Leh stands at an altitude of 3500m/11500ft. Most visitors will have flown from altitudes barely above sea level. It is vital, therefore, to acclimatize to at least the altitude of Leh before you set off on your trek. Failure to do so will lessen your enjoyment and could, in extreme cases, be fatal.
It takes a minimum of three days to begin feeling at ease with the thinner air about a week before you start feel like doing anything energetic. The longer you spend acclimatizing the more you’ll enjoy the trek without constantly wondering why you left home in the first place.
For your first few days in Leh you can kid yourself that consuming a huge quantity of banana and honey pancakes is all part of your rigorous acclimatization program. However, the time may come when you feel like taking a bit of exercise and fortunately this seems to help speed up the acclimatization process.
There are plenty of interesting places to walk around Leh. The most popular is the climb to the palace, then to Leh and Tsemo gompas. Or you could walk out through Chanspa, up the 554 steps to the Shanti Stupa and then return via Sankar Gompa all within couple of hours. More demanding is a lovely short day walk from Leh to the village of Sabu. This little-used route takes you over two low and easy passes which cross the hills to the north-east of Leh.
Ladakh’s unique culture and amazing natural environment have drawn travelers to this remote region for centuries. However, the last 50 years pf being part of India, and in particular the last 20 or so years of having foreign tourists, has had more effect on Ladakh’s culture, environment and economy than several centuries of foreign merchants and traders.
At the same time, however, tourism has been having a beneficial effect. Foreign visitors who show respect for Ladakh and are impressed by the resourceful culture help to create a strong feeling of identity and strengthen local pride in the face of so much derision. With increased inter-cultural understanding the real truth about the Western lifestyle starts to filter through: in tandem with the seeming benefits of modernization go huge environmental, social and emotional problems.
Ladakh is now a part of the developing world. The process of change has permeated too far into Ladakhi society for this not to be so, and no matter how attractive a traditional rural society like Ladakh may seem, it is wrong and extremely damaging to make the land into some kind of museum. The Ladakhis have a choice over how their region develops and Western tourists must be aware that they play a very important role in determining what this future will be.
Travel with respect and openness, desiring to learn, adapt and share at every opportunity, not only will we travel lightly but we will return home so much richer, with understanding of a way of life that has many lessons for the Western World.
It is inevitable that you’ll leave some impression of your culture by visiting Ladakh; instead of just consuming the country like another product, try to give something back.
You will get the most out of your visit if you visit in small groups, allow lots of time to learn and try to be constantly aware. Although many Ladakhi’s speak good English, do try to learn few words of Ladakhi as this will be a greatly appreciated and will underline the importance of their language.
interaction with Ladakhi’s should be a two-way process. There is much they can teach the West about community, self-reliance and living simpler, less intrusive and more compassionate lives. A holiday is a perfect excuse for learning.
It’s very easy to respect local customs by not revealing your legs, shoulders, stomachs or backs. Men should always wear shirt and trousers; shorts are not appreciated. Women should wear loose trousers or skirts below the knee and tops that cover their shoulders, stomach and back. Bright colors and body revealing Lycra are offensive to Ladakhis. Never bath in the nude; men should wear shorts and women should be more discreet and always wear at least shorts and t-shirt.
The most useful word to learn is Ju-le which can be used at any time of the day to greet people, say goodbye or thank someone. As you trek through villages you will be greeted by everyone in this manner and it is polite to do likewise.
When in public do not display your affection for others by holding hands, hugging or kissing. This can easily offend or embarrass Ladakhis. Don’t share utensils while eating or drinking or dip your used ones into the serving dish. If sharing a water bottle, learn how to drink without your lips touching it.
When visiting monasteries it is particularly important that you wear appropriate clothes, take off your shoes or boots before entering the temple, don’t smoke, don’t touch any religious objects and always remember to give a small donation, the large monasteries charge an entrance fee to make sure you don’t forget, if you want to photograph the frescoes inside monasteries, bring a tripod or some fast film: don’t use a flash as things can damage the paint work. Religious festivals are sacred occasions, always walk to the left of Buddhist monuments (chortens, mani walls prayer wheels) by keeping on your right. Prayer wheels should be turned in a clockwise direction. Don’t sit or place your pack on mani walls or chortens and never move mani stones.
It can be annoying sometimes for locals peering into their lives especially when taking photographs. Please ask for permission before taking photographs. Don’t pay people for posing for you, its much better to take down their address and send them a copy instead.
When trekking you may occasionally be asked by locals for medicine or to treat wounds, unless it’s a simple case of cleaning a cut and applying a plaster you should encourage them to go to the nearest health post.
However poor you think you are at home by Ladakhi standard you are very wealth, don’t flaunt this wealth by showing off your hi- tech equipment, leaving it lying around unattended is further proof that you could easily afford to replace it. 666d
Litter is a very recent problem in Ladakh. It is only since the arrival of non-biodegradable consumer items from India and the rest of the world that the concept of litter has begun to take hold.
It is a serious problem in Leh and on major trekking routes. In the latter case it is only the trekkers who are to blame as most locals cannot afford the luxury of consumer products.
The solution is simple and summed up in the often-used phrase, ‘pack it in, pack it out’. If consumer products are brought into the mountains by you, or for you (via a shop/hotel or by your trekking company), it is your responsibility to take any resulting litter back out with you.
On the trail, if you can’t get used to the water and left-hand method make sure you burn all the loo paper that you use. Keep a lighter or some matches in the same plastic bag as the loo paper specifically for this purpose. Used loo paper burns easily and there is no excuse for the ‘pink flowers’ of paper that decorate the trails. Not only is it unsightly but unhygienic as well, especially when it’s blown around campsites and into water sources.
Tampons/sanitary towels should be packed out as they are almost impossible to burn completely at high altitude. Condoms should also be disposed of in this way.
If you are bathing, washing clothes or washing up in a stream, make sure you do so downstream of any houses. If you want to use soap or shampoo (is it really necessary in the mountains?), Fill a container (collapsible buckets available in outdoor shops are ideal) and wash away from the stream, pouring the waste water onto the ground far away from the water source. The need to wash clothes with soap can be minimized by rinsing them in the stream daily. The hot sun will make sure that they dry rapidly, but modern synthetic fibers can quite comfortably be wrung out and worn damp if its not too cold. There is never any need to use soap or washing up liquid for cleaning pots and pans, as a good wire scrubber, or failing that, a handful of small pebbles, will get any sparkling in no time.
Defecating in the mountains is an art, one that is well worth getting good at for your sake and everyone else’s. Not only is faecess unpleasant to our senses but more importantly, faecal matter takes at least one year to disappear in good conditions (i.e. damp soil with active organic material in a temperate climate) but these good conditions are rarely found in Ladakh’s mountains-evidence of your passing will be around for some time.
The lack of vegetation, the gradual growth of the Himalaya by several millimeters per year, the scaring heat of summer and freezing conditions of winter all combine to give the mountains of Ladakh a high rate of denudation. Although your actions may seem miniscule in comparison to these natural processes, when they are multiplied by several thousand trekkers each year, they become rather more significant.
Avoid taking shortcuts on steep sections of trail: your footsteps will be followed by others. If you happen to damage walls or irrigation channels make sure you repair them as someone’s livelihood may be at stake.
By travelling light, you can use fewer pack animals which minimizes the amount of erosion you cause and reduces the grazing on valuable mountain pastures. All villages have rights over designated pastures and the use of that land by others is not allowed. An exception has traditionally been made for travelers. Unfortunately, this generosity has been abused in the popular trekking areas by unnecessarily large trekking groups whose horses put too much pressure on this scant resource.
Leave plants alone so they can be enjoyed by others. You won’t get through customs with rare Himalayan specimen so don’t try. Take care where you tread so that you don’t disrupt fragile ecosystems.
Wood is a scarce resource so don’t use any for making fires. You should always bring a stove and enough Kerosene to cook on and remember that a camp-fire is a selfish luxury. Fires create ugly scars on the ground that take years to fade away. While locals may well use animal dung fires to cook on, trekkers should not copy them as fuel is a valuable resource for other travelers and villagers.
There is no doubt that tourism is an important force in the economy of Ladakh. This is particularly valuable now that the traditional trade routes which previously provided Ladakh with a stable economic base have closed. although tourist may spend a large amount of money in Ladakh much f that goes straight into the pocket of non-Ladakhi’s only to be taken out of the region at the end of the tourist season thus the Ladakhi’s have to pt up with the cultural and environmental problems that tourism brings without benefiting as much as they could from the profits.
When you book with snowbird Himalaya Adventures our company spends it money in Ladakh, we use local services, buy locally produced food and goods, or employ local staffs, if we run out of staffs then we hire people from Nepal too to work alongside.
Handicraft have always been important in Ladakh providing for its own basic needs. the potential for Ladakhi craft is slowly being realized, especially as their manufacturers can provide villagers with a supplementary income during the six to eight winter months when there is little agricultural work. Ask for Ladakhi handicrafts and ask where they were made.
Try to get an informed idea of how much things are worth. if you pay too much you will encourage inflation but by not paying enough you will deprive people of their rightful earnings.
It is not always appropriate to bless people with your money as it can enforce the idea of monetary economy in an area where more appropriate economic system is operating.
In the main trekking areas, there is almost no real wilderness as most land is subject to village or communal rights. In effect you are walking in some-one’s backyard and should therefore behave appropriately. most routes in Ladakh are a much more serious undertaking, being less travelled, at higher altitude and with fewer villages.in order to have a great experience trek one has to be well prepared
A wide range of suitable trekking food is available in Leh so there is no need to bring mountains of specialized dehydrated food from home. As its unlikely that you will be able to buy food on the trail. Eating enough however, is not always as easy as it sounds, as high altitude can sometimes have the effect of suppressing your appetite, if this is the case, you really have to be determined to force enough food in.