Of jagged gorges, stripped inclines, snow clad summits and empty expanses… of paradoxical climate, mystical people, inaccessible extents and enduring traditions, Ladakh is one of the last places on earth to open up for tourism.
Fast emerging as an increasingly attractive traveler’s destination, Ladakh appeases many of one’s appetite of the senses – rawness of nature, spiritual awakening and thrilling adventures.
Best time to visit Ladakh – June to mid-October; even though early May maybe preferred by snow-lovers… like us.
How to get there
- By road – one of the most popular routes to go to Ladakh is driving up by car, bike or cycle from Manali or Srinagar. The adventure starts as soon as you hit the highway. Routes opens up between June – September.
- Srinagar to Leh – 434 kms via Zozila Pass, Drass, Kargil and Lamayuru. Preferred by locals and is open during winters for army convoys and traders.
- Manali to Leh – 475 kms via Rohtang Pass, Keylong, Baralacha La, Sarchu, Pang, Tanglang La and Karu. Preferred by motor tourists for its scenic vistas.
Buses take two days from either Srinagar to Leh or Manali to Leh. From Manali, deluxe coaches are available that may halt overnight at Kargil. Night halt on the lesser comfortable buses from Manali is at Sarchu or Keylong.
Bike rides may take 5-10 days depending on the number of stops one takes. There are many notable tourist places worth a stop along the way, more so on the Manali-Leh highway.
2. By Air – Daily flights of Jet Airways, Air India, Go Air and Kingfishers from Delhi to Leh and weekly once flight of Air India from Jammu and Srinagar to Leh, both take not more than an hour. This route may take more time for acclimatization off your travel schedule, but the Karakoram from the sky is spell binding.
Before planning a visit to Leh – Ladakh, one must be aware of AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness, a unique conditions specific to higher altitudes :
- Leh – Ladakh is at a vertical height of 11,500 ft is the 8th highest city in the world after Lhasa, Tibet and the highest in India at Korzok.
- The most common ailment at this altitude is AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness. It occurs due to low atmospheric pressure, low oxygen concentration, increased altitude to sea level and high radiation to sun exposure.
- Extreme temperature variation in the diurnal and seasonal temperatures. During winters temperatures may be between -30 degrees to 2 degrees, in summer between 15 degrees to 35 degrees. Day time temperatures can drop suddenly from a warm 21 degrees to a chilling 2 degrees. Sometimes during the same day one may get frost bitten and sun burned. Therefore, ample covering at all times is warranted. Temperatures may also vary significantly between open and shaded or covered areas.
- Oxygen concentration is lower at higher altitudes and so is atmospheric pressure. Both these conditions is what affects a new visitor toLadakh. Symptoms may vary from restlessness, nausea, dizziness, headaches, wheezing to blackouts. Deprivation of oxygen or Hypoxia is the basis of all AMS. If you are coming from lower altitudes, its better to break journey periodically along the way and gradually get accustomed to the decreasing oxygen levels. Or else, take first 2-3 days to stay indoors and acclimatize completely.
- Sun exposure and radiation is a real threat and must not be taken lightly, even though it may appear the slightest in comparison to the above. Though the most imperceptible, exposure to increased solar radiation may have a graver outcome. People have been known to come away from mountain tops scalded over exposed hands and faces while being in snow all the time….. yours truly, ME … included…. Hence, frequent applications of sun tan lotion and fully covered clothing is a must.
- Dry arid conditions rob the body of moisture faster than it would appear so hydrate frequently even at sub-zero.
How to overcome AMS : Though AMS does not effect everybody, it does effect a majority of people, even those ethnic to high mountain conditions but are returning from lower altitudes. If AMS does not subside in the first two days, it may develop into HAPE or HACE, quite fatal and requires immediate descent. Ladakh’s main hospital Sonam Norbu Memorial (SNM) – 0198-252799 is the best apart from the army hospitals but civilians are rarely entertained there. Other than AMS, diarrhea, respiratory infections and accidental falls are the other heath threats in this region. Away from Leh city, medical treatment is nearly non-existent. It is best to try avoiding any unfortunate occurences.
- keep to clean, hygienic conditions when travelling.
- eat only in known clean places, nearly all guest houses and hotels have their own restaurants. If you are travelling the day, best to take packed lunches from your lodgings.
- Keep in touch with your hotel staff about your health and let them know how you feel everyday. Most often they have indigenous recipes or ways to help you overcome AMS, colds or diarrhea. Many upscale lodgings also have oxygen cylinders to help you overcome hypoxia or hypobaria.
Although all this may seem a bit daunting, do not forget that “the best fruit grows on the outer branches”. Its a lifetime experience.
Other tips unique to Ladakh;
- Ladakh is a land of monasteries, much of the touristic agendas would circle around Buddhist worship places which are built on higher altitudes to the surroundings. Every visit to a monastery calls for a climb of at best 60- 100 rather steep steps. So as not to get washed-out by the mere climb and enjoy the calm stillness of monastic life, one needs to be at least averagely fit. A daily walk of 2-3 kms before visiting Ladakh can make your trip more than a run on a threadmill.
- Carry woolen clothing all the time with you for the temperatures may suddenly fall quite low. Keep ears well covered for even though dry, the winds can be quite chilling.
- Carry a wide angled lens camera or DSLR, to capture the essence of the landscape.
- If you are trekking or camping overnight out of the city, plan to be close to your lodging before sundown. Lighting is low and towns far apart should you be stranded somewhere. Avalanches and wild animals are a real threat.
- Internet in the city may be erratic, some good hotels do have reasonable service though. Mobile connectivity at remote places, high passes, defence areas and border regions is at best lost. Do not expect to stay connected once you leave the city premises.
- Nearly all the local people can speak in Hindi, some in Urdu or English but you can do well to learn a few ladakhi words. ‘Julay’ which means ‘Hello!!’ and said both at meeting or departing with a slight bow and touch of the forehead with slightly closed right fist, is an immediate ice-breaker.
Amongst your jaunting about to catch all the extravagance of its scenic locales, try not to overlook the humble Ladakhi. He will open up to you with the most astonishing stories of this splendorous land… all with a simple “Julay!”……