It is possible to reach Ladakh by air from Delhi or Srinagar and within Ladakh there is a decent network of roads through the summer months, painstakingly maintained by the Army’s Border Roads Organisation.
Road repair in progress near Khardung la pass
The most comfortable option of travelling around is in a hired SUV though, one has to keep in mind, that taxis registered in Leh or Kargil are permitted to operate only within their respective areas other than point-to-point dropping. No such restrictions are there for private vehicles.
Cyclist on his way down from Khardung la pass
More adventurous ways of getting around are by motorcycles (Royal Enfield Bullets, almost exclusively), bicycle (popular in the Leh-Khardungla circuit), kayaks and Gemini boats (popular in the Zanskar area) and trekking.
Rafting and kayaking on the Zanskar river
Leh alone has some fancy options for stay and in most other places the hotels are fairly basic, though usually neat and clean. Outlying areas such as Pangong Lake or Turtuk may have only tented accommodation.
Hotel De Zojila at Kargil
North Indian food, with some western continental inputs, is normally served in the hotels while Maggi noodles and soup are common on the roadside. We did not trust the local water and depended entirely on packaged bottled water. Incidentally, though generally cold, the consumption of water is fairly high because of the dryness of the atmosphere and care is recommended for proper disposal of empty bottles.
Me emerging from another round of photography
Altitude sickness can be an issue if one flies into Leh from the plains. Though Leh is more than 11,000 feet above the sea level, the shortage of oxygen is more pronounced because of the general lack of vegetation. We preferred to drive in from Srinagar giving our bodies enough time to acclimatise.
My wife, Iti in the snow at Khardung la
The road from Manali takes similar time but is a little rougher. We kept our visit to the Pangong lake towards the end of our trip as it is more than 14,000 feet high. The Nubra valley, being mostly less than 10,000 feet above MSL was placed earlier in our itinerary.
My wife and our two sons
The generally clear skies coupled with the pollution free air means that the sun is bright and the ultraviolet rays can do some serious damage to the skin.
My wife Iti breaking icicles
……….and then playing with the ice swords
I got severely sun burnt at the Khardung la pass because the snow clad surroundings and the bitter cold sent me seeking the warmth of the sunlight without realising that even in that environment sun burn is common. My wife was wiser – seeking shade wherever possible, covering her face with a shawl, wearing sunglasses and regularly applying sun block cream.
Staying on the shore of the Pangong Lake with the strong wind flapping the sides of the tent we were made acutely aware of the harshness of the Ladakh landscape and the modest nature of the infrastructure available. However, adequately prepared, travelling around Ladakh can be a wonderful enriching experience. I have no doubt in my mind that Ladakh certainly is the Mecca for landscape photography.
Sunrise over Leh