Journey to Ladakh
The Little Tibet
Nested in the trans-Himalayan region, in Jammu & Kashmir state of North India, Ladakh’s breathtaking landscapes did not fail to stir my soul. This vast expanse of arid land and devoid of vegetation. A never-ending stretch of rocky mountains, the stark contrast to the vibrant blue and white clouded sky, marked with faded pray flags.
Everything is just simply as beautiful as a painting. A chill ran down my spine, such a gift to wanderers.
How to get there?
A trip to Ladakh has a lot to offer: riding across high altitude mountain passes, visiting ancient Buddhist monasteries, camping by some stunning high altitude lakes, or frozen river trek is the major allure of Ladakh.
Ladakh remains closed and cut off from the rest of the country for several months in a year. Most of the tourism here happens between the months of June and September. When should you plan will depend on a lot of factors like how you are travelling. For a road trip, you have to go before the middle of September, all the services will close after that because of the harsh winter. For trekking, there are various options in summer and winter, like Frozen River Chadar Trek (I definitely go for this next time).
You can find more details for a complete travel guide here: http://vargiskhan.com/log/ladakh-travel-guide/
OMG, Is it safe?
The short answer is YES. Leh Ladakh is generally safe in comparing with Srinagar and Kashmir where are under chaos and complicated political situations with Pakistan.
At this moment, security was tightened in the Jammu region in the view of imposition of section 144. Government’s security advisory on Friday for tourists and pilgrims of Amarnath Yatra to curtail their pilgrimage. Mobile Internet services have been suspended in the Kashmir Valley. Barricades have been erected on many arterial roads, including the entry and exit points to Srinagar.
Thus, please aware of political situations before booking your trip.
Motorbike trip, ‘YOLO’ or agency?
Technically, for Vietnamese bikers, who are familiar with North-West routes, Leh Ladakh offers the same level (I would say it’s slightly easier since you don’t need to deal with heavy mist like Mộc Châu. Also truck drivers here are generally more mindful about safety for bikers, lol).
So if you want to arrange everything by yourself, here are some tips:
- Acclimatization is the most important part of building your Ladakh itinerary. Make sure you don’t rush your trip and allow time for your body to adjust to the low atmospheric pressure. You should reserve the first 2 days after your arrival in Leh for getting used to the high altitude.
- Prepare oxygen cylinder. You can find it in Ladakh pharmacies. There are also Oxygen cafes at high attitude checkpoints like Khardungla.
- Bring replacement parts and tools for your bike.
- It’s tricky to get a SIM in Leh for foreigners, Jammu & Kashmir state has special SIM for that area only because it’s a disputed area. So even you buy a SIM in New Delhi, it cannot be used in Leh.
- Leh Internet is generally as slow as molasses. Download the offline map and whatever necessaries for your trip before landing there.
- Register for border permits. Some villages completely prohibit foreigners, or allow to visit in day-time but cannot stay overnight.
- Bring as much gasoline as you can. Many villages don’t have a petrol station, but they stock petrol buying from Leh (160 km away), so people likely won’t resale or share gasoline.
- Last but not least, an emergency survival kit. Who knows you may get lost in nowhere?
In comparison, agencies can ensure your trip less hassle, and paperwork-free. There are some routes mainly known to the locals only, so you can explore less touristy locations.
Some highlights from our trip
Okay, time to talk about the good stuff!
Arrival Leh and deal with AMS
We devoted our first day just resting, drinking lots of water and letting the body get used to the altitude. I felt nothing for the first few hours till my face started getting bigger like a dumpling (literally, it’s twice bigger!) and down in bed for the rest of the day.
It was getting better on the second day, but still dizzy. After breakfast, we rode around for local sightseeing. Climbing up and down monasteries slowly helped us to adapt better to the high altitude.
The world highest motorable roads.
Khardung La, the world highest motorable road, is definitely a must checkpoint for bikers. It’s about two hours ride to the top. The first 20km of the road from Leh is a paved road and then gravel dirt road whose condition varies depending on the time of year (fairly safe in summer, but winter is more dangerous). Lots of motorbikes, cars and big trucks use the road and it was a busy morning. The checkpoint was filled with a lot more tourists than our expectation (even hard to get into the spot for photos).
We personally prefer to Taglang La, the second-highest pass. It’s in generally less crowded, so you enjoy the vast and marvellous snow mountains.
It was a rainy day, we rode nearly 200 km from Leh. The road leading to this place runs parallel to the great Indus river and one has to practically be there to see the beauty of Aryan Valley, homes to the unique Buddhist Dard tribes.
The Dard Aryans inhabit Dha, Hanu, Beema, Darchik and Garkone villages in Leh and Kargil districts. The villages are together called the Aryan valley. The people of this region have unique physical features, social life, ethnic culture and language. Many researchers believe that the ‘Aryans of Ladakh’ or the ‘Brokpas’ were a part of Alexander’s army and had come to the region over 2,000 years ago, said an official of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).
Aryan is a peaceful village with gardens of apricots, apples and grapes. We wish we could spend more leisure days there.
Lamayuru, the moonland.
Lamayuru village is 125 km from Leh on the Leh–Srinagar Highway. Home to one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh, dating back to the 10th century. Local legend has it that the place was once a lake that dried up.
Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri
The road linking Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso (Tso=Lake) offers exhilarating driving experience, with superb views. It’s an incredible journey, an unforgettable experience, fun to drive and “hurt for butts” with approximately 200 km off-road total from Nubra to Pangong then Tso Moriri.
Both lakes are beautiful and worth to visit. The stark contrast between the water, sky, and land was brilliant at these lakes. However, because all these fame surrounded around Pangong from “3 Idiots” movie, Pangong lake is more crowded, while Tso Moriri offers more space to breath, wander and enjoy real Tibetan vibe.
Turtuk, the last village before the Pakistan border
Turtuk, the last village before the Pakistan border, draws in tourists from all over the world. But dust aside the deserved popularity and you have a village full of fairytale landscapes. Unfortunately, as foreigners, we are not allowed to stay overnight.
Gems in Leh
We drove back to Leh via Taglang La in Day 10. Then spending few more days to explore the town.
In Leh, most of the population is ethnic Tibetan, followed by Kashmiri immigrants. Dards, who belong to Indio-Aryan race, are the original inhabitants of the region. Buddhism is the predominant religion, followed by Islam and Christianity.
The people of Leh are very friendly towards the tourists and lead a very simple life. They are easily approachable and greet tourists in a warm manner. Their lifestyle is highly influenced by the geography of the region and also by Tibet.
Arts, carpet and antiques
If you’re into Thangkas, exotic carpets or antiques, Leh is definitely a place! There are lot of shops with various prices and qualities, some offers much better prices than the other. So window-shopping for prices 1st before making decisions. You can also find many nomadic antiques in Mongolia here as well.
I hope you will have a great experience like us :) Please don’t hesitate to pm me if you need more information.