The idea behind this post is definitely not to scare anyone with the idea of visiting Ladakh (although I may seem to be trying to do this). On the contrary, it is just a precautionary note for those planning a trip to Leh Ladakh soon. The information I am sharing below is some practical tips that can greatly help to ensure your travel is safe and hassle free. It doesn’t matter if you were traveling alone or with family and friends; arriving in Ladakh by air or road, the precautionary tips for traveling to Ladakh that I am sharing below will still apply.
What inspired this post? In fact, there are a number of recent incidents in Ladakh, including the death of a friend of mine last month. He was not new to the area, had been several times before; was known as a veteran of Ladakh; helped many people travel there, but was still a victim of Ladakh’s adverse weather and reality. So if you were thinking that Ladakh is just another tourist destination where you can pack and leave, you are completely wrong. A trip to Ladakh requires meticulous planning and serious reflection on all aspects of the trip. Read on to learn more.
Travel Precautions Ladakh
When I first visited Ladakh over a decade ago, it was known as it really is; a rugged, challenging and rugged terrain where only motorcycle enthusiasts and adventure junkies visited. Tourism at that time was only a small part of the livelihood of the people here. Fast forward times now and it is a totally different scenario. Thanks to movies like 3 Idiots, Ladakh is now considered a place even for family holidays and honeymooners. Thousands of people visit here each year and the number increases with each passing year.
Somewhere in this entire tourism craze, the truth of Ladakh has been lost. People began to think of it as just another city like Shimla and Manali. From time to time, even people ask me if they can visit their newborn baby. Almost everyone in the country now wants to visit Ladakh and, if possible, on a motorcycle. I am not saying that you should not do so, but before that, we have listed below a few things to keep in mind.
Do not ignore acute mountain sickness
This should be the first and foremost thing on your mind when visiting Ladakh. You need to consider the heights you are bringing your body to and plan your journey so that your body can acclimate better. Altitude disease is very real in all its seriousness and can even be fatal if it gets worse. Several tourists died in Ladakh because of AMS and that is how my friend also died. He was in a remote area when he became ill from altitude and passed out before reaching a hospital.
To learn more about what AMS is, what its symptoms are, when it can be fatal and what you can do about it, read How to deal with acute mountain sickness in Ladakh.
Plan your itinerary well
This is more or less related to the above point. Too much rest and slow altitude gain are the best precaution against altitude sickness. Your itinerary should be planned keeping these two things in mind. Below are some quick tips.
- If possible, approach Ladakh via Srinagar and return via Manali.
- If you are passing through Manali, do not rush in a single day to Leh. Book at least 2-3 days on the Manali Leh route. Avoid spending a night in Sarchu or Pang if you are only spending 2 days on the route.
- When you arrive in Leh, stay in town for at least 1-2 days.
- Do not visit Tso Moriri on the way to Leh from Manali. Save for later.
- Do not visit Pangong Tso or Tso Moriri first. From Leh, first go to the Nubra Valley, as it is at an even lower altitude than Leh. Keep Pangong and Moriri for later days.
- If you have arrived in Leh by air, keep at least 2 days of stay in Leh city to acclimate.
- If you only have 3-4 days on hand, stay overnight. Keep your night only in Leh. Visit Nubra and Pangong during the day and return to Leh at night. Why? Because Leh is the only place you can get medical help if your situation gets worse at night.
- Do not proceed anywhere else in Ladakh and stay in Leh until all symptoms of AMS have disappeared and you are completely used to it.
- Think Twice Before Visiting Family
- A trip to Ladakh with family is definitely possible and many people do it every year. But there are some things you should follow.
- Do not go if your child is under 2 to 3 years old.
- Don’t go if the health of someone in your family doesn’t match reality.
- Consult a doctor before taking your children or seniors to Ladakh.
- Do not go if you have any medical history related to asthma or heart disease with a family member.
There were deaths in Ladakh from car accidents and in most cases they were motorcyclists. Just do a Google search and you will find several news articles related to these accidents.
Watch out for the shooting stones
What is a firing stone? In very simple words, the term is used for a rock that falls from the hill on the road. There are several sections in Ladakh, where throwing stones poses a real threat. This year, a similar incident happened in the Spiti Valley while throwing rocks, in fact, killed two knights. These passages are always marked by the BRO, alerting travelers. Be very careful when passing through a rock shooting area. Don’t stop or pause at these locations and just drive. If you are on motorcycles, make sure you wear the helmet.
Check the weather first
If you are planning a trip during the monsoon season or in the winter, find out about the weather before leaving home. If weather conditions were not favorable, it would be better to cancel or postpone your plans. You don’t want to get stuck in Ladakh or on the way, because it can be risky and dangerous. There have been numerous instances where tourists have been trapped in Ladakh and on the highways due to rain and monsoon.
Mind the snow
This applies to people visiting during the winter. Do a Google search on avalanches in Ladakh and you will receive news from local workers and a tourist car being buried under an avalanche, resulting in the deaths of all involved. If you are visiting during the winter, there is a risk that you will run and the best way to play it safe is to listen to the locals and keep an eye on the weather.
Mind the cold
Regardless of which month of the year you were visiting, you will have to prepare for the cold cold to come. Be sure to bring plenty of warm clothes. If you are visiting during winters, you will need to bring some heavy wool clothing and windproof jackets. For more information read: What clothes should I bring to Leh Ladakh Trip?
Keep buffer days
Do not limit yourself to strict deadlines. Always keep at least 2 days as a buffer above and above your actual itinerary. Ladakh is a land of uncertainty and tourists who are stuck for a few days anywhere are nothing new. Heavy rain or snow can sometimes block the roads through the passages, in which case you will have no choice but to sit and wait for the road to be cleared and reopened.
Respiratory or cardiac patients
If you are suffering from diseases like asthma or heart problems, then Ladakh really is not the place for you without consulting a doctor. And yet, you’ll have to keep Leh as your base and not spend the night anywhere else. Talk to your doctor and if advised not to go, do not. Visiting Ladakh is no more important than your life.
Not your first trip? Does not matter
Having visited here does not exempt you from practicing caution. You must still be the same as you were when you first visited Ladakh. Do not take AMS lightly and seek medical attention immediately if you feel your condition is not improving.
Don’t trust too much
Let me just post a picture to tell you what I mean. Don’t be this guy anywhere in Ladakh, please, and don’t try to do anything like that.
Avoid a trip at the end of the season
If you were planning a trip in October, just plan on Srinagar Leh Highway. The route from Manali to Leh is not safe to travel in the month of october. If you were thinking of visiting in November or later months, book a flight. The Srinagar Leh Highway may be open in November, but it becomes too risky and dangerous to drive.
As the availability of health care in Ladakh is limited to the basics (except Leh city), you should take some medications. This will include:
- Any prescription drugs you are on. Please bring enough of them to last the entire trip. Do not rely on getting them from a pharmacy in Leh.
- Some basic medicines to deal with conditions like body pain, stomach ache, headache, cold and fever.
- In the event of a medical emergency, you can also visit the Army General Hospital or the nearest Army camp.
It doesn’t matter if you go to the gym 6 days a week or you can run 10 kilometers without sweating. Do not make the mistake of considering your fitness as a criterion for AMS. No matter how fit you are. You should take AMS very seriously and listen to your body. Don’t be topless on high altitude passes to click on the images. Do not dive anywhere in the lakes. Stay well covered and, if you are not feeling well, rest and let your body get used to it.
Watch out for dogs
This may seem like a surprise entry to the list, but it’s true. Two years ago, Ladakh was reported under attack of stray dogs and the situation has not been controlled. Take a look at this article and this to know what I mean. Dogs in Ladakh attack to kill and not just scare you. I myself had such a close encounter while traveling to Hanle from Pangong. You can read about this in Changthang Valley Animals – Ladakh’s Deadly Dogs. Keep them at a safe distance and do not get too close.
Don’t go if you are sick
The friend I mentioned above who died in Ladakh was not feeling very well and yet he was. The result? His situation got worse in Ladakh and he paid for it with his life. The rule is really very simple. If you are not feeling well, have a cold and cough, fever or any other illness, do not risk going to Ladakh. Or at least consult a doctor before you go. With your current condition and medications, you can never be sure how your body will react at this point.