Ladakh is known for its natural beauty
Ladakh (, ; Hindi: , Urdu: , pron. ) , a word which means "land of high passes", is a region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir of Northern India sandwiched between the Karakoram mountain range to the north and the Himalayas to the south. The Indian portion of Ladakh is composed of the Leh and Kargil districts. The Leh district is the largest district of India, covering more than half the area of Jammu and Kashmir, of which it is the eastern part.
Adventure tourism in Ladakh started in the 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, it was not uncommon for British officials to undertake the 14 stage trek from Srinagar to Leh as part of their annual leave. Agencies were set up in Srinagar and Shimla to specialise sport related activities — hunting, fishing and trekking. A large retinue of porters would carry huge canvas tents and collapsible string beds. This era is recorded in Arthur Neves The Tourist's Guide to Kashmir, Ladakh and Skardo, first published in 1911. Today, about 18,000 tourists visit Ladakh every year. Bounded by two mighty mountain ranges, it is a popular place for adventure tourism. The well-preserved Tibetan-Buddhist culture makes it even more attractive.
The only two roads into the area from outside are the Zoji-La Pass and Kargil route from Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley, and the high altitude Manali-Leh Highway from Himachal Pradesh. The Manali-Leh road is open only from May or June to October or November, when snow is cleared from several passes. The Srinagar-Leh road is open from April or May to November or December, and is generally blocked by snow through the winter only at Zoji-La Pass.
Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport at Leh has flights from Delhi year-round on Jet Airways, Kingfisher, GoAir and Air India. Air India also operates weekly flights to Jammu and Srinagar. Cancellations and delays for two or three days are not uncommon and can happen at any time of year, so travellers must plan for that possibility when scheduling their onward travel.
A vehicle on the Leh-Kargil highway
Roads within Ladakh, except to Zangskar, are open all year round. Khardong-La Pass to Nubra has an alternate day schedule, is closed Mondays, and can get closed by snow for several days in winter and spring. Chang-La pass to Panggong Lake rarely closes, and if it does, rarely for more than one day.
Busses serve the whole area from Leh and Kargil towns. Taxis are available in Leh and Kargil as well as in block headquarters like Trangtse, Diskit and Khaltse. Shared taxis to Nubra, Kargil, Srinagar and Zangskar leave Leh in the early morning.
If planning one direction by air and the other by the Manali-Leh highway, it is advisable to fly in to Ladakh and go out by the Manali road. The passes on that road are extremely high, and a rapid ascent from the low altitudes of Delhi and Manali causes altitude sickness in most passengers. Travellers already acclimatised to the altitude of Ladakh, however, should suffer less and be able to enjoy the scenery.
Among the popular places of tourist interest include Leh, Drass valley, Suru valley, Kargil, Zangskar, Zangla, Rangdum, Padum, Phukthal, Sani Monastery, Stongdey, Shayok Valley, Sankoo, Salt Valley. Popular treks are Manali to Ladakh, the Nubra valley, the Indus valley, Markha valley, Ladakh monastery trek, South Zangskar, Trans-Zangskar Expedition, Spiti to Ladakh, Spiti to Pitok to Hemis, Rupshu, the Great Salt lakes, Chadar Ice trek, Padum-Phuktal, Padam to Darcha, Panikhar to Heniskot, Padum to Manali , Lamayuru-Martselang, Lamayuru - Alchi, Kala Pattar trek, Pahal
Permits and borders
No special permit is required to visit most of Ladakh, including Leh and Kargil towns. Permits are required for both domestic and foreign tourists to visit the "Inner Line" areas, i.e. Nubra Valley; Panggong Lake and the Durbuk Block that it lies in (i.e. north of the Changla Pass); Tso-Moriri and Tsokar Lakes and the area along the Indus River east of Upshi; and Dha-hanu and the area along the Indus River northwest of Khalatse. These permits are easily available in Leh town and do not need to be acquired while applying for an Indian visa. Foreigners must get their permits through a travel agent while Indians can get the permit from the authorities in person.
Permits are not available for foreigners to go to the far reaches of each of the above-named areas close to the borders (or Line of Control, etc.) with Pakistan and China. For example, foreigners can go to the edge of Panggong Lake and Maan and Merak villages, but not along the edge of it to Phobrang or Chushul villages; they cannot proceed east up the Indus from the Mahe Bridge; and in Nubra, they can only go as far as Panamik to the north and Turtuk to the west.
There are no border crossings open between Ladakh and neighbouring regions of Baltistan (under Pakistan) or Tibet (under China).
Ecotourism in Ladakh
Due to the strain that tourism can cause on local resources, the concept of "Ecotourism" has been introduced in Ladakh by non-governmental organizations like the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust's Himalayan Homestays Program and Women s Alliance of Ladakh (WAL), travel agencies like Zanskar Trek and Ladakhi Women s Travel Company, and individuals like Helena Norberg-Hodge and Thinlas Chorol.
People are being asked to reduce waste and water consumption and to use more environmental options when possible. One of these being the "Homestays", a system where tourist who are trekking in Ladakh, instead of bringing tents and supplies that often has to be carried by horses or donkeys, they stay with local families in the villages they pass. This is seen both as environmental since the pack animals can sometimes eat all the limited vegetation, and as socially responsible since it puts money directly into the local villages.
In May 2001 The Mountain Institute, Ladakh Ecological Development Group and Snow Leopard Conservancy organizes a workshop on "Ecotourism Opportunities in Rural Ladakh" in the city of Leh in order to "increase awareness" and "explore opportunities for ecotourism".
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