Mention the Himalayas and a lot of people may think of Mount Everest and Nepal as the gateway to experiencing the mountains. But the impressive range also spans all the way from Pakistan through India and China as well. Given some of the perks we can offer, Ladakh is arguably one of the best destinations to land in and witness the majesty of the snow-capped peaks.
A short 90-minute flight from Delhi, Ladakh is one of the most remote northernmost parts of India. You’ll land in Leh airport which sits on an elevation of about 11,000 feet, the dry and rocky mountains surrounding the runway, with snow covered ranges slightly further beyond.
Start your journey by resting. The first day should be spent on acclimatizing to the high altitude, so take it easy with naps, slow walks and appreciating the well-formed clouds in the blue sky. If you’re feeling energetic in the evening, let a car take you to see the sights like Thiksey monastery or the Shanti Stupa.
Where to stay
For a truly differentiated experience, why not try glamping? The Ultimate Travel Camp has two properties in Ladakh – one in Diskit and another in Thiksey. There is nothing quite like the feeling of sleeping in a well-appointed tent with full luxury fittings and furniture – complete with power showers! You can also be sure that the chef will keep you well-fed; choose from packages that include all meals so that you can focus on the atmosphere and surroundings.
Or, opt to be treated like royalty at Stok Palace – a 200-year old dwelling of the first Ladakhi king and is still the household where the royal family resides. Only six rooms are available for lucky guests who get to live in a relic of a bygone era. Meals are served in a private kitchen and cooked a la minute. Ask for local delectable and you will not regret it – fresh momos prepared lovingly by hand, noodles in a rich stew and the local kanbiri bread with homemade butter and apricot jam.
Venture further afield
The famous Panggong Lake where the movie The Three Idiots was filmed should be on your bucket list, as is the Khardongla Pass (world’s highest motorable road) and Nubra Valley. The last is also know as “Moon Land” for its sand dunes which resemble scenes from another planet.
Drives can be long and delays can happen due to the boulder-strewn mountain passes where oftentimes see landslides and melting glaciers. So make sure you have a good driver and car and give yourself ample time to get to your destination. Stock up on snacks and packed meals for the road trip and arm yourself with wet wipes. The mountains may be beautiful but many of the available toilet facilities on the road can be a daunting experience!
But this doesn’t mean that you won’t have an awesome time en route to your destination. A good driver will make sure to stop at all the scenic look-out points for your envy-worthy snaps. There’s also some good masala chai and thali to be had at various roadside stalls and cafes, but you need to know which are the safe places to go (to avoid upset tummies!)
It may be easier to point out the few things that you should expect not to be able to do. Firstly, Ladakh is the land of monasteries and monks. As such, don’t expect to find a pool that you can lounge in – not even in premium accommodations like Chamba Camp Thiksey and Diskit, what more a heritage building like Stok Palace.
There are also no spa facilities; at least not the chi chi resort type. Expect Wi-Fi connection – when available – to be poor, slow and/or non-existent.
But in exchange for these trifling inadequacies, Ladakh provides great scenery, geography and a reason (if you needed one) to unplug and decompress – literally. The air is thinner, so you may find difficulties breathing. So it’s best to take things slow and avail yourself to an oxygen bar in the main marketplace.
Trekking is an obvious activity in these parts, as is white-water rafting on the river Zanskar but for the less active among us, there are also Bactrian humped camel rides in Hundar, ATV rides, monasteries to visit (try to experience a morning or evening prayer session) as well as eating local cuisine and shopping.
Yes, you heard right – shopping! There are definitely things to buy, so fear not, shopaholics! And nice stuff too; this is the land of Pashmina goats, after all. Prepare to pay for quality – there will be a price difference for pashmina wool that has been cleaned and also the weaving technique. Handspun pashmina is also much dearer than its machine-spun counterpart. Want to make a difference through your retail purchases? Buy from Looms of Ladakh – a cooperative that champions fair trade for its women artisan weavers. Bonus: they only use organic dyes on their wares.
The best-laid plan is a simple one
Not everyone is a backpacker and there’s no shame in that. If you’re looking for a more comfortable way to experience Ladakh, we humbly suggest that you check out our end-to-end concierge service. From arranging your transfers from airport to overland and making sure you’re checked into the best accommodation to match your budget, we’ll make your mountain retreat a safe and comfy experience, -from beginning to end!