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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Popular local beverages are:
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.
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.
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.
If you go to high altitude quickly, your body has to adapt to the lack of oxygen: this is acclimatization.
In the short term:
In the long term (a few days):
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:
|location||altitude||altitude category||atmospheric pressure||quantity of oxygen molecules per breath|
|sea level||0m||low||1.00 atm||100%|
|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%|
To prevent AMS:
What to do:
What to do:
What to do:
Oxygen cylinders are available for rental when you book a taxi.
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).
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:
You do not need an Inner Line Permit to travel along the Leh-Manali Road and the Leh-Srinagar Road.
It is very easy to obtain an Inner Line Permit when you are in Leh:
The cost breakdown of an Inner Line Permit is as follows:
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.
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.
|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|
|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|
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.
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.
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.