I recently received a question that kind of made me smile and also wonder that how many people out there have this same doubt. This person was traveling to Ladakh and emailed me asking if he should go to Leh or Ladakh? Surprisingly, this wasn’t the first time I have heard this type of question. Over last few years, ever since I started writing this blog, some of the questions I have received were Is Leh and Ladakh different? Which place is better, Leh or Ladakh? Which one is safer to go? Which one is better for family? Here is a little bit of general information for anyone planning to travel to Ladakh, a few tips on things that you can do and things that you should avoid.
First of all, Leh and Ladakh are not two different places. Ladakh is the name of an entire region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and Leh is a city in it, a district. To be precise, Ladakh is an area spread over 86,904 km² and Leh is one of its two district cities, other being Kargil. You cannot go to Leh and Ladakh separately. When you are in Leh, you are in Ladakh as well. I know this is very basic information but considering the questions I have received, still wanted to put it here for general information.
Traveling to Ladakh with Family: There are a few things that you need to keep in mind if you are travelling to Ladakh with family. The first thing is that it is not your regular family destination. It is not a place like Shimla and Manali where you can go with your family, have some fun, visit some famous tourist spots, do some shopping and come back. Ladakh is a barren wasteland, a cold desert and a rough terrain where even the roads will not co-operate with you. It is an adventurous trip throughout and you and your family needs to be mentally prepared for that.
Let your family know in advance about what to expect so that there is no disappointment. A trip to Ladakh doesn’t mean reaching a destination but enjoying the entire journey actually so make sure you prepare your family accordingly. Let them know that they will be sitting in a car and travelling almost every day except for few days when you would actually be in Leh. Second thing you need to be prepared for acute mountain sickness. If this is yours or your family’s first time at such high altitude, you are bound to get hit by AMS. I have written an article on dealing with AMS in Ladakh that you can go through at the link below.
If you have children accompanying you, please take a look at the article below about travelling to Ladakh with children.
On a lighter note, please let your ladies know to prepare well about their skin and complexion. Ladakh is a land of harsh sun so let them know that they need to carry the best available sunscreen lotion and cold creams.
Traveling to Ladakh on a motorcycle: The first and foremost thing you need to do is to get your motorcycle checked thoroughly and replace whatever seems dicy. It doesn’t really matter which motorcycle you have actually as I have known people who have covered Ladakh on 100 CC motorcycle as well. You do not need a 350CC or 500CC Royal Enfield only. Other bikes will perform equally well as long as you have it well maintained, well serviced and know how to ride it well. A few things to check before start of the journey is the condition of the tires, chain and chain sockets, spark plug, brake and shockers. If they seem worn out or problematic, get it fixed or replaced. A few things that I recommend you should replace are accelerator, clutch and brake wires, headlamp and tire tubes. Put a new one in place, take out the old one and carry it as spare. A puncture kit is must and you should know how to either fix a puncture or replace the tube. Preferred would be that you carry a tube and in case of a flat tire, take the tire out, put in the new tube and carry the punctured one to get it fixed at the next repair shop.
Traveling to Ladakh in a Car: In case of a car, your biggest is the ground clearance. You do not necessarily need to be in a big SUV or 4X4 but if it is a hatchback or a Sedan, then you really need to be good at the wheel. Some of the spares I would recommend carrying are jerry cans and funnel; towing rope, spare headlamps, MSeal, and Spare tubes (in case you have a flat tire twice before you hit the next puncture shop). If you have never done it or do not know, please try taking out and replacing the tire on your own once as you may run into this situation and may not find help. It is better to also know how to replace the tube in the tire and carry essential accessories for it. If you are in a hatchback or sedan, please be extremely careful at water crossings and whenever you hit a rough patch or else you will be scratching your cars underbelly throughout the trip. Just do not rush anywhere in the trip, irrespective of whether there is tar on the road or not. Whenever crossing a water stream, park your car, get down, inspect and then take your car to the other side. If you are still unsure, then it is a good idea to wait for another car, see how it went through and follow. It will also be better if you took the Srinagar Leh highway to reach Leh and travel back via Manali. Road from Srinagar is little less challenging as compared to Manali route so it will give you ample chance to get accustomed to the terrain and drive better. As of now, there is no restriction in Ladakh to drive around in your personal car. Feel free to take your car anywhere you like as long as you are confident of your own driving skills. Only problem is around outside taxis or self-drive rentals which you can only take until the city of Leh but cannot use it for sight seeing. For visiting area like Pangong, Nubra and Tso Moriri, please hire another taxi in Leh. Take a look at the link below for more information on the same.
Traveling to Ladakh by Air: Please take a look at the link below where I have deailed how an air trip to Ladakh can be planned. The article also provides a basic itinerary that you can follow after you land in Ladakh. Your biggest concern during an air trip would be the acute mountain sickness because in a matter of hours, your body will rise from plains to thousand of fee up in the Himalayas. Take ample rest on day 1 and if you are still not feeling better, allow another day of rest. Do not exert yourself and continue your journey only after your body has gotten accustomed to high altitude.
Fighting the cold: It applies to all of the above points. Irrespective of how you are travelling or who you are travelling with, you need to prepare yourself well for the cold that you will encounter. Do not however let the thought bother you that it is going to be extremely cold because it is not. In tourist season, from May until September, the weather is not something that you cannot bear. Nights do get colder but then you will have enough blankets to keep you warm at the hotels. If you are however planning to camp on your own, then please ensure that you carry enough woolens and warm enough bedding. In case you are riding a motorcycle, please carry good gloves to protect your fingers from going numb. It is always good to wait for the sun to come up before you get on the road on your bike.
Dealing with Acute mountain sickness: If this is your first time, then yes you are bound to get hit by AMS at some point in this journey. If you have any sort of medical condition like asthma or something related to heart, it is good to get a doctor’s advice before the journey. Take a look at the article below to know more on AMS and how to deal with it.
These are just a few tips that I tried to cover in this article. You need to know that Ladakh cannot at any point be a rushed journey. This is a test for both your body and the machine. Take it slow and take it easy. Your safety is in your own hands. Ladakh is a very peaceful and safe region to travel and people are very helpful. In all my years of travelling there, except for one instance related to blasts in a monastery in Bihar post which a bandh was called in Leh, I have never come across any incident at all. How safe your and enjoyable your journey would be will depend on how prepared and cautious you are. I hope this information was helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and ask and I would be glad to help.