Ladakh is one destination which always stays in mind of Indian travellers. Its a unique destination as it provides you challenges, tough terrain, cold weather and yet those breathtaking views, blue lakes keep you going.
My trip was planned for June-July but i started planning well in advance and if it is your first trip then do plan well in advance as there are many variables involved. Ladakh is a bike destination, although trips are very much feasible in SUVs or in form of group tours. A trip in SUV would be much more comfortable [except for driver!!] and will allow you to click lots of pics but if you are adventure lover then bike is the way to go.
As i started planning for my trip, there were various options available. Firstly i ruled out trip in SUV, as first you need SUV with good ground clearance and secondly you need multiple drivers for long journey. So i was left with options for Bike ride, group tour or Chauffer driven vehicle. I left riding motor bikes almost 8 years back and had never driven Royal Enfield which is the bike for Ladakh Terrains. Driving on mountains is a different ball game than driving on city roads and that too on a motorbike which you have never driven. So i checked on various forums and mostly advice was that if you have never driven on mountains avoid Ladakh as learning destination!! With this advice i started evaluating option of group tour or a Chauffer driven vehicle from Manali or Leh. Loads of group tours are available for Ladakh but most were not to my liking. From Manali you can also get shared vehicles to go to Ladakh but then it would not let you enjoy the journey, you can also get individual vehicle from Manali to Leh which any hotel in Manali can arrange but it will be quite expensive [Around 20K] and then further travelling within Ladakh would be even more expensive.
Well it seemed none of options were feasible, so a complete rethinking was needed as i was back to square one 🙁 . Took a different approach this time, first i didn’t wanted to drive from Delhi to Leh as my purpose was not just to enjoy the ride but also the destination!! That left me with Manali to Leh [was not keen on Srinagar to Leh] or Fly directly to Leh. Manali to Leh options were not to my liking as discussed above. So only option left was to fly to Leh and with that came back group tour options even though they were not my first choice.
As i started searching for group tours, i came across this tour http://www.ladakhbikerental.com/package/ladakh-camps-rides. For me a group tour always meant a bus tour or in a small vehicle but here was a bike group tour with support staff and support vehicle. This almost fitted perfectly with my plans. This tour has great reviews on trip advisor which helped. Only thing which played on my mind was that i had never driven Royal Enfield but now i just wanted to go on with it as there was a group as well as support staff. For how long will you keep planning, so just go with flow. So plan was final, Fly to Leh and then 8 day bike group tour. And now as i focussed on Bike group tours, i founds loads of them even from Delhi to Leh.
During winters Ladakh region is completely covered with snow and all highways are closed. Ladakh becomes accessible by road in early May as snow starts fading away but then melting snow creates water slushes on roads. So probably one should avoid May and early June if you don’t want river flowing on roads. This was one reason why i planned trip in June end.
Leh is at a height of 114800 feet and if you plan to fly out from Delhi then its a big change in altitude and body will need sometime to adjust. I kept 2 days to acclimatise and it worked very well and i didn’t face any mountain sickness. On the first day don’t do any physical activity not even walking just take rest and take water [This is quite important]. People suggest to take Diamox before going to Leh, i didn’t took it and i don’t think one should take without doctors advice. Another medicine which can help is Disprin but take it only on demand. I took it once at Tsokar lake as i felt breathless and it was causing headache too.
Ladakh region has limited mobile network coverage and you will find many areas with no mobile signal and also areas with voice signal but no data. In google map its possible to download map for offline use, i strongly advise to do so because GPS works without mobile signal and if map is downloaded then you can still use google map to find routes. I lost my way once during the trip and downloaded map was very very useful.
Leh has a big main market with lots of restaurants available and shopping options. But i would suggest not to plan to buy anything in Leh as it will be expensive. Leh has just one liquor shop !!! Shop is near the Taxi stand and it will look like a clinic from a distance 😉 , This shop can have lots of rush and person will charge extra at least Rs100 to 200 on most stuff. So better bring one with you. If you are camping in remote areas it gets very cold, so liquor helps.
Few things which you must carry with you are Sun screen [a very good quality one], some warm clothes for night [it gets cold in night especially in remote place].
If you are biking then get good quality protective gear, don’t take this casually as it can be a life saver. If you are in Delhi then people generally head to Karol bagh [Nai wala] to buy protective gear, i would not recommend that as i found it be of low quality. I purchased these : https://www.decathlon.in/p/8343376_fit-5-adult-set-of-3-inline-skating-protectors-black-blue.html#/9-200-s from Decathlon, they provided better protection although they are not for heavy impact but will work in most cases [moreover had no other option]. Don’t buy knee protector with shin guards as it will keep moving from its place. Its important that protective gear doesn’t move much. Also while riding bike, i generally keep visor open else there is helmet fogging but this exposes your face to some cold and harsh winds. So better have Barclava with you but then i was not comfortable with it, so after 8 days of ride it left me with lots of damaged skin.
Good quality gloves also help during the trip. I took along with me the thick winter gloves but they were too thick, so i shifted to thin ones which worked in normal conditions but while driving in rain/snow at high altitude it left my hands almost numb. So buy good quality gloves which can support different weather conditions and again want to add avid local ones at Karol bagh.
If you really want to enjoy Ladakh then plan well and plan as you feel comfortable. If biking is what you enjoy then go via bike all the way to Leh, if you like photography then be a passenger on SUV or take group tours. Ladakh has something for everyone.
Before i end, want to address another points which crosses mind of many people i.e. to ride a bike other than Royal Enfield 500cc. If any such thought crosses your mind then please dump it. There is one bike for Ladakh and its Royal Enfield classic 500cc. The fact that its heavy, it stays still in heavy wind and slight rubble on road doesn’t bother it. You feel like a king as you ride on it. Its the bike to ride on:))!!