Ladakh is a beautiful desert and mountainous region situated high in the Indian Himalayas. The area ranges from an altitude of 3,000 meters up to over 6000 meters and includes the regions of Zanskar, Kargil, Nubra, Changthang and the famous Leh town. There are two major mountain ranges in Ladakh, the Zanskar Mountains and Ladakh range. Indeed the word Ladakh is derived from the area’s geographical features and landscape, ‘la-daks’ meaning ‘land of mountain and passes’.
Since 1974, when the region was first opened to tourists, Ladakh has become one of the most favourite tourist destinations of the world due to its unique landscape, mixture of cultures, traditions, and the intrigue of Buddhism and its monasteries. It is often called ‘the land of lamas and monasteries’ as well as ‘little Tibet’.
While the open landscape often looks dry, nature has provided fresh water in the form of small rivers descending from snow covered mountains. Ladakh also has a huge resource of flora and fauna, including all kinds of rare and medicinal plants. Tibetan gazelle (gowa), wild yak, Tibetan wild ass, Himalayan marmot and even snow leopards are found in Ladakh, while its lakes give shelter to many migratory birds.
Almost all visits to Ladakh start in the town of Leh, Ladakh’s central hub, with its vibrant market, hill top monastery, fascinating old town and daunting palace. Leh is the best place to be to explore the region. Stok Palace, Thiksey, Shey, Sankar, Stakna, Spitok, Phyang, Hemis and many other Gompas/monasteries are close to the town, while other attractions such as Lamayuru Monastery, Alchi Gompa, and the Indus and Shayok rivers are easily reached by a longer bus or taxi journey.
Leh is also the center for booking treks into the surrounding areas, rafting expeditions, mountain climbing, as well as trips to the beautiful Nubra Valley and the region of Zanskar, which means ‘Valley of the flowers’. The area of Changthang, the land of nomads, is famous for its lakes: majestic Tso-Moriri and Pangong-Tso, which has 60% of its length in China. The ancient village of Kartse Khar, with its rock carved statue of Maitriya Buddha, and the villages of Dal-Hanu are all worth visiting.
General information about Ladakh
Area: 97,000 sq. km ( with approx. 38,000 sq km under Chinese administration)
Spoken languages: Ladakhi, Balti, Shina, Brokskat, Changskat.
Written lnaguages: Tibetan (Bodhi), Urdu
Ethic groups: Tibeto-Mongol, Dard, Tibetan-Dard (Aryan)
Altitude: 3500 meter above sea level (average)
Religions: Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindu.
Temperature: Summer – Min. 18°C, max. 25°C. Winter – Min. -30°C, max. -5°C.
Clothing: Cotton in summer and heavy woolen clothing in winter.
the local currency is the Indian rupee. We recommend that travelers bring a mixture of cash and
traveller’s cheques. American Express traveller’s cheques are the most accepted type in India.
Make sure you keep a separate record of the cheque numbers.
In big cities such as Delhi, some places will accept credit cards, typically more expensive restaurants and hotels. In Ladakh, you will have to deal and manage everything with cash payments. There are many
foreign currency exchange agencies in Leh as well as several ATMs. We recommend you bring
some rupees with you to Leh as the queues at the ATMs can often be quite long during peak
season. There are also good banking facilities, including J&K Bank, State Bank of India,
HDFC Bank and Punjab National Bank.
India is five and a half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Hotels & Accommodation
Shayok Tours and Travels can arrange hotel arrangements in Delhi & Leh to suit the needs and budget of the client. We provide a free pickup service at the airport in Delhi and can even arrange transportation
up to Leh. We take pride in ensuring a safe and satisfactory journey to Leh, using only trusted transportation partners. The journey normally takes two days, with one overnight stay in
Keylong or a customised longer journey incorporating several other places on the way. For
example, the Spiti Valley or Tso-moriri can be arranged.
Accommodation in Leh is typically in guesthouses, but several more luxurious hotels are available.
Indian tourist visas can be obtained from the relevant High Commission or outsourced handling company in your home country. Some countries offer an online application service. Please contact the High Commission in your own county for more detailed information.
General requirements for obtaining a tourist visa:
The passport should have at least six months validity to visit India.
Correctly completed application.
Two passport-sized photos.
Payment of the correct visa application fee.
Supporting documentation if required.
Citizens of Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines,
Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia are entitled to a visa on arrival in India. More information on the
visa on arrival scheme can be found on the Bureau of Immigration’s website. We
recommend that you keep a separate copy of your documentation in a safe
place in case of any emergencies. Several passport photographs may also be useful.
Restricted Areas Permit
To visit restricted or protected areas a special permit is required. These can be easily obtained through Shayok Tours and Travel. In Ladakh, permits are needed for several areas including the Nubra
Valley, Tso-Moriri, the area of Dha-Hanu and Pangong Lake, the largest lake of Asia.
Indian Airport and Port Authority customs operate in the same way as other major countries.
We recommend that all travelers obtain travel insurance in their own countries.
This should cover all potential emergencies.
Tourists should be aware of possible problems due to the high altitude in Ladakh.
Altitude sickness can affect even the fittest of travellers and we advise a
general medical check before travelling to higher altitudes.
Altitude sickness occurs when the body is unable to adjust to the increase in altitude when ascending
to heights generally higher than 2400 meters above sea level and when the ascent exceeds
more than 300 meters per day. Overexertion and inadequate fluid intake can also
increase the risks of altitude sickness. The body needs to adjust to the lowered
amount of oxygen in the air by increasing ventilation and
lowing the blood’s pH value.
Symptoms of altitude sickness are common when first reaching higher altitudes. These include fatigue, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, insomnia and nausea. These normally pass over after a
few days when the body has acclimatised. There are two forms of more serious forms of
altitude sickness: HACE och HAPE, both of which require immediate medical attention
and descent to lower ground. Symptoms of HACE include mental confusion and
loss of muscle coordination and must be treated immediately.
Remedies and treatment
Acclimatisation is vital to avoiding altitude sickness. We recommend at least 24 – 48 hours of complete rest when arriving in Leh. We also advise drinking more fluids to maintain sufficient hydration, staying
warm and the avoidance of alcohol and sleeping pills. The drug Diamox can be taken to
relieve altitude sickness, however, we advise against taking this while trekking due to
the risk of the drug hiding vital symptoms of more serious altitude sickness. Diamox
also increases the need to drink more water, which can be difficult while trekking in remote areas.
Anyone experiencing more serious symptoms must seek medical help. On our treks, we always allow time for acclimatisation, our guides are trained in recognising serious cases of altitude sickness and
we are prepared for any eventual incident, including routes to lower altitudes and the
immediate transport to medical facilities. However, most visitors to the region
experience nothing more than a headache and tiredness and can joy the full beauty of Ladakh.
Due to the intensity of the sun at Ladakh high altitude,
we recommend using a high SPF factor suncream when exposed to the sun.
Getting to Ladakh
There are two options when travelling to Leh, overland by road or by air.
Leh can be reached using two routes:
From the west through Srinagar.
– Delhi to Jammu (620 km, approx. 11 hours)
– Jammu to Srinagar (260 km, approx. 7 hours)
– Srinagar to Leh (434 km, approx. 16 hours)
From the south via Manali.
– Delhi to Manali (538 km, approx. 14 hours)
– Manali to Leh (473 km, 2 days)
During the high season, there are regular government and private busses and jeeps running from Manali
and Srinagar to Leh. From Manali, the journey is normally done over two days with a stop in
Keylong or Sachu, or alternatively non-stop in a private jeep (approx. 20 hours). The
journey from Srinagar can be done over two days or overnight by jeep.
The road route via Srinagar remains open for traffic between May and November,
while the Manali-Leh road is open between mid-June and mid-October.
Shayok Tours and Travel can arrange a customised longer journey incorporating several
other places on the way to Leh, for example, the Spiti Valley or Tso-Mori Ri.
Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Air Deccan all have regular flights to Leh
throughout the year. The following services are offered:
– Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport to Leh Airport (1 hour 15 mins).
– Jammu Airport to Leh Airport (50 mins).
– Srinagar Airport to Leh Airport (50 mins).
Both Indian Airlines and Jet Airways have offices in Leh for booking enquiries. Leh Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport is only 10 km from the town and can easily be reached by taxi. Please note
that the effects of altitude sickness can occur when flying to Leh due to the sudden
change in altitude. We advise at least 24–48 hours rest when arriving in Leh.
It is said that the earliest inhabitants of Ladakh were the Khampa nomads who live in the grazing area
of the Tibetan plateau. The Mons were the first settlers of the land. The Dards are said to have
introduced irrigation in the region, who were early settlers of Indus valley. Padma sambhava,
the Indian teacher (8th century) entered the Himalayas to establish Tibetan Buddhism, which
is recorded by Riingchen zangpo, a scholar of the 11th century and known for founding
several famous monasteries (gompas). The Gelukpa order of monks was
introduced to Ladakh in the 14th century.
The Indo-Aryan was said to be the next after the Mons to settle in the region. They most probably emigrated from the region around Gilgit to the northwest, now under Pakistani control.
According to some scholars Indo-Aryan people of Ladakh, also called ‘Dard’ were originally
from Rome. A pure Dardic population still exists in Drass and Dha-Hanu. The Dard
population of drass is mostly Sunni Muslim but in Dha-Hanu they still follow the
ancient shamanistic Bon faith with a mixture of Buddhism. The records of the dards
|are found in many ancient records, such as Herodotus, the classical Greek historian of
the 5th century, who describes the Dards as brave warriors. No reliable record is found
about who ruled the region during this period, but the Ladakhy myths speak of the
great hero of the epic ‘gyalam-kesar’ who is said to have been sent from heaven to rule the land.
The first kings and empire
The first known king of Ladakh was Lha-Chen (Pal-gi-Gon) who assumed power in the year 930 AD.
Pal-gi-gon belonged to a royal family of Tibet. It was during his reign that Buddhism began
to spread in Tibet. One of the most significant kings of the pal-gyi-gon dynasty was Utpala,
the fifth king of Ladakh, who expanded the empire to as far as Mustang (now in Nepal) in
the East, Kullu in the south and Baltistan in the west. In the 15th century, two brothers,
Tragsp-bum Lde and Tragspa-bum, came to share power in Ladakh. King Tragspa-bum
Lde ruled Upper Ladakh from Shey to Leh while his younger brother Tragspa-Bum kept
his court at Basgo and reined over lower Ladakh. The two kingdoms were eventually
united by King Bhagan of Basgo who is considered to be the founder of the Namgyal
dynasty that ruled Ladakh until 1834 CE.
In the beginning of 1532 CE, Mirza Haider Daulat, a Muslim general from Kashgar in central Asia,
besieged Ladakh. For a period of almost 12 years afterwards, the kingdom of Ladakh was
unstable. Tashi Namgial who reigned from 1555-1575 CE restored Lakakh’s greatness
by unifying the tattered country and expanding its frontiers to Purig (the area of present
Kargil, excluding the land of Dards, Drass and Hanu) and Gu-ge. Tashi had no heirs
and thus his elder brothers’ son, Tsewang Namgial became king. Tsewang Namgyal
reigned from 1575-95 CE and was very ambitious, attempting to
expand the empire and increase trade.
The first European in Ladakh was a Portuguese merchant, Diego d’Almedia, who visited the region around 1603 CE. During this time, Buddhism was in retreat on Ladakh’s western fringes. Tsewang Namgyal was succeeded by his brother Jamyang Namgyal (1595-1616). Jamyang Namgyal had conflicts with
the Muslim ruler of Baltistan, Ali Mir, to which he was defeated and imprisoned. The Baltis
eventually withdrew after Jamyang agreed to marry his daughter. Singge Namgyal (also
known as The Lion King) assumed power in 1615 and then his son, Deldan Namgyal
in 1663. Mongol sovereignty was accepted over Ladakh between 1642 and 1694, during
which time the mosque in Leh main market was built.
Ladakh and the Namgyal dynasty never regained their previous glory. In 1820, when William Moorcroft and his young companion George Trebeck visited Ladakh, they found the people living ”in easy and comfortable circumstances”. Moorcroft wrote, the king Tsepal Namgyal “is said to be rapacious,
but his prevailing qualities are extreme timidity and indolence… ”. They were the first
Englishmen to visit Ladakh.
In 1834, The Dogras under Sikh rule attacked the Buddhist kingdom. Zorawar Sing, the shrewd and adventurous general, lead a force of 10,000 Dogra soldier and crossed into Zanskar over the
Omasila pass. After facing resistance at Sanku and Sodh, Zorawar made a surprise attack
on the Ladakhi forces and was personally received at Basgo. Thenceforth, Ladakh
comes under the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
We at Shayok Tours and Travel strive to be as eco-friendly as possible. We believe that it is also vital that each visitor to the region does their bit to help save the precious Ladakhi environment. Please read the
short background on the issues facing Ladakh and consider our suggestions to
help make your trip a more environmentally friendly one.
The increase in the number of tourists in Leh has risen significantly since the 1970s. The strain tourism puts on the environment is becoming a major issue in Ladakh and the negative effects of economic
development are beginning to take their toll. The once predominantly agricultural society is
shifting towards being more consumer orientated, where it has become cheaper to
transport food up into Ladakh than it is to grow to produce locally. Agricultural
habits are being lost as the younger generations prefer to find paid jobs rather than
work within a non-lucrative agricultural industry. Sadly, customs,
culture and traditions are being forgotten.
The number of vehicles in Ladakh has also increased in the last few years, partly due to tax redemption
in the region and partly due to the increase in tourism. Pollution is becoming a problem
both in the towns and even in the more remote places, where once clean
water is now undrinkable.
The largest mark left by tourism is the huge amount of rubbish left behind by visitors. Leh is literally drowning under a sea of plastic, mostly made up of bags and plastic bottles. The increased
demand within the tourist industry has lead to an unprecedented rise in the amount of
rubbish created each year and unfortunately, no regional system is in place
to dispose of or recycle the waste.
Recommendations to help reduce your ecological footprint when visiting Ladakh:
Avoid buying plastic bottles.
Re-use your water bottles and re-fill them with filtered water.
If you do not have your own filter, shops and restaurants in Leh offer water refilling,
including Dzomsa near the Main Bazaar. It is also cheaper to refill your bottle.
If you do have to throughout a plastic bottle,
then Dzomsa offers a small recycling facility.
Avoid plastic bags and items wrapped in plastic. These should be taken home with you.
Take rubbish with you. Small items can be recycled after your trip to Ladakh.
This can be, for example, plastic bags used batteries or plastic wrappers.
Do not litter.
Conserve water. Water in Ladakh is scarce and the demand for it is rising as tourism increases.
Don’t flush the toilet if unnecessary, use local compost toilets when possible,
a shower using as little water as possible and do not leave
the tap on when cleaning your teeth.
Use solar-powered water heaters when possible.
Eat local produce such as vegetables and dried fruit rather than imported snacks.
When trekking, ensure suitable waste is burnt, including toilet paper.
All plastic items should be taken with you.
Try to use full shared taxis.
Flora of Ladakh
Ladakh assumes a unique position in terms of the distribution of plant species (phytogeography).
Located at the interface between the humid Greater Himalaya and dry and cold plains of Central and
Western Tibet, Ladakh represents a sharp environmental gradient and the confluence of flora
from Central Asia, the Mediterranean region and Himalayan ranges. It is estimated that the
Ladakh region may harbour close to 1,100 species of vascular plants and ferns. The western
and eastern regions of Ladakh differ significantly in terms of floral assemblages.
Ladakh is home to a large number of plants species that have high botanical, economic & ethnobotanical (the relationships that exist between people and plants) significance. These include wild forage
species and relatives of cultivated plants such as wild garlic (alium species), barley (Hordeum),
gooseberry (Ribes), and rhubarb (rheum, caper (Capparis), legumes (11 genera and 45 species
including cicer microphyllum, sophora moorcroftinana, astragalus and Trigonella), as well as
a variety of aromatic and medicinal plants adapted to cold and arid conditions, and several
species of Artemisia, Delphinium, Saussurea, Physochlaina, Tanacetum, and Waldheimia.
As many as 23 species of flowering plants are unique to Ladakh. Some of the localities well
known for botanical richness are Khardungla, Taklangla, Padum region, Suru valley and Sapi.
The western and eastern regions of Ladakh differ significantly in the distribution of mammals. While the eastern region of Ladakh is represented by mammals typical of the Tibetan Plateau, the western region
is represented by the Himalayan and Central Asian species. Excluding the lesser rodents, insectivores
(mice, rats, shrews) and chiropterans (bats), 36 species of mammals occur in Ladakh. Although
Ladakh has diverse habitats and mammal species, most of the mammals occur in low densities,
largely due to sparse vegetation and low productivity of the habitats. The Changthang region
is especially rich with wildlife and is an excellent habitat of kiang, Tibetan wild ass, four snow
leopard, lynx, wolf and wild dog and six species of wild ungulates, Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan argali,
blue sheep, wild yak, ibex and Ladakh urial as well as the breeding ground of black-necked
crane and seasonal migratory birds.
List of mammals in Ladakh
Snow leopard (shan), brown bear (denmo), Eurasian lynx (eah), Pallas cat (ribilik), wolf (shanku), Tibetan wild dog (phara), Bactrian camel, red fox (watse), Mustelids, Siberian ibex (skin), blue sheep (nayur
or knapo), Ladakhi urial (shapo), Tibetan argili (nyan), Tibetan antelope (chiru), Tibetan gazelle
(gowa), wild yak (dong), Tibetan wild ass (kiang), Himalayan marmot, long-tailed marmot,
cape hare, woolly hare and five species of pikas (mouse hares).
Ladakh is an integral part of the high-altitude Tibetan plateau and its bird population is naturally dominated by Palearctic (northern eco-zone) elements with a small proportion of oriental birds.
About 309 species of land birds have been recorded so far, representing 34 avian families.
However, only around 110 species among them are known to breed regularly in the
high-altitude cold desert environment of Ladakh. Some of the characteristic groups
of the region’s terrestrial birds include snow cocks, partridges, swifts, hill and snow
pigeons, falcons, crows, choughs, dippers, redstarts, wheatears, warblers, larks, wagtails,
accentors, snow finches. Hotspots of bird diversity in the region are in the upper Suru valley
, Markha & Rumbak valleys (Hemis National Park), Shey-Thiksey marshes, Nubra-Shayok
valley, Puga-Sumdo valley and Tsokar plateau.
Some of the key bird species exclusive to the Trans-Himalayan Sino-Tibetan Biome are the
Tibetan snowcock, Tibetan partridge, little owl Athene noctua, Tibetan sandgrouse,
common raven, black redstart, and many more.
Wetlands and Waterbirds
Eastern Ladakh comprising of Rupshu and Changthang are characterized by sandy plains and undulating hills interspersed with lakes and marshes. These lakes and marshes are mostly glacial in origin. The prominent lakes are Tso-kar, Tso-Moriri, Pangong Tso, Yae Yae, Fukche, Tsigul Tso.
The lakes and marshes of Ladakh represent an oasis of productivity in an otherwise arid and steppe environment and thus have significant conservation values, particularly as the breeding ground for
bar-headed geese and globally threatened black-necked cranes. Other waterfowl species breeding
in the area are ruddy shelduck, common redshank, brown-headed gull, lesser sand plover and
great crested grebe. As many as 44 species of water birds were recorded from these wetlands,
of which 18 species were recorded from the Tso-Kar basin alone. The black-necked cranes
are using these wetlands for their sustained reproduction.
In the Rupahu and Changthang, there are many nomadic settlements. They have domestic livestock, mostly represented by sheep and goat, and also, they have domestic yak, ponies and dzo. These animals extensively graze around the lakes and particularly along the marshes and wet meadows directly
competing with wild ungulates.
Hemis High Altitude National Park
Established in 1981 and the national park is the largest notified protected area within the Trans-Himalayan Zone. It is named after Hemis Gompa, the most important Buddhist Monastery in Ladakh, which lies
in the National Park. It has an area of 3,350 sq km., the lowest point is 3300m at the Zanskar-Indus confluence, while the highest peak Kangyatse reaches 6400m. The park is famous for
harbouring many unique, rare and endangered species.
There are many fascinating Buddhist festivals in Ladakh, especially during the summer months. The monasteries are usually adorned with colour as the monks dance in splendid masks and costumes to Buddhist chanting.
Take a look at the calendar below for approximate dates of festivals in Ladakh.
Festival Calendar of Ladakh ~ 2021
(Festival ~ Date)
Spituk Gustor ~ Jan 11-12
Leh and Liker dosmochey ~ Feb 9-10
Stok Guru tsechu ~ Feb 21-22
Matho Nagrang ~ Feb 26-27
Saka Dawa ~ May 26
Hemis tsechu ~ Jun 20-21
Shachukul Gustor ~ Jun 27-28
Phyang tsedup ~ Jul 7-8
Karzok Gustor, Tso ~ Jul 12-13
Takthok Tsechu ~ July 20-21
Diskit Gustor, Nubra ~ Oct 03-04
Thiksey Gustor ~ Oct 23-24
Chemre and Padum (Zanskar) Wangchok ~ Nov 02-03
Galdan Namchot ~ Dec 29
Ladakhi Losar (New year) ~ Jan 03, 2022