For a long time, we had put off plans to go to Ladakh due to all the hype around the destination. The stories and videos of how unforgiving the terrain is, how bikers had to toil in dangerous conditions to cross mountain passes. Blah Blah! It all got too much and we eventually decided not to go to Ladakh. You know how it is right? When a destination becomes too hyped, it loses its fizz and that’s what happened with Ladakh.
But in 2018, we got a chance to do a 6-month driving tour from Bangalore to the northern states of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh in our Duster. And in May 2018, we finally made it to Ladakh. And it was an amazing experience, nothing like the stories we had heard or videos we had seen. Now we understand that people who traveled to Ladakh years ago would have faced many hardships due to lack of good infrastructure. But the Ladakh we saw was different! And today we bust some popular myths about traveling to Ladakh!
# 1 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
It’s called Leh Ladakh, right?
Well, first things first. It is NOT Leh Ladakh. It’s like saying Bangalore Karnataka to describe Bangalore. Now whoever created this term probably didn’t know much about the place but managed to market his content well. Ladakh is a region that consists of Kargil and Leh districts. So, there isn’t any place called ‘Leh Ladakh’.
# 2 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
Outside vehicles are not allowed there
You can take your private vehicles into any place in Ladakh and this does not require you taking any special permission. All you need is a permit for yourself for restricted areas like Pangong, Tso Moriri etc.
There is, however, a restriction on commercial vehicles. Firstly, self-drive cars from outside of Ladakh region will not be allowed to do any sight-seeing in the region. You can enter Ladakh but you can’t use the car to go around town. To go to any place, you will need to hire a local car.
The same rules apply to motorcycles as well. You can take your own motorcycle into Ladakh but not a rented one from outside the UT. If you have a yellow board motorcycle from outside Ladakh, then you will have to rent a Ladakh motorcycle to finish your tour there.
# 3 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
Only SUV’s can go there. Or an off roading bike
Any vehicle can travel to any destination in Ladakh. A decade ago when the unforgiving terrain and unpredictable wreaked havoc in the mountain passes, people traveled in SUV’s and 4*4 vehicles to traverse through the snow filled high altitude mountain passes like Khardung La and Rohtang La. But now the roads in the region are comparable to most national highways in India and driving in these mountain roads is a breeze. We did our Ladakh trip in an Automatic Duster and didn’t face any issues even though the car was completely loaded!
As far as motorcycles are concerned, any bike will do the trip. Even gearless scooters have completed the Ladakh circuit successfully. But we recommend you to take a bike above 100 cc and with good fuel economy. Nothing else is required.
#4 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
AMS only affects people who don't live in the mountains
Acute Mountain Sickness is a condition caused by low oxygen levels in the blood. In higher altitudes, your blood is not able to carry as much oxygen as it does anywhere else. The heart and lungs need to work overtime to compensate for this loss of oxygen and this can result in certain ailments. These include headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, mood swings etc. This can happen to ANYONE; irrespective of whether you are from the mountains or lowlands.
#5 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
Diamox tablets can help beat AMS
#6 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
It’s a trend to travel from Manali side. Is that the best way?
There are 3 ways to get to Leh city – from Manali, Srinagar or Spiti. Depending on the opening of the passes, you can choose from travel from any side towards Leh. Now, most people tend to do the Manali-Leh circuit for reasons unknown.
But the drawback is that you directly climb Rohtang pass from Manali which is a massive gain in altitude. For inexperienced mountain travelers, this can cause serious medical conditions like AMS. That’s why for newbies it’s better to travel from the Srinagar side. That way you gradually gain altitude and your body gets enough time to get used to the reduced oxygen supply.
#7 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
July is the best time to be there
The right time to be there depends on what experience you’d like to have. We went to Ladakh during end of May and found hardly any people there. The landscape was covered in a blanket of snow untouched by anyone! We didn’t have to wait in traffic or fight a maze of tourists to take pics in popular landmarks.
However, you will see a lot of people traveling to Ladakh post mid-July. One reason for that is that they travel from the Manali side and Rohtang opens up in mid-July. The other reason is that the melting snow in July brings with it landslides, shooting stones, rivulets on the road etc and this makes for exciting YouTube videos! Now if you were to go to Ladakh and not face any challenges, would that make for a good story? Our advice would be to avoid July-August and instead travel in May, June and September. Or you could fly into Ladakh before the passes open and beat the tourist crowd.
#8 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
You should only ride in groups in Ladakh
Ladakh is like any other destination in the world. Traveling in the mountains presents a unique set of challenges which need certain skills to overcome. If you are a newbie wanting to travel to any high-altitude region, we recommend you travel in a group. Or with someone who has been to such regions earlier. During such journeys you might come across situations you are not prepared for. And being in a group provides you with some sort of backup. We do small group tours to Ladakh with an itinerary that covers all the best spots and includes a lot of rest time as well.
#9 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
Crossing the passes is dangerous and life threatening
Now if you are asking this question, they you might have watched YouTube shot by bikers. Boulders falling on the roads, bikers braving snowy conditions, vehicles getting stuck in the slush, right? Those videos aren’t doctored but that’s not what traveling in Ladakh is like anymore. Don’t focus too much on those videos and instead plan the right time to go there.
If you want to avoid maddening traffic, dirt and slush then we advise you to travel during May or before the mid of July. July brings with it peak season and with the snow melting in the passes, the road condition deteriorates. Most of the mountain passes there have roads as good our any in the world! See for yourself! In fact, I remember that we were driving at 110 kmph while crossing the Taglang La pass!
#9 MYTH ABOUT TRAVELING TO LADAKH
You need to survive on Maggi and bread omelets
Sadly, many people who travel to Ladakh come back without knowing anything about its traditional foods. Due to availability and cost effectiveness, noodles, bread and eggs seem to have become the staple food for most budget travelers in the region.
But the cuisine of Ladakh is much more flavorful than that. Ladakhi cuisine is heavily influenced by its Tibetan heritage and you must try common dishes like momos, thenthuk, thukpa and buns. But if you really want to go deeper into its traditional foods, then you must look out for Cholak, Khambir, Saag, Tangthur, Skyu and Chhang.
We hope you liked the article and that we managed to debunk some myths about traveling to Ladakh. If you did, please do share it with your friends. If you think we’ve missed out on any other popular myths, do mention it in the comments below and we would love to add them to our list!