Lately I have been observing a unique trend emerging in the Ladakh and Zanskar itinerary section of BCMTouring; more and more people are planning to head to Ladakh in the month of May.
While the road conditions in Ladakh have improved quite drastically in the last 3 years, early season can still spell trouble for majority of travelers and completely derail a finely laid out plan. Which means that unless you are looking for adventure, have plenty of days in hand, are ok with the idea of changing your plan continuously and can endure the hardships (getting stuck en route, freezing temperature, lack of basic amenities and plenty of heart in mouth situations), traveling to Ladakh in May isn’t the right thing to do, here is why:
Manali – Leh highway: The preferred route for majority of Ladakh bound travelers is the Manali – Leh highway, which as of this moment, isn’t officially open. While BRO is planning to open it in the next 8-10 days, it would take many more days to fully stabilize and witness an improvement in the road conditions.
Initially not only are the roads in bad condition, but also have quite a bit of snow on the road itself, which might sound like fun, but can actually be quite dangerous and lead to major delays. Add to this, it normally takes a few days after the roads have been opened, for the infrastructure i.e. tents and dhabas to come up at places like Sarchu and Pang, which otherwise only have Army Camp and no villages whatsoever.
Khardung La and Chang La: Khardung La and Chang La are the gateways to Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso, which are must visit places for those traveling to Ladakh and make up the basic tourist circuit. While both the passes are kept open for the Army, all year around, taxis and private vehicles are woefully ill-equipped to handle these high altitude passes covered in tons of snow. This means at least at the beginning of the season, traffic is highly regulated and erratic at best.
Khardung La at times also sees the implementation of one day one way rule i.e. on a particular day, only traffic from one particular side is let through i.e. on Tuesdays, vehicles from Leh go to Nubra Valley and on Wednesday, vehicles from Nubra Valley are allowed to come to Leh. And all this goes for the toss when there is heavy snowfall, which can cause these passes to shut down for traffic for a day or two.
Having said this, if you do not have any options but to travel to Ladakh in the month of May, then follow these simple tips:
Take the Srinagar – Leh highway: Take the Srinagar – Leh highway while going to Ladakh, this way you would be doing Leh – Manali leg of your journey a little later on and hopefully by that time things would have improved slightly.
Keep at least couple of buffer days: Keep at least couple of buffer days in your itinerary, especially if you have to catch a flight or train back to your home. This way even if you get delayed by couple of days, you wouldn’t be in a tough spot.
Keep your itinerary open ended and dynamic: This is essential while traveling to Ladakh early or late in the season and would allow you to have at least some fun, in case you can’t cross a pass on a particular day.
Carry food and water: In case your vehicles gets stuck somewhere, you will likely have to rely on these to keep you going, so make sure to carry at least some food like chocolates and biscuits and plenty of water with you while traveling.