Ladakh is no doubt a fascinating place. Anyone who has once visited Ladakh can never forget its landscape, its people and the eternal beauty hidden between those colourful layers of mountains. Of late, Ladakh has been hit by overtourism and it has definitely taken a toll on its fragile ecosystem. Even then, the place remains gorgeous and there are many who has not yet visited this wonderland. So here we share our Ladakh Travel Guide that will help you in Ladakh trip plan.
- Ladakh Trip Plan
- When is the best time to visit Ladakh?
- How to Reach Leh, Ladakh?
- How to move around in Ladakh?
- Is there any permit required for Ladakh trip?
- Places to visit in Leh Ladakh Trip
- Popular places beyond Leh
- Alternative travel routes in Ladakh
- Travelling to Hanle
- Is it possible to travel to Umling La pass?
- How many days are required for a Leh Ladakh trip?
- Ladakh and Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – how to deal with altitude sickness in Ladakh?
- Is mobile network available at Leh and Ladakh?
- Tips for Ladakh trip on a budget
- Overtourism and Ladakh
Ladakh Trip Plan
We have tried to answer most of the questions that we usually get about planning a Ladakh trip. We will try to update the information also with time.
When is the best time to visit Ladakh?
Now that you have decided to visit Ladakh, the first question that might come to your mind is that when to visit. Please keep in mind that Ladakh is a cold desert located in the trans-Himalayan region. The place remains cut off from the rest of the country by roads during the winter season.
Most of the tourism in Ladakh happens between the months of June to September. During this time, the roads to Ladakh remain open from both Manali and Leh side. In June, you might find a good amount of snow on the roads.
In short, mid-June to September is the best time as well as the season to visit Leh and Ladakh.
If you want to experience how the cold desert looks with a blanket of snow, then visit during the winter. But remember, the weather remains extremely cold during this time, often going down to subzero in the morning and as low as -25 degrees in the night.
How to Reach Leh, Ladakh?
The easiest way to enter Leh (it also takes the shortest time) is by taking a flight. There are regular flights from Leh to New Delhi. On a clear day, you can get magnificent views of the Himalayas from the flight. During the winter months, when the roads are closed, flights are the only option to reach Leh.
The nearest railway head is Jammu. From Jammu, you can reach Srinagar and then travel onwards taking the Srinagar Leh Highway to Leh. The Indian Government has announced an ambitious project from Jammu to Leh. When it will happen, it is definitely going to be an engineering marvel just like the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, Nilgiri Railways and Kalka-Shimla railways.
There are 2 routes to enter Leh by road.
Entering Leh by Srinagar-Leh Highway
The distance covered is almost 419 km in this route. The Srinagar Leh Highway connects the Valley of Kashmir to the trans-Himalayan region of Leh. The change in the landscape in this route is quite stark. From the green valleys of Kashmir, you will enter the rugged landscape of Ladakh. A stopover at Kargil or Drass is recommended. Infact, we would suggest you to stay at Kargil for a couple of days if you have time. There are a lot of things to do in Kargil itself.
Entering Leh by Manali-Leh Highway
The distance covered in this route is 473 km. The Manali Leh highway is full of adventure. The road crosses through rugged territory and wilderness very unlike the Srinagar Leh Highway. You have to cross 5 mountain passes and several water streams on your way. The Manali Leh Highway is one of the most exciting and visually stunning routes that you will come across in the country. A stopover is recommended in this route as well at Sarchu or Keylong.
Should I enter Leh by Srinagar side or Manali side?
We would suggest you to enter Leh from the Srinagar Leh Highway, as it helps to acclimatize better.
While returning take the Manali Leh Highway. Stop for the night at Sarchu so that your trip is well divided into 2 days and you can enjoy the beauty of the Manali Leh Highway.
How to move around in Ladakh?
Once you are in Leh, there are so many places to see in the city itself as well as around. The easiest way to move around in Ladakh is by hiring a car. If you are going with your family or a number of friends, then this is the best option.
You can also rent a bike and do sightseeing in Leh city and around. For long-distance journeys also, bike rentals are available. Infact, a lot of people travel to Ladakh from their hometown in a bike for an ultimate adventure. Ladakh is a bikers’ paradise where you can proudly ride your beast in full glory!
For those looking for budget options, there are no public bus services available in Ladakh for different destinations like Diskit in Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso, Tso-Moriri and others. However, these buses do not ply everyday. The buses are available only on certain days of the week and at a fixed time. So if you want to avail public transport, keep in mind about the bus schedule and timings.
You can also look for travel partners while you are in Leh. You will find that the travel shops in Leh put up notices for travellers wishing to join a certain trip. If you join such trips, then the cost of travel reduces to some extent.
Is there any permit required for Ladakh trip?
You do not require any permit to visit Leh and the places around it. But you will need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to visit the remote places in Ladakh like Pangong Lake, Nubra Valley Tso Moriri and others.
Places that do not require an ILP to visit
- Leh city, Shanti Stupa, Shey Palace, Hemis Monastery, Alchi Monastery
- Zanskar Valley
- Suru Valley – Phey, Nimmoo, Alchi, Likir, Lamayuru, Mulbek
- Places on Srinagar Leh Highway
- Places on Manali Leh Highway
Where to apply for ILP
The ILp is issued from the DC Office at Leh which remains opened from 9 AM to 5 PM from Monday to Saturday. ILPs are issued between 10 AM and 3 PM. A self attested photocopy of a valid ID proof is required for obtaining the permit. You can either visit the DC Office yourself to get the permit or can get it done by any travel agent or your hotel.
The cost of the Inner Line Permit for Leh is divided into 3 parts – INR 400 per person for environment tax, INR 20 per person per day for wildlife protection fees and INR 20 per person per day towards Red Cross Society.
Now, you can apply for ILP online.
For foreign nationals applying for permit in Ladakh, passport and visa documents are required. Also you need to travel through an approved travel agent in Ladakh.
Places to visit in Leh Ladakh Trip
Ladakh is such a place that stores surprise in every nook and corner. It is one place where not only the destination but also the journey is spectacular. There is so much beauty and so much to see in Ladakh, you will find that a single visit is not enough! Whatever you see and experience will be cherished forever. Both the highways that connect Leh to the rest of the country are full of surprises.
What are the places to see in Srinagar Leh Highway?
The best part of the Srinagar Leh Highway is that you get to see the transition in the landscape so well. From the lush green valleys of Kashmir, you enter the rugged terrains of Ladakh. Starting from Srinagar, you will pass through the beautiful Sonmarg. Zojila Pass is the next that you cross, followed by Drass, Kargil War Memorial and Kargil.
Next, you will encounter the giant Maitreya Buddha Statue at Mulbekh, Fotu La and Nakee La pass followed by Lamayuru Monastery, the moonland. Just as you are approaching Leh, there are many other places of attractions as well. The magnetic Hill, the confluence of Zanskar and Indus River at Nimmu, Gurudwara Patthar Sahib and the Alchi and Likir Monastery are located in Sham Valley and will fall on your way to Leh.
We would recommend keeping a separate day for Sham Valley sightseeing. The rest you can visit while on your way to Leh from Srinagar.
What are the places to see on Manali Leh Highway?
Manali Leh Highway is known for the high altitude mountain passes, rugged landscape and the hairpin bends. You will encounter the Rohtang pass, Baralacha La Pass, Namik La and Tanglang La Pass. The beautiful Suraj Taal will also fall on the way.
This route is full of adventure crossing over water streams, taking the hairpin bends at Gata Loop or driving over the rough rocky terrain. This journey is going to be one of the most memorable ones. We are sure that you will not be bored even for a moment on this highway!
What are the places to see in Leh and around?
Leh is the district headquarters of Ladakh and its main town. It is a quaint town and has a very cosmopolitan vibe to it. The markets are quite colourful and full of life.
At Leh, you can visit the Leh Palace, Hall of Fame, Sindhu Ghat, Leh local Market, Shankar Gompa and the magnificent Shanti Stupa. If you want to climb the Shanti Stupa, do it during the sunset or sunrise. You will get some amazing views from there.
If you are interested in monasteries, then keep 1 day aside for visiting the Hemis Monastery, the largest one in Leh. The Hemis Festival is one of the major festivals around here visited by a number of people. Along with it, visit the Thiksey Monastery, Phyang, Spituk, Stakna Monastery, Shey Palace and Stok Palace.
Finally, another day should be lept aside for Sham Valley that includes Alchi Monastery, Likir Monastery, Basgo Palace, Magnetic Hills, Gurudwara Patthar Sahib and the confluence of Indus and Zanskar River at Nimmu.
Popular places beyond Leh
Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake
This is perhaps one of the most famous destinations in Ladakh. And also hit by overtourism the most. The place is beyond beautiful. We have no words to describe our feeling when we first saw the azure waters of the Pangong Tso from a distance. The time spent by the blue waters of the lake surrounded by the ochre mountains is simply magical.
The journey from Leh to Pangong Tso is about 170 km and you have to cross the Chang La Pass. You can do a day trip to Pangong Lake, but in that case, you will be able to visit upto Spangmik only. We would highly recommend you to stay for a night there.
Homestays are available in the villages around the lake. The luxury tents at the lake have been banned as of 2019.
If you have an extra day, then you can visit the villages of Man and Merak. But you have to mention this in your ILPs specifically.
The Hemis Monastery, Thiksey and Stakna Monastery and the Shey Palace will fall on the way to Pangong Lake from Leh. You can plan a visit to these places on your way to Pangong.
Nubra Valley is situated to the north of Leh. The famous Khardung La Pass connects Nubra Valley to Leh. Nubra Valley is strikingly beautiful. A cold desert and the home of the double-humped Bactrian camels, Nubra Valley is a place of dreams. At night the sky lits up with thousand stars.
Diskit is around 120 km from Leh. We recommend minimum of 2 days at Nubra Valley if not 3. If you want to visit Turtuk, then 3 days are required. You can visit these places in the Nubra valley:
- Diskit: Diskit Monastery is the largest and the oldest monastery in Nubra valley. Just opposite the monastery is a huge statue of Maitreya Buddha
- Hunder: This is the home of the double humped Bactrian camels. The place is known for its sand dunes, camel safari and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes.
- Turtuk: Further Hunder, the road goes to Turtuk, the last village of the Indian Territory and the base of Siachen glacier. Turtuk has a much different landscape than the Nubra Valley and you will get a close view of the Karakoram range.
- Panamik: From Diskit, one road goes along the Shyok River to Sumur Village and further to Panamik. The place is known for hot springs.
Tso Moriri is located about 250 km from Leh and is a high altitude mountain lake in Ladakh. The landscape is simply breathtaking at Tso Moriri. Korzok is the base village for the lake.
The distance of 250 km means that you Tso Moriri cannot be covered on a day trip. The trip from Leh takes almost over 8 hours. Camping is not allowed beside the Tso Moriri Lake as it is a protected wetland. You can stay at the homestays in Korzok.
While travelling to Tso Moriri from Leh, you can stop at the Upshi villages, hot springs at Chumthang and at Tso Kiagar, a lesser-known lake.
After visiting Tso Moriri Lake, you can either come back to Leh after visiting the Tso Kar Lake, or you can also take the route that connects the Leh Manali Highway. You can keep a visit to Tso Moriri at the end of your trip and can exit Ladak by this route. But this can be done only if you have your own vehicle at disposal or travelling by private taxi.
The Aryan Villages of Dah Hanu
This is said to be the villages of the Aryan tribe. The race is referred to as Drokpas or Dard. There is actually a cluster of 5 villages, and you can visit only Dah and Hanu village. Tall and fair-skinned with high cheekbones and light eyes are said to be the key features of the tribe. A trip to this village will be culturally enriching. Apart from the beautiful natural landscape and the interesting Brokpa culture, you will stumble upon ruins of history here and there in the village.
A permit is needed to visit Dah Hanu villages. From Leh, you can visit Dah crossing Nimmu and Khaltse. Public buses are available to Dah, but you need to check the timings. If you want to stay, there are a couple of homestays available too.
Alternative travel routes in Ladakh
In the last few years, with the influx of more tourists, more routes have been opened for tourist traffic. These alternate routes mean you can travel directly from Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake or from Pangong to Tso Moriri without returning back to Leh. But do remember, that these routes, though operational are not among the priority routes. These routes pass through the remote regions and are often not in the best conditions. Traffic is also very low on these routes. So if you are taking any of these alternative routes, ask first about the conditions. Take a calculated risk while travelling on these roads. It is better if you could tag along with some other vehicles and move as a convoy. Even if you have planned to travel on these routes, be prepared that you might be stopped at any place. Often road conditions are not conducive and you will be not allowed to move in a particular way. So keep buffer days and be prepared to be flexible in your plans.
Is it possible to travel directly from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso?
There are 2 routes from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso:
The shorter route via Agham and Shyok village that directly reaches to Pangong Tso and takes around 5 hours time. However, the road conditions from Shyok village to Pangong Tso has some bad stretches and some landslide prone sections also. So it is better to inquire about the road conditions before starting off in this route.
The second one is the longer route through the Wari La pass. It takes about 10 hours from Nubra Valley to reach Pangong Lake. This route takes you to the Chang La Pass that falls on the Leh to Pangong Tso route. Though this road is in better condition than the other, it remains quite desolate and thus has its own risk associated with it.
Is it possible to go directly from Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri?
Indians are allowed to travel directly from Pangong Lake to Tso Moriri. Foreign nationals are not yet allowed to travel beyond Man and Merak village checkpost.
You can take the route through Man – Merak – Chusul – Loma – Mahe – Sumdo to reach Tso Moriri.
You have to separate permit from DC Office in Leh to travel through this route. You have to visit the DC office in person to get this pass.
Travelling to Hanle
Hanle is a lesser-visited place in Ladakh, located 275 km from Leh. Hanle has a monastery located on a hilltop from where you can get panoramic views of the area. It also has the World’s highest observatory at a height of 4500 metres. The Hanle Observatory is operated by Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru and is currently the highest optical observatory in the world.
Hanle can be reached by two routes – one from Tso Moriri and the other from Pangong Tso. You can add an extra day to your Tso Moriri trip and visit Hanle.
You can also visit Hanle from Pangong Tso by taking the road from Man and Merak towards Hanle via Chushul.
Remember, that to visit Hanle, you need to visit the DC office at Leh in person. A special permit is required for travelling to Hanle.
If you want to visit Hanle, a probable itinerary can be: Leh – Pangong Tso – Man – Merak – Hanle – Karzok (Tso Moriri) – Leh
Is it possible to travel to Umling La pass?
Umling La Pass is the highest motorable mountain pass in the world at 19300 feet. Since May 2018, civilians are no longer allowed to travel to Umling La, due to its close proximity to the China border.
How many days are required for a Leh Ladakh trip?
The number of days you want to spend in Ladakh depends entirely on you. It also depends on the way you want to travel to and from Leh. We would recommend a minimum of 5 days in Ladakh excluding the days you need to get in and out of Ladakh. Once you decide on the number of days, plan your itinerary and also include the number of days to get in and out of Ladakh.
Do not rush to tick off the checklist here. Ladakh is to be experienced and you cannot do that if you rush. The distances are long through not very well maintained roads. The journey is going to be tough. Also, try to add a couple of buffer days to your itinerary.
Ladakh and Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – how to deal with altitude sickness in Ladakh?
Leh is located at an altitude of over 11000 feet or 3500 m. altitude acclimatization is very important in order to travel in Ladakh. This means giving your body complete rest so as to let it get used to the reduced oxygen level there. Even if you have visited Ladakh before, it is important for you to get acclimatized and you will be knowing better!
- It is advised to get 3 days of complete rest to get yourself acclimatized. Even if you are visiting for a short duration, you should keep one full day to acclimatize. Do not travel much during the day. It is better to stay inside your hotel or guesthouse for the day.
- Do not climb the Shanti Stupa on the first day of your visit to Ladakh.
- Keep yourself hydrated. You might not feel thirsty at the cold weather, but water intake is important to prevent AMS.
- Refrain from having alcohol or smoking too much. Alcohol is your worst enemy at high altitudes.
- Increase your altitude gradually. This is why it is better to enter Leh through the Srinagar Leh Highway and exit through Leh Manali Highway.
- Take your time to do things. Avoid overexertion. Do not rush, do not hurry! In this way, you will not only help yourself, but also be able to appreciate the beauty of the place.
- Avoid sleeping during the day.
Is mobile network available at Leh and Ladakh?
Only postpaid mobile connections work in Ladakh, as well as in entire Jammu & Kashmir. BSNL is by far the best network in terms of coverage followed by Airtel. You will get full connectivity in Leh city. With BSNL you will be connected at most of the places in Nubra Valley except Turtuk. Connectivity is negligible in Pangong Lake and you will get intermittent BSNL connectivity at Tso Moriri.
As for Airtel, you will get a full 4G connection in Leh city. At Nubra Valley you will get a connection at Hunder and Diskit, but not at Turtuk. There is no Airtel connectivity at Pangong and Tso Moriri Lake. You will remain connected at Kargil and Drass as well.
Your JIO phone will have 4G connectivity in Leh city and Kargil. You will get connectivity at Hunder and Diskit, but not at Tso Moriri and Pangong Lake.
Tips for Ladakh trip on a budget
Travelling to Ladakh is a bit costly. Over a few years, many travellers and tourists are visiting Ladakh and there are still a few budget travellers who want to enjoy Ladakh without pinching their pocket too much. A few tips for them:
- Try to visit in the shoulder season in April/May or August/September.
- If you are planning to travel by air, book your tickets in advance.
- Do not pre-book your accommodation and taxis. Do on spot booking. You might get some good deals.
- Travel and stay in groups. This will help you to share the transport cost.
- Choose your accommodation and places to eat in a wise manner.
- If you are travelling solo, you can join other solo and group travellers who are looking to fill up their cars. The restaurants and shops in Leh usually put up notices like these. This is another way to reduce your travelling expenses.
Overtourism and Ladakh
Even though we have covered this at last, but this is the most important point. Of late, we have seen Ladakh has been affected by overtourism to a great extent. While this had caused a lot of problems for the locals, it has also hit the natural ecosystem. Pangong Lake, the place that we had all to ourselves when we visited Ladakh for the first time in August 2014, can now be seen full of people and vehicles. We definitely do not want people to stop visiting Ladakh, but we definitely want you to remember this while making your planning your Ladakh trip. A few things that you do might help lessen the impact on the environment. Travel with responsibility, because you have to leave the place as beautiful and grand for your future generation!
- Respect the nature and environment. Do not litter, do not throw plastics and other garbage around. I keep iterating this time and again, so please bear with me.
- Carry cleanliness drive wherever you go.
- Please do not demand luxury here. Although Leh now has a number of luxury stays, but for places beyond Leh like, Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri, please do not demand such treatments. These places are best experienced close to nature without all the lavishness. Stay in eco-friendly accommodations wherever possible.
- Do not waste water.
- Carry a water bottle with you for refilling. Please shun the plastic bottled water.
- Be sensible to the local people, culture and traditions.
- Ask for permission before taking photographs.
- Do not disturb the wildlife. On our way to Pangong Lake, we saw many going near the marmots and feeding them. While it seems fun apparently, but it is disturbing them and should not be done.
- Drive responsibly and try to help others. If possible, consider sharing transport.
- Listen to music, but keep the volume to yourself.
- Try to benefit the local population in every way.
A few more Pictures of Leh & Ladakh
Ladakh is a panacea for all the wanderlust souls. It is one place that we can blindly point at and say “I want to go there again and again”. We have tried to cover the most important questions related to travelling to Leh and Ladakh. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask by commenting below. If you find this Ladakh Trip Plan useful, please share it with your family and friends.
Pin it for a later read!