Ladakh is one of the most sought after destinations for travellers and photographers. The drive from Manali to Leh is an ultimate route for endurance and adventure for the bikers.
Since I have been fortunate enough to go to this heaven quite a few times, lot of people ask me for some tips. I thought of writing this blog sharing my experience to make the most of your trip to Ladakh.
About Ladakh –
Ladakh region is a part of Jammu and Kashmir state of India. The largest city in Ladakh is Leh.
Ladakh is a semi-arid desert in high altitudes. During the summer months, day temperature varies from 20 to 35 degrees. At night the temperature drops significantly. Ladakh is extremely cold in winters and temperatures drop to about minus 25 degrees.
How to Reach?
By Road –
Manali to Leh – To reach Ladakh, the most popular way by road is from Manali. The distance of about 490kms generally takes two days to complete if there are no road blocks due to landslides. The BRO (Border Roads Organisation) maintains the road very diligently but due to the challenges, it sometimes takes days to clear. You have to stop overnight at Keylong or Sarchu. This road is only for about 4 months (June to August) and the dates might vary based on the climatic conditions and how long it takes to clear the snow.
Srinagar to Leh –
This is another alternative to reach Leh via Kargil and Lamayuru. A lot of travellers prefer this route due to the gradual acclimatization.
By Air –
The easiest and the quickest way to reach Ladakh is to take a flight to Leh. There is good connectivity from New Delhi but the flights get cancelled or delayed due to bad weather.
As the roads are closed in winters, flight is the only way to reach Leh.
Though going by air is quick, if you are not taking the road, you are missing something.
As they say, the journey is more interesting than the destination; the same is true about taking the road to Leh. Also, as you gradually acclimatize, there are less chances for you to get affected by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).
Tip: If you are coming to Leh by air, it is strongly recommended that you spend at least two days in going around Leh and then venture out to Pangong Tso or Nubra valley.
AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) / Altitude Sickness:
Travelling in Ladakh involves crossing high-altitude mountain passes. Leh is situated at a height of 3,500m (11,500ft) above sea level. Due to thin air, some people might get affected by AMS.
Symptoms of AMS can be one or more of the following –
Nausea / Vomiting
Difficulty to sleep
Acetazolamide (Diamox), rest and good sleep.
The local remedy is garlic soup.
Lots of fluid intake.
If you are going in summers, light cotton clothing would be good and comfortable. Carrying a warm jacket is advisable as the temperatures drops quite a lot at night. Keeping in view of the culture, you must dress modestly.
Ladakhi is the main language spoken across the region. Most people can understand and speak Hindi and sometimes English.
If you want to learn one Ladakhi word, it has to be – ‘Julley’ or ‘Joolay’. This one word can be used to greet people. It is commonly used as Hi, Good Morning, Good Evening, Thank You, etc.
Almost half of the Ladakhi population in Leh are Buddhists, the rest half is Shia Muslims.
In Ladakh, there are immense opportunities for photographers – the landscapes, the culture, the monasteries and the people.
Photography is allowed in most monasteries, some with a nominal fee. However, look out for signboards mentioning about Photography. In some monasteries, it is not allowed. Remember, the purpose of a monastery is to pray at peace. Clicking too many pictures makes the place noisy.
Do not use flash inside monasteries. It is very distracting and sometimes offending. Besides that, it can also damage the old and rare paintings displayed there.
Always ask before you shoot people. Though most people are very friendly, some may not like it or charge a fee.
There are myriad photographic opportunities in Ladakh and based on your interest you can choose what to shoot.
In general, Ladakh is famous for its landscapes. If you have a basic 18-55mm kit lens, that will be good enough. If you want wider shots, a wide angle lens like a Sigma 10-20mm or a Tokina 11-16 2.8 will be great.
Its quite dark inside the monasteries, a fast lens will be an added advantage.
For portraits of people, a 50mm 1.8 lens or a telephoto will be great.
If you want to try star trails or time lapse photography, you will need an intervalometer.
You get a great view of the Milky way, you might like to try that as well.
Tripod is a must for landscapes and low light photography.
Phone connectivity –
Only postpaid mobile phones work in Ladakh. Connectivity is poor in many places. The best coverage is by BSNL . Airtel and Vodafone also have coverage, but limited. STD calls can be made from telephone booths.
Internet Connectivity –
All good hotels in Leh provide free wi-fi access and the speed is quite good. Beyond Leh, the connectivity is poor or not available.
Water is scarce, carry bottled water with you at all times.
ATMs – There are ATMs in Leh but not in most parts of Ladakh. Carry enough cash with you.
Carrying an ID card is compulsory during your visit to Ladakh. It will be needed for getting permits to restricted areas like Pangong, Nubra Valley, etc.
Shopping in Ladakh
Leh is a shoppers paradise as well.
My favourite thing that I bring back for my friends are the colourful prayer flags. My second favourite is the prayer wheels.
You can get interesting souvenirs in Leh markets. Buddhist masks and Thangka paintings are also unique buy from Ladakh. Tibetan silver jewelry and torquise jewelry is also very popular among the tourists.
You can get stoles and shawls. Pashmina shawls are expensive but of extremely good quality.
Apricots are grown in Ladakh and is a good buy to be taken home.
Bargaining is accepted in most places and the final price depends on your negotiation skills.
ID Proof with some photo copies
Camera, lenses, and tripod, batteries, enough memory, remote control, filters, external hard drive, laptop, battery charger. Multiplug for many charging points from one.
Moisturisers, sunscreen lotions, Hand sanitiser and other toiletries
Notepad and pen (Its very important to write what you feel)
Plastic zip lock bags
Energy bars, dry fruits, chewing gums, toffees to give to children
Shoes are not allowed inside monasteries. If you are visiting many monasteries in a day wear a shoe which can be easily taken off and worn.
Note: Plastic bags are banned in Ladakh; don’t use them.
How fit do I need to be to be in Ladakh? You don’t need a very high level of fitness unless you are going for a trek. Please consult your doctor to get a better idea.
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This post is written by Saurabh Chatterjee. He is a travel photographer and a photography trainer.
He strives to ‘make every camera-owner a great photographer through his Photography workshops and Photo Tours and Photowalks.
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