My Ladakh Itinerary and Travel Tips
Ladakh is a land of mountains and monasteries – epic scenery that captivates and changes with every turn and a colourful Buddhist culture that makes you feel more like you’re in Tibet than India. Ladakh is a mesmerising and unique part of India but a trip to this remote, high altitude region requires more planning than the rest of India so, to help, I wanted to share my Ladakh itinerary and tips for traveling here.
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My trip to Ladakh was organised by expert trip planners India Someday (who I’ve travelled with several times before) in collaboration with their local expert partner Unplugged Life. They put together this Ladakh itinerary, advised us on packing and organised all the accommodation, transport, permits and also some extra treats and surprises.
Bear in mind when planning your Ladakh itinerary that you need to factor in time for acclimatisation and that there are some long mountain drives so it’s best to visit Ladakh for as long as you can – it’s possible to see the highlights in 1 week but there’s still so much more to see and it’s best to take it easy due to the altitude so 10 days – 2 weeks would be better.
The scenery in Ladakh is just out of this world – think jagged, barren mountains and arid, snow capped peaks interlaced with fertile valleys with rushing rivers, crumbling stupas, timeless monasteries, prayer wheels and whitewashed houses adorned with colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind. My words and photos can’t really do it justice so you’ll just have to visit to experience this surreal land for yourself.
In this post you’ll find my Ladakh itinerary and also some essential tips for traveling Ladakh.
1 Week Ladakh Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Leh (3,500m)
Leh sits at an altitude of 3,500m so if you arrive by plane like I did then you’ll be treated to one of the most scenic flights over the mountains and will need to spend most of the day resting and acclimatising to the altitude in your hotel.
It’s best to take a nap for a few hours to rest and start adjusting to the altitude although it takes a few days to properly acclimatise so it’s advised to drink plenty of fluids but not to smoke, drink alcohol or physically exert yourself.
If you feel like it then in the evening you could stroll into Leh and check out Leh Bazaar with it’s colourful shops selling Kashmiri handcrafts and pashminas, Tibetan antiques and jewellery stalls run by Tibetan refugees.
Stay: We stayed at the lovely Gangba Homestay which is run by a lovely family with spacious clean rooms with gorgeous mountain views just on the outskirts of Leh. I loved the colourful Tibetan style of the décor and the food here was the best I had in Ladakh. It’s also only a 10 minute walk from Leh Bazaar.
Day 2: Sightseeing in Leh
Leh is dominated by the ruins of the 350 year old 9 storey high Leh Palace which is made out of mud, stone and wood and used to be the home of the Ladakhi royal family. Leh Palace looks similar to Lhasa’s Potala Palace and offers spectacular views over Leh and the mountains beyond. I also found Tsemo Fort and Gompa very photogenic.
Another spot that can’t be missed off your Ladakh itinerary is visiting Shanti stupa which also has amazing views over Leh. We also visited the sangam (confluence of 2 rivers) between the Indus and Zanskar river (you can go rafting here in Summer) Spituk Gompa, Gurudwara Shri Pathar Sahib and the Indian Army’s Hall of Fame.
If you have time I would add another day in Leh to your Ladakh itinerary and split up this sightseeing into two days to allow you to take it more easy and acclimatise.
Day 3: Leh – Nubra Valley (3050m) via Khardung La Pass (5,359m)
Outside Leh, Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake are the most popular destinations in Ladakh. Leave early as it’s a long but incredibly scenic drive out of Leh and over one of the world’s highest motorable pass – Khardung La.
Due to the attitude and cold we were only allowed to stay 15 mins on top of the pass but there are some great photo opportunities with the snowy mountains, views and fluttering prayer flags.
After crossing over Khardung La soak up the barren beauty of the Nubra Valley. Don’t miss the colourful 100 ft high Maitreya Buddha statue at Diskit Monastery. Carry on to Hunder and admire the sand dunes and the double humped camels that came here with the silk route caravans. You can ride quad bikes (ATV’s) or camels across the sand dunes and don’t forget to look up at the stars.
Stay: Hunder has plenty of accommodation but mainly it’s tented Summer camps. After a long, cold day of driving over the mountains I was delighted to find that the newly built eco luxury Stone Hedge Hotel in Hunder has central heating! A very rare find in India.
Because we kept stopping to take so many photos it took all day to reach Hunder. You can go further onwards to Turtuk but we didn’t have time. If you have more time for your Ladakh itinerary I’d recommend adding another day in Nubra Valley so you have more time to explore.
Day 4: Nubra Valley – Pangong Lake (4,250m)
Another scenic drive, this time along the Shyok River Valley to Pangong Tso (Tso means Lake in Tibetan). Pangong Tso is one of the world’s largest high altitude lakes stretching over 150km long and 60% of it actually lies in Tibet, China and in the winter the entire lake freezes over.
When we visited (in October) it was very cold, windy and overcast so it would be better to come in July or August when the high altitude lake boasts crystal clear, cerulean blue waters and is backed by a spectacular kaleidoscope of mountains behind making for mesmerising views. Just don’t expect to have it all to yourself in peak season.
Stay: There are a handful of tented camps with basic bathrooms and restaurants on the shores of Pangong Lake. We stayed at Pangong Lake View Cottage Camp. Due to the remote location the camps are quite overpriced (ours was about 4,000 INR) but there’s no other accommodation option and it can be a fun experience camping by the lake under the stars.
Day 5: Pangong Lake – Hemis Monastery & Leh via Chang La Pass (5,360m)
We drove back from Pangong Lake over Chang La Pass which was quite a rough road and snow covered at the top at 5,360m. The top is home to an army base, stupas and a Hindu temple at the top adorned with hundreds of colourful prayer flags.
On the way to Leh we stopped at Hemis Monastery – Ladakh’s biggest, oldest monasteries famous for the colourful Hemis festival in the summer but when we visited in October we were the only tourists there. The monastery dates back to the 11th century and is also home to an interesting museum.
Stay: We returned to Gangaba Homestay in Leh.
Day 6: Thiksey Monastery and Stok Palace
Thiksey Monastery is an impressive complex located on top of a hill and rising early was totally worth it for the sunrise views over the mountains and the privilege to join the monks in their morning chanting. You’ll get to try traditional butter tea and don’t miss the Maitreya Buddha temple here too.
In the afternoon we visited Stok Palace – it dates back to 1820 and is the home of the Ladakhi royal family and now a unique and fascinating heritage hotel. The manager was a wealth of knowledge about Ladakhi history and culture and there’s also an interesting museum.
When we returned to Gangba Homestay they had put on a lovely Ladakhi cultural dance show for our final evening after which we did some souveiner shopping in Leh Bazaar and took the flight back to Delhi the next morning.
Tips for traveling in Ladakh
Budget: While in the rest of India you could get by on a backpacking budget of around $25 per day prices in Ladakh are more expensive due to the short tourist season, the lack of public transport and the cost of getting everything up to this remote region. Allow at least $40 – $45 / 3,000 INR per day per person in Ladakh.
Best time to visit Ladakh: The peak season for Ladakh is during the Summer from June – September. It can get pretty busy in July and August and prices are higher. In the Summer temperatures can be up to 20 °C. In Winters they can go as low as – 25 °C. As Ladakh is high altitude (Leh sits at 3,500 m) the region doesn’t receive as much monsoon rains as the rest of India. I visited in early October and days where pleasant in the sunshine and around 12 °C but it often fell to 0 °C at night and most hotels don’t have heating so make sure you take plenty of warm clothes.
Visas: As Ladakh is part of India you will need an Indian visa. Citizens of 161 countries can now get online tourist, business and medical Evisas which are valid for upto 1 year so it’s never been easier to visit India! Read this post for all the info you need and a complete guide on how to apply. You’ll also need Inner Line Permits (ILP) to visit Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake and some other places. These are valid for 7 days and can be arranged by a tour agency
Getting to Ladakh: There are 2 ways to reach Ladakh. In the Summer you can go overland from either Manali or Srinagar by bus, car or motorbike. The journey between Manali and Leh takes about 20 hours and crosses some high altitude passes and there are some basic cafes and accommodation on the way. From October – May the roads are closed due to snow so the only way to reach Ladakh is to take a 1.5 hour flight from Delhi to Leh which is what we did as we visited in October. There are many places to rent motorbikes once you reach Leh.
Getting around: Public transport is very limited outside of Leh so you’ll need to hire a car and driver to get the most out of your Ladakh trip. Unplugged Life arranged cars and local drivers for our whole trip. It would have been very difficult and time consuming to get around on public transport.
Accommodation: There are many guesthouses and hotels for all budgets in Leh and Nubra Valley but be aware that most do not have central heating and can be very cold in winter. In Pangong Lake the only accommodation available is in (overpriced) tented camps.
Tours: Exploring the remote, mountainous region of Ladakh is made so much easier by using the services of a local tour guide. My trip was planned by India Someday and their local Ladakhi tour partner Unplugged Life who arranged the itinerary, transportation, accommodation, permits and everything else so we could have a hassle free trip and could just enjoy the spectacular scenery and culture. Unplugged Life promote responsible eco tourism and are so passionate about this region. They only employ and are also very conscious about waste disposal which is really important in Ladakh as waste management is not well developed.
Staying Connected: Only post-paid networks work in Ladakh and outside of Leh only BSNL post paid connections work. Most accommodation and cafes in Leh have wifi although outside of Leh prepare to be disconnected for a few days.
Staying Warm: Most hotels do not have heating so make sure you bring plenty of thermal layers and warm clothing. Keep your head, hands and feet warm at all times and carry a stainless steel bottle for hot water. You could also ask for a hot water bag to warm up the bed. Even though it can be cold don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses as the suns rays are intense.
Altitude Sickness (AMS): Drink plenty of liquids (warm water is better to help avoid sore throat or cold due to the cold. Take it easy and don’t exert your body, especially on the first few days. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Diamox, oxygen and medical help are available if you struggle with altitude sickness. Check out this post for more tips of altitude sickness in Ladakh.
Read More: I travel with the Lonely Planet India Guidebook which has a good section on Ladakh. Its really useful for practical info, maps, things to do, how to get around etc. Buy it before you go on Amazon to save money
Have you been to Ladakh? What do you think of my Ladakh itinerary? Any more tips that you would add?
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