“We’re going to India!!!”
“Where in India?”
…(insert long and awkward pause)… “What is that?”
It’s safe to say that as such were almost 90% of our talks with friends and people asking us about our next destination. The other 10% were reactions such as “Oh my God, but why India? Isn’t the poverty in Romania enough for you?” or “Why bother going to that filthy country?” or the crown jewel of “You will clearly come back with tons of diseases!” Everybody had an opinion, everybody knew somebody that had been to India and either came back sick or upon their return swore to never go back there. Or at least this is just what happened to us.
However, I will not focus on the minority of biased opinions, but on those people curious to ask what Ladakh was. Perhaps you are wondering how we chose Ladakh? That’s easy – from an interview of Dalai Lama, which I watched completely random, and where he mentioned Ladakh as the perfect place for discovering Tibetan Buddhism as it used to be in Tibet. I instantly paused the video and googled it. Oh, Ladakh! It was love at first Google image! I knew and felt that we really should go there.
I think I could write endless articles about Ladakh (which I will most likely do). Because it is truly a magical place which offered the most amazing experience we’ve ever lived. But I will try to gradually introduce you to this fairy tale realm.
Before I start dissecting it, I thought it would be useful for you to have an overall picture of Ladakh and to get a sense of what it truly is. I am sure that all my photos and stories won’t be enough to make you understand why Ladakh got under our skin. But I can at least try to make you fall in love with it.
So where exactly is this Ladakh?
I guess that if I say Kashmir things start to get clearer. Basically, when you look at India’s map you will notice a North-Western extremity cramped between Pakistan and China (Tibet) – this is the Jammu and Kashmir state of India. I bet that most of you have heard of Kashmir due to the famous fabric, the fine wool obtained from the goats that wander around this part of the world. This state has a special autonomy and it’s the reason for multiple territorial conflicts between India, China and Pakistan.
Jammu and Kashmir actually consists of three regions: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. So now you know where Ladakh is. Ladakh is actually the least populated region of the mentioned three and its history and culture connect it more to Tibet than to India. Frankly, we didn’t feel like we were in India whilst there. There weren’t any striking elements making us think of India, of the Indian culture or the Hindu religion. It’s a wonderful region stuck between impressive mountains, the mighty Karakorum in the north and the famous Himalayas in the south, with incredible views and a rich culture. It is also known as the land of high passes.
The main cities in Ladakh are Leh and Kargil, Leh being the former capital of the Ladakh kingdom. It’s a small town located at an impressive altitude of 3,500 m (11,500 ft) with a population of around 27,000 people.
How do you get to Ladakh?
Ladakh is one of those places where I highly recommend that you reach by land transport in order to enjoy the ride there. Let me explain why. First of all, Ladakh can be reached by car/bus/jeep/motorcycle from June till mid-October. This is a two-day ride from Manali to Leh. And in case you’re wondering why you cannot go there during the other months, you should know that the road gets you through a number of the highest passes in the world, it is full of staggering twists and turns and dreamy views. Due to the land through which the road passes, there is a high risk of avalanches that mustn’t be overlooked. However, each and every tourist we’ve met in Leh has testified to the breathtaking views of the Manali-Leh road, if they’d done it, and all recommended that it’s a must for avid “wanderlusters”.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to do the road trip and had to choose the fastest way to get there – flying. There are daily flights between Delhi and Leh, but only three companies operate this route. However, this flight truly is a mesmerizing one and we enjoyed every minute of it.
When should you go to Ladakh?
I would say… Now! Unfortunately, Ladakh is not a year-round destination. The recommended period is during summer and early autumn, meaning from June until October. We were there at the end of September – the beginning of October and a lot of restaurants and accommodations were preparing to close.
Nevertheless, there is a famous trek in Zanskar Valley called Chedar. It is a very difficult trek and it is also called the Frozen River Trek. This is because it’s done during winter on the frozen river Zanskar. It lasts at least one week and it involves freezing temperatures. Furthermore, the only types of accommodation are camping and sleeping in caves.
How do you get a visa?
At the Indian Embassy in Bucharest, the moment we said that we were going to Ladakh, all eyes were on us, and the person handling our files all of a sudden put them aside. He instantly made a phone call and in his sweet Indian tongue said something which sounded serious and then asked us to return the following day for a mandatory interview with the Consul. The Consul raised his eyebrows and demanded proof that we were not going there like crazy people by ourselves, he wanted proof that we will have a guide there. He also asked for our guide’s authorization certificate.
It wasn’t easy getting the papers from Ladakh, because in that region the Internet can drop for days in a row. Finally, we got them and in two weeks we had our visas. There is no extra price for Ladakh, or for the Kashmir State, they will just check that you have a guide there.
We didn’t get any vaccines done for Ladakh. We were advised to have the ones for hepatitis, but this is what any doctor would tell you immediately when hearing the word India. Fortunately, we had no health problems while we were there and didn’t hear of any from the other tourists. Who is afraid of mosquitoes can also relax, because at that altitude, you won’t see any.
High altitude sickness – this can be extremely dangerous and also unpredictable. It is also known as AMS (acute mountain sickness) and it can hit you irrespective of your fitness level. It really has nothing to do with the weekly number of hours you spend at the gym. We had read a lot of scary stories about high altitude sickness and decided to leave home with some acetazolamide pills. It seems that they are useful and are recommended. But still, there are contrary opinions with respect to how you should take them. Some say they should be taken prior to arriving at high altitude and others say that you should take them solely when you start developing symptoms. This is because they have a significant number of side effects. We were lucky enough not to use them.
How did we manage to successfully defeat the high altitude sickness? We spent the first day in Leh doing nothing – and enjoying it! We literally didn’t do anything except for drinking tons of water. It is highly recommended that you stay hydrated because water helps the body get used to the altitude faster. We each drank 6 liters of water that day and during the following days at least 3 liters each per day.
And luckily we didn’t have any dangerous symptoms. The only thing that we experienced was a strange feeling during the first day. It was extremely difficult to move and we got tired even after 50 meters of walking slowly. The second day it got better and in our third day we could actually run (not for too long, though). My advice is to take this seriously and make sure you have at least one day for acclimatizing.
And still… Why should you go to Ladakh?
I would actually ask why NOT go to Ladakh? If you love the mountains, if you want to see what is truly like to experience jaw-dropping views each time you turn, if you want to know more about Tibetan Buddhism, if you want to be surrounded by warm and gentle people, if you want to take a sneak peak in the extremely delicious Tibetan cuisine, if you want to discover a fascinating culture… Go ahead and try Ladakh! I can assure you that you won’t regret it!