Leh Ladakh Travel Guide

How my Delhi to Leh Ladakh trip turned into an extreme and unplanned adventure in the remotest part of the world

How my Delhi to Leh Ladakh trip turned into an extreme and unplanned adventure in the remotest part of the world – Changthang – Archana Singh


The downside of living abroad , is homesickness that hits you like a ton of bricks. I have a good job and a balanced life. But I still feel homesick, not so much for my family or the food but for the Himalayas. The urge to return was so strong at the beginning of the year that I brushed aside a serious threat of losing my job. I didn’t know which home was calling but I was hearing a call – O nadaan parinde ghar aa ja! But as the cliché goes, “When mountains call, you must listen to them.” I did exactly that.

The calling this time was different. There was a different tune to it. I sensed a deeper meaning, probably more than just the travel. Too often, traveling becomes just an itinerary on paper to squeeze as much in as possible. Rushing from place to place to get the boxes ticked, to snap the picture-perfect sunset and to hit the next scenic spot. Sometimes it feels like we are acquiring experiences rather than experiencing them. I had a super crammed itinerary but this time I was determined to travel slow and relish the experiences and not just gather them. As they say, the best dishes are cooked on slow and low flames. I wanted to do something different, go offbeat and live the unique experiences, for they are not found on the beaten track. And guess what, I discovered happiness in the remotest part of the world – Changthang.

Unlike my last three trips from Delhi to Leh Ladakh , this was completely impulsive. And the credit goes to nostalgia. I was going through my picture gallery on phone (not on Facebook) when suddenly a  picture clicked in the Changthang plateau in 2014 arrested my attention. Eureka! My eyes glittered with excitement. I called my Ladakhi friend right in the middle of the night. After a brief conversation, I discovered that he was posted in the very place that I wanted to be. Looks like destiny was working super hard for me!. The up-in-the-air-plan was made. But there are many slips between the making of a plan and its finalization. The plan got finalized only a day before I was to fly and I ended up paying a bomb for the flight tickets. The heart doesn’t understand the pain of a wallet. If it decides to go, it decides to go 🙂

My plan was limited to fly from Delhi to Leh Ladakh. I decided to leave the rest to serendipity and the local conditions. All I knew was, I was going to visit the unexplored Ladakh – the Changthang plateau. I had no clue beyond that. Locals are the unsung heroes who turn your good trip into a great one. My case was no different. The credit for an unforgettable trip goes to them – some I knew beforehand and some I made friends on the trip.

Time to buckle up folks! Hope you have your seat belts locked and have your munchies ready because this will take you through the stories of a lifetime.

From a sweltering 35 degrees to -8 degrees, Leh was a welcome change. The change in temperature had already triggered my “happiness” hormones. Before getting into my cab, I longingly gazed at the beautiful Himalayas, in the same way as long parted lovers look at each other when they meet after ages. Happiness doesn’t require words. It can only be felt by the heart and the eyes. I was relishing my share of happiness. The mountains were mountains, smiling at me and waving at me through gestures that only I could understand 🙂


I had booked myself at the Zaltak guesthouse, a place where I’ve lived in the past. The Didi who runs the place is one amazing person. She was preparing for my homecoming. After a lovely hug and exchange of heartfelt pleasantries, I was treated to my favorite Jasmine Kehwa and Ladakhi Roti. Memories of my previous trips hit me hard and off I went dreaming.

As a part of acclimatization, I wasn’t supposed to go out on the first day but I had no option. I had to secure my inner line permit from the DM’s office to visit the restricted areas of Ladakh. James, one of my good Ladakhi friends had done all the hard work in securing the necessary permissions, while I just signed the document.

And like clockwork, I fell sick. I was continuously throwing up, had a terrible headache and fever. When Didi saw my condition, she went out to get Diamox, a tablet that helps in acclamistisation. All the shops were already closed. But she still managed to get the medicines. She made khichdi and asked me to drink a lot of green tea. She checked on me several times during the night. And voila by morning I was back to my cheerful self 🙂

Next day early morning, I was on my way to Changthang. Around 3 pm, after a long and bumpy ride through the beautiful sights and sounds of frozen Ladakh, I arrived at Chumathang. A small village that is at the junction of many routes


My last minute call to an Army friend, who was posted at Leh, got me a comfortable stay at the Army Guesthouse at Chumathang. From a bathtub to comfortable cozy bed to room heater to cable TV to hot meals and packed lunch, I had all luxuries of life in a place where even getting potable water was difficult. That’s the perk of being associated with the Indian Army. The impossible word doesn’t exist in its dictionary.

The guest House in-charge introduced me to the village Sarpanch – Skarma. He was the most respected man in a village of 50 houses and ran Lamying Hotsprings Restaurant on the banks of the mighty Indus river on the Leh-Hanle highway. The all glass restaurant gave a greenhouse effect, amazingly warm in a cold barren land where temperatures plummet to -40 degree in winters. Almost everyone traveling on this highway stopped at his restaurant.

In case you didn’t know, Chumathang is a place famous for Hotsprings. There is one particular hot spring that hardly anyone knows about – it stays in the riverbed for ten minutes, the water looks very calm and suddenly it oozes out with full force. And the same loop continues. I would have been contended by seeing the usual hot spring site and would have never known something like this exists had Sarpanch not showed it to me.

They say mountain life is not easy. I experienced that first hand. Though the water is so hot here that you can boil eggs in 5 minutes, it leaves a pungent smell and taste to the food. That’s why the Sarpanch’s staff walks for four km uphill to the Chumathang village to fetch water for cooking, every single day. And it’s not a few liters. He gets water to cook for at least 100 people every day.

I spent a lot of time talking to villagers, army personnel, Ladakhi Scouts, and locals taking a break at Sarpanch’s restaurant. I was listening to all kind of unheard of stories, like a child glued to her grandparent’s bedtime stories. One of them I spoke to was the headmaster at the Puga Nomadic School. His stories about the school and the difficult life lived by the pastoral nomads inspired me to visit the place, which had nearby not-to-miss-at-any-cost attractions like Tso Morori Lake, Sumdo and Karzok Tibetan nomadic villages, Puga hot springs, and Chumur.

The only problem at hand was finding a cab. There were only two personal cars – one of a government servant working in Nyoma and other of the Sarpanch. Both were busy with their own schedules. Despite being out of bounds, I had to try! Nobody was ready to accompany me on this daredevil stunt. Even money failed to lure them. Reason – the area was completely frozen and cars would often skid. No connectivity. No help. But where there is a will there’s a way.

Curiosity takes you to places where no map or app can take. Are you curious enough to find out what happened next? How did I manage to witness the frozen wonders of Tso Moriri and the beautiful villages?

Leh Ladakh Travel Guide

A First-timer’s Guide to Leh

If Ladakh is paradise, Leh is your stairway to heaven.

The barren beauty of Ladakh in India with snow-capped peaks and the clean azure sky has continued to attract the intrepid travelers. The scenic destination has maintained to cast its spell since the region was opened to tourists in the 1970s. Since then, Ladakh has become a favorite haunt for trekking and mountaineering enthusiasts. The rugged terrain and the majestic mountains around, make an exotic cocktail for an adventure lover. But before you decide to fly away to the land of Buddhist monasteries and brave people, here’s everything that you need to know. It is imperative to understand that you need at least a week to acclimatize and enjoy your tour to Ladakh.

Plan a trip to the land of bluer-than-blue lakes and stark grey mountains with this quick guide:

Getting to Leh
You can fly to Leh from major Indian cities via Delhi (there’s also a 4am direct flight from Mumbai), but much of the time you save will be spent acclimatising to the altitude. Your other option is to drive, and there are two ways of getting there:

  1. From Srinagar (415km): The Srinagar–Leh road is open from the first week of May till December, depending on snowfall. The roads are well maintained, the ascent is gradual—chances of mountain sickness considerably reduce—and there are beautiful villages on the way. Perfect for families with elder members and children. You can stop overnight at either Dras or Kargil, which are 140km and 200km from Srinagar respectively.
  2. From Manali (482km): This high-altitude road is snowed under for most part of the year. It opens around the first week of June and remains motorable till October. The climb here is steep, the roads crumbly, and landslides are a real threat. Try this if you’re looking for adventure. Travellers usually halt overnight at Jispa, about 140km from Manali.

It is also possible to drive from Srinagar to Leh in a day. But you will need a very early start, an experienced driver and plenty of energy to sit through the drive. Certainly not the best way to arrive in Leh. The most recommended way to travel: drive in, fly out.

Local transport
Taxis can be booked through the hotel or a travel agent, and they charge as per the destination. The Leh main market also has a taxi stand—solo travellers can opt for shared taxis, which are cheaper and can be paid for on a per-person basis. Vehicles for overnight trips cost about 20% more than day trips. For reference, a day trip from Leh to Thiksey, Shey and Hemis monasteries and the Druk Padma Karpo School—of 3 Idiots fame—will cover a distance of approximately 100km and cost Rs2,500 for a Mahindra Xylo and Rs2,800 for a Toyota Innova. Most people don’t, but in case you want air conditioning, it costs Rs7/km in addition to the aforementioned prices.

Many of Ladakh’s top attractions are a day trip away from Leh, which is why it makes sense to camp here. Predictably, the town gets swamped in peak season and places are sold out months in advance. These are the ones to book:

  • The Grand Dragon Ladakh is centrally heated and has solar-powered rooms with views of the Stok Kangri mountains. (Doubles from Rs11,600)
  • The 45-room Hotel Shangrila is minutes away from the airport and has a Tibetan-inspired restaurant that serves Ladakhi food. (Doubles from Rs6,500)
  • A short walk from Leh town, Mahey Retreat has rooms overlooking sprawling gardens that grow most of the produce used by the restaurant. (Doubles from Rs4,600)
  • The family-run Mogol Hotel has friendly staff and 19 spacious rooms with views of the mountains. (Doubles from Rs4,500)
  • Backpackers and solo travellers can opt for Shaolin Guest House on Sankar road (starting Rs800 per person) and Zik Zik Guest House on Karzoo lane (+91-94191 79357; doubles from Rs1,000), which are homely, comfortable and easy on the pocket.

Eat here
Most restaurants are open throughout the tourist season and are great for people-watching or meeting locals. Settle down with a hot cup of cappuccino at Jeevan Café (+91-9419129157), which also has a small library on the first floor—ask for their pizza and lasagne. Lunch at the value-for-money Summer Harvest restaurant in Changspa and try their hearty thukpa (noodle soup), or walk up to the tavern-like Bon Appetit for a meal with a view—they make great chocolate momos. For a taste of Tibetan cuisine, try Tibetan Kitchen on Fort Road (tip: get a table outside) or the quaint Amdo Café in the main market, which serves steaming momos and thenthuk (noodle soup). Stop by Pumpernickel German Bakery on Zangsti road for fresh bread, cakes and cookies. Don’t forget to visit the charming Lala’s Café, which is housed in a restored Ladakhi house and serves butter tea. Lamayuru Restaurant on Fort Road is great for vegetarians and is the place to go when you’re craving Indian food. Check out our complete list of Leh’s best eats here.


Good to know

  1. Carry government-issued photo-identity proof—driving licence, Aadhaar card, PAN card, etc., which come handy at checkpoints and in case permits are required.
  2. Plastic bags are banned in Ladakh, so make sure you carry biodegradable/paper bags.
  3. The weather is unpredictable: it’s usually windy and can go from pleasant to chilly very quickly. Wear layers instead of bulky warmers to stay comfortable at all times.
  4. Keep in mind that most establishments in Ladakh are shut during the off season i.e. the time when roads are closed.
  5. Carry waterproof luggage; this will ensure that the contents of your bag remain dry in case it rains unexpectedly or you need to drive through water.
  6. Remember to take spare batteries for your camera, as the altitude and cold will drain them out quicker.
  7. When travelling around Leh, it’s best to avoid alcohol; drink water instead. Breathing in dry air drains the moisture from the lungs, so make sure you consume at least 4–5 litres to stay hydrated.
  8. If you’re the one at the wheel, it’s important to know that driving here is different from driving anywhere else. It’s a constant mental and physical test, and covering more than 50km a day is a challenge for anybody who’s not a seasoned driver. Don’t push yourself more than you need to. Kshitij adds, “If something goes wrong, you’ll fall 1,000ft into the valley.” Take it slow and easy, and enjoy the scenery.
  9. Prepaid SIM cards don’t work well in Leh, but postpaid do (Airtel, Aircel and BSNL are your best options). The main market in Leh city also has multiple STD booths.
  10. Most importantly, don’t try to do too much in too little time. Ladakh is not a place that you see in a hurry.


Do’s and Don’t

The following are some travel tips, do’s and dont’s to keep in mind during Ladakh trip.


• Check the weather conditions before you travel.

• Carry plenty of water to stay hydrated as this is very important at high altitudes.

• Remember to pack the right clothes when you are travelling to Ladakh. Cotton wear, woollens, thermals, sturdy walking shoes and sunglasses.

• Remember to pack extra batteries for your camera and mobile phone as electricity can be a problem.

• Wear appropriate clothes when you are visiting Buddhist monasteries.


• Avoid carrying plastic bags as these are banned in Ladakh.

• Don’t take photographs of monks without taking their permission first.