Solo Women Budget Travel Guide: Ladakh

Itinerary

Date Time
15th July 9.30 am Departure from Manali
15th July 5.30 pm Reach Keylong, check into tented accommodation
16th July 4.30 am Departure from Keylong
17th July 1 am Reach Leh, check into hotel
17th July 11 am Check out of hotel, check into home stay
18th July 7.30 am Departure for Pangong Lake reach Pangong in evening spend the night  at home stay
19th July 10.30 am Departure from Pangong Lake Back to Leh.
20th July Take the day to relax, spend at home stay in Leh, visit local market, palace etc by foot
21st July 7.30 am Departure for Nubra Valley, reach in the evening and night stay at Diskit village
22nd July 8 am Departure from Disket for Hundor village and then back to Leh by evening. Night stay at Leh
23rd july 8 am Check out of home stay, sight seeing around Leh, Monastry
23rd july 5 pm Departure for Manali via shared cab
24th July 6 pm Arrive at Manali

Total cost

Number of days 7 days, 16th to 23 July
Travel cost Round trip Manali to Leh 4300
Local Travel Pangong Lake, Nubra Valley, Monastry 4500
Accommodation 16th July 1500
17th, 19th – 20th , 22nd, 1600
Food expenses Approximately 300 per day 2100
Total 14,000

Nubra Valley-31About:

Ladakh hardly needs any introduction. The mighty Himalayas, the Indus valley, Zanskar river, cold deserts, pristine blue mountain lakes, white sand dunes and ancient Buddhist monasteries make Ladakh one of the most beautiful and exotic place in the world, a favourite among nature lovers, photography enthusiasts and adventure seekers. The world’s highest motorable road is here so are the most treacherous roads of the world. Owing to its rough terrains and weather Ladakh is considered unsuitable for solo travel by any gender. Internet is full of stories of people losing their lives to altitude sickness and lack of oxygen and the fear is always that, what if you fall sick at the middle of night, who’d take care of you? While this is a valid fear the fact remains that I spent 7 days in Ladakh alone and came back in one piece.

Tourism in Ladakh is very male dominated. Largest percentage of the tourists are adventure seeking groups of men in bikes or SUVs. Foreigner men and women are usually in group of friends or as couples, they go around in backpacking style and do a lot of trekking. Indian women are seen as part of the family trip. A solo Indian woman doing budget travel is almost impossible to find.

Location:

Ladakh is a special region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. It shares border with Tibet and Pakistan. Two important cities in Ladakh are Leh and Kargil. Leh is the tourism hub.

How to Reach:

There are mainly two roadways to go to Leh, Delhi – Manali – Leh or Delhi – Srinagar – Leh. Direct government bus services are available from Manali to Leh by HPTDC and Srinagar to Leh by JKSRTC. If you are close to Delhi, it’s better to go via Manali. Visit http://hptdc.nic.in/bus.htm to check the departure schedule, seat availability and online booking. Bookings may also be done from the office in Connaught Place tickets cost approximately INR 2300.

The bus starts from Manali in the morning, gives a night halt at Keylong and reaches Leh next day in the evening. The ticket cost includes the dinner, stay at twin sharing tented accommodation in Keylong and breakfast. The HPTDC bus from Delhi to Manali is INR 1300. So total travel cost from Delhi to Leh by public transport is INR 3800. At just a price difference of INR 1000 one can take a flight to Leh from Delhi, but more than the money aspect, flying to Leh is a bad idea due to altitude sickness. Traveling by road helps you acclimatize and also gives breath-taking views.

Local travel form Leh to various parts in Ladakh is done by shared cabs, bikes, hiking etc. More on this below in Local Transport section.

Accommodation:

Leh is the capital of Ladakh, this is where you stay and go around the Ladakh region to see various places. The bus from Manali is supposed to reach Leh by 5.30 in the evening on Day 2 but it often gets delayed and reaches in middle of night. Therefore, it is a good idea to do advance hotel booking for just the first night as it is difficult to go looking for hotels at night. Next morning you can check out and find a cheaper place. Online booking for hotels would cost minimum INR 1500. But once you walk around the city you can find home stays costing as low as INR 400 per night.

One must stay close to Changspa. This is key to good planning and see 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. 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.

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 traveller, specially to such high altitude, it would not be possible to travel every day. So plan accordingly.

Trekking to various valleys would mostly be of 5-6 days or even more.

Local Transport:

The most popular destinations within Ladakh are Pangong Lake, Tsumoriri Lake, 2-3 villages, monastery, and sand dunes in Nubra Valley. These can be done by shared cabs. Within the city of Leh walking is the best option, since cabs (Maruti Omni) run at the rate of INR 100 per km.

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 travellers 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 trips 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, it’s a different identity than rest of Ladakh.

So local sightseeing within Leh city is a challenge. Places like Thiksay Monastry, Shanti Stupa, Stok Monastry, Tsemo Monastery, Leh Palace are nearby and can be covered in a day’s time but they do not have shared cabs for local sightseeing. You can take a bus or shared vans to some of these places but it would be tiring. 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.

What and where to eat

Owing to a large number of foreign tourists Leh has a lot of eating joints and cafes offering a wide range of cuisine from Israeli to Tibetan. Both veg and non-vegetarian cuisine are available however there are very little option of local street food. When you are in Leh the best options are the various cafes all of which have more or less similar price range. While traveling to Nubra Valley or Pangong Lake your local host would provide home cooked food, as these areas do not have many restaurants.

Safety Factor and solo travel experience

Ladakh is known to be a peace loving safe place for tourists. Tourism being there only source of income, people of Ladakh would not to anything to bring bad name to this tourist destination. Most of the trips on shared cabs are safe since the other travellers in the cab are also just travellers new to the place. However, one has to follow their own instinct. If moments before getting into the jeep / car you feel that the other travellers you are sharing the cab with are not pleasant / rowdy / lewd just tell the tour operator about the issue. They would shift you to another cab or refund the money. I was with a group of Indian senior citizen friends, two uncles one aunty, and two foreigner girls in my trip to Nubra Valley. In my trip to Pangong Lake I was with 4 foreigners (two couples) and one Indian man. In the homestay at Pangong I shared the room with two other men and it wasn’t awkward or anything.

I walked through Changspa Road till 10-10.30 pm at night and although it was a bit secluded but didn’t feel creepy or unsafe. I also took lift at 10.30 pm from a passing by SUV requesting them to drop me at my guest house.

However, every place has its politics and its share of difficulty.  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. Last year for the first time in Ladakh, cab operators called for a chakka jam (taxi strike) to protest Delhi / Haryana / Punjab vehicles plying in Leh roads. I was in Nubra Valley, and remained stuck for over 5 hours unable to go in any direction. It was quite a painful experience. Safety in terms of sexual violence was not likely but there was high chances of falling sick due to dehydration, hunger since there was hardly any habitation around the place where we were stuck.

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