A solo trip to Ladakh — my travel itinerary (Part 1)
It was September 2017. On September 4th, after a sumptuous “Onam” lunch with my family, I packed my bags and left for what would be my 1st solo trip. I have written a 3 part series about this journey. Strictly speaking, this is not a travelogue or a travel diary. When I shared some pictures of my first ever solo vacation on instagram, I had a few people expressing interest in knowing the travel details. The boring stuff, so to speak. I decided to make a note here, just in case if it would help someone to plan their own solo vacation.
- Decision time
In solo trips, ( and solo business trips do not count as you have a clear agenda in that case and more often than not someone at the other end you can call for help in case of emergency) the most difficult part is making the decision to travel.
Even though my husband was completely on board with this plan, I still procrastinated for the longest time — I felt guilty that I was going on a vacation without him. Isn’t that selfish? But as with everything else in life, Chandu knew before I did that this would be more than a vacation.
So, stop worrying about the very many things you could be doing instead of spending money on a “selfish” endeavor and just take the plunge.
2. Start the prep
While I started my prep just about 2 months in advance, I suggest you plan at least 6 months ahead.
- You get better rates on air travel
- There will be places that opens only in certain seasons ( like Leh)
- This also gives you time to plan your commitments around your daily life — work, family, etc
- And don’t declare to the world yet — trust me there will be more detractors than supporters
- Chose the destination — Keep things such as accessibility, safety, etc in mind
- For the longest time, I was hell bent on travelling to Rishikesh. My plan was to attend a Yoga class. Why? Because I thought this would be easier to explain to people why I am travelling alone. All I can say is that I am so grateful that didn’t work out
- After I decided on Leh, I went to all the travel sites to compare flight plans ( there are no direct flights from Kochi to Leh)
- The least hopping ones were from Kochi-Delhi-Leh. But these were either too expensive OR the layover was way too much.
- Goibibo gave me an option — Kochi-Chennai-Delhi-Leh. One way tickets came to a total of INR 10k and this was cheaper than the other options by 5 to 6k. Even the total time travel by this option was less than the others by 4 hours. The challenge here was that the air carrier from Kochi-Chennai was different from the rest of the journey. So if the 1st flight was delayed by any chance I would have been totally screwed.
Economy Version — You can book train tickets well in advance, either for part of the journey ( Delhi to Leh can also be covered by Bus) or the whole stretch.
For the journey back, I made a short 2 days stop over at Delhi to meet with old friends. The return trip cost me less than 10k
Indulgence: Most of the flights from Delhi to Leh are early morning ones. Try and get a window seat. Because the airlines are very smart almost all window seat would be available at an extra cost. My suggestion is to pay the extra 500 bucks and pre-book that seat. The snow capped mountain peaks that you see when you start the descent to Leh is totally worth it.
You realize the power of social media and blogging community when you start planning a trip of this nature.
I did not have any friends who had traveled to Ladakh. Some friends -of-friends all gave thumps up when I asked for advice ( thumps up was for the safety of the location).
I spent hours on You Tube checking out locations I wanted to visit.
Out came the maps and my attempts at drawing out broad travel plans once I landed
- I decided to spend 2 full days in Leh
- 3rd day I would then travel to Nubra Valley, crossing the Khardungla Pass
- I would spend 2 full days there. ( At this point, I knew there were sites such as Diskshit monastery, Pangong Lake, etc which were main tourist attractions. But I did not finalize the micro details as I had planned to make Nubra my base)
- I would then return to Leh and from there to Delhi
This level of homework has to be done by you. But after this, the local host can add incredible value. For e.g: when I spoke with Kunzang and said that I wanted to visit a village, and would be willing to sacrifice Pangong if it came to that, she strongly recommended Turtuk which turned out to be the highlight of my trip.
- If you are flying down, schedule one or two days to get used to altitude sickness.
- Carry electrolyte supplements, Diamox ( consult with your doctor) and drink plenty of water once you are there
- While horrible cold, it is one place where you can get frostbite and sunburn at the same time. So please carry shades and tonnes of sunscreen lotion. And yes, sunglasses!
- Even while planning, I had this worry — what if I got terribly bored? What If it isn’t so much fun and I wanted to rush back home? Due to this , I planned a short trip. After reaching there I realised my mistake. If I were to do this again, I would plan at least 5 days for Leh.
I am a big fan of Airbnb. Their reviews have never led me wrong ( touch wood). Of course, all previous travels have been with my husband but the past experience gave me the confidence to book through them.
I came across “Osel Home Stay” which is hosted by Stanzin Kunzang with some amazing pictures of the property and great reviews.
I think being a solo woman traveller, the homestay hosted by a woman appealed to me at a subconscious level too.
One of the best decisions I ever made! Kunzang is an amazing person who is not only a gracious host but so very helpful. I was trated to some of the most delicious homemade food — in Ladakhi style!
At Nubra Valley, I stayed at Nubra Ethnic Camp. This place is not listed on Airbnb and I relied on Trip Advisor. I was worried about the safety. While Kunzang did not them personally, she assured me that Leh was a very safe place and I should not worry.
The camp will also cost you approximately INR 3k per night.(rates may have gone up)
Safety:- While at the camp at Nubra, I was the only guest there. I had reached there at the end of season. A week after I left, they were planning to dismantle the camp til next summer. But the staff was super nice and I did not feel scared. While I would not recommend this to everyone, I was impressed by how safe a woman traveler was in Leh.
Economy Version:- There are hotels in Leh which are cheaper. Likewise, cheaper options may be available in Nubra too. But I have not checked them out and hence cannot comment.
5. Travel within the City
Given that I was a solo traveler, this is easily the single most expensive item of the trip. I had to rent an SUV. For 3 complete days of travel, I paid about INR 20k.
But there is not much choice you have in the matter ( unless of course, you can ride a bike). To travel to locations such as Nubra Valley, Pangong, Turtuk, etc you will need to rent a cab. I would advise against driving on your own ( unless you grew up in the mountains) as the roads are very treacherous.
I traveled in an SUV with an experienced driver.
One of my requests to my host in Leh was to help me find a safe option to travel within the city ( especially since I knew I would have to use this cab to travel to Nubra Valley). Thankfully her brother has a travel agency and she arranged a driver who is extremely trustworthy.
The fact that Sadiq, my driver, was not a chatterbox and only spoke when spoken to ( or when he had to give me some sane advise — like “Please comeout of the snow. We need to keep moving “) worked very well with me.
6. Places I visited
Day 1: Main Baazar
You are advised to relax the whole day as you need time to get acclimatised to the high altitude. Please take this very seriously, especially if you are not used to the mountains.
I spend the evening just browsing through the main Baazar in Leh. What struck e most was the cleanliness of the place. There were fruits vendors selling delicious looking bright yellow apricots.
I was also amazed at how laid back everyone was. There was no one trying to hassle you into buying their wares.
Food: Dinner was Thupka and Momos
Day 2: Off to Alchi Monastry
I meet Sadiq, who was to become mydriver for the rest of my stay at Leh.
Our first stop was the “Hall of Fame” maintained by Indian Army.
My impression of this mountain terrain is that of kind people and peace. And in the “Hall of fame” the walls decorated with pictures of brave soldiers and war stories… Stories of how they died protecting our nation.
I felt a deep sense of sadness and pride.
We drove for over an hour to reach Alchi Monastry. To reach there, we drive along the banks of River Indus.
At one point, I saw the confluence of River Indus and River Zanskar — from here they flow as a single river to Pakistan.
The drive to Alchi village was my 1st taste of driving through the larger than life panorama of Leh . The towering mountains on either side makes you feel that you have just driven into a screensaver and it just goes on and on.
The Alchi monastery which is one of the oldest is situated in Lowlands, rather than the hilltop. The incredible wood work, the ancient paintings and the three Bodhisattvas which rise to 13 feet in height are worth a visit for sure. I roamed around village a bit and randomly walked into some gulleys. I reached the bank of River Indus with some amazing views
Food: Lunch was at Alchi Kitchen.It is an open plan, family style kitchen. If the sun is not too bright, sit in the balcony for its amazing views. ( No, you cannot have “too much” if the view while in Ladakh). You must try a variant of the Kahwa which they make with Apricot, Walnut and Saffron. Too good!
There were a few more easily accessible locations near Alchi , But gave it a miss as I wanted to just follow an easy pace.
Day 3: Khardungla and Nubra
Travelling is an acquired taste for me ( It’s a fascination now but genetically I am wired to sit in a place and not move). You will see a problem in people like me, Roopesh and Aadya ( my l’ll niece). If we really realy like the place where we stay, then we hate getting out and moving forward.
I had this problem when I had to leave the wonderful homestay at Leh. But since I had already paid the advance for the camp at Nubra, there was no getting out of it.
Sadiq, my driver, and I started off around 9 am. He had told me that it would take us about 6 hours to reach the campsite in Nubra Valley. The plan was to check in and drive around Nubra checking out the camel rides near the sand dunes.
The moment you leave the “city” the ascend to Khardungla starts. About an hour after the journey started, I saw some what globules falling onto the windscreen. It took me a moment to realize what was happening — my first snow fall!!
We stopped about 400 mtrs ahead of Khardungla because of the road blocks. Apparently it has been snowing since the previous night in Khardungla, turning the roads to ice. The roads were being cleared and hence the block.
I took this picture as we waited. This is is NOT a black and white picture; nor have I used any filters .
I have seen tonnes and tonnes of tourist pictures at the Khardungla pass. And I was never impressed — always put it as a “touristy” thing people do. You know, a tick in the box stuff.
Boy…. was I in for a surprise. As we stopped at Khardungla, I stepped out of the car. I nearly slipped and fell. The road was ALL ice.
I walked towards the ledge. And then i continued to behave in a way which was quite similar to a 4 year old let loose in a candy shop.
I only got back in because my fingers were frozen and I was beginning to have a very weird sensation on my cheeks.
The road is extremely bumpy after the pass and possibly the only part of my trip which I would not care to repeat so much.
The rest of the day passed on uneventfully. I checked into Nubra ethnic camp and went for a drive around to see the sand dunes.
As the evening progressed, the chill was becoming a bit too much. I called it a night without having dinner ( Once I settled into the electric blanket in my tent, I just did not want to step out). And for the first and only time during the trip I questioned my sanity on embarking on these adventures.
Day 4 — Turtuk
I woke up and for the first time surveyed the beauty of my camp. The backdrop was the mountains. There were wildflowers growing haywire. In the camp. I also realised that I was the only person staying in the camp. I was very glad that I did not know this yesterday.
After about 3 cups of buttery tea, I was ready to take on the world.
Sadiq and I started off to Turtuk.
By now I have become used to the fact the drives are heavenly. When you are driving through the western Ghats, you see a great view for a second and then you are craning your neck to get the view again and “instagram-ify” it ( if you are lucky, it may strecth into 5 mins worth of view) .
But here, you are just driving and driving and the mountains just travel with you. They are all the same, yet Oh-So-Different.
After a journey that lasted almost 3 hours, we reached Turtuk. From the moment I stepped out of the car, I knew that I had reached somewhere magical.
You first encounter is with the Shyok river and the bridge across it which connects the two parts of the Turtuk village.
I crossed and moved to the left side of the village. I was mesmerized by the view. I would have roamed around a bit, soaked in the view and stopped walking ahead . But almost as soon as I started the climb, I ran into this couple whom I had briefly shared the home stay with in Leh. They told me how wonderful the view up from the Turtuk monastery was and that I MUST walk upto that point. For that, I will always be grateful to Satyavrath and Surabhi.
I have written here in detail about my Turtuk visit.
It was around 5 pm when we reached Nubra. We had just enough time to visit the Dikshit monastery and the Maitreya Buddha.
Day 5 — Pangong Lake
I had decided to ditch Pangong Lake at the beginning of my journey. But almost every person I encountered told me that since I have traveled all the way, I should visit Pangong too.
So On day 5, I was supposed to return to Leh, I decided to drive to Pangong, and from there to travel via Chang La Pass to Leh.
This turned out better than I expected as I returned to my homestay in Skara, Leh. I managed to catch a glimpse of the famed monasteries which I had not been able to cover.
A word of Caution:-
While returning, we gave list to 2 couples — honeymooners who were driving to Pangong on bike and the bike broke down at Chang La. So when you are driving down on a rented bike, please make sure you are prepared for contingencies.
Part 2 — From Narnia to Turtuk ( where I met an old King)