Ladakh is one of the most sought-after destinations for travelers and photographers. The drive from Manali to Leh is an ultimate route for endurance and adventure for the bikers.

Since I have been fortunate enough to go to this heaven quite a few times, lot of people ask me for some tips. I thought of writing this blog sharing my experience to make the most of your trip to Ladakh.

About Ladakh


Ladakh means 'the land of high passes is a Union Territory in India. It was known as the Maryul of Ngari and was ruled from Shey. (You can visit the palace when you are in Ladakh)

What is the capital of Ladakh

Leh is the capital of Ladakh.

What is the Population of Ladakh

The population of Ladakh was almost constant for centuries. It was a hub of trade with a significant floating population as well.

In 2011, the population of Ladakh was 30,870. According to the latest census, the current number is 144,120. This growth is due to the significant increase in the number of tourists. Almost every house is a guest house now. A lot of people have come to Ladakh for business opportunities.

Climate of Ladakh

Ladakh is a semi-arid desert in high altitudes. It is dry and it rarely used to rain there. Now, with a lot of plantation drives, it is becoming a lot greener and setting up the water cycle.

With the support of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, 9313 villagers of Changa Village near Hemis set the Guinness World Record of "Most Trees Planted" by planting 50333 saplings in a record time of 33mins 25s. 

Population density of Ladakh

3 person per sq. kms (For Mumbai it's 25,357 per sq. km.)

Annual Average Rainfall in Ladakh

15cm / 6 inches. For Mumbai its 242.2 cm (95.35 inches).

 

Where to get Ladakh Permit?

You don't need to go to any agent to get a Permit for Ladakh. You can apply online here.

It's very simple and easy. Please note that if your payment is gone and you did not get the permit, wait for 12 hours before you try again.

 

Ladakh Visiting Places

You need at least 5 days to see Ladakh. Anything less will be an injustice to the place. Also, high altitude can hit you.

The Ladakh government has made a rule of mandatory 48 hours of acclimatization before you start traveling around. This rule is made because of the several deaths in Pangong. Many people have less time and rush to Pangong second or third day. It can be fatal

Ladakh Itinerary 5 Days

Five days will be too tight, but if you don't have a choice then these are the places you can visit in 5 days.

Day 1 Land in Leh, Take rest. Leh fort, Shanti Stupa, stroll around Leh market in the evening
Day 2 Leh to Hunder (Nubra Valley) via Khardungla, visit Diskit monastery/Maitreya statue and ride the Bactrian Camels. Stay at Hunder.
Day 3 Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake via Shyok
Day 4 Pangong Lake to Leh. Visit Shey Palace, Thiksey monastery, and Hemis monastery while returning
Day 5 Fly back

Ladakh Itinerary 7 Days

Day 1 Land in Leh, Take rest. Leh fort, Shanti Stupa, sroll around Leh market in the evening
Day 2 Leh to Turtuk via Khardung La, Hunder, overnight at Turtuk. Relaxed walking around in the villages in the evening and morning.
Day 3 Turtuk to Hunder, ride and photograph the Bactrian camels, spend a lovely evening.
Day 4 Hunder to Pangong via Shyok, visit Diskit monastery and Maitreya statue
Day 5 Pangong to Leh. Relax in the evening
Day 6 Visit Shey Palace, Thiksey monastery, Hemis monastery
Day 7 Fly out

Ladakh Itinerary 9 Days

Day 1 Land in Leh, Take rest. Leh fort, Shanti Stupa, stroll around Leh market in the evening
Day 2 Leh to Turtuk via Khardung La, Hunder, overnight at Turtuk. Relaxed walking around in the villages in the evening and morning.
Day 3 Turtuk to Hunder, ride and photograph the Bactrian camels, spend a lovely evening.
Day 4 Hunder to Pangong via Shyok, visit Diskit monastery and Maitreya statue
Day 5 Pangong to Hanle via Chushul. Very beautiful ride along the Pangong Lake
Day 6 Hanle to Tso Morriri vis Kyagar Tso
Day 7 Tso Morriri to Leh via Tso Kar
Day 8 Visit Shey Palace, Thiksey monastery, Hemis monastery. Can go to the market in the evening
Day 9 Fly Out

Click HERE see this itinerary on more details.

What is Ladakh Temperature like?

During the summer months, day temperature varies from 20 to 35 degrees. At night the temperature drops significantly. If you are camping, you definitely need to carry warm clothes and wind cheater. At places like Tso Morriri and Pangong are the weather is very unpredictable. It can be extremely windy and cold even in summers, so if you are visiting these places, please carry warm jackets and wind-proof jacket.

Ladakh is extremely cold in winters and temperatures drop to about minus 25 degrees.

Diskit

 

How to Reach?


By Road –


Manali to Leh 

To reach Ladakh, the most popular way by road is from Manali. The distance of about 490kms generally takes two days to complete if there are no road blocks due to landslides. The BRO (Border Roads Organisation) maintains the road very diligently but due to the challenges, it sometimes takes days to clear. You have to stop overnight at Keylong or Sarchu. This road is only for about 4 months (June to August) and the dates might vary based on the climatic conditions and how long it takes to clear the snow.

Srinagar to Leh

This is another alternative to reach Leh via Kargil and Lamayuru. A lot of travellers prefer this route due to the gradual acclimatization.

By Air


The easiest and the quickest way to reach Ladakh is to take a flight to Leh. There is good connectivity from New Delhi.

As the roads are closed in winters, the flight is the only way to reach Leh.
Though going by air is quick, if you are not taking the road, you are missing something.

As they say, the journey is more interesting than the destination; the same is true about taking the road to Leh. Also, as you gradually acclimatize, there are fewer chances for you to get affected by AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).

If you are flying to Leh, please read this…

Please take a seat on the left on the Delhi to Leh flight to get great views and while returning Leh to Delhi, take a seat on the right.

Nowadays, a lot of people fly to Leh to save time. We reach from sea level to 11500ft. Our body struggles due to less oxygen.

The problem is that most of the flights to Leh is the early morning from New Delhi. So, if you are taking a flight from any other city like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai or Bangalore, you have to take a late night flight to New Delhi and then the morning flight to Leh. Because of this, your body is sleep-starved. It becomes even more difficult for your body to adapt to high altitude and aggravates the problem.

You have to take some precautions to make your body adapt to the new environment. You will feel giddy or have a headache. That's okay. It will be fine.

1. Take proper rest.
On the first day (and during the whole trip later), just take it easy. WALK, don’t RUN. And walk SLOW.
2. Don’t eat too much or too little, just enough for your body to digest properly.
3. Sleep well.
4. DRINK a lot of water 3l per day (drink from your own bottle to keep a count)
5. No alcohol. People have been in serious trouble after drinking alcohol, some as serious as death.

You will not get alcohol in most places in Ladakh. Many people are aware of it and I see people carry bags full of liquor in the Delhi to Leh flight. DON'T DO THAT! It can cost you your life. Get drunk in the beauty of nature, not alcohol.

During my 15+ years of travel to Ladakh, I have never had a Diamox. If you think you will fall sick, you surely will. You can use Diamox. But, it has its own side effects.
Give your body a chance to adapt; unless you have some health problem, it surely will.

I was hit by AMS only once, that was because I was shooting the stars all night and didn’t sleep at all.


Give your body proper rest. You will be fine.

AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) / Altitude Sickness


Traveling in Ladakh involves crossing high-altitude mountain passes. Leh is situated at a height of 3,500m (11,500ft) above sea level. Due to thin air, some people might get affected by AMS.

We have less chance of suffering from AMS if coming from Srinagar to Leh as we are slowly gaining altitude and it's easy for the body.

In my tours that have done last 10 years, not a single person has suffered seriously (mild headache is common and it will be there for some time), because of the following factors. We should also follow these.

Good Sleep

There is no medicine like sleep to cope with the high altitude.


Drinking-Water

At least 3 liters of water. You will not feel thirsty but you still have to drink. Drink warm water as much as possible. During the journey, if you want to drink warm water, please get a small flask and keep sipping. Drinking from plastic bottles will be cold, and you will end up drinking less.

Being Slow / Taking it Easy


Your body is struggling every moment because of less oxygen. Be slow in whatever you do, while climbing stairs or anything. Just take it easy.


Spending not more than 5 mins at the mountain passes.

Mountain passes are exciting. The height gives us a high. We want to take pictures and play in the snow. Fair enough. But do it quickly. Many people get sick jumping around and spending more than 10 minutes in the passes.

It can be fatal and can spoil the whole tour for you as well as your fellow travelers.


Following these will keep you healthy and you will be able to enjoy the places.

Symptoms of AMS can be one or more of the following –


Headache
Poor appetite
Nausea / Vomiting
Weakness
Dizziness
Difficulty to sleep

Remedies


Acetazolamide (Diamox), rest and good sleep.
The local remedy is garlic soup.
Lots of fluid intakes.

LehtoPangongTso_81

Clothing


If you are going in summers, light cotton clothing would be good and comfortable for most times. Carrying a warm jacket is advisable as the temperatures drop quite a lot at night. As its a desert, days are very warm and nights are cold. The sun is very harsh with lot of UV rays. Try not to expose your skin to the sun. You will get sunburns.

If you are planning to spend time doing astrophotography, make sure you have a warm jacket and a windproof jacket. It is quite windy in Pangong and Tso Morriri.

A warm cap, gloves, and woolen socks will also be helpful if you are venturing out at night shooting the stars. 

Keeping in view of the culture, you must dress modestly.

I see many ladies doing fashion parades in places like Khardung La wearing minis. Don't do that. It spoils the culture and also can be harmful exposing yourself to the cold and harsh sun.

Remember monasteries are places of worship (not tourist places), so please dress modestly.

Language

Ladakhi is the main language spoken across the region. Most people can understand and speak Hindi and English.

If you want to learn one Ladakhi word, it has to be  – ‘Julley’ or ‘Joolay’. This one word can be used to greet people. It is commonly used as Hi, Good Morning, Good Evening, Thank You, etc.

Religion


Almost half of the Ladakhi a in Leh are Buddhists, the rest half is Shia Muslims.

PrayersFromLadakh

Ladakh Festivals

One of the major attractions of Ladakh is its festivals. Some festivals are organized by the tourism department but most others are centuries old. 

Every monastery has an annual festival (Gustor) at a particular time of the lunar calendar. For the locals, it's a great opportunity to meet the people of the nearby villages and socialize. People come from all over to attend the festivals. In some places like Zanskar, people walk for days to reach monasteries to attend festivals.

The highlight of the festivals are masked dances called the Tsechu. The monk dress with wooden masks related to the Tibetan Buddhist mythological characters and enact some event. They practice and prepare for the festival for months.

The most popular festival in the region is the Hemis festival. Hemis is the richest monastery of Ladakh and hence the festival is also the most pompous and extravagant.

For tourists or photographers, it's a great opportunity to see the Ladakhis in their best traditional attire. Here is the festival calendar of Ladakh and Zanskar.

 

Ladakh Bike Trip

A lot of people aspire to see Ladakh on a bike. It is quite adventurous and thrilling. People come from all over the world to do this tour. Its every biker's dream to do it.

If you want to take an easy way and still want to see that you went to Ladakh by bike, you can start from Srinagar and come to Leh. The road is awesome and very scenic except for the Zozila pass stretch. 

The more adventurous ones take the route from Manali to Leh which is challenging and offers unmatched views. 

If you want to play it safe, you can join a group tour organized by a company. They have support vehicles following, so in case there is a problem, help is easily available. 

Otherwise, you can land in Leh and hire a bike for local sightseeing or go to Pangong or Nubra. It works out much cheaper than hiring a vehicle if you are just two people. 

 

Photography


In Ladakh, there are immense opportunities for photographers – the landscapes, the culture, the monasteries, and the people. There is something for everyone. No one can go back disappointed.

Spend Time Learning Photography, come back with a great collection of pictures.

If you are going to Ladakh, you must know how to take better pictures so that you can come back with awesome pictures. 

My 5 Day Online Photography Course (only Rs.550/-) will definitely help you.

 

Recommended Equipment for Ladakh Tour 


There are myriad photographic opportunities in Ladakh and based on your interest you can choose what to shoot. You can shoot landscapes, portraits, festivals, food and last but the most important for me - shooting the Milky Way and Star Trails.

iPhone / One Plus phone (or any other phone with a good camera)

Don't be disappointed if you don't have a dSLR. Mobile phones are doing wonders nowadays. It is the simplest way to take great pictures without taking the pain to lug around with a heavy camera.

I have a Photography Course to help you make the most of your phone camera.

These pictures will be great for most purposes like Instagram and other social media. You can edit on the go, on your phone itself. 

However, so far, I have not seen many phones that can shoot night skies really well, but those days are not far I guess.

If you are using an iPhone, you need another app to use the Manual Mode and use it for long exposures. It works, but definitely not close to any dSLR. 

A dSLR / Mirrorless camera

If you are a passionate photographer, I would highly recommend carrying a dSLR or a mirrorless camera. Shooting landscapes has its own challenges and shooting with a dSLR makes it easier. As they can give you a lot more control while shooting as well as during post-processing (dSLRs can shoot in the RAW file format), this is a must.

A phone camera is good for non-serious people who just want to document their travel like bikers or people who just want to take their family pictures. 

But, if you are into more serious Landscape Photography or Astro Photography if you are coming to Ladakh, I can't recommend a dSLR enough. If you don't have one, you can hire one. At least an entry-level camera can still do a lot.


Camera(s) - I carry two bodies. Once I was carrying only one and my whole 15-day tour to the North East was screwup up.

I use a Nikon D850 and Nikon Z6

Lenses for Ladakh Photography Tour

Mid Range Zoom

For a crop sensor camera, the kit lens like the 18 - 55mm lens is great. If you have an 18-135mm, even better. For a full-frame camera, an equivalent will be a 24-70mm or better a 24-105mm will be great.

You must have a lens of this focal range. This will be great for most purposes.

The greatest landscape photography of all times - Ansel Adams used 48mm focal length (35mm equivalent) for most of his pictures. This focal length falls within this range, so don't underestimate it.

I personally have done several tours to Ladakh only with the 18-55mm kit lens and was not disappointed.

Wide Angle Lens for Ladakh Tour

Most people think that using a wide-angle lens is a must for a tour to Ladakh, but you have to bear in mind that using a wide-angle lens comes with a big responsibility - you have to make each part of your image interesting. Most people fail to do it. You just capture a lot of area without much to engage the view in each part of your picture.

Our most popular viewing medium (mobile screens) has aggravated the problem. You can hardly make any sense of a wide-angle landscape on the tiny mobile screen.

However, if you are into Astro Photography or Landscape Photography, having a wide-angle lens will be great. 

A Sigma 10-20mm or a better Tokina 11-16mm 2.8 is great for crop sensor cameras.

Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 / Canon 16-35mm 2.8 / Sony 12-24mm or a third-party lens like a Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is great for full-frame cameras.

Some people use the cheap but of great quality Rokinon / Samyang manual-focus 14mm f/2.8 as their favourite lens for astrophotography.

f/2.8 lenses are highly recommended for astrophotography. You can hire one if you don't want to buy one.

Telephoto Lens for Ladakh Tour

You might be wondering if a telephoto lens is actually required for landscape photography? I would highly recommend carrying one.

Telephoto lenses are great for intimate landscapes, portraits. They are also very useful during festivals and you might not have physically close access to the photographic opportunities.

You can carry your super-telephoto - 200-500mm if you are very passionate about wildlife and birding. You will definitely get some opportunities. 

In Tso Morriri, you will get to shoot the bar-headed geese with their newborns swimming together. At Tso Kar, you will find the majestic Black-necked cranes. 

Ruddy shelduck is another beautiful bird you will find in Pangong. Eurasian magpie or common magpie (Pica pica) is ubiquitous like we have crows in the plains.

Blue sheep and marmots are common wild animals you will get to shoot.

Prime lens for Ladakh Tour

I have once used only a 35mm lens for the Ladakh tour and it was great. But, if you are using it for the first time, it can be a punishment for you. 

50mm or 85mm will be great for some portraits of local people.

Other Photography Accessories

Filters:

UV Filter is a must for the protection of the front element of your lens.
ND Filters if you want to try long exposures. I used a HOYA ND400

Now I use a HOYA PRO ND 1000
CPL (Circular Polarizer) is Very useful for waterfalls and wet surfaces, but I don't really use them in Ladakh or Spiti as the sky looks artificially blue.

Nisi filters are also highly recommended.

Note: Please check your filter size before you buy. It will differ from lens to lens. 

Extra Battery - Must have at least one extra battery, especially for star trails.


Camera Charger - I have bought third-party chargers that can charge two batteries at the same time, saves time like this one for Nikon and GoPro.

Cleaning Kit - It is very important to clean your equipment in these dusty environments.

Tripod - A sturdy tripod that can easily take the weight of your camera. Carbon fiber is more stable and lightweight. They are more expensive though.


These are some I recommend.
Manfrotto BeFree (carbon fiber) or
Manfrotto Befree 2in1


Surui (carbon fiber) or
Manfrotto Befree 2in1

Good Budget Tripod - Vanguard Aluminium Tripod Espod CX 203

Intervalometer - Must have for star trails. You basically need something like this. Please check the compatibility with your camera model.

for Nikon D500, D850

for Canon 100D/1100D/1200D/300D/350D/400D/450D/500D/550D/600D/650D/700D/750D/760D/60D/70D

Please check the compatibility with your camera. This is basically the instrument you need.

Extra Memory Cards - Must have. I use this one. You will definitely run out of memory. The other difficult option is to carry a laptop.

Should Your Carry Your Computer for a Ladakh / Spiti Photo Tour?

These tours are quite hectic and most of the time the itinerary gives you almost no time to work on your computer. Network is almost non-existent except in the cities. It is better not to bring your work to such scenic places and give your full attention to soaking yourself in the wilderness.

Many people bring a laptop just to copy their pictures from the camera to the computer. A better solution is to carry more memory as even the lightest laptops are heavy.

If you are joining for my tours, I bring my laptop and will help you to copy your pictures from the memory to the computer. You can just get your empty hard drive.

Note: Make sure your hard drive is ExFAT formatted so that there is no issue copy files across operating systems.

What Kind of Hard Drive should I carry to a Photography Tour?

I always carry an SSD which is much lighter, shockproof, durable and dependable while travelling especially in high altitudes. I have this one Sandisk Portable SSD

Otherwise, you can use the good old Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2 TB External HDD

 Please note that carrying the traditional hard drives in high altitudes have a risk of getting crashed due to low pressure. I have read about this but not tried using mine at risk.

Pro Tips:
1. Download the PDF of your Camera manual on your phone. In case you are not able to recollect how to do something, you can refer to it.
2. Feel your camera like a blind person to get aware of the buttons. If you can change the settings with your eyes closed, it can be extremely helpful for astrophotography. Switching on lights disturbs others.
3. Every camera has a Favourite / Quick menu. You can save the frequently used items into this menu. For example, I have put the Delayed Shutter in this. I don't have to struggle through the complicated menus to access it.


Mobile Phone and Charger.

Pro Tips:
1. Open the Google Map app on your phone and download the map of the area you are visiting. It will work even if there is no data.
2. If your camera does not have GPS and you want to record the GPS location, just take a picture with your phone camera with GPS on and you can sync it later in Lightroom.
Warning: Do not photograph or reveal the location of sensitive locations. It can be very harmful for the security of our country.

Spend Time Learning Photography, come back with a great collection of pictures.

If you are going to Ladakh, you must know how to take better pictures so that you can come back with awesome pictures. 

My 5 Day Online Photography Course (only Rs.550/-) will definitely help you.

 

Useful Apps on your Phone for Ladakh or Spiti 

Photopills - This is by far the most useful app for night photography and beyond.
Google Maps - Very useful to find your orientation and distances.
Star Tracker - To find stars' position.

 

Shooting Inside Monasteries

I lot of monasteries have banned photography inside the main sanctum/prayer hall. The reason - the disturbance caused by the photographers. Remember, the purpose of a monastery is to pray at peace. Clicking too many pictures makes the place noisy.

I have pictures of so many monasteries where photography was allowed at some point, but not any more.

First, check if photography is allowed. Most monasteries, still allow photography in their compound but not in the prayer halls.

If they do allow, be sensitive. Do not disturb them or interfere in their activities. 

If you have a Silent Shutter mode, use that. 


It is quite dark inside the monasteries, a fast lens will be an added advantage.

Do not use flash inside monasteries, it can be extremely offensive and can spoil the wall paintings as well. I have seen people using the Auto mode and don't know how to switch off the flash. 

My best settings for shooting in the monasteries is using the M mode. I choose the desired Aperture based on the DOF I need and put my camera shutter to the longest I can handle (with the body/lens combination I can handle). With practice, I can confidently handle 1/5 s which might be surprising for many. I use Auto ISO for most cases, except when I'm using a tripod.

You can try to find this limit for yourself for each lens, it will definitely help you a lot in low light photography, no matter whatever genre of photography you do.

Otherwise, most of the time I'm on Aperture Priority

Always ask before you shoot people. Though most people are very friendly, some may not like it or charge a fee.

 

 

My Pictures of Ladakh

You can see some of my Pictures of Ladakh Pictures here - 

Join me for a Photography Tour to Zanskar or Ladakh

 

Spend Time Learning Photography, come back with a great collection of pictures.

If you are going to Ladakh, you must know how to take better pictures so that you can come back with awesome pictures. 

My 5 Day Online Photography Course (only Rs.550/-) will definitely help you.

 

Phone connectivity in Ladakh


Only POSTPAID mobile phones work in Ladakh. Connectivity is poor in many places. The best coverage is by JIO. Airtel has decent coverage with better bandwidth for the internet but is limited only to Leh.

Internet Connectivity


All good hotels in Leh provide free wi-fi access and the speed is good most (if it works) of the time but very unpredictable. If you have some serious work to do, don't bring them with you. Beyond Leh, the connectivity is poor or not available.

Drinking Water in Ladakh

I have already talked about how important it is to drink water. It can cost your life if you don't drink enough.

Unfortunately, in Ladakh (or in that case, anywhere in India), there are not many toilet facilities on the roads. Males go out in the open on the roadside is a common practise. The problem is for the ladies.

Ladies hesitate to drink enough water in the fear of going out in the open. 

Please don't take it as an excuse for not drinking water!

You have to. There is always a way. We try to find places behind the rocks where you get enough privacy to do the job.

Water is scarce, carry bottled water with you at all times. You can buy packs of 12 that will save money.

Save Ladakh from becoming a land of garbage and Plastic Bottles

Being a responsible traveler, I refill my bottle all the time.

If there is a possibility to refill water, do it. It can make a big impact. However, you should do it only if you are okay with drinking local water. Due to much more minerals, your stomach might not be ready to take it.

RO water is available in most hotels and you can refill your bottle.

Honestly, I have seen, that most people don't really care thinking about the environment and global warming and then wonder why our earth is getting dirty and someone should do something about it. It's our home and it's our individual responsibility.

A Rough Calculation

Imagine if you are a group of 8 persons coming for an 8-day tour and each person drinks 3 liters per day - 8 X 8 X 3 = 192 bottles. Imagine the heap of 192 bottles that we are creating in 8 days.

Nowadays, we carry this 10-liter Decathlon Jerrycan (2 numbers) and fill them in hotels. 

Drink hot water whenever possible. 

It will keep you warm especially if you have a sensitive throat. I recommend using a flask.

What kind of luggage should I carry for Ladakh tour?

If you are not trekking in Ladakh, I will recommend a suitcase. If you have enough space in your vehicle, you can accommodate inside the vehicle. Many times, if the space is less, you will have to keep your luggage on the top of the vehicle and your luggage will be exposed to dust and sometimes rain. A packpack / rucksack might get dirty or wet.

On our tours, we always keep the luggage inside the vehicle so, anything is fine. You don't need to buy anything for the tour.

 

ATMs – There are ATMs in Leh of SBI, ICICI and HDFC back but not in most parts of Ladakh. Carry enough cash with you for the petty expenses. All travel agents and drives will accept online payments / Gpay but for the tea and lunch in dhabas, you will need cash, as most areas don't have mobile network.

ID Proof:
Carrying an ID card is compulsory during your visit to Ladakh. It will be needed for getting permits to restricted areas like Pangong, Nubra Valley, etc.

Shopping in Ladakh

MonasteriesLadakh_019

Leh is a shoppers paradise as well.

My favorite thing that I bring back for my friends is the colorful prayer flags. My second favourite is the prayer wheels.


You can get interesting souvenirs in Leh markets. Buddhist masks and Thangka paintings are also unique buys from Ladakh. Tibetan silver jewelry and turquoise jewelry is also very popular among tourists.

Leh_003

You can get stoles and shawls. Pashmina shawls are expensive but of extremely good quality.

Apricots are grown in Ladakh and is a good buy to be taken home.

Sea Buckthorn is a local berry from Ladakh / Spiti with great health benefits. It increases immunity as well. You can drink some in Ladakh or take back home.

Bargaining is accepted in most places and the final price depends on your negotiation skills. There are several Tibetan Refugee Markets where you can buy statues of Buddha to prayer flags.

Premium fashion products or Goncha - the traditional Ladakhi dress

If you are interested in premium fashion products or Goncha - the traditional Ladakhi dress, you must visit Jigmet Couture or Zilzom. They have great collections.

Checklist


ID Proof with some photocopies
Warm clothes
Camera, lenses, and tripod, batteries, enough memory, remote control, filters, external hard drive, laptop, battery charger. 

Multiplug for many charging points from one. (very useful for any travel)
Power bank is very helpful to charge cameras and GoPro or your phone on the go.

Multiport USB Charger
Moisturizers, Lip Balm, sunscreen lotion (SPF 60+) Hand sanitizer, and other toiletries
Face Mask - The drive can be very dusty at times and hence a good face mask is essential. I use reusable ones to minimize the damage to the environment.
Sunglasses.
Notepad and pen (It's very important to write what you feel)
Head-torch (mandatory for astrophotography)(preferably with infra-red light). This infrared torch is very useful during astrophotography as it will not spoil your night vision.


Plastic zip lock bags (not mandatory, but helpful)
Trekking shoes - Woodland or Quecha, if you want to trek.
Note: If you can carry small things like toffees, crayons, pen or pencils for kids we photograph and interact on the way, that will be great. Not mandatory, but gives a lot of happiness to them and to us as well. 

I carry prints of people who I have photographs of before and that makes them really happy. Read about my experience  HERE.

Bathroom Slippers

Food:
Amla Candy (Rich in Vitamin C, very helpful for acclimatization)

Imli (Tamarind) Candy (Rich in Vitamin C, very helpful for acclimatization)

Energy bars, dry fruits, chewing gums, toffees to give to children

Medicines to Carry for Ladakh or Spiti Tour

Vitamin C chewable tablets like Limcee (Helps in high altitudes)
Sualin Natural Cough and Cold Remedy
Samahaan - Ayurvedic. Keeps the body warm, very useful for cold and throat issues. 
Motion sickness medicine (Stemetil or Avomine)
Antacid
Cough drops
Fever / Pain (Paracetamol, Aspirin, or ibuprofen)
Handyplast for any cuts
Antiseptic ointment (I use Boroline)
Diarrhea medicine
Laxative (if required)
Diamox for AMS
Sunscreen
Ear Plugs (The dogs in Ladakh bark all night, so this is important)

Last but not least - your prescribed medicines.

 

Toiletries - Things I carry

Tissue papers
Toothbrush
Toothpaste (smallest tube for 8 days)
Soap
Small bottles of shampoo
Face wash
Cream (I use Boroline - thick and stable and a favourite of Bengalis that have stood the changing times, get it from any medical store )
Comb (I don't carry this anymore for obvious reasons :D)

Women should not forget Sanitary Pads. Travelling in remote areas you won't find a single medical shop. 

Especially for Women

I have realized that women drink less water because there are not enough toilets on the roads. 

Please don't take this as a reason for not drinking enough water. It can lead to more serious issues.

I agree it's tough, but we have to find places where you can hide behind the boulders and do it. It can be strange initially, but you have to get used to it. There is no choice we have sadly and we have to adapt to the situation.

 

Pro Travel Tip: I use the small bottles that you get in hotels and refill it with the shampoo I use at home. Before choosing a bottle, please make sure that it doesn't leak.

Clothes:

Shirts and trousers - I carry full sleeves to protect from sun and dust.
Remember: You are not going on a picnic. You don't need to carry a fancy dress for each day matching the environment. There is no one to watch you. More clothes mean you have to carry more weight and can sometimes be very inconvenient and wastes time packing and unpacking.

I love shooting landscapes with people in them, it makes pictures look more engaging. Carry some colourful clothes to make them more interesting

Hat - Very important. The sun is very harsh here and this is a must.

Warm Clothing
Warm Cap - Very important.
Warm Jacket - Very important.
Windproof jacket - Very important.
Bandana / Balaclava - Very helpful. You can get it from Decathlon or Amazon.
When we are out shooting at night, we need to concentrate on taking pictures not getting bothered by cold or wind. 
The weather can get really harsh at times.

Though it doesn't rain in Ladakh much, carrying a poncho/umbrella is optional. 

Pro Tip:

You don't need to carry several jackets. If you feel cold, you can wear in layers. I wear 3-4 T-shirts on the coldest nights.

As they say in Scandinavia, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes."

Bonus Tip:
Shoes are not allowed inside monasteries. If you are visiting many monasteries in a day, wear a shoe which can be easily taken off and worn. You should not miss the monasteries just because you cannot take off your shoes. It happens, especially with low oxygen :)

Note: Plastic bags are banned in Ladakh; don’t use them.

Music for your Tour

During your Ladakh tour, you will be spending a lot of time on the roads. Make the drive more enjoyable with your favorite songs. If you have Spotify or any other app, you can download the albums / songs to play seamlessly even without any network.

Offline Google Maps

I can't tell you how indispensable Google maps can be during your Ladakh or Spiti tour especially if you are biking or driving yourself.

Make a map listing all the places in directions in Google maps and then save the map offline. Even when your network is not there, you will be able to trace your location and can find directions.

 

Eat Local Ladakhi Dishes / Cuisine 


When in Ladakh eat local food. Apart from being mouth-watering, they can also help you adapt to the harsh climate of Ladakh.


There are Momos, Thukpa, Skyu, Tingmo, Khambir. These are mostly Tibetan dishes. Ladakh is heavily influenced by Tibet in terms of religion, food habits and culture.


Momos are very popular in Ladakh. They are dumplings with meat or vegetable-filled in them.


Thukpa is basically soupy noodles with a lot of vegetables. This is very good for acclimatisation and is easy to digest.


Thenthuk is another version where they add wheat flour dough cooked in soup with meat or vegetables.


Skyu is another soup-based dish. It is very useful to have in low temperatures. It contains vegetables and small-sized balls made of wheat flour.


Tingmo is an interestingly shaped bun, sometimes quite colourful. It is eaten with vegetables.


Apricots are widely grown in many parts of Ladakh and there are many dishes having this fruit. Apricot jam is also available.


Butter Tea can be found in all monasteries and at homes.

Tip: Don't drink it assuming it is like your normal tea. Treat it like a different drink and you will develop a taste for it. I personally love it. It keeps the body warm.

Ladakhis generally fill a whole big flask and drink little very now and then.


Sea Buckthorn Juice is a locally grown berry rich in Vitamin C and will help you adapt to high altitudes. Also, it supports the locals.


Chhang - If you are lucky enough to attend a local wedding or a festival, the Ladakhis will offer you Chhang - the local beer.

FAQ:


How fit do I need to be to be in Ladakh? You don’t need a very high level of fitness unless you are going for a trek. However, Im sure, you will be visiting at least a few monasteries. They all are located at a height and you will need to climb stairs. Take it easy, go slow.

 

Join me for a Photography Tour to Zanskar or Ladakh

 

Books to Read on Ladakh

Ladakh: Changing, Yet Unchanged

Travel Guide To Ladakh includes Manali & Spiti Paperback – 1 January 2013
by RAVINDER KALRA

Trekking & Road Map of Ladakh

Lost World of Ladakh: Early Photographic Journeys in Indian Himalaya

THE Undiscovered REALM OF Ladakh 

 

Movies on Ladakhi / Tibetan Culture

Samsara

Seven Years in Tibet

 

Some Great Documentaries on Ladakh / Zanskar

 

 

Killing Ladakh (CLICK on the link to watch.)

(Same thing will happen in Zanskar soon, so you should visit it ASAP.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tips for photographers

Shooting the Milky Way and Star Trails - A Complete Guide

How to Process Star Trails - A Complete Guide

How to Time Lapse - A Complete Guide


Thanksgiving

Thanks to all the participants of my Ladakh and Zanskar Photography Tours who had trust in me and joined me during the last 10 years.

 

Join me for a Photography Tour to Zanskar or Ladakh

 

 

Spent Time Learning Photography, before you go

If you are going to Ladakh, you must know how to take better pictures so that you can come back with awesome pictures. 

My 5-Day Online Photography Course (only Rs.550/-) will definitely help you.

 


This post is written by Saurabh Chatterjee. He is a travel photographer and a photography trainer.He strives to make every camera-owner a great photographer through his Photography workshops and Photo Tours and Photowalks.
All rights reserved. No copying without permission of the author Saurabh Chatterjee

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