A review on High-Altitude Trekking in Ladakh, India

Political Location Map of Ladakh (Leh)
Political Location Map of Ladakh (Leh)

Getting there:

The easiest way to get to Ladakh is by flying from Delhi to Leh (the biggest town in Ladakh).  It’s a two day drive from either Srinagar or Manali and you will pass over some of the world’s highest motorable passes.  Be prepared for road closures, altitude sickness, motion sickness, and at least a few adrenaline filled moments.

 

Reviewed by:

Carley Fairbrother, British Columbia Canada.

Ladakh 1

Carley is a self-declared nature nerd from British Columbia, Canada.  She spent seven years  as a backcountry park ranger in northern BC before becoming an elementary school teacher.  She enjoys hiking, canoeing, cycling, climbing, wild foraging, snowshoeing, skiing and most things outdoors.  She also runs a YouTube channel dedicated to teaching people about nature and inspiring them to get outside.  She travelled Ladakh in the summer of 2017 with her husband, Clay.

 

Best time to visit:

Peak season in Ladakh is mid-June to August. The weather is warm and all of the roads are open. However, September and early October are less crowded, and monsoon season is over, making the roads safer and rivers on trekking routes easier to cross.

 

Climate/weather/temperature & appropriate dress

Ladakh, nestled in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, is classified as a cold desert. Winter temperatures average well below freezing. In Leh, summer temperatures can get into the high 30s (celsius) during the day, but nights are still chilly, and most treks will take you into higher elevations where temperatures are cooler.  There isn’t much shade n Ladakh, so when the sun is shining, it is relentless.  Expect a windchill of -20° celsius if you are going over 6000m.

Bring warm clothes, especially if you are trekking or climbing.  Don’t forget a rain coat. June-September is monsoon season throughout India, even in the desert.

Leave your shorts and tank tops at home.  While Ladakh can get hot, it’s important to note that local women, even the ones who wear western clothes, will rarely show their arms or legs. While nothing horrible is likely come from you wearing shorts, covering your shoulders and legs shows respect for the local culture. Plus you may save yourself a nasty sunburn. Bring light breathable pants and t-shirts.

 

Main attractions/Must dos

The mountains.

Just being surrounded by them may be enough, but here are a number of “trekking peaks” over 6000m.  These peaks are advertised as non-technical, but usually require ice axe, crampons’, and rope, so unless you are an experienced mountaineer, they are best attempted with a  guide.  At 6,153 m, Stok Kangri is by far the most popular, but it is far from easy.  It requires at least three days (usually 4-5) of trekking, a midnight start on summit day, a glacier crossing, some nerves of steel, and plenty of acclimatization.

 

Ladakh 2
Looking up at the mountains on the drive to Pangong Lake

 

Trekking.

If clinging to the edge of a mountain with an ice axe doesn’t appeal to you, there are many milder treks.  The Markha Valley trek is a popular 4-10 day trek. It is one of the few treks in Ladakh that offer homestays the whole way, so there is no need to carry a tent or hire ponies.  There is also lots of information available on the route and is  easy to do without a guide.

 

Ladakh 3
The fertile Markha Valley

 

The culture.

Many people travel to Ladakh solely for the culture and history.  Ladakh is sometimes referred to as “Little Tibet,” and is culturally and geographically similar to Tibet.  There are plenty of ancient monasteries and palaces to explore.

 

Ladakh 4
Looking up at Thiksey Monestary

 

Key Highlights for me

Sunrises at 6000 m

We climbed two mountains over 6000 m while in Ladakh, Stok Kangri and Mentok Kangri  Both required midnight starts, so dawn hit as we were nearing the top.   They were both extremely challenging, exhausting, and a little terrifying, especially when trying to navigate at night.  Once the sun came up, we got our second wind and up we went. 

 

Ladakh 5

 

Our trek through Changtang

Chantang is part of the Tibetan Plateau and home to the nomadic Changpa people. We spent seven days crossing it do get to the base of Mentok Kangri, our first climb.  Among the highlights were the settlements of Changpa nomads, spotting the numerous kiang (wild asses), camping while surrounded by grazing yaks, ponies, donkeys, and goats.

 

Ladakh 6
Yaks visit our tent at Korzok Pho, a summer camp of the Changpa Nomads on the Chantang Plateau

 

 

Exploring ruins

I loved exploring the many old, crumbling buildings.  My favourite was the ruins at the top of the hill above Shey Palace.

 

Ladakh 7
The ruins above Shey Palace

 

Things that make this experience different or unique

The landscape

This is easily at the top of the list.  No matter where you are in Ladakh, you are surrounded by breathtaking views.  Be it giant mountains, windswept plateaus, or lush green valleys, Ladakh is the perfect blend of vibrancy and sparseness.

 

Ladakh 8
The green pastures of Tso Kar Basin

 

The people

I found their honesty and kindness refreshing after the hustle and bustle of Delhi.  I especially enjoyed the Changpa Nomads, with their genuine smiles and tendency to sing while working.

 

Ladakh 9
A local Changpa man provided the ponies for the trek

 

The animals

From the domesticated yaks and donkeys to the wild asses and blue sheep, I loved all the animals I saw in Ladakh.  We didn’t see one, but there was always the chance of seeing a snow leopard.

 

Ladakh 10
A blue sheep visiting camp on the way up Stok Kangri

 

The roads

Ladakh is home to most of the highest motorable passes in the world. They navigate steep mountainsides on narrow, bumpy tracks.  They are often closed from landslides, and motorists often have to cross creeks, gullies, and washouts.  By then end of the trip, I was sick of them, but they sure did get the heart pumping.

 

Ladakh 11

 

Things visitors should be aware of

Altitude

Leh is at 3,500 metres, which is high enough to get altitude sickness.  To travel most places, you will have to travel even higher.  Be aware of the symptoms and give yourself lots of time to acclimatize.  Consider bringing diamox to help you acclimatize.

 

Traveler’s Diarrhea

High altitude can alter your stomach flora, which, combined with India’s reputation for water and food borne pathogens, can be a nasty combination. Be wary of any raw foods that might have come in contact with water, including fresh juices and ice.   Bottled water is safe, but I’d recommend bringing a pump and treating your own water, as Ladakh has trouble dealing with all the empty bottles.  Consult a travel doctor about antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea before you go.

 

Internet

Don’t count on internet access.  In fact, count on not having internet.  It can be down for months at a time.

 

Money

Always have lots of cash stashed away somewhere.  There are plenty of ATMs in Ladakh, but most of them don’t work.  Look for ATMs with lineups.

 

Booking tours

If you aren’t on a time crunch, don’t book a tour until you get there.  You can probably get a better price if you plan from Leh, and you’ll have some flexibility if a good opportunity comes up.

 

While here you should:

Go trekking

Trekking should be at the top of your list.  It’s the best way to meet locals, spot wildlife, and get a feel for Ladakh.

 

Ladakh 12
Visiting with a pair of curious Changpa boys

 

Climb a mountain

If you can, don’t miss out on your chance to climb a Himalayan Peak.

 

Ladakh 13
Clay’s final push to the top of Stok Kangri

 

Climb to the roof of Namgyal Tsemo Fort to watch the sunset over Leh.

 

Ladakh 14

 

Visit Thiksey Monastery, a short drive from Leh. If you go early in the morning, you can listen to the monks chanting and avoid the crowds.   The 15 m statue of Maitrya Buddha is the biggest indoor one in Ladakh.  Its intricate details are pretty.

 

Ladakh 15

 

 Ride the bactrian (two-humped) camels in Nubra Valley. This ended up being more of a tourist trap than I’d hoped, but it was still completely worth it.

 

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Budget considerations

Ladakh is a good deal more expensive than the rest of India. Expect to pay 30-50% more for food and accommodation than in the rest of India. You can probably get good deals on the shoulder seasons (spring and fall).

Transportation is probably the biggest expense.  Public transport isn’t as easy as the rest of India, so most tourists opt for taxis, which are unionized and have fixed rates.  This means less stress haggling, but higher fares.  Try to make friends at your hotel and share rides or keep your eye out on bulletin boards outside the many, many tour agencies for bulletins of people wanting to share taxis.  Expect to pay around $100 -180 USD a day for a taxi and driver.  Flights to and from Delhi cost around $100-300 USD.

A fully supported trip with a certified mountaineering guide, ponies, and a cook will cost around $50-100 per person per day, depending on how many people are in your group, your haggling skills, permit fees, and transportation costs. Be wary of price that are too good.  You will pay less if you have more people on your trip.  Just a mountaineering guide is around $25 a day.  Trekking guides cost considerably less.  Equipment rentals will cost around $12 a day per item.  Trekking peaks over 6000 m require permits, which can range from $50 to $300 or more.  Many places in Ladakh require inner line permits, but don’t panic – they are easy to get and cost a few dollars a day.

 

Facilities/nearby activities

Medical – There is a hospital in Leh.  Most larger towns have a small medical centre, and there are roadside medical tents at some villages and army checkpoints.

Transportation– The airport in Leh has scheduled flights to Delhi, Jammu, Chandigarh, Srinigar, and Mumbai.  Taxis and public buses are easy to find and both have central stands near town.  There are many motorcycle and bicycle rental shops.

Banks/ATMs – There are several banks on the Main Bazaar.  The State Bank of India has the most reliable ATMs.

Internet – WiFi is available at most hotels and tourist restaurants.  An internet cafe on Main Bazaar has extremely slow computers.  Unfortunately, Ladakh experiences frequent region-wide outages.

Phone – Phoning home can be tricky.  We needed to call home, and ended up using local’s cell phone because the internet phones were down.  Satellite phones are available in some villages for emergencies.  Cell service is surprisingly good along the roads, but SIM cards are hard for foreigners to get because of the proximity to the borders.

Tour Operators – There are hundreds of tour operators in Ladakh offering car tours, cycling, motorbike tours/rentals, cultural tours, bird/wildlife watching, meditation and yoga, white-water rafting, climbing, and paint balling (yes, paint balling).

Restaurants – Most tourist restaurants have similar menus with a variety of Ladakhi, Indian, Chinese, Israeli, and Western food. Take a short walk away from the tourist areas for cheap Indian food.

Shopping – Leh is absolutely packed with shops selling pashmina shawls, made from the wool of the adorable pashmina goat of the Changtang Plateau.  There are also plenty of handicraft and souvenir stores selling hippie clothes, wool hats, and knickknacks imported from Nepal.

 

Ladakh 17

 

If coming here, don’t forget to bring:

A good first aid kit. There is a hospital in Leh anda few first aid posts in Ladakh, but if you hurt yourself trekking, you are on your own.  Make sure you bring antibiotics for stomach problems and consider bringing diamox for altitude, though it’s definitely better to acclimatize naturally.

Good travel insurance.  Check the fine print. Most travel insurance companies will exclude mountaineering injuries, and you can bet they’ll count any ascents of Ladhaki peaks as mountaineering.  Also check if they will cover mountain evacuation and any other dangerous activities you plan on doing.

If it’s in your budget, a SPOT or DeLorme inReach will give some peace of mind to your family.  These devices allow you to send messages and your location via satellite.

Ladakh 18

A Diva Cup, or a similar menstrual cup.  Tampons and sanitary napkins can’t go into the toilets, and really shouldn’t go into the composting toilets on trekking routes. If you can’t stomach the idea of a reusable cup, bring your own tampons (they are hard to find in Ladakh) and put them in a trash bin or burn them.

A hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.  Hats drive me nuts, but I learned the hard way and nearly fried my nose off on our first trek.  After that, I got a hat.

 

Reviewer’s rating out of 10

I give it a 9.  I loved the mountains, and the unique culture, but after six weeks, I really missed the forests and lush vegetation I’m used to in Canada.

 

Find Out More

I will be releasing videos about my Ladakh trip throughout the fall and winter on my YouTube channel.   https://www.youtube.com/c/TheLastGrownupintheWoods1

Check out these videos of Carley’s trip in and around Ladakh:

 

 

 

 

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32 thoughts on “A review on High-Altitude Trekking in Ladakh, India

  • November 16, 2017 at 8:38 pm
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    Wow sounds like an adventure! It would be fun to try but I am so out of shape! These mountains look beautiful! <3

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  • November 15, 2017 at 6:20 pm
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    I love your blog! My hubby and I are avid hikers/trekkers, and I adore learning about other people’s adventures and new places to travel. India is high on my list of place to visit and explore. I look forward to following your blog!

    Reply
  • November 14, 2017 at 11:20 pm
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    Holy moly, this looks amazing!

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  • November 14, 2017 at 8:29 pm
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    What an amazing trip!! This is a region I would just love to go exploring in! Maybe one day I might get to see and do half the things you have done on this fabulous trek(:

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  • November 13, 2017 at 6:47 pm
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    This is awesome information for those want to trek through Ladakh India. I have to admit that the scenery is just beautiful but I would have to settle with just doing the milder treks. Thanks for sharing a great review.

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  • November 13, 2017 at 5:25 pm
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    This is a very comprehensive guide to trekking Ladakh. I don’t think there’s anything you didn’t cover honestly. After reading this I felt well prepared to take this journey on myself. Great job at covering tips that many might not think about when camping.

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  • November 13, 2017 at 11:09 am
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    I have not done anything as intense as this and I don’t know if I will ever do (maybe with a guide)! The scenery is gorgeous along the way. The animals, people, and all the sites you see are well worth the effort!

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  • November 13, 2017 at 10:14 am
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    Absolutely love the post. There is so much going on from photographs to all the tips and information and videos even, quite the detailed post on one of the most loved places in the world, Ladakh. I still haven’t been there, but certainly hope to make the journey someday. The Markah valley trek video is really well made.

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  • November 13, 2017 at 8:38 am
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    This a very detailed post. I never felt more prepared for a travel. I am glad you enjoyed yourself. The videos were great!!!

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  • November 13, 2017 at 6:09 am
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    Woah this is so cool, what an amazing experience! I think that would be so much fun and get to do that!

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  • November 13, 2017 at 5:28 am
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    Wow, what a comprehensive tips on trekking and camping in Ladakh. I loved the fertile valley shot of Markha valley. Sunrise above 6000m must be so stunning thing to start a day. 15 m statue of Buddha is beautiful with colors and intricate details.

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  • November 12, 2017 at 9:14 pm
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    Wow, I really enjoyed this post with all the gorgeous photos! I think a trip to the Himalayas is in the cards for me at some point since I love the high altitude scenery. Looks amazing!

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  • November 12, 2017 at 7:56 pm
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    Wow, what an action packed post. I loved the vids and the great photos. I think the ruins would have been a highlight too, besides the breathtaking scenery out there.

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  • November 12, 2017 at 6:36 pm
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    The pictures you have are amazing!! What a beautiful place and amazing exerience

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  • November 12, 2017 at 6:33 pm
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    How fascinating! The pictures are absolutely breath taking. Thanks for taking us on your journey to Ladakh!

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  • November 12, 2017 at 3:59 am
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    This looks amazingly fun! I’ve never been camping before, but it’s on my list of things to do in the future. You have some good facts here, especially about altitude sickness. These are good things to keep in mind.

    Reply
  • November 11, 2017 at 7:46 pm
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    This is what I love doing! Reading people’s experience about mountaineering even when deep down it eats me hard that I can’t. I respect Carley and Clay’s perseverance and I really wish to just try climb one of the peaks at Himalayas. I would love to experience the beautiful landscape of Ladakh. It must have been a wonderful time for the couple. I’d be bookmarking your page for the list of sources to consult if I ever overcome my phobia.

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    • November 13, 2017 at 4:13 am
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      Thank you very much. Ladakh has the benefit of affordable guides, so it could be a good place to overcome your phobia.

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  • November 11, 2017 at 5:59 pm
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    Your post brought memories of our visit to this surreal land some 5 years back. We did biking through Khardungla and Pangong Lake. Our favorite part was Thiksey Monastery so calm and pristine. You have some great source of information here. Looks like its time we plan another visit 🙂

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    • November 12, 2017 at 5:35 pm
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      Wow, that would have been quite the trip. I really admired everyone on bikes. We considered it, but were just to scared of the roads.

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  • November 11, 2017 at 12:03 pm
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    This is an excellent post, and that’s coming from someone who’s never been on a trek in her life! I love the photo with the little boys, so precious. I can imagine sunsets at 6,000m must have been incredible. You’re so right about respecting the culture even if you’re boiling hot – I had the same issue in Morocco, but still stayed covered up. Beautiful photos and so much great detail here for others, like me, who are new to this place.

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    • November 12, 2017 at 5:33 pm
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      Thank you. Those boys were so sweet, and completely uninhibited. They just ran up and started prodding at all me weird western gadgets.

      Reply
  • November 11, 2017 at 11:08 am
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    I’ve been wanting to visit Ladakh since long time now. Hope I’ll get the chance soon. Its a detailed review. So thanks for it. To watch the sunrise at 6000m is totally worth the exhaustion of the trek I guess. To be visited by Yak, is icing on the cake!

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  • November 11, 2017 at 7:21 am
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    This looks amazing. We always do small trails and such, but I have been looking to plan a trip like this for a while.

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  • November 11, 2017 at 5:18 am
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    As an asthmatic, I would have to think twice about doing this trip but it looks so exciting and beautiful. Thank you for sharing such a comprehensive travel post.

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    • November 12, 2017 at 2:47 am
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      Ya, it would be a tough place for someone with asthma, though the air is pretty clean. There just isn’t much of it. I had trouble breathing in Delhi too because of the air pollution.

      Reply
  • November 11, 2017 at 4:16 am
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    This would be such a cool trek! I’ve only really gotten my feet wet with mountain hiking, but I definitely want to continue exploring it! It’s such a rush!

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    • November 12, 2017 at 2:49 am
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      These mountains were just amazing! The good thing about Ladakh is that you can hire a guide if you aren’t sure if you are experienced enough to get to the top.

      Reply

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