Ladakh is one of the most sought after destinations for travelers 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.
Ladakh region is a part of Jammu and Kashmir state of India. The largest city in Ladakh is Leh.
Climate of Ladakh
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.
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 canceled or delayed due to bad weather.
As the roads are closed in winters, the 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 fewer chances for you to get affected by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).
If you are flying to Leh, please read this…
Nowadays, a lot of people fly to Leh to save time. We reach from sea level to 11500ft. Our body struggles due to less oxygen.
You have to take some precautions to make your body adapt to the new environment. You will feel giddy or have a headache. That's okay. It will be fine.
1. Take proper rest.
On the first day (and during the whole trip later), just take it easy. WALK, don’t RUN. And walk SLOW.
2. Don’t eat too much or too little, just enough for your body to digest properly.
3. Sleep well.
4. DRINK a lot of water 3l per day (drink from your own bottle to keep a count)
5. No alcohol. People have been in serious trouble after drinking alcohol, some as serious as death.
During my 10+ years of travel to Ladakh, I have never had a Diamox. If you think you will fall sick, you surely will. You can use Diamox. But, it has its own side effects.
Give your body a chance to adapt; unless you have some health problem, it surely will.
I was hit by AMS only once, that was because I was shooting the stars all night and didn’t sleep at all.
Give your body proper rest. You will be fine.
AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) / Altitude Sickness
Traveling 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 intakes.
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.
Recommended Equipment for Ladakh Tour
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.
For intimate landscapes and for portraits, a telephoto is a must. Something like a 70-200 2.8 is an ideal lens.
It is 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 in Ladakh
Only postpaid mobile phones work in Ladakh. Connectivity is poor in many places. The best coverage is by BSNL. Airtel has decent coverage but limited only to Leh. STD calls can be made from telephone booths.
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 favorite thing that I bring back for my friends is the colorful 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 buys from Ladakh. Tibetan silver jewelry and turquoise jewelry is also very popular among 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 photocopies
Camera, lenses, and tripod, batteries, enough memory, remote control, filters, external hard drive, laptop, battery charger.
Multiplug for many charging points from one.
Moisturizers, sunscreen lotions, Hand sanitizer, and other toiletries
Notepad and pen (It's 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 daywear 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.
ThanksgivingThanks to all the participants of my Ladakh Photography Tour who had trust in me and joined me during the last 10 years.
All rights reserved. No copying without permission of the author Saurabh Chatterjee