Four of us started planning for a trip in the first week of October. We started plannng in June/July. Everyone had their own choices of destinations. My husband and I am fond of hills. So, though our planning started with colourful Rajasthan, crossed the dreamy blue waters of Lakshwadweep, we finally settled for The rustic ‘Leh-Ladakh’.
October is not one of the best seasons to visit Leh Ladakh, as the chilly winter starts setting in. And several camps and hotels start shutting down after mid-September.
We, being working professionals preferred this time for a few reasons.
Less rush of the regular tourist is expected during this season, plus we get a few paid holidays (due to Durga Puja) in October to combine with the earned leaves. Our tour was of 6days 5 nights.
Many people take road trips from Delhi to Leh via Kargil or Manali. Due to time constraint and unsure weather conditions we decided to fly to Leh from Kolkata.
Multiple airways ply between Delhi and Leh.
There are no direct flights to Leh from Kolkata or Mumbai. The fares of the connecting flight are a bit dynamic. It’s better to study the trend for some time and then finalise the deals.
In our case we were tracking the prices for long and finally booked on August 15th.
Kolkata to Delhi: ₹4,200 / head
Delhi to Leh: ₹2,300/head
Leh to Delhi: ₹6,400/head
Delhi to Kolkata: ₹3,600/head
So, return flight fare is roughly ₹17,000/ head.
Average altitude of Leh is around 14000feet.
Whether one drives to Leh, or flies to Leh, its suggested to rest for at least half day to let the body get accustomed with such high altitude’s atmospheric conditions. The high altitude and the relatively barren topography lead to lower oxygen levels.
It’s best to reach Leh early morning. So, late afternoon or by evening local sight-seeing is possible. But it’s very important to be physically fit on the initial day, as the following days will be longer and hectic.
On the first day after enough rest we went out to visit Shanti stupa, Leh bazaar.
Shanti stupa is a Peace pagoda located on a hilltop. The stupa holds relics of Buddha at the base. The place not only holds religious significance, but also the hilltop provides panoramic view of the city of Leh.
Spending a few silent moments around the stupa is so serene, besides being treat for eyes.
After Shanti Stupa we ventured to Leh Bazaar, the bustling market sells dry fruits, junk jewelleries, yak wool shawls etc.
Must try: A steaming plate of Momos, or a good bowlful of thukpa from Leh bazar are worth a try.
Exploring any place is incomplete without experiencing its local cuisine.
We also tried biriyani from one the well-known Mughlai eateries at Leh Bazaar area.
Starting early is always better. You get 2 benefits: you reach before most of the crowd arrives and you can be back to your hotel before it becomes chilled outside, and visit the local markets and restaurants if you wish to.
Shey palace was our first destination on our second day in Leh.
Shey palace situated around 20Kms away from Leh, on the way to Thiksey Monastery was constructed in 17th Century. The palaces located on the hillocks of Shey used to be the Summer Capital of Ladakh in the past. The palace is also famous for housing the 2nd tallest Statute of Budhha.
As tourists, what mesmerised us, was the view of the surrounding area from the palace.
Contrary to the usual rugged terrain all over Ladakh, the area around Shey Palace had greenery and waterbodies.
We got some beautiful shots from the palace of the surrounding as well. Shall include a few photos here:
(Entry fees: Rs 30/ head)
Ladakh is any Monastery lovers’ heaven. After Shey palace, we went to Thiksey monastery.
From a distance when the full monastery is visible, it looks awesome. Do stop to capture a few shots. Once inside, you need to climb a few flights of stairs to pay visit to the main temple areas.
Tips for photography enthusiasts: The view from inside the monastery is also worth capturing. It’s beautiful; being a cold desert, the sky in Ladakh is mostly a gorgeous shade of blue and things never look dull and Mr.Sun is always in his top form. Thus, promising great day- photographs. Be a bit careful of over-exposure. Natural and unedited photos of Ladakh often looks saturated. Use it as your advantage.
From Hemis monastery :100(2ppl)
Hemis monastery is famous in India and abroad for the Hemis festival held in June every year, which is dedicated to Buddhist Guru Rinpoche. The festival is a colourful one, with the mystic mask dance.
The mask dance is very specific to a few monasteries. Being a part of tantric tradition, the mask dance is performed in only those monasteries, where Tantric worship is practiced by the monks.
The Hemis monastery also houses a Buddhist Museum, that boasts of the rich Buddhist culture, history, manuscripts and more.
As humans of the plain land, the doors and alleys of the Gompas never fail to make us wonder about the life of the monks who stay in the monasteries.
The lives of the Buddhist monks are governed by a set of rules, which are called Pratimoksa.
The students of the monasteries renounce their lives as householders and devote their full time in studying, under supervision of senior monks.
Initially the monastic tradition was founded by Gautam Budhha, but the ascetic lifestyle bloomed among the wandering ascetics more, some of whom were guided by Lord Budha himself.
Do spend a few minutes in the serenity of the prayer halls, that make us realise every moment, how precious or life is!
It may prove to be hectic for some, but we intended to cover the Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Kargil wall of fame and Zanskar-Indus Confluence on the same day.
This trail is in the exact opposite direction as that of the monasteries.
We insisted in covering it in single day, as we were on trip for fixed number of days and always intend to cover maximum possible areas.
If you want a laid back and slow trip to sink in the mystic beauty of the place, we recommend taking the trip for higher number of days.
Don’t just leave for Ladakh, do your research well, plan ahead, and decide which all places you want to cover and also how much time you wish to spend at your area of interest.
The Kargil Hall of fame (230 (3ppl))
The Hall of fame was made in remembrance of Shahids of the Kargil War.
The memorial houses the arms and ammunitions used in the Indo-Pak war by the Indian army. The models and pictures depict way of life and hardships in the life of our fellow soldier brethren, while posted at the rugged terrains and under adverse climatic conditions, like that of Siachen. It’s a very moving and touching sight to come across. Every moment and every breath inside the hall remind of the enormous sacrifices made by our soldiers to ensure our country is safe and secure from foreign aggression and intrusion.
Confluence of Zanskar and Indus
Sangam of Zanskar and Indus is among one of the most picturesque places of nature in Ladakh, nestled between the rugged mountains of the cold desert. The Vantage point is located approx. 35Kms from Leh, near the Nimmu village, on Leh-Srinagar Highway. The opulence of the rivers, the distinct hues of the water from distance mesmerises every soul. White water rafting is popular at Sangam among the adventure lovers.
Gurudwara pathar sahib is on the way to Sangam. It was built in 1571 in the memory of Guru Nanak to commemorate his visit to the Ladakh.
Magnetic hill is a tourist favourite spot. Magnetic Hill claims to defy earth’s gravity, as your vehicle starts to climb uphill, with your engine turned off. Well the mystery is left to you to be unveiled once you are there.
On our 3rd day at Ladakh we started for Nubra Valley.
Nubra Valley (situated at 10000ft from sea level) was a relatively offbeat location for tourist until recent past. But it has gained popularity in last few years, and tourists opt for camp stays and stargazing.
The valley is around 160Kms away from Leh city. The drive is via the mighty Khardungla, with the zigzag trail continuing till Hundar Village.
Don’t miss Maggi and Momo at one of the Highest Cafes – Rinpoche Café at Khardungla.
Its highly recommended to start early from Leh, as it will take around 5 hours to reach Nubra (considering no road blockage).
The Hundar village is a very beautiful one, with lot of trees. Between Hunder and Diskit lies the famous sand dunes. A walk or ride on the Bactrian double humped camel through the sand dunes amidst the barren hills is an enjoyable experience and should not be missed.
Hundar was once the capital of former Nubra kingdom.
It has a small monastery and a ruined fort above the village. If you are interested and obviously if time permits do take a stroll at Nubra. The ruins take one back to the prehistoric era, and makes one wonder the advancement of our civilisation, despite the hardships and hurdles faced by our ancestors.
Not to mention, you can capture a few mind-blowing shots here.
The Sky at Nubra remains impeccably clean and cloudless throughout the day most of the time of the year. Thus, it’s a perfect location for stargazing, capturing star trails etc.
The Homestays or camps here provide cosy accommodation, devoid of any luxury.
Simple hot food, soft and heavy blankets are the best luxuries one can afford at such heights.
At Nubra, all cellular services don’t have network.
BSNL and Airtel Postapaid services mostly work in this area.
On our 2nd day at Hunder we visitied Diskit and Khalsar, then started for Leh.
Diskit monastery, in Hundar is one of the oldest and largest monasteries in India, almost 500 years old.
It houses a 106ft tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, that faces the Shyok river towards Pakistan. The statue is believed to have significance – protection of Diskit village, prevention of further war with Pakistan, and promotion of world peace.
The Diskit monastery (frequently termed as Gompa by localities) is located on a relatively higher hillock. One need to hike up the monastery, crossing stunning white Chortens alongside the trail.
The Frescoes and wall paintings inside are beauty to behold and obviously delights every traveller.
Khalsar, on the bank of River Shyok, near Diskit is another location, we recommend, that one should not Miss!
The mesmerising blue water, the silver sand on the bank and sky together is so beautiful, we felt like leaving never.
At Khalsar one can try the ATV ride on the sand dunes. They are little pricey, but well at such altitudes, especially after crossing the Mighty Khardungla its not right to expect things cheap!
While coming down from Nubra, we faced road blockages at some part of the road after Khardung La.
So, we suggest carrying enough dry foods and water all the time when in transit in Ladakh. Also, if you are travelling long distance in cab or bike, don’t finish all the food items till you reach destination or food joint. Hilly terrain is unpredictable, as is the availability of foods of choice. It’s better to maintain a good stock beforehand to avoid hunger pangs and high-priced food items at high altitudes and at adverse climatic conditions.
We carried our own flasks filled with hot water, cuppa noodles, fruits, dry fruits, protein bars etc. And, whenever possible we got our food packed from hotel as well.
On the following day we planned for Pangong Tso.
The 134 Kms long Pangong Tso lake stretches from India to China. Defying the general Physics, this salt water late, situated at 4350m Altitude freezes completely during the winters. The water has very low micro-vegetation. It is said to have no marine life except a few crustaceans. The lake does not allow outflow of its water to any external waterbodies (like oceans or rivers), thus making it an endorheic basin.
The color of the water is pristine blue, as can be seen in most of the photographs, but it also changes in shades to various shades of Blue, green and often warm tones like red, orange etc.
Swimming is not allowed in Pangong Lake.
The Lake gained its popularity after release of the famous Bollywood blockbuster ‘3 Idiots’.
On the way towards the lake, Karu onwards approximately 7kms patch of road was not in its best form when we visited.
If you are starting from Leh for Pangong and planning to return to Leh on the same day, its suggested to start as early as possible. It takes around 5hours to reach Pangong considering no hiccups on the road. After spending some time there, you need to start for Leh.
There were camping options available at Pangong earlier, which has been banned in recent times, due to the huge amount of waste produced by these camps and irresponsible behaviour of some of the tourists.
On this note we would like to stress upon one vital point. As responsible citizens and tourists refrain from littering around and throwing chips packet every here and there.
How would you like to see a guest coming to your place and dumping their waste all around your rooms?
The thought only freaks me out. Be responsible. If your see others doing such offensive things, do protest.
One very important point to mention for Ladakh trip is, though one doesn’t need a permit to reach Leh or to move around in the city, inner line permit is required to visit Pangong Tso, Nubra and Tso Moriri.
The permit can be procured from DM office at Leh.
This permit can be obtained online as well. (http://lahdclehpermit.in/)
Ladakh Inner Line Permit is an Indian government issued document to Indian citizens from outside the state. It is a permission for entry to the restricted areas for a limited period. Places located near LOC (Pakistan) & LAC (China) requires civilians to acquire this permit to visit.
The sole purpose of this permit is to keep a check on movement in these sensitive areas.
Permit is not required for Jammu &Kashmir residents and children under 12 years of age.
If you are interested to venture to some of the off-beat but outstandingly beautiful places at Ladakh, do your research well.
Here’s a list of places, for where you will be needing ILP:
- Nubra Valley: Khardung La, Khardung, Khalsar, Diskit, Hunder, Turtuk, Sumur, Takashi, Panamik and Warshi
- Pangong Tso: Chang La, Durbuk, Tangtse and Spangmik
- Changthang Valley: Man, Merak, Chushul, Loma, Koyul, Hanle, Nyoma, Mahe, Sumdo
- Phobrang and Marsimak La
- Leh to Tso Moriri: Chumathang, Mahe, Sumdo, Karzok (Tso Moriri)
- Leh to Batalik: Khalsi, Damkhar, Skurbuchan, Dargoo, Hanoo, Dah, Batalik
- Tangyar Trek: Leh – Saboo – Diggar La – Tangyar (Nubra Valley)
- Agham Shyok Route
- Wari La
Places that you do not need ILP for:
- Sightseeing with Leh City: Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa, Shey Palace, Hemis etc
- Zanskar Valley: Sankoo, Panikhar, Parkachik, Rangdum, Padum
- Suru Valley: Phey, Nimmoo, Alchi, Likir, Lamayuru, Mulbekh
- Places on Srinagar Leh Highway
- Places on Manali Leh Highway
Self-attested photocopy of a photo identity proof of the applicant is required to be attached with the application form. The identity card should be a government issued one, ie Driving License, Passport, Pan Card, voter ID, Aadhar card etc. While the driving license mostly works, the officials may ask you for an alternate photo ID so it is wise to carry a secondary identity proof as well.
Cost of Inner Line Permit for Ladakh:
Charges for Inner Line permit for Ladakh are divided in three parts. Total cost includes Rs. 400 per person for environment tax, Rs. 20 per person per day for wildlife protection fee and Rs. 100 per person per day as charity towards a Red Cross society
# If you are flying to Leh, be aware and ready with your camera the whole time and try to grab the window seats. You will be flying over the mighty mountains, which are well visible from the windows and worth capturing.
# In Leh before booking hotel, please ensure accessibility of the hotel from main road or main market area.
Most guest houses and hotels are in interiors, or you need walk a lot to reach them. Once the sightseeing cab drops you off, it gets difficult to explore the locality. If you take the vehicle on disposable basis, or travelling on own car or bike, nothing like that of course. When we visit a place, getting to know the surrounding is equally important and interesting.
# If planning to visit in winter confirm availability of heater and hot water supply in hotel rooms.
From end of September Leh starts getting chilly. Nights and early mornings are very cold.
# Its better to take precautionary medications before travelling to high altitudes viz. khardung la, Changla.
Diamox, Almox are widely suggested to be taken to avoid high altitude sickness. It is better to consult a physician before leaving for the trip. Also, consultation should be taken if somebody has a bad cold, fever or heart related issues.
# If you doubt your respiratory system, or have respiratory problems do carry Oxygen cylinder in your vehicle,
In case you don’t carry one, and you have any health issue while on road, do stop and seek medical help from the army camps, which are frequent along the roads.
# In Nubra valley you can consider staying at Diskit, rather than at Hunder, as the later is 7 kms far from Diskit.
Decide your priorities well
# Staying at pangong side not recommended if travel time is after 3rd week of Sept.
Also, most accommodation, camp sites gets shut down by end of Sept. As the climate gets too chilly.
[This point is no more valid now with the ban of camp sites at Pangong area]
We will touch upon the place, where we stayed during our trip to Ladakh
Hotel at Leh: Nature’s land.
Location is little interior. Once one gets inside the hotel the scope of exploring the surrounding gets less. The vehicle opted for sightseeing in most cases is not at disposal for the guest.
The time when we visited the road in front of the hotel was having some construction work done, thus making the hotel inapproachable from both the sides of the main entrance by vehicle. We were in a way escorted to the hotel on feet through the back side of the hotel, after having 3/4 rounds around the same place.
Food is simple and homely. Simple breakfast like aloo paratha, milk-cornflakes, bread-butter/jam, tea/coffee, poori sabzi gets served.
Staffs are helpful and very courteous. They provide packed breakfast on request. Hot water for drinking is also provided on request.
Both breakfast and dinner is served in the adjacent dining hall.
Rooms are big with adequate blankets. As most of the rooms are with glass windows, the rooms tend to turn very cold in the night.