As the season to visit Ladakh is here, I am getting a lot of query from young women about how to plan a solo budget trip to Ladakh and generally whether Ladakh is safe for solo female travel or not. It is great that more and more women are braving the challenges, taking up the risk of traveling solo. Sample some of these questions,
- How did you manage to keep your hotel budget low?
- How did you book hotel? Online prices are high, so how to find cheap accommodation?
- What kind of a luggage did you carry? A back pack, rucksack?
- I have never travelled before, I don’t know how to packing. Are there any particular things I should definitely carry?
- What are some of the must see places and activities in Ladakh?
To be honest, I am no expert to answer these questions. I do not conduct tours, I do not plan itineraries for other travelers and when I traveled solo to Ladakh last year I didn’t do much planning myself. Still, here’s how I went about it, and what I know of Ladakh.
Also read Ladakh Pre Departure Un-planning
How to Reach
If you are doing a solo budget trip taking the Himachal Tourism bus from Manali to Leh is your only viable option. Visit http://hptdc.nic.in/bus.htm to check the departure schedule, seat availability and online booking. I did my booking from the office in CP. Cost was approximately INR 2300
Where to Stay
- Leh is the capital of Ladakh, this is where you stay and go around the Ladakh region to see various places. The bus is scheduled to reach Leh by 5.30 in the evening on Day 2 but it often gets delayed. In my case, the bus reached at 1.30 in the night. Therefore, it is a good idea to do advance hotel booking. However if you already know where you are staying, then all you have to do is get down from the bus, hire a cab and reach your place. I did an online booking for the first night at Hotel Mahay Palace which costed around 2k. I didn’t like the hotel one bit and checked out by 12 noon.
[If you do not read any further into this article, just remember, YOU MUST STAY CLOSE TO CHANGSPA. This is key to your planning and seeing places around Leh]
- To search for accommodation take a walk down Changspa Road, Upper Changspa, Upper Tuchka Road and you’d spot plenty of guest houses and home stays one cheaper than the other. It is not difficult to find a place at all. Remember you would have to walk so carry light luggage. Also look up Indianhomestays.org, hostelworld.com and YHAI Hostels.
- I stayed at Raiwa Guest House, Upper Changspa. Just opposite to it is Solpan Guest House and around this area itself there are 10 guest houses. Each House in Leh is a guest house actually. I paid INR 400 for a single room, common bathroom, free wifi. Food was not included but the house lady was very kind to provide me with basic food whenever I landed up hungry at odd hours.
What to see or do:
- After finding a place, take a walk down Changspa Road, as early in the morning possible, like around 7 to 7.30 am. There will be many travel agents waiting for travelers interested in sharing cabs going to places like Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake, Tsomoriri Lake, Zanskar river (these are the most common destinations from Leh). Just hop into any of the jeeps going to the destination you prefer.
- Each of these trips are usually an overnight trip so pack an extra pair of clothing, though its not compulsory in case you are comfortable without changing for a day. Some Nubra Valley trips maybe of 2 nights if they include Turtuk (most do not as it is a bit far and the journey is treacherous). Accommodation is arranged by the travel agent and is included in the cost of the ride. Usually each trip would cost between INR 2000 to 2500.
- While going to Pangong check if they are providing accommodation in tents or pakka houses. Ask for tented accommodation by the lake. I stayed at a small house and had to walk up to the lake in the morning to see sunrise.
- Turtuk is usually not included in Nubra Valley triips but it is worth checking out. It is the last village of India before Pakistan begins. The village was only recently opened for public visit, earlier it used to be closed and visiting required prior permission. People of Turtuk are Balti people, its a different identity than rest of Ladakh.
- Besides above, you could do trekking and river rafting on Zanskar river. There are several trekking routes and each are announced on chalk boards, posters by travel agents outside their offices on both sides of Changspa Road. If you are into biking, you may hire bikes or cycles and go around but this is a risky idea because of the road conditions.
Self driven cars:
Local taxi operators in Ladakh are extremely unhappy with outside vehicle operating in Ladakh. They are angry and unwilling to reason. As such they do not even allow private vehicles to ply. So avoid hiring a vehicle or driving your own vehicle to Ladakh. Last year, for the first time in Ladakh, they held a chakka jam (taxi strike) to protest Delhi / Haryana / Punjab vehicles plying in Leh roads. We were stuck somewhere in Nubra Valley for over 5 hours unable to go in any direction. It was quite a painful experience.
Number of Days To Spend in Ladakh
- Keep 2-3 days for each destination around Ladakh like Nubra, Pangong, Tsomoriri, Zanskar with rest days in between. Each place / activity would mean that you are going outside Leh through the treacherous roads. If you are first time traveler, specially to such high altitude, it would not be possible to travel everyday. So plan accordingly.
- Trekking to various valleys would mostly be of 5-6 days or even more. Here are some popular treks / valleys.
Local sight seeing
- Besides places outside Leh, you could do a local sight seeing which include Thiksay Monastry, Shanti Stupa, Stok Monastry, Tsemo Monastery, Leh Palace. Now, there is a bit of problem if you are solo and on budget. Each of these places are nearby and can be seen in a day’s time. But they do not have shared cabs for local sight seeing. If you want to hire a cab all by yourself, it is very costly. Cabs are called Vans there (Maruti vans) and they ply by Rs.100 / km rate. You can take a bus or shared van to some of these places but it would be tiring. For eg. I took a van to Thiksay Monastery but couldn’t reach the top of the monastery by foot. Similarly, Shanti Stupa or Leh Palace can be reached by walking from Changspa Road or Upper Changspa or Upper Tuchka Road, but I was too tired to do the walk.
I believe all the above trips are safe since the other people are also just like you, a traveler, probably not interested in bothering you. However, follow your instinct. If moments before getting into the jeep / car you realize that the other traveler you are sharing the trip with are not pleasant / rowdy / lewd etc just tell the tour operator about the issue, they would shift you to another trip or refund the money. People are pretty nice there.
Various kinds of food are available in Ladakh with options for both veg and non-vegetarians. But food is not very cheap. Drink plenty of water without which the altitude sickness would bother you. Many people suggested I should carry oxygen bottles (around Rs. 300 per bottle) but I never did. There would be breathlessness, don’t worry, that is just part of the fun.
Pack as lightly as possible. Do not pack anything more than a few pair of clothes, underwear and a good waterproof jacket. The temperature fluctuates all the time, you never know when it gets cold. As you go in and out of Leh you’d pass through peak points like Khardungla and Changla where it would be crazy cold. But the moment you enter Nubra Valley or reach Pangong Lake it would be warm again. So be prepared. There are many online sites advising to carry torch, swiss knife and other fancy adventurous stuff. Please don’t.
I think that’s about it. Hope this helps my fellow female solo travelers. Happy tripping. See more photos from my Ladakh trip on my Flickr album