we could get by in some smattering of Hindi and English.
AMS: Yup, sea level fitness does not predict likelihood of AMS symptoms. My kids and I acclimated a bit by backpacking at ~ 9000′ near home, walked up to Shanti Stupa the first evening we were there and were basically fine. However, as I pointed out, we did acclimate a couple of weeks before, we hydrated well, took plenty of breaks on the steps up, I was watchful for any early signs of AMS and would have turned back. My parents and aunt took Diamox as prescribed starting two days before arriving in Leh and did not exert beyond Leh walks for the first two days.
Finally, thank you to Jigmet Wangchuk for your perspective as a Ladakhi, which I have found sorely missing in all of the blogs so far.
While I agree with most of what you say , I Disagree strongly about the dogs. I am sitting in Leh with 4 dogs of my own I have travelled with . This is my third time here and I have interacted with ALL the dogs I have come across ; literally stopped my vehicle to interact with them. Like with dogs all over the world , they don’t come near you if they don’t want to , but they do not attack randomly as mentioned . The incidents that have happened are not unique to Ladakh alone.
Hi vargis, we have booked flight for leh on 25th Feb 2022 and return will be 1st March 2022.can you please suggest us which areas we must cover and can we get bike rentals at that time?
How much cost for a good hotel in leh. With good out side mountains or other good view
Is 2000,2500 sufficient .
And how a couple go for sight seeing,taxi or rented bikes. How many days for sufficient for leh tour if going by air.
Caught your write up in time
Was planning on patting doggies
Now perhaps you saved my life
Thanks for the timely DO NOTS
Thank you so much for the comprehensive write up on your experiences, and things to (not) do in Ladakh. I plan to take my kids aged (5 and 10) sometime next year and are hoping they will cope with ACM. Your post came is really valuable and useful and gives me some level of confidence.
Thank you Sudarshan for taking the time to drop a note.
Nicely done, cant disagree as a Ladakhi myself. One thing though on which i would like to stress on is Ladakh’s fragile ecosysytem, Please please please do not litter in any way possible, carry a small foldable bag to keep the trash in when you go outdoors or camping and bring it back yourselves or give it to the Taxi driver to bring it back to a proper bin and facilities provided by the govt or Travel company. Our Indian brothers and sisters tend to throw beer cans and bottles, not to mention plastic bottles of fizz and water into the Lakes, not only does it harm grievously the water but also fauna supported by that water. If a local sees you then its going to be only trouble as the Lakes are considered holy(having so much compassion to provide for the needy,the animals) and will get you in trouble. Also, there might be language barriers as not all Ladakhis speak hindi, try not to get offended by this when and if you misunderstand, people are usually very kind if you are so. Ego is not treated well. Thank you.
I am 62 yrs and smoke one cigarette daily in toilet in the morning . I can’t avoid it. Will it be a problem in Ladakh.
You should be OK but I will strongly advise consulting a Doctor before you go.
Thank you so much for the helpful writing…
thank you so much for taking the time to drop a note
Hi , are there any precautions for ppl with high blood pressure
Hey – thanks for all the wonderful posts. Yours are the most comprehensive, and useful.
I am traveling to Ladakh coming Sep 2019, with my parents (aged 58, 60). They have traveled to Bhutan (done rafting), Andaman (assisted scuba diving, snorkelling), and in general fit (no medications). Apart from climbing stairs / terrains, they can comfortably walk around for 1hr+ easily at a stretch.
Do I need to take any specific instructions – since this is going to be a first Himalaya trip? I myself haven’t been to Leh/Ladakh/Himachal – so no personal experience with AMS or otherwise, but want to make sure they have a safe trip. I will be traveling with them, so can take care if I find out the right precautions to take.
Would appreciate any tips on this.
Hi Vaibhav – Please see the post below, should answer your questions.
Please suggest if a person is suffering from Fits can visit ladhakh and have no serious problem.
That is really a question you should be asking a doctor brother.
Mate, i am really impressed how you are describing your experience to leh ladakh, you have put each and every information in your posts , one can prepare himself going there with full preparations. I wanna ask one thing like i am planning to go to leh ladakh for 10 days with my girlfriend and not thinking to take any other biker or group with us, basically i am from himachal Pradesh, so i have a pretty good hand on bike to tough terrains, yet I know this is going to be totally different but yeah i am confident even my girlfriend is rider . So do you suggest us going alone, and wat all i need to take care while going with no one else. Hope to hear soon
Hi Abhinav – Thank you for your kind words. I am glad the information was of help. Yes, if you have good biking experience and know how to handle the mountain roads then definitely go all by yourself. Do no restrain yourself by traveling in a group. Ladakh is quite safe and even several women travel there alone so you will not have any problem. Just make sure that you get your motorcycle serviced well in advance though. Remove any chance of any breakdown because that can become a problem if traveling alone. Second thing, plan your itinerary in a way that you are staying at hotels and avoiding camp sites. Traveling with a girl can be a bit of problem with washrooms at the camp sites.