Practical Information

for planning a trip to Ladakh

General information about Ladakh

Ladakh is a mountainous region nestled in the Indian Himalayas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh means “land of high passes”. The 270,000 inhabitants live at an altitude between 2,800 metres and 4,500 metres above sea level. Several peaks in the Ladakh mountain range are above 6,000 metres. The main town is Leh, it has a population of 30,000 with a majority of Buddhists. Kargil is the second largest town with 11,000 inhabitants, mainly Muslim. Ladakh has an area of 88,000 square metres and a population density of only three inhabitants per square kilometre.

Average temperatures in Leh Ladakh, statistics

Climate

Ladakh is a high-altitude cold desert in the rain shadows of the Himalayas with 300 days of sunshine and only 100 millimetres of precipitation annually. Even though it hardly rains in Ladakh, storm and localized heavy downpour can cause flash floods and mudslides. In Leh, at 3,500 metres altitude, the average temperature reaches 25°C during the day in summer while it dips to -15°C at night in winter. It can be significantly colder at higher altitude where night-time temperatures can drop below zero even in summer. Always take warm clothing and protect yourself from the strong sun when travelling in Ladakh.

Car on a road covered with snow, high-altitude mountain pass Leh-Manali road, Ladakh

Getting there

Ladakh is almost completely cut off from the rest of India 6 months per year. The Leh-Srinagar road is usually open between May and November while the Leh-Manali road becomes accessible from June to October. Exact dates for road openings depend on snow depths each year at mountain passes. There is a Ladakhi saying: “the land is so harsh and the passes so high that only the best of friends or the worst of enemies would visit you“. Nowadays, reaching Ladakh has become easier with daily flights from Delhi all year round. There are approximately 10 flights per day, airlines are Air India, Go Air, Jet Airways, Vistara and Spice Jet.

Text in Ladakhi script or Ladakhi alphabet

Ladakhi language

The Ladakhi language (also called Bhoti or Bodhi) uses the Tibetan script, but the Tibetan and Ladakhi languages are not mutually intelligible. Spoken Ladakhi shows variations in pronunciation and intonation across Ladakh, the accent in Leh sounds very different from the accents in Nubra and Zanskar. If you only learn one word, make it "julley” which means “hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye”. The greeting “khamzang” or “khamzang ina-le?” means “how are you?” and you can simply answer “khamzang julley” - “I’m fine, thank you”. The phrasebook “getting started in Ladakhi” is available in bookstores in Leh. Most Ladakhi people (especially the younger generations) speak fluently in English and in Hindi too because they learn these languages at school from the very young age.

Typical Ladakhi dish, plate of momos

Ladakhi cuisine

The Ladakhi cuisine is very different from the Indian cuisine, it is not spicy and it mainly originates from the culinary traditions of Tibet. Barley flour, called tsampa, is the traditional staple food of Ladakh. The most famous Ladakhi dishes are:

  • momos: steamed dumplings stuffed with vegetables or meat
  • thukpa: noddle soup which includes pieces of vegetables and sometimes meat
  • chowmein: fried noodles
  • skiu: traditional soup-based dish made with carrots and turnips with homemade flakes of barley or wheat pasta
  • tingmo: steamed Tibetan bread

Popular local beverages are:

  • butter tea: salted tea with yak butter
  • chang: Ladakhi homemade beer brewed from barley
Indian Rupees bank notes exchange money

Money, internet and phone

There are many banks with ATM machines in Leh (State Bank of India, J&K Bank, Punjab National Bank, ICICI, HDFC, Axis Bank, IDBI…). However, you can only withdraw ₹ 10,000 or ₹ 15,000 per transaction and there is a daily withdrawal limit of ₹ 20,000 or ₹ 30,000. Banks and moneychangers can exchange various currencies: United States Dollar, Euro, Australian Dollar, Canadian Dollar, British Pound, Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc, Singapore Dollar, etc. Note that Indian Rupees cannot be exchanged abroad. Hotels, restaurants and shops usually do not have credit card payment facilities, everything is to be paid in cash. Several internet cafes can be found around the Main Bazar and most hotels and restaurants have wifi. However, do not expect high-speed internet connection especially in summer when the network is saturated. You mobile phone is unlikely to work in Ladakh, only phones with a local sim card bought in Jammu & Kashmir can be used. Mobile network operators in Ladakh are BNSL, Airtel and Jio.

Altitude sickness

Ladakh lies at an elevation over 3,000 metres above sea level. The high altitude must be carefully taken into account when planning a trip in the region to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness.

Oxygen availability and altitude, graphic

Oxygen availability and altitude

The pressure of the air that surrounds you is called atmospheric pressure. As the altitude increases, the atmospheric pressure drops and the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. Altitude sickness happens because there is less oxygen in the air that you breathe at high altitude.


Acclimatization to altitude

If you go to high altitude quickly, your body has to adapt to the lack of oxygen: this is acclimatization.


In the short term:

  • you breathe faster and more deeply to maximise the amount of oxygen that can get into the blood from the lungs,
  • your heart beats faster and pumps more blood to increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and muscles.

In the long term (a few days):

  • your body produces new red blood cells (the part of your blood responsible for carrying oxygen), making it easier to supply oxygen to your brain and muscles.

What is altitude sickness or AMS?

Altitude sickness is also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). If you go to high altitude too quickly, your body will not be able to adapt properly to the lack of oxygen and you will suffer from AMS. Altitude sickness can happen to anyone and there is no way to predict it. Some people acclimatize quickly, some people acclimatize slowly. There is no significant effect of age, gender, physical fitness (even Olympic athletes can suffer from AMS).


There are 3 stages of AMS:

  • mild AMS,
  • moderate AMS,
  • severe AMS, which can lead to High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE).
location altitude altitude category atmospheric pressure quantity of oxygen molecules per breath
sea level 0m low 1.00 atm 100%
Srinagar 1,580m medium 0.83 atm 83%
Manali 2,050m medium 0.78 atm 78%
Kargil 2,680m medium 0.72 atm 72%
Nubra valley 3,100m high 0.68 atm 68%
Leh & Indus valley 3,500m high 0.65 atm 65%
Rohtang La pass 3,980m high 0.61 atm 61%
Pangong lake 4,250m very high 0.59 atm 59%
Tso Moriri lake 4,530m very high 0.57 atm 57%
Taglang La pass 5,328m extreme 0.51 atm 51%
Chang La pass 5,360m extreme 0.51 atm 51%
Khardung La pass 5,602m extreme 0.49 atm 49%

Preventing altitude sickness

To prevent AMS:

  • take 2 or 3 days of acclimatization in Leh or in the Indus valley before going to higher altitude
  • avoid increasing your sleeping altitude by more than 500 metres a day (you can go higher during the day, when crossing a pass for example, as long as you sleep at a lower altitude)
  • avoid strenuous physical activities, walk slowly
  • stay properly hydrated (acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink plenty of water, at least 4 litres per day)
  • avoid alcohol and smoking
  • eat well, high-calorie and high-carbohydrate meals
  • protect yourself from the cold and the sun (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, clothes)

Mild AMS


Symptoms:

  • mild headache
  • shortness of breath
  • loss of appetite or nausea
  • dizziness
  • disturbed sleep or insomnia

What to do:

  • rest at the same (or lower) altitude until the symptoms disappear
  • ibuprofen or paracetamol for headache
  • drink enough water
  • if not better after 12 hours, go down by at least 500m

Moderate AMS


Symptoms:

  • moderate headache
  • permanently out of breath
  • nausea or vomiting
  • decreased coordination (ataxia)
  • increasing weakness and fatigue

What to do:

  • go down by at least 500m
  • use oxygen cylinder (if available)
  • drink enough water

Severe AMS


Symptoms:

  • strong headache
  • severe shortness of breath
  • vomiting
  • loss of balance, inability to walk
  • decreasing level of consciousness, irrational behaviour
  • swelling of face or hands

What to do:

  • go down by 700m immediately
  • use oxygen cylinder (if available)
  • call for rescue
  • evacuation to a medical facility for treatment (hyperbaric chamber at Leh hospital)

Guidelines for planning a trip

  • Visit the Indus valley and the Dha-Hanu and Kargil region at the beginning of your trip in Ladakh. These places lie at an altitude between 2,700 and 3,700 metres and you can travel around there during acclimatization time.
  • Go to the Nubra valley after minimum 2 days of acclimatization. Even though Khardung La pass is at very high altitude (5,602 metres), you will only spend a short time at this elevation and you will be back to a lower altitude when you reach the Nubra valley (3,100 metres).
  • Travel to Pangong lake (4,250 metres) after minimum 3 or 4 days of acclimatization. Note that suffering from AMS there can be critical because there is no easy way to drive to lower altitude, you would need to go through Chang La pass (5,360 metres) to get back to Leh.
  • Visit Tso Moriri lake (4,530 metres) after minimum 4 days of acclimatization.

Oxygen cylinders are available for rental when you book a taxi.

Inner Line Permit for Ladakh

Offcial stamp on Inner Line Permit document for Ladakh

What is an Inner Line Permit?

An Inner Line Permit (ILP) is an official travel document issued and stamped by the Indian authorities. This document is compulsory to visit Restricted Areas. Permits are delivered by the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in Leh, they are valid for a maximum period of 15 days for foreigners and for a maximum period of 3 weeks for Indian citizens (you can specify the dates when the validity period starts and ends). There is no limit on the number of times you enter a Restricted Area. The Inner Line Permit is called Protected Area Permit when delivered to foreigners (but it is the same).

Police check post to Restricted Areas in Ladakh

What are the Restricted Areas?

The Restricted Areas are located near the Line of Control (border with Pakistan) and the Line of Actual Control (border with China). There are several check posts on the roads leading to these areas.


You need an Inner Line Permit to visit the following places:

  • Khardung La Pass, Nubra Valley and Shayok
  • Chang La Pass, Tangtse and Pangong Lake
  • Chumathang, Tsaga La and Tso Moriri Lake
  • Dha-Hanu Valley and Batalik

You do not need an Inner Line Permit to travel along the Leh-Manali Road and the Leh-Srinagar Road.

Passports from various countries

How to obtain an Inner Line Permit?

It is very easy to obtain an Inner Line Permit when you are in Leh:

  • Any travel agent or hotel in Leh can arrange a permit for you.
  • Allow one working day to process your application.
  • The permit office is open Monday to Saturday. It is also open on Sundays in summer.
  • Indian citizens need to provide a valid identity proof (driving license, passport, election card, aadhar card, pan card).
  • Foreigners need to provide a valid passport with visa or OCI card.
  • You can obtain a permit even if you are travelling solo (travel agent will arrange).
Inner Line Permit required for Tso Moriri Lake in Ladakh

How much does it cost?

The cost breakdown of an Inner Line Permit is as follows:

  • Environment fee: ₹ 400
  • Red Cross donation: ₹ 100
  • Wildlife protection fee: ₹ 20/day

For example, a permit valid for 3 days will cost ₹ 560 (400+100+3x20). In addition, the travel agent or hotel will take a small processing fee of ₹ 200 or ₹ 300.

Special cases

  • Visitors from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will not be able to obtain a permit from the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in Leh. They will have to apply for an Inner Line Permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi.
  • Foreigners holding a diplomatic passport and members of the United Nations will have to apply for an Inner Line Permit from the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.

Ladakh monastery festivals 2019

The traditional monastic festivals occur every year in most of the gompas in Ladakh. These festivals attract a large numbers of local people clad in Goncha (traditional Ladakhi dress) and spinning prayer wheels. They gather in the monastery’s courtyard in the early morning hours where traditional Tibetan music instruments are being played (drums, conch shells, cymbals and 4-metre-long trumpets called Dungchen). In the centre, Buddhist monks perform sacred dances known as Chams. Dancers wear colourful robes and imposing masks representing Guardians and Protectors to keep evil spirits away from the monastery.

Monastery festival in Ladakh, Phyang Tserup, mask dances at Phyang Gompa
Spituk Gustor Spituk Gompa 3-4 January 2019
Dosmochey Leh, Likir, Diskit 2-3 February 2019
Guru Tsechu Stok Gompa 14-15 February 2019
Nagrang Matho Gompa 18-19 February 2019
Saka Dawa All over Ladakh 17 June 2019
Yuru Kabgyat Lamayuru Gompa 29-30 June 2019
Hemis Tsechu Hemis Gompa 11-12 July 2019
Shashukul Gustor Shashukul Gompa 19-20 July 2019
Monastery festival in Ladakh, Hemis Tsechu, monk at Hemis Gompa
Phyang Tserup Phyang Gompa 30-31 July 2019
Korzok Gustor Korzok Gompa 3-4 August 2019
Thakthok Tsechu Thakthok Gompa 10-11 August 2019
Diskit Gustor Diskit Gompa 26-27 October 2019
Thiksey Gustor Thiksey Gompa 15-16 November 2019
Chemrey Wangchok Chemrey Gompa 24-25 November 2019
Galdan Namchot All over Ladakh 21 December 2019
Ladakhi Losar (New Year) All over Ladakh 27 December 2019

Tourism in Ladakh

There are a lot of discussions about the concept of sustainable tourism in Ladakh. The tourism industry has grown at a rapid pace in the last decade, especially in Leh district where tourism now accounts for a significant part of the economy and provides employment for thousands of people. However, the impact of tourism on the fragile environment of Ladakh has become a main concern. Two challenges which Ladakh is currently facing are water scarcity and garbage management.

Water scarcity

Ladakh is a cold desert with less of 100 millimetres of rainfall per year. Water supply in Ladakh mainly comes from glaciers. Climate change is making the glaciers recede leading to acute water shortage. To tackle this problem, the concept of “ice stupa” has been developed. These artificial glaciers store water that goes unused in winter which can then be used in spring. The shortage of water is not only the consequence of global warming. A tourist in Ladakh uses an average of 75 litres of water per day, compared to 21 litres per day for a local. To cater to the water needs of the tourists, many hotels in Leh have drilled private bore wells which affect the groundwater table. Hotels and guesthouses have now started encouraging tourists to save water and take short showers. They have also started using again the Ladakhi traditional toilets (dry composting toilets) instead of flush toilets.

Garbage management

Tourists tend to consume a lot of packaged food and bottled water. All these products are imported in from as far as a thousand kilometres away. The carbon footprint of any packaged food or water bottle consumed in Ladakh is double or triple of what it is normally. Due to the influx of tourists, several thousands of plastic bottles and food packaging items are thrown away each day in summer. Ladakh waste management infrastructures are not sized to handle the tons of garbage generated during the tourist season and there is no facility for recycling. Tourists are encouraged to avoid buying water bottles as much as possible. Instead, they can have reusable steel water bottles which can be refilled. In Leh centre, tourists can refill their bottles with filtered mineral water from Dzomsa shop (Zangsti Road, near Main Bazar), this is a cheaper and eco-friendly option which can help cut down on waste.