Ladakh is a place that features in everyone’s travel bucket list. I have been there twice, mostly followed similar itineraries: in June 2011 and in Sep end 2016. June 2011 it was more beautiful and pristine and most of the scenery had melting snow. Sep 2016 had little snow at very few places but also the pristine virgin beauty of Ladakh that had me mesmerized the first time had been tarnished. It had been a lot more commercialized and tourists had littered around. My appeal to anyone traveling there is to please do not litter around and leave as little ecological footprint as possible. Trek and bicycle where ever possible. Let us preserve the beauty of the places for future generations as well.
Delhi to Leh is about an hour flight and all major operators are flying directly to Leh. For all other cities in India the flights are via Delhi. We stayed overnight at Leh as recommended to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
Leh: Leh Palace and Fort, Shanti Stupa
Ways to Avoid AMS: Drink plenty of water, eat well and take rest. You may consume acetazolamide (Diamox) 3 doses: one on the day before arriving at Leh, one on the day of arrival of Leh and one on the day after.
Bike Rentals: While there are several bike rentals in Leh now, we rented ours from http://ladakhbikerental.com/ and would recommend them for the quality of bikes.
DAY 2: LEH – KHARDUNG LA – KHALSAR
This is the most common route to the Nubra Valley with Shyok River flowing alongside after crossing Khardungla. We hiked to the Gompa at Khardungla and were forced to spend 2.5 hours there due to some road construction. Due to the high altitude at Khardungla, it is not recommended to stay for over half an hour there and hence we felt dizzy. We had expected to ride much further but due to this unforeseen delay, we stayed at Khalsar. Overnight Stay at camp at Khalsar River Rafting Resort. Though river rafting season was over when we arrived, we stayed here. The tent is at INR 200 per person. We had dinner and breakfast there at additional cost, but the food was fabulous. Great place to stay.
DAY 3: NUBRA VALLEY: KHALSAR – SUMUR – PANAMIK –KHALSAR – DIKSHIT
Sumur: Things to see: Monastery and sand dunes (which are less frequented as compared to the ones at Hunder)
Panamik: Hot water springs. We did not take a dip there but explored around and had lunch there: basic food- Veg momos and tea. Surprisingly, it is difficult to find non-veg food in most parts of Ladakh.
Yarab Tso: There is a sacred pond/lake atop a hill just before Panamik. A small hike is required to reach the top of the hill and the sight of a pond comes as a surprise. The water is crystal clear and there is a temple there. The lake or pond is considered sacred and washing of clothes etc is banned here. Fishing is banned across Ladakh. (Tip: The area around the hill is sandy and your vehicle can get stuck in the sand.)
We drove around a bit further from Panamik till the point we encountered an army checkpoint and they warded us back as it was not allowed for civilians to go across without special army permission, which we did not have. Thus we returned back and went the other way to reach Diskit. Enroute we met a biker who was biking around the world starting from UK. We then traveled to Dikshit with him and exchanged travel stories over dinner.
Overnight at Dikshit. The place we stayed at Dikshit did not serve dinner. So we walked around in search of food but most places were shut due to off-season or only offering food to guests staying there. Dikshit and Hunder are the only places in Ladakh I have found rude people. We finally managed to get some food at one hotel after some pleading. (Please Note: There is disconnect in the spelling of Diskit. Most of the online sources spell it as Diskit but the locals there spell and pronounce it as Dikshit)
DAY 4: NUBRA VALLEY: DIKSHIT, TURTIK VILLAGE & HUNDER
Turtuk Village: In the morning we departed for Turtuk village, which had earlier been a part of Pakistan but now forms a part of India. Thus people of the village look different, are dressed differently and practice Islam. We shot some interesting street portraits there.
Hunder: We clicked the two-humped or Bactrian camels at Hunder but did not ride them. These camels are said to have been brought to India from the Middle East along the Silk Route.
Diskit: 50 foot statue of Buddha.
DAY 5: NUBRA VALLEY TO LEH: DISKIT-KHALSAR-AGHAM-SAKTI-KARU-LEH
You can head directly to PangongTso from Nubra Valley but we took the other route back just to explore. It was beautiful and we were the only vehicle on the entire route. The downside was that we did not even get any food on the entire route and had lunch at Karu at evening- standard fried rice and noodles.
Marmots: You can spot marmots on the way. The entire mountain range will be filled with them bouncing around but once they hear an approaching vehicle, they will all vanish in their burrows. Please do not feed the marmots.
Stakna Monastery is beautiful, located atop a hill island in the middle of the river. Unfortunately, it was dark so I could not get a good shot.
Overnight at Leh. (You can stay at other places. We returned to Leh to return the bike and join a bigger group )
DAY 6: LEH TO PANGONG TSO LAKE: LEH-KARU-DURBUNG-LUKUNG-SPANGMIK
Pangong Lake is overwhelming in all terms- its colossal size, crystal clear water, clear skies and clouds and the myriad colors and reflections. About 60% of the Lake is in Tibet or now China. The water here is saline. It is interesting to note that there is no fish in the lake and barely any birds. Overnight stay at Pangong Tso- Spangmik. There are several options of staying there now. In 2011, we had stayed at a homestay.
DAY 7: PANGONG TO TSO MORIRI LAKE & KORZOK VILLAGE
We drove through Tsagala & Chushul which is quite long but one of the most scenic route of Ladakh. It took us all day to get there. We reached Tsomoriri in time to catch the beautiful Golden Hour and capture some stunning portraits of locals and milkyway shots at night. If this your first time away from the main cities, you will be taken aback by the sight of countless stars glittering all across over the sky with sporadic outbursts of shooting stars at different places in the sky.
Overnight at Korzok Village
DAY 8: KARZOK VILLAGE + TSOKAR LAKE + TANGLANGLA PASS (5,328 m or 17,480 ft)
In the morning we walked to the lake and took some shots of the lake and then Street Photography at Karzok Village.
Tsokar Lake is a birders paradise and you can spot endangered Black necked cranes and other species of birds here. We also spotted a lot of wild asses on the way.
Overnight at Leh
DAY 9: DEPARTURE FROM LEH
- Most roads are great and very well maintained by BRO (Border Road Organization)
- Foreigners require permits to travel around in Ladakh and can be obtained easily in a few hours through a travel agent. Indians do not require any permits, however, at some places IDs might be checked.
- In case you feel unwell rush to the hospital immediately.
- Mobile connectivity is available only in Leh and that too on postpaid connections only. Outside Leh only BSNL works sporadically
- As per the Ladakh union norms, the bikes or cars rented from Manali/ Kashmir are not allowed in Ladakh, thus you are supposed to return them here and rent vehicles from Ladakh only.
Have a safe and responsible travel!! Please ping me for any queries/ comments!