An Essential Guide to Making Your Road Trip to Ladakh Even Better
The essential guide for a road trip to Ladakh – what to carry, places to see and how to deal with altitude sickness.
Ladakh – the land of the mountain passes – is now in season. It’s that time of the year when the mountain passes open up after being covered in snow for nearly six months, and tourists head off on road trips to the Ladakh region. While visiting Ladakh is a fantastic experience, it is not really an easy trip. One needs to be prepared for it.
Here’s a ready reckoner on what the planning for a trip to Ladakh entails.
How to Make a Ladakh Trip Itinerary
The first (and most essential) thing you have to do before embarking on a trip to Ladakh is to pick up your itinerary. Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region, is a three day drive from Delhi (even though the distance is just 1,030 km). You will have to budget for the travel time – three days to reach and three days to return, and add subsequent days for the places you want to visit in the region.
Then, you have to figure out if you want to do the circuit clockwise – that is go via Srinagar and come back via Manali, or anti-clockwise. Both will take you the same number of days.
Depending on the number of days you can spare, make a plan to visit other places in the region. Just Leh and back would need only seven days, but the ideal trip should span over 14 days. Spending two weeks would allow you to visit the following places –Zanskar Valley (a detour of two days from the Srinagar route), Nubra Valley (two days out of Leh), Pangong Tso (a day trip from Leh), Marsimik La (can be done along with Pangong Tso, but take an extra day), Tso Moriri / Changthang (two days out of Leh, preferably when returning towards Manali) and for the seriously adventurous – a detour through Spiti Valley, which would add another five days to your itinerary.
On your trip, you will pass or visit some of highest mountain passes in the world, depending on the route you take:
Rohtang La (3,978 m / 13,050 ft)
Baralacha La (4,890 m / 16,040 ft)
NakeeLa (4,738 m / 15,547 ft)
Lachulung La (5,059 m / 16,600 ft)
Tanglang La (5,328 m / 17,480 ft)
Khardung La (5,359 m / 17,582 ft)
Chang La (5,360 m / 17,585 ft)
Zoji La (3,528 m / 11,574 ft)
Fotu La (4,108 m / 13,477 ft)
Namik La (3,700 m / 12,139 ft)
Marsimek La (5,582 m / 18,313 ft)
What to Pack for a Trip to Leh
The weather in the Ladakh region can be quite unpredictable. The maximum temperature during the day can reach about 20-24 degrees centigrade between June and September, while night time temperature in certain locations can dip to minus 15 degrees. The icy cold winds can make it feel much colder as well, so be well prepared.
Pack thermal wear, a good wind cheater, gloves, cap, and sweaters. If you are biking, make sure you have full riding gear with a protective lining, as it can get really cold near the passes.
Riding or driving in the mountains has its risks. Landslides could leave you stranded on the road, so be prepared to spend a day out in the cold. Carry a sleeping bag and a small tent, if possible, to protect yourself from the elements. Carry a day’s worth of rations as well – drinking water and high-energy foods (chocolates and energy bars) would help.
Here’s a list of things to pack:
Warm clothes & personal belongings
Battery pack / solar charger or car charger
BSNL postpaid mobile connection (Airtel postpaid works only in Srinagar, Kargil, Leh and Keylong)
Photocopies of Passport / Aadhaar card / licence for inner line permits (see below)
Medicines, including Diamox, for altitude mountain sickness (AMS) (see below)
Extra food rations for a day
Drinking water for a day
Empty container for extra fuel (depending on the vehicle)
Garbage bags to collect your trash
At least Rs 20,000 in cash per person for the trip (ATMs available in Leh and Srinagar)
Preparing your Vehicle for a Trip to Ladakh
Most people are under the impression that a road trip to Ladakh would require an SUV or a Royal Enfield bike! Fact is, almost any car can do the trip, but yes, having additional ground clearance and more torque is an advantage. Having a four-wheel drive vehicle will help you explore places like Marsimek La.
Also, there are many water crossings along the way, which can get quite deep during noon, when snowmelt is at its peak. Hence, using a car with good water-fording capability or high ground clearance is definitely an advantage.
Get your car or bike serviced before the trip. Make sure it has a healthy battery. The tyres should be in a good condition, with a reasonable amount of tread in them. The brakes and clutch should be inspected and fixed before the trip. When you climb to higher altitudes, the air pressure in your tyres will increase because of the low atmospheric pressure there, so keep a regular tab on tyre pressure.
Some essentials you should carry:
* Puncture repair kit
* Foot pump or electric tyre inflator
* Full tool kit
* Container for extra fuel
* Essential spares such as bulbs, fuses, spare tyre tube, fan belt and jumper cables
* Full tool kit
* Duct tape and WD40 lubricant spray.
Dealing with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
AMS or acute mountain sickness, also called altitude sickness, is not to be taken lightly. It can be deadly if the symptoms are ignored, and can even lead to death. Acute mountain sickness is caused because of low atmospheric pressure, causing low partial pressure of oxygen in your blood stream – in short, your body will struggle for oxygen until it acclimatises. AMS can strike anyone who climbs beyond 8,000 feet in height.
Symptoms of AMS
Some initial symptoms of AMS include tiredness, headaches, nausea and vomiting and a rapid heart rate. If you feel any of these symptoms, take it easy and rest. More serious symptoms would include incoherence, fainting, and possible progress into a coma, in serious cases. Hence, if you do fly into Leh instead of driving, take an entire day to do nothing but acclimatise.
Preventing and Treating AMS
Drinking plenty of water is one way to ward off AMS. The more water you drink and expel, the easier it is to get rid of carbon-dioxide build up in the blood stream. Practicing yoga and deep breathing at frequent intervals also helps. Carry Diamox (a diuretic) and take a couple of tablets before starting your climb. Drink plenty of water –as the Diamox will help expel it faster.
For those prone to AMS, a small portable oxygen canister can also be carried as a part of an emergency kit. If AMS symptoms don’t abate within a day of going to higher altitudes, it is best to get to a lower altitude as soon as possible. Contact a doctor as soon as possible.
Permits and Fees
An inner-line permit would be necessary for all tourists visiting border areas. You can get this inner-line permit at the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Leh and it costs Rs 200. You have to submit a photocopy of a government identity, and the permit is usually issued within a day.
For those driving up from Manali side, you will need to get permits to cross Rohtang to go towards Leh. (Hot tip, plan your trip via Srinagar and return via Manali to avoid this hassle). Permits are issued by the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Kullu.
Only 400 diesel vehicles and 800 petrol vehicles are allowed up from Manali to Rohtang every day. The vehicles have to be less than 10 years old, and have a valid pollution certificate and papers. The permit costs Rs 550 for cars. You will have to obtain a pass to go ‘Beyond Rohtang’.
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