Ladakh travel: A taste of Tibet in northern India
Located high in the Indian Himalayas lies Ladakh, a small piece of Tibet in northern India. Here you’ll find impressive Buddhist monasteries, rugged mountains, lush green valleys and a unique culture. Compared to the rest of India it is a completely different world. You can stay in different homestays with friendly Ladakh families, hike through the unparalleled nature and attend the many colourful festivals. A Ladakh travel experience is a completely unique experience!
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A Ladakh travel experience
The highest mountain passes in the world
It’s possible to fly directly from Delhi to Leh, the capital of Ladakh, but that would be a shame. The multi-day trip from Delhi to Leh is one of the most spectacular road trips you can make. The road takes you through the highest navigable mountain passes in the world. Nature slowly transforms from green pine forests to the bare mountain tops of the Trans-Himalayas. The culture simultaneously shifts from Hinduism to Buddhism. On the way you can also make a few special stops. Spend a few nights in Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama, and discover the surroundings of the hippy town of Manali.
Sleep in homestays
Between the Himalayas and the Karakorum Mountains lies the Shyok River Lodge. This ecolodge is run by a local family. The nature is spectacular and untouched here and you will get to be part of the family’s every day life here. From the lodge you can make a trip to Pangong Tso, a large salt lake on the border with Tibet that lies in the middle of the mountains. From Shyok you can travel further towards the Nubra Valley, not far from the Pakistani border. Here you are completely off the beaten track and will feel one with the nature of Ladakh.
Discover atmospheric Leh
From Manali you’ll continue up to higher mountain passes and reach elevation heights of about 4000 metres . The views of the mountains are absolutely spectacular. After an overnight stay in a small village you’ll drive to Leh, at 3500 metres altitude. The atmosphere here is truly Tibetan and it is a wonderful experience walking through the narrow streets and visiting traditional shops. The surrounding environment is also worth a visit. Here you will find several impressive monasteries that give you a deeper insight into Tibetan culture. This is definitely one of the highlights of your Ladakh travel experience!
Hiking through untouched nature
The nature in Ladakh is rugged and the mountain areas are spectacularly beautiful. The perfect place for going for a walk or hike. You can opt for day hikes, but there are also beautiful multi-day treks. Walk along rivers and high mountain passes and camp in the most beautiful places. If you don’t like camping, there are also nice guesthouses and homestays in Ladakh where you can stay overnight. Experience staying in villages at locals’ homes, so that you can really get to know the daily life in the countryside of Ladakh up close.
Visiting the Ladakh festivals is the best way to complete you Ladakh travel adventure. In Ladakh, festivals are held throughout the year, mostly in the beautiful monasteries, or gompas, in the region. The festivals often last several days and are one big party for the local inhabitants. Beautifully dressed locals come from all over the area to attend the festivities and see the traditional dances of the monks. The monks are dressed in fantastic colourful costumes as they tell ancient religious stories through their dancing. Do you want to attend a festival in Ladakh? Our local travel specialist Suchie can help you to select the most impressive festivals for your tailor-made Ladakh trip.
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Know Before you Go
General Information and Insider Tips
Residents of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand do need a visa for travel to India. An e-Visa is the easiest method, which can be requested no more than 30 days (and no less than four days) prior to departure. It is valid for 30 days. Tourist visas are also available through your nearest embassy, should you require a longer stay. Follow instructions carefully. For other countries, check visa requirements here.
Inner Line permits are required for Ladakh and other restricted areas. Your local travel expert can assist with obtaining this permit and coordinating the timing with your e-Visa application. You must have your passport and visa for your Inner Line permit application; a process that can take up to three weeks.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months prior to arrival in India and have two blank visa pages.
If you are travelling from or through the United States, and are not a US national or resident, you will need to obtain an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), ideally at least 72 hours prior to departure. ESTA has replaced the paper form that used to be filled in prior to landing in the US. The authorization costs $ 14 USD and needs to be paid by credit card. Canadian nationals are exempt and do not need an ESTA.
It is your own responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of valid and correct travel documentation.
Insider Tip: Indian visa regulations change frequently, so always check with your nearest embassy or consulate for the most up-to-date information.
There are no particular requirements for India, but make sure all routine vaccinations are up to date (MMR, polio, tetanus, etc.). Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended, and Zika is currently a risk in India. Check the latest information about Zika warnings. Altitude sickness can be a problem above 8,000 feet (2,500 meters), so inquire about altitude sickness pills before you arrive. They are often only available by prescription. With or without pills, be sure to stay hydrated. We recommend all vaccines be completed at least six weeks prior to travel.
Tap water in India is NOT safe to drink. If using your refillable Dopper bottle, we recommend combining with a Steripen.
The safety of our clients is of the utmost importance to us, and our local experts are always well-informed about the current situation in Ladakh. For up-to-date information about safety, security and travel warnings, please refer to the US State Department, UK Foreign Travel Advice, or your local government resource.
Most sockets use the European two-pronged round (Type C) or Indian-style three-pronged round (Type D and Type M). Type C plugs will fit in some three-holed sockets. Power can be inconsistent, so pack a torch or flashlight. A USB charger can also come in handy.
Insider Tip: The electric current in India can fluctuate, with periods of lower voltage followed by higher surges. Unplug any device when not in use.
At Better Places Travel, you book your own international flights. Your travel expert will gladly advise you on the best option. Read here for more information and tips.
When to go
Ladakh is a high-altitude desert with very little rainfall, and temperatures in winter frequently hover below freezing. Their primary water source is melting Himalayan snow. Summers are dry with mostly pleasant temperatures, although it can get hot during the day. June to September is the best time to visit with July and August being peak travel times. Many highways and passes are closed in winter, leaving certain areas inaccessible.
Insider Tip: The Chadar trek is a famous walk across the frozen Zanskar River, connecting Zanskar Valley villages with Chilling (near Leh). It is best attempted in January or February when ice is at its thickest.
Ladakhi is closely related to Tibetan, and often written in Tibetan script.
Goodbye Ya Jullay
Thank you Jullay
Excuse me Gongspa salazad
Insider Tip: In India’s far north, Hindi and English are not widely spoken. Jullay has several meanings making it easy to attempt the local language.
Due to its proximity to Tibet, the culture and people are more Tibetan than Indian. Buddhism is the predominant religion and the cuisine is likewise influenced by its bordering neighbor. Women are highly regarded and enjoy more independence than in other Indian regions—taking part in many social and religious ceremonies. Public displays of affection can be considered offensive, so refrain from holding hands or kissing in public. Eating is often done on the floor, with cushions and low tables. Be careful never to point your feet toward Buddhist statues. If you would like to photograph locals, always ask first. Some will expect a tip.
Insider Tip: The word “cashmere” is derived from Kashmir. Wool from cashmere goats in this region is considered some of the finest in the world, woven into beautiful pashmina shawls.
The local currency is Indian Rupee (INR)
Indian rupees can only be bought and sold within India, so you will not be able to buy currency in advance of your trip, or exchange when you get home (with the exception of Bhutan where they are legal tender). Get local currency upon arrival at the airport, either through a foreign exchange office or ATM machine. US dollars and British pounds are the easiest to exchange.
ATMs are available in cities, but not in remote areas. Credit cards are rarely accepted, so always have cash on-hand.
- Restaurants- A service charge is often added to bills in larger restaurants, but if nothing is included, 5%-10% is customary.
- Cabs- No tipping, but you can round up the fare if you want.
- Hotels- Tip bellmen the equivalent of $1USD per bag, and housekeeping $1USD per day.
Insider Tip: Airports and train stations are often teeming with men offering to carry luggage. While not official porters and sometimes a bit aggressive, they are there to help and work for tips. Again, the equivalent of USD1 per bag will suffice. If you do not need their services, politely refuse.
Layering in Ladakh is key. Even in summer, evening temperatures can fall quickly, so warm clothes are essential any time of year. At high elevations, the sun is more intense, so hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are needed even when the weather is cool. If visiting monasteries, knees and shoulders must be covered. Overall, dress in Ladakh is pretty conservative.
- Walking shoes or hiking boots
- Warm socks
- Woolen hat
- Baseball cap or other hat for sun protection
- Warm wind-proof jacket, scarf and gloves
- Fleece or sweaters and t-shirts for layering
- Simple medical kit with over-the-counter drugs and first aid (including anti-diarrheal and stomach meds for potential food contamination plus altitude sickness medication if prescribed)
- Rehydration salts for potential altitude sickness
- Hand sanitizer or wet wipes
- All prescriptions
- Flashlight/torch for possible power outages
- Protein bars for trekking
- Tissues in case toilet paper is unavailable
Insider Tip: Most campsites provide warm blankets and /or sleeping bags, so no need to carry your own.
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