India, Jammu & Kashmir, Responsible Travel, Travel Tips
Comments 53

Simple Ways to Travel More Responsibly in Ladakh.

tsermang camp ladakh, ladakh where to stay

Exactly one year ago, I was lost amid the dramatic, barren, snow-capped Himalayas of Ladakh. I acclimatized myself to the high altitude at an eco-luxury camp on the shores of the mighty Indus, hitch-hiked along remote villages in western Ladakh, introspected at a nunnery, witnessed a grand traditional welcome for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, hiked through surreal landscapes, met a tight work deadline on the steps of a monastery (the only place I could find 2G internet!), rode in rickety buses, and partook in the wisdom of Buddhist monks.

So much has happened since – from discovering the secret lives of chocolate farmers in Costa Rica to hitch-hiking through soulful villages in northern Romania – that I almost forgot why traveling in Ladakh broke my heart.

Every time I surf Instagram and see a picture of Ladakh, I can suddenly hear the call of the Trans-Himalayas, and feel myself gripped by a desire to revisit this remote mountain desert.

But then I remember, Ladakh might no longer be the place I visited just a year ago. Here’s why:

Ladakh’s breathtaking geography masks a very fragile ecology

Choose travel companies that respect and conserve it.

Ladakh responsible travel, Ladakh travel blog

A hint of red in the barren landscape.

This is a region of extreme heat and cold, little to no rain, ingenious agricultural practices, traditional healing, rare wildlife and a heartwarming culture that remained isolated over centuries. As travellers, it is upon us to preserve this surreal place on earth. While choosing a company to plan your trip or trek, ask how they deal with waste, conserve water and energy, support the traditional way of life and contribute to the local community. If we don’t demand these efforts and merely try to save money, it won’t be long before Ladakh is laid to waste like many of India’s “popular” hill stations.

I recommend Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company, a home-bred organization working to empower women from remote Ladakhi villages while practicing responsible travel.

“Homestays” in Ladakh are not the obvious answer

If they offer the urban comforts you expect, you are doing it wrong.

tsermang ladakh, camps ladakh, ecotourism ladakh

By the shores of the Indus at Tsermang.

My only “homestay” experience in Ladakh – Gangba Homestay (with fab reviews of TripAdvisor), was a huge disappointment. With a new wing built mostly in concrete, electric geysers for hot water and showers and toilets with gushing running water, there was nothing Ladakhi or environmentally conscious about it. And the only interaction I had with the family was over money, for I decided to cut my stay from one week to one day. I later learnt that the government subsidizes guest houses with cemented floors, tiles, power backup and running water!

Let go of your urban lifestyle for a few days and opt for traditional Ladakhi houses or camps that use solar energy for power and to heat water, offer bucket baths and dry decomposting or low consumption toilets, and generate minimum waste with recycling practices.

I recommend Tsermang, an all organic, yet luxurious eco camp in a spectacular part of Leh, that uses solar, conserves water and is conscious of its carbon footprint.

We can bond with this magnificent region beyond just sightseeing

Slow down, stay and volunteer.

Ladakh people, Ladakh culture

Hard lives, easy smiles.

What better way to experience life in Ladakh than contributing your time and skills to the local community, while deepening your bonds with the warm locals and the majestic mountains? I serendipitously landed up in a nunnery set up by a Dutch foundation, and decided to spend my entire trip informally helping the young nuns with their studies and lending a hand in chores around the attached guesthouse (where the nuns host travellers). I learnt much, about their introspective way of life and how they deal with hardships in this remote region, but even more about my own self and the things I take for granted.

Depending on your skills and time, you can teach, help with photography and documentation, facilitate environmental workshops or coach children in sports. Refer to this list of Ladakh-based organizations, contact them early, and keep your word.

The journey is part of the destination in Ladakh

Reduce your carbon footprint with hitchhiking and public transport. 

Ladakh villages, Ladakh blogs

Hitch-hiking to villages in western Ladakh.

You already know that journeying along Ladakh’s spectacular moon-like terrain, in the backdrop of snow-hooded mountains, is a unique experience. Now imagine soaking it all in with incredible stories told by co-passengers on a rickety local bus or shared taxi! It’s one of the few places in India where I let my guard down and felt safe hitchhiking alone – I got rides with two monks, a young student, an elderly man from Delhi who confessed he would never give anyone a ride back home (and I confessed I would never ask for a ride in Delhi – Ladakh changes something in everyone!), and people I ended up making friends with and hanging out with later.

I understand that for practical reasons, you might not want to ditch your private transport. The least you can do is let locals (or lost souls like me) hitchhike with you. Never once did a “tourist car” slow down to heed my thumb during my days in Ladakh.

Every drop of water is precious in this cold mountain desert

It’s okay not to bathe everyday!

Ladakh agriculture, Ladakh photos

Ingenious agricultural techniques made a barren desert green.

In the glory of the mountains, its easy to forget that Ladakh is a desert which receives almost no rainfall. Over centuries, Ladakhi people have carefully created irrigation systems that utilize every drop of melting snow. Dry decomposting toilets (a pit that you do your business over through a hole in the ground and shovel mud on) eliminate the need for water and sanitation drains. Water from glacial streams is used for drinking. Then the region is opened up to tourism and with it come demands for running water, flushable western toilets and showers! Ladakh’s water table is falling irrevocably and its glaciers melting away fast.

We ought to reduce our water consumption while in the region – avoid bathing everyday, use a bucket when you must and open yourself to the idea of dry decomposting toilets; I can assure you they are more hygienic than Indian style bathrooms.

We don’t want to turn paradise into plastic-land

Carry all your trash back to the cities.

Ladkah pictures, Ladakh responsible travel

A glimpse of Thiksey monastery.

There is no sight as heartbreaking as kurkure packets and coke bottles littering the shores of a pristine lake or hillside – and especially so in Ladakh, where this trash will ultimately find its way into glacial streams, be dumped in a hapless dumping ground outside of Leh, or be burnt. Carry a good water bottle to refill water rather than buy countless plastic mineral water bottles, and carry all your non-biodegradable trash back home. I tried to pick up wrappers and bottles while hiking too, and was shocked at the plastic I had accumulated (including my own consumption) at the end of a mere fortnight – which I finally dumped in a bin at Delhi airport.

It’s really as easy as having a small trash bag with you at all times.

Being connected by flights doesn’t make it less remote

Forget your city life and be more accepting of the local food and culture.

Ladakh people, Ladakh culture

With the nuns in Ladakh.

Many people are shocked to hear that I didn’t travel up to Pangong Lake on my Ladakh trip. I didn’t go because a local warned me of obnoxious travellers who go there in droves all summer, get drunk and play loud music by this tranquil lake! I am assuming none of them are my readers; if you come across such people, please remind them that they are ruining the tranquility and solitude of being somewhere so remote. Open up your taste buds to the local food and flavors, and try to befriend the locals instead of shoving your cameras in their beautiful faces. Tourism is a big source of income for Ladakhi people, but that doesn’t mean we can be demanding, disrespectful or mindless of the region we are in.

After all, to travel is to realize what an incredible world we live in, and our every action can make it more or less so.

What are your thoughts about traveling in Ladakh? If you know of other responsible organizations, accommodations and tips, please share them.

Note: This post is written as part of the Fox Life India birthday campaign. If your birthday falls between June 15-21, tweet to @FoxLifeIndia with #SameSameBirthday; two winners stand to win Fox Life Goodies!

Join my travel adventures live on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.
Subscribe to my new monthly newsletter to receive travel inspiration in your inbox!

53 Comments

  1. Akhil says

    Hi Shivya ,

    Your post made me think about all the times I’ve traveled and behaved like a complete moron . It is true that we do not think about the culture and tradition of the region that we visit and we are completely oblivious to their thoughts and feelings. We go there and enjoy our time while showing complete disregard for the conservation and preservation of the region .
    I am planning on going to Ladakh soon and i will keep everything you pointed out in mind during my visit . Although i may not hitchhike , i will try and clean up after myself and volunteer during my stay.
    Keep writing and traveling . You are an inspiration i must say .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Akhil, thanks for being so honest. I think we’ve all been morons at some point on our travels. The important thing is to learn and change, I guess that’s what travel is about. I hope you’ll spread the word among your friends and inspire them in turn 🙂

      Like

  2. sam1583 says

    A piece which every Indian “Traveller” must read.I don’t how many will appreciate what you have written here as people in our country travel to places like Ladakh but yet they want the comfort of their home.Sadly the service providers are following the demand.Respecting the local culture and food ,mixing with local people remains the last priority it seems.This is where the authorities can play a role, but that would be too much thinking and acting for them

    Hopefully there will come a day when people themselves would understand that it is a privilege for them to visit serene places like Ladakh and it is their duty to keep them intact.The money they have spent is only for staying and not owning the place.

    Like

  3. Avi says

    Hi Shivya,
    Totally agree with the point you’ve made! We as humans take things for granted with no respect to the fellow localities and the nature. It’s very disheartening to see empty chips packets, bottles and all sort of garbage laying around at few of the beautiful places left on the planet.

    Hope humans realise it before its too late. Sometimes I wonder how ruthlessly we are onto killing the place we call earth.

    Thank you for the post Shivya, hope it’ll make a difference.

    Happy Travelling 🙂
    Avi

    Like

  4. Hi Shivya,

    Your post has fantastic timing! I am looking into travelling to Leh and appreciate the tips and advice. Have been to Hyderabad, and currently in Chennai – I’m already shocked with the waste here, especially on the beaches.

    Have looked up the eco camp you recommended in this post. Looks great but at 95 GBP (9500 Rs) per night for a double tent it is way out of my price range. If you have any suggestions for a lower budget–while still being ecologically minded–I’d love to hear them!

    Like

    • Hi Janine, unfortunately that camp is the only ecologically minded place I found on my trip (it’s run by a friend), other than the nunnery-guest house run by the Dutch foundation. That’s why I ended up spending all my time at the latter, at the cost of not exploring the rest of Ladakh. If you come across any places during your trip, please leave me a comment 🙂

      Like

  5. Sumathi says

    I’ve not been to Ladakh before and was planning to travel through a Woman only group.But what inspired me and what i’m really going to follow of all the most is pick any plastic or waste that is littered there n make sure it is dumped out from there.
    “After all, to travel is to realize what an incredible world we live in, and our every action can make it more or less so.”- Lines that made me ponder again and again.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post Shivya:)

    Like

    • I’m glad it rang a bell with you, Sumathi! If we all change the way we travel just a little bit, we can make a world of difference, to our own experiences as well as to the locals 🙂

      Like

  6. I’m thankful to you for writing this post, as I have plans to travel to Ladakh in 3 months. Though I’m not someone who’d ruin a place’s beauty, it’s important that I get conscious about Ladakh. I understand it’s a sensitive land and we all must try our best to preserve it.

    Like

    • You’ll love it Renuka, and I’m sure you’ll go to lengths to help preserve its beauty! Look forward to your stories from there 🙂

      Like

  7. Gaurav Jain says

    I think as long as there is demand, there will be supply.. there is no easy way to do it.. spreading awareness is the only way to promote responsible travel.. glad to see that your article puts the point nicely.. 🙂

    Like

  8. This is one of the poignant and endearing posts I have read Shivya, and thank you for this!
    I will be honest, I’m a city girl through and through and take a lot of material comforts we enjoy for granted.

    I recently went in my first Himalayan Trek, one that challenged me and changed me in many ways. I agree with everything you have written about being sensitive to local needs; and it was very disheartening to see litter even up in the hills in such remote areas!

    I hope that this post reaches many Indians and they learn to take pride in such pristine natural beauty that India boasts off, and work towards preserving it!

    Like

    • I hope so Upasna! If each of us can just inspire our families and friends to be more conscious while traveling, we’ll win half the battle 🙂

      Like

  9. Thankyou for the insight Shivya! Travelling through parts of Himalayas and Bhutan I have always been mindful of the easy urban habits, but the tip about not bathing everyday and carrying back all the trash, is something I will practice when I travel to Ladakh this july. Though I had a question for you. In the picture “A glimpse of Thiksey monastery.” I would have go in search of this exact view, can you tell me where you shot this from? I like searching for a particular perspective or a photograph that inspires me to travel to a place.

    Like

    • Thanks for keeping these tips in mind Swetha! It’ll be no fun if I give you the easy answer about the location of that photograph, right? Walk around, go off the main tracks, and I’m sure you’ll find that view 😉

      Like

  10. Shivya, these were my exact thoughts! I must admit I was a little wary with my third trip to Ladakh last week. Everything you’ve mentioned holds true. The essence of your post clearly points out that change starts with us.. I cannot thank you enough for penning this down

    Like

  11. hi! I appreciate your efforts and thoughts on ecology and conservation. Your special post to highlight and enlighten everyone is appreciable.
    In my opinion, from my observations I can certainly deduce that our countrymen are last to think of ecology and environment. Comfort always preside over the pains involved in sacrificing for the preserving nature. The general thoughts that go in mind of average countryman is like this- why only I should think of conservation,its everyone’s duty, I’m can afford things why should I adjust and suffer etc etc….In general everyone wants comfort and no one wants to suffer!!
    It is really painful to see that we blindly ape wasteful practices of west and ignore the good practices. All I can say is…we have a long way to go!!! I wish things change fast!

    Like

  12. Thank you for writing this post! It’s so relevant in today’s world where everyone is traveling more, which means the environmental impact of travel is increasing at a rapid pace. I am trying to be a more conscious traveler… my mother and I visited Sikkim recently and we refilled out bottle as often as possible just to reduce the number of bottles we use. It was so easy to do this, just wonder why I hadn’t done this ever before!

    Like

  13. Piyush says

    HI Shivya,

    i read your very amazing blog. i am qiet a traveller myself but i am caught in my job. u left your corporate job at 23 just for travelling..i just wanted to know that how do you manage your finances??? from where does the money comes?

    thanks,
    Piyush

    Like

  14. Niel Lincoln says

    I value your thoughts which you are spreading with this post. You have done a commendable job in showing the lights towards environmental consciousness and culture of Ladakh. I also feel that Ladakh has always been looked upon as a fun place; nobody tries to understand the local people and their culture, that’s why it is still isolated. I will appeal to the people, that whoever goes to Ladakh should try to mix up with the local community, so as to become familiar with their extraordinary culture. Please must read this post https://goo.gl/WBihna , if You really want to see a glimpse of their culture.

    Thanks
    Niel

    Like

  15. I so wish people understand this fact! Its the condition of almost all the tourist places in India. I get so angry when I see plastic bottles & plastic wrappers at every tourist place. There is so much going on about green house effect & increasing temperatures around the world but we still don’t want to change. It is really disheartening.

    Like

  16. Pingback: Ladakh Trekking: A Beginner's Guide

  17. Wonderful Post on Ladakh ! I have always been wondering when would i get a chance to explore this amazing destination. Hope i get some time soon . I also started a travel cum information blog recently, you can have a look at it : http://amazingindiablog.in .

    Like

  18. Pingback: 11 Offbeat Treks from Around the World

  19. Hey Shivya,

    Coincidentally, I was in Ladakh as well at and around the time you mentioned because I too witnessed the grand arrival of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. I’d been there from 17th – 30th June, 2014. I loved your method of travel and the way you approach the tour (You pointed out what I missed out on while I was there). The photographs and description about Ladakh are phenomenal and made me teary inducing a deep sense of nostalgia. The place is second to none (I am just starting out as a traveller) and I wish to visit again soon. But thanks to you, I revisited the place in spirit and breathed its fresh air.

    Keep writing. I really look up to you and your posts. Quite simply, you’re stuff role models are made of. Kudos!

    Warm regards,
    Dhananjay.

    P.S. – I have a section on my blog page dedicated to my experiences in Ladakh. https://djmehendale.wordpress.com/category/a-journey-into-the-unknown/
    Do read as and when you have time. Feedback is welcome ! Thank you. 🙂

    Like

  20. tamchos says

    I m very much glad to read such a beautiful and real thinking of traveler, being from ladakh I feel the same as u think how we locals can preserve this pristine nature and landscape, so that more of worlds people gets the chance to see the real ladakh and ladakhi..

    Like

  21. Neelam Saini says

    Dear Shivya,

    I understand that you have put up a eco logical friendly stay Tsermang, given ecological way of doing things dont you think they charge you too high for being responsible traveler ? Like I wont really like to pay 8000 per night to make a point that I am travelling responsibly, neither I think it justifies their way of doing things, it surely seems a huge margins are curated by them.

    Dont you think you could as well recommend Ladakhi families who follow the traditional pattern of living. Wont this contribute really big time to their wellbeing. Let me know your view

    Like

  22. rajat agrawal says

    you are great travel personality.
    do visit karauli devi temple in rajasthan

    Like

  23. I think, it is a problem in entire India, not just in Ladakh. I have seen litters even at a sacred place like Gurudongmar in Sikkim. I wonder how some people can make noise at a place like Pangong lake, instead of soaking in the scenic beauty silently. Unfortunately, most of such irresponsible tourists are from so-called educated and well-to-do families. I doubt, does education only mean coveted degrees, high-profile jobs and affluent lifestyle? Does it not bring more responsibility with it?

    Like

  24. Thanks for this post on Ladakh. Another place in my wishlist and your tips will handy when I visit. Which month of the year is best to visit Leh and Ladakh?

    Like

  25. Pingback: Make a wish - To India by Shooting Star. | The Midnight Blue Elephant

  26. mayank says

    Shivya why u can’t run adds on ur blog. U earn a good amout of money through this. If y want any assistance plz reply me on my email id. I will help you definitely.

    Like

  27. Lalit Mohan says

    very true Shivya…your way of travelling is different.Tourism is kind of business in Leh city but if someone want’s to explore real Ladakh he/she should follow Your idea’s.great work & great blogging.Keep up the good work.

    Like

  28. bunny goyals says

    Hello Shivya
    Thanks for sharing your amazing trip to ladakh….it’s very heartfelt when we see garbage and water bottles littering on such beautiful places in our home planet so its our responsibility to preserve our ecosystem otherwise its no so far to see catastrophic affect.

    Like

  29. priyal parekh says

    Hello…I just read your blog about ladakh the place I wish to travel as soon as possible. I am still very young to travel on my own…but I surely do have a burning desire to travel as much as I can. I am inspired by how amazingly you have provided a lot of interesting information about the place.
    You are truly an inspiration!

    Like

  30. Aradhana says

    What a beautiful post you have done up with……..I m really happy to come across your blog and ur things are so well crafted that it makes me go to every place you have been too.I share the same kind of feel (to be with nature) that whenever you travel to a new place you should get to know more of the locales ..be their kind…exchange cultural ,culinary and every possibility of traditions so that we ourselves become a travel encyclopedia.That way we learn and learn which never has a full stop. Sometimes, I wish I could leave my job and wander around the world like you have been doing I just get that butterflies in my stomach now and then ….hahaha.
    I read your advice to parents to let their child dream big….and it really made my eyes soaked. I have a kid and I really want him to chase his dreams and I am happy that I m doing it.

    Like

  31. Pingback: 4 Reasons Why I don't recommend going for the Chadar Trek

  32. Love the way you discovered the more organic and responsible ways to travel. I too tell people, if you seek urban comforts in rural areas, why travel?

    Like

I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s