Ladakh on a shoestring

18th Oct 2018
Photo of Ladakh on a shoestring 1/1 by Sourav Chaudhuri
Day 1

The view from my hostel window. The hostels in upper Chungspa are very cheap with dorm beds available for as low as 300 INR a night. The October this year(2018) was surprisingly cold and if you're arriving by plane the cold hits you very hard especially if you're arriving early morning. Advisable to keep a wind proof jacket in your hand baggage. I stayed in Tsetan guest house which was actually a homestay. Managed by an amazingly warm family which will make you feel every bit as welcome. Tips :

1. Rest after you have entered Leh by air. The body needs 24 hours at least to acclimatise to thin air. The air pressure tends to be around 0.7 atm which in the plains is 1 atm. 30% lesser which takes a toll on the body. Rest, and drink plenty of water as the body gets dehydrated very quickly at that altitude. People with respiratory issues should see a doctor immediately if their condition worsens.

2. Food will be an issue especially at this time of the year as the peak season is over and the shops close. So no cafes or restaurants in the vicinity. This may seem like a problem initially but it has manifold advantages. Tsetan guest house, or in general the hostels in the vicinity have their in house kitchen which is basically the kitchen of the household and on request they would cook for the guests at a price which by comparison to the rates in the cafe is a steal. For breakfast its 1oo INR, which can be a wholesome meal of Ladakhi bread, butter, homemade jam, tea. The bread is real filling fyi. And, might I add the tea will never leave you satisfied with 1 cup. If you ask with a smile, the family will oblige you. They always do, they are the salt of the earth. Dinner, also is very reasonable(250 INR) homemade Ladakhi food. The reason I am calling it reasonable is the nearest restaurant thats open would anyway make you light by 500-600 INR. And its best not to venture out on the first day and tax your body which is anyway reeling under the effects of low oxygen levels.

3. Nausea, a throbbing head, a little lightness also of the head, along with some amounts of dizziness are signs of AMS. It is quite ok if you experience this. If you wish to avoid these altogether, then take DIAMOX 250 every 12 hours, from 48 hours before commencing your journey which will substantially reduce your discomfort. If symptoms persist, then see a doctor immediately.

Day 2


LEH PALACE - the palace is located atop a hillock and promises some grand views of the entire city. Its only a 25 minute walk from the hostel and the path is easy. There is a nominal entrance fee (15 INR). For foreigners its priced steeply at 100INR and it may be a bit disappointing.


Photo of Leh by Sourav Chaudhuri

Leh palace part 2

Photo of Leh by Sourav Chaudhuri

NAMGYAL TSEMO MONASTERY - situated near the Leh palace and an even higher vantage point to get a better vista of the entire city. However, the climb is punishing, because the terrain is steep so one may want to slow it down. Don't act gong-ho stating that nothing happens to you because it does and its only sensible that you take precautions to ensure nothing untoward happens.

PERMIT OFFICE - yes its an amazing place because well, it gets you to places where there is more amazing stuff awaiting you. the link is If you choose to make the payment online then, please carry a print out of the receipt page as well as the issued permit. These need to be produced physically at the permit office where they'll issue the hard copy of the permit. Get 3-4 Xerox copies of the permits done immediately as they need to be submitted at the various checkpoints. Now, the most important thing, the permit office is located at the main market area opposite to a J&K bank branch. Easy to locate. Carry an original ID as they may ask to see it when applying there. There is an online form that needs to be filled and the printout is supposed to be carried to the office. If you don't, there is an internet cafe very conveniently located where they can do it for you. For different places you need a different permit. So for Pangong and Nubra or any other place on your radar you need separate permits. If you feel at a loss as to how to go about it just ask the people at the counter. They are very sweet and will tell you the entire process.

TIP - to save on food, have lunch in the bazaar below the Leh Palace. That place is full of local Kashmiri eateries which sell delicacies and I was able to get a full rounded meal in 100 INR. Nothing lavish, but very filling, especially Czot(yes it was spelt like this) with some butter. Get some packed and enjoy it under the sun. I looked for Khatai, which is sweet but found it only in one shop. Its amazing, and pretty soft. Go easy though, can also lead you to an upset stomach if you have one too many.

TIP - the best way to tour Nubra and Pangong is by shared taxi, mini bus. To find the best deal, look for ads in the main market area and there are plenty of ads where people are looking for additional people to tag along with them. Contact numbers are written for you to get back to them. Call up a few and get an idea of the rates they charge versus the vehicle they have, and choose a rate that works for you. All packages are just including your transit cost. For stay over in Hundar(Nubra), the driver shall arrange a homestay for which additional expenses have to be incurred by the stay party. I got a 1 night 2 days package covering Pangong and Nubra for 3500/- in a Bolero, with 5 other people, after some surprising negotiation which I tried simply on the off chance that I may get some discount.

Day 3


The tour starts at around 9 in the morning. The cars, normally pick you up at the hotel/hostel. The first stop is the South Pullu checkpoint and by now the air is pretty thin. (Carry plenty of water; I had carried 4 litres of water and chocolates) The mountain sickness hits some people now. Not to fear as there is a health care centre here where oxygen levels can be monitored and if found low(less than 35) you can be given some oxygen so as to get it up. Works magically.


If you need to smoke then ensure you do when there is waste bin nearby. I have gotten into my share of heated arguments when I see people behaving idiots when they do this. Be responsible. If you can't do anything to better the environment then at least don't make it worse. Next stop is KHARDUNGLA TOP - the pride of BRO. There is a cafe manned by the Indian army and believe me, the best Maggi is out there where the temperature was -10 with a howling wind. The weather is major issue and we didn't get any sunshine and clicking photos was a challenge in itself.

brr brr at khardung-la top

Photo of Khardung La by Sourav Chaudhuri

Onwards, we chugged and very soon we came to the approach road to Diskit monastery. The valley is as beautiful as described by people who have been here before, if not more. The monastery has an entry fee of 30INR. Spend some good time soaking the sun and the stillness all around which will be remarkably screwed by mad throngs of other people (-_-).

playful clouds at disket gompa

Photo of Diskit Gompa, Diskit by Sourav Chaudhuri

The sand dunes of Nubra are not my favourite, but then its very subjective. What I did love was the amazing two humped camel, thats indigenous to this territory. The place is ideal for photography and some amazing reflections and scenes can be captured.

Nubra sand dunes

Photo of Hunder by Sourav Chaudhuri

Time to find a place to rest. Checked into Horcho guest house, which the driver got us to. 4 people checked into one room, and with an evening tea, dinner, hot water to wash up, and a morning tea, all total amounted to 1200 INR which split 4 ways came to 300INR per person. The more people into a room the better(simple math). Dinner was simple but piping hot and it was a relief. Bed time!!

Day 4

Pangong Tso

en route to pangong at Khalsar, shyok river

Photo of Khalsar by Sourav Chaudhuri

The approach road to Pangong takes you through some amazing mountain roads and accompanying you would be a rivulet or a stream. Its almost a dream sequence. I was playing Kashmir on repeat. The driver very sweetly stopped at some points so that we could take some shots. All you had to do was click. Nature had your photos all covered.

Thodi chai ho jaaye

Photo of Karu by Sourav Chaudhuri

Karu was our first stopover, for breakfast. Again Maggi, eggs and tea. Mankind, must've done something good to have gotten Maggi. One of the best meals of my life; the view off course is just the cherry on the proverbial "icing".

The open road to Pangong

Photo of Ladakh on a shoestring by Sourav Chaudhuri

Reached pangong by 12:30 pm. Needless to say, despite my visits before, it takes my breath away every time I look at it for the first time. You have 2 hours all to yourself. Somehow, I feel like a cow. The cars bring us to the meadow of fantastic views and let us loose to graze (-_-), not that I am unhappy about it.

different perspective

Photo of Pangong Lake by Sourav Chaudhuri

buzz light year very aptly said - to infinity and beyond

Photo of Pangong Lake by Sourav Chaudhuri

playful waves

Photo of Pangong Lake by Sourav Chaudhuri

first look :D and also the last look :(

Photo of Pangong Lake by Sourav Chaudhuri

Time to head back. One last look, at the lake before I very unwillingly turn back to the car. The tour is to wrapped up now, time to go back with a brief stop at Chang La, at the worlds highest cafe.

a song of ice

Photo of Chang La by Sourav Chaudhuri

Reached Leh at around 5:45 pm.

Photo of Leh by Sourav Chaudhuri

The hostel awaits. Spend the evening, packing up. Last day tomorrow.

Day 5


The confluence of Indus and Zanskar from a high vantage point can be breathtaking especially if the sun is out. The two rivers are of two different colours. There is a small cafe, at which you can rest and grab a quick bite or a cup of tea/coffee. Transport to Sangam is self arranged. I got in touch with another person from my hostel, who was planning to go there on his motorbike. Tagged along, and split the fuel cost, which was minimal. Came back to Leh in about 2hrs 30 minutes. En route, you find the magnetic hill(the famous anti gravity hill), Gurdwara Pathhar Sahib, managed solely by the Indian army(fabled to be the point where Guru Nanak rested on his way to further lands). Immaculate doesn't even begin to describe the place.

indus on the right and zanskar on the left in all grandeur

Photo of Confluence of Indus(right)and Zanskar(left) by Sourav Chaudhuri

The main market area has some very good cafes which anyone may try depending on what looks inviting. Since it was my last evening I decided to indulge myself with some brownies and coffee at one of the places, which got extended to 2 coffees thanks to a like minded traveller who also was around and started talking after seeing my camera.

It was 3:30 pm, and now it was time to hike to the shanti stupa to catch the sunset. Now there are two ways to get there. One way, the motorable road. Second way, climb the stairs from upper chungspa. Mind you; its a very long climb. And the stairs are narrow.

narrow snaking trail are the stairs without guardrails

Photo of Shanti Stupa, Shanti Stupa Road, Leh by Sourav Chaudhuri

a little bit of heaven

Photo of Shanti Stupa, Shanti Stupa Road, Leh by Sourav Chaudhuri

shanti stupa

Photo of Shanti Stupa, Shanti Stupa Road, Leh by Sourav Chaudhuri

Trudged back to the hostel. Had a homely wholesome dinner after which the family graciously invited me for some Ladakhi tea. Its a must try. Buttery, salty, and has 100 flavours.

THE END. Drop in a message if you have any queries. Would gladly help if I can in any way

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