Most people travel to Ladakh out of peer pressure. Because everyone goes there. It’s more like a ritual these days. Suddenly it has become a dream trip for people. Reason? Most will have none. Biker? Oh, you MUST go to Ladakh on a bike. But have you wondered what’s so good about it? I doubt you have. It’s already shining bright on top of your bucket list. And why shouldn’t it? The posts praising the beauty of Leh are ‘omnipresent’. And rightly so. But what most ignore to tell you is the flip side of the Leh-Ladakh saga. Yes, there is one, and it’s dirtier than you’d imagine.
Toilets – I doubt Ladakh people know the meaning of toilets. Or commodes. Remember the movie slumdog millionaire? Remember the toilet scene? Yes, you will find only such public toilets everywhere. All that it is, is a good 15-20 ft hole and the potty gets collected there. Either pee in bushes or above everyone else’s potty. Those are your magnificent options. It stinks within the 300-meter radius of the toilet so as soon as you are around one, you know it’s there. No need to find the sign. Most of the time, your pressure disappears and you prefer to let your bladder blast than to go to one of those.
We will be staying in tents at the lake? How exciting! – No, it’s not. Firstly, you are visiting a region that’s forever cold. The nighttime temperature there is around 3-4 degrees on normal days. You just cannot attempt to visit it during winters. -20 is not really a normal tourist’s cup of tea right? Further, you rarely find tents that supply you with hot water 24×7. Beds are kind of comfortable in good tent resorts, but insects are the same everywhere. And the bathrooms – well, sleeping under a blanket is still okay, but taking bath under a piece of cloth and on earth flooring is not really fun.
Electricity – Power problems are worse than in Thane or Delhi. You get electricity for a few hours a day. Tent accommodation has an even more limited power supply. There is no electricity at night. You don’t need any. No fans anywhere, why would you need lights in the middle of the night when the stars can give you enough light? Electric bag, you said, for keeping warm? Hah! What’s that!
No mobile and internet – Yes, you kind of live network-free. Which is a blessing, no doubt. But you live with zero networks for days. Some areas don’t even have landline phone connectivity. So if something happens to you, and there’s a high probability of that, nobody will know or be able to come to your rescue. Plus you are living near the border area where enemies keep invading at regular intervals. China keeps doing that, just FYI. Most of the good hotels offer Wi-Fi. But on most of the days, it’s down. And on the days when it’s working, you need to constantly pray about the electricity supply.
Sightseeing – “How many points will we get to see there?” is not a valid question in Ladakh. This region is all about road trips. Long ones. It takes you an hour to cover 25 km in the hilly areas. And most of the areas are hilly. Each of your itinerary locations is situated at least 150 km away from Leh. No sunset points or fancy gardens or even waterfalls, for that matter. All you see is mountains and some monasteries here and there. And a museum. Market? Sure. Fancy? Nope!
Bikers’ Paradise – For sure! Those roads, landscapes, remote places – man, they are like a dream. But the journey is not so easy. Going to the highest motorable road? Why not! Provided there has not been any snowfall the previous night. Or else you cannot ride your bike there, for the roads are too slippery. Mechanic? Get trained to be one before dreaming about Leh-Ladakh on the bike. Pillion? You need iron butts to sit on a bike for 8-9 hours a day for at least 10 days. You also need good safety gear and winter clothes to cover you from head to toe. Not everyone is made of the metal to pull this off. But if you are, then leave tomorrow itself. You will thank me for life. PS: On some roads, the pillion has to get down and walk some distance as the roads are really bad. In hindsight, it gives rest to that butt of yours.
Permits – You need quite a few permits for visiting the Leh-Ladakh region. Tourism companies arrange for most of the things for you. But they choose the most convenient ones for you. If you are looking for a good traveling experience, then do the research yourself. Find out places to visit, borders to see, lakes to experience before booking your flight tickets.
Altitude sickness – No matter how long you stay to acclimatize, you will find breathing slightly difficult. Soldiers living there spend 10 days to acclimatize when they travel 2000 ft above sea level. We are talking about staying at 10k ft and visiting places located at 14-15k ft.
Landslides – It doesn’t see any season. It happens any time. Once it does, you are stuck in a place for 2-3-4 days. Your entire trip goes for a toss. You come back without seeing anything. The outside world knows that you were supposed to be in that region. But they can’t reach you as there is no network and all the phone lines are dead because of the landslides.
Am I a killjoy? I most definitely am!