Here are some common mistakes that people do while planning their trip to Ladakh, Kinnaur, Spiti & Lahaul.
1. Mistake: Not familiarizing with the geography.
Suggestion: Go through the map of the area you are planning to visit. Make a mental note of general direction of stopovers and places of interest. Calculate distances and travel time. For time taken to travel, consult someone who has been to these places in mode of transportation that you intend taking. Make a tabular chart of distance, time, route, fuel stops etc. Keep a photo of map (hard copy or in phone) for ready ref.
2. Mistake: Inadequate Acclimatisation.
Suggestion: In higher altitude, acclimatisation is the most important aspect. One should ascent gradually. Get yourself medically checked for high altitude travel.
For Spiti circuit, start your journey from Kinnaur side and finish towards Manali side. Don’t do the clockwise leg. For some reason, if you have decided to do it clockwise, then avoid Chandertaal and head directly for Kaza.
For Leh, either drive through Srinagar side. If you are taking Manali route, then take a night break at Keylong/ Jispa. In case you are flying in to Leh; then day 1 has to be a complete rest, not even local sightseeing. Just sleep. 2nd day should also be at Leh. Ideally, one should take rest on day 2 as well, but if you don’t have time, go for relaxed sightseeing which does not involve exerting yourself. If you don’t feel good, just head back to hotel. Attempting KhardungLa/ ChangLa on Day 2 is a bad idea.
Also remember that you may be super duper fit person, a great athlete/ sportsperson, you don’t consume alcohol/ smoke a fag etc. But this doesn’t mean that you will get acclimatized quickly. Just keep that myth away. However, do not take this AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) to the level that it mentally starts affecting you and you become apprehensive. It’s just that at altitude above 5-6000 feet the level of Oxygen in atmosphere reduces. Your lungs are capable of functioning absolutely fine, at lower oxygen levels. It’s just that the lungs can’t adjust to this sudden change. So either you ascent gradually or you take adequate rest.
3. Mistake: Kids cannot be taken to these places
Suggestion: Kids are fine, you can take them to these places. A few must for managing kids is- no compromise on acclimatization. Carry more than adequate woolens and protection from cold breeze. Keep their head, fingers, toes covered. Keep their skin covered to avoid sun burn. Keep your speed of traveling slow. Kids are at no disadvantage as compared to adults. However parents have to cater for the fact that kids will be more active, thus they can exert themselves more than elders & really small kids may not be able to express their issues, therefore parents need to be on a lookout of their kid’s behaviour. Take your kids, don’t fall in trap of people giving advice that they should be taken to these places. Also, keep them adequately hydrated, whether they like it or not. Keep adequate water and food supplies with you in case you expect to get stuck on road for long due to traffic jam, snow blocks, landslides, accidents etc.
4. Mistake: If he can do it, I can do it.
Suggestion: Please use Common Sense and prudence. You will find enough people boasting about how they stretched the limits and nothing happened to them. This is applicable to acclimatisation, itinerary, adventurous stunts, driving by night, consuming alcohol, choice of vehicle, types of clothing required etc. Just because a plan worked out fine for Person A, doesn’t make A’s plan good. Always remember, for every success story of a plan-stretched-to-limit, there will be many stories of failures or self-inflicted difficulties. We only hear success stories, we rarely read/ hear about failed stories.
5. Mistake: Consumption of Alcohol
Suggestion: Alcohol does not give you warmth and it does not help you relax. At higher altitude, especially when we are moving on almost daily basis, just shun Alcohol & Cigarette. I suggest, get a High with Nature.
6. Mistake: Comparing Spiti with Ladakh
Suggestion: If one has done Ladakh, doesn’t mean he/she can easily do Spiti circuit (Kinnaur, Spiti & Lahaul). The two places may outwardly appear to have similar terrain, but there are many obvious differences. To start with, the roads in Kinnaur, Spiti & Lahaul are much more difficult than Manali, Leh, Nubra, PangongTso, Kargil, Srinagar. Am not including Zanskar, Chumathang Valley as they are not so frequented places of Ladakh and they are much more difficult than general touristy places of Ladakh. Thus, your preparation for trip to Ladakh may not meet the requirements in Spiti. Spiti circuit gets very lonelier as compared to Ladakh, the landslides are more frequent here, the tourist infrastructure and commercial tourist support here are again minimal. Amenities are basic. Road conditions are bad. Stretch between Kunzum to Gramphoo is one of the worst roads that you will ever find on this earth. Therefore, plan afresh for Spiti.
7. Mistake: It’s the driving skill and not the type of vehicle that matters.
Suggestion: This query keeps coming time & Again for the Full Spiti Circuit.. “Can I drive in Alto, Nano, and such low ground clearance car. My take on this..NO. Nothing is impossible, but as a Rule, vehicles like Alto, i20, Swift, Dezire, City etc is a Big NO for Spiti round Circuit. For Ladakh, it is somewhat manageable. Just because Locals drive doesn’t mean you can also drive Alto there. Further, locals drive these small cars ‘Locally’ only, and rarely will you find them doing Kaza – Chander Tal – Manali in Alto. Alto may be easy to negotiate through terrain as it has a better power to weight ratio as compared to Swift, Dezire, i20 etc but they can’t negotiate Nallah (only respite is that 6 people can lift Alto, but 10 people can’t lift Swift). Driving skill, is a miniscule factor when crossing the furious Nallahs between Batal & Gramphoo. Vehicle capability & suitability is the single most important factor. There are people who have done this circuit in smaller vehicle. U will hear such sporadic success stories, but u will rarely hear the ordeal of major part of travelers who attempted this in their small cars. Do not take this Bait.
8. Mistake: Rigid Plan/ Will see as it happens
Suggestion: Well this exactly can’t be called as mistake, but needs to be addressed. Some people make a watertight plan, like how we plan for Plains. But if this plan does not get executed, then the whole trip goes for a toss. Then there are people who travel as their heart says the morning when they get up from bed. My advice will be that have a general plan ready. Mostly our plans get dictated with availability of time. Thus, cater for spare days. One spare day for every five day of travel is a good yardstick. Keep that flexibility and keep moving. Towards later part of trip, if the spare day is still available, have a plan to pause your trip and relax, doing nothing. Or may be add things like River rafting etc which can be accommodated even at last minute. Another factor which governs our movement is availability of accommodation. The good part is that both these regions are booming, which means that there is adequate accommodation is available and you will get some place for sure to stay. To sum up, keep your general plan ready and keep some spare days to cater for unforeseen contingencies.
9. Mistake: Planning the trip with previous years weather as reference
Suggestion: While the very broad weather (season: Summer, Winter) every year is similar, but the smaller time frames may not be same when compared to previous years. To take an example, the weather conditions of August 2018 will be similar to August 2017. Weather is unpredictable, especially for people planning to drive on their own. The roads which were open last year may not be open this year at the same time. If the road conditions were good last year, it may not be the same this year; same for snow fall etc. Please do a weather check closer to your date of journey.
10. Mistake: I can do Leh/ Spiti in 4-5 days
Suggestion: Please do not waste your time and money. Just stay at home.
11. Mistake: Taking motorized vehicle to enclosed water bodies like Pangong Tso
Suggestion: This is not cool at all. Trust me; your vehicle doesn’t want to go to the lake. The lake cries when you emit those poisonous gases on top of water surface. Endorheic (bodies of water that do not flow into the sea) lakes absorb these pollutants permanently. Over a period of time, the lake severely gets affected. PangongTso, which is famous for its varying Blue hues, has already turned brackish at a few places. I request you, as you read; to take an oath that you will not take your vehicle by the lake side and you will help preserve the lake. Perhaps you will get more applause by posting a statement on social media that “I did not take my Car/ Bike to the lake side” instead of posting picture of your vehicle at the lake side. HP government does not permit any vehicle 500 mtrs from ChanderTaal and no stay is permitted with 2 km of the lake. Please preserve these beautiful high altitude lakes; before they turn into
12. Conclusion. Enjoy your trip, enjoy the beautiful nature, don’t be in a hurry, carry loads of patience, don’t argue with locals and keep the place clean.
Check the vehicle thoroughly before leaving for one of the best excursion tours in India.
Get your vehicle serviced a week before leaving, so that you get enough time to check if there is something which needs to be done.
Clutch plates: You need to be sure that your clutch plated have enough life to handle the steeps and hilly terrains. Get these checked.
Brakes: Check the brake pads, shoes and oil to be in top condition. It there isn’t much life left in them, get’em changed. There shouldn’t be any air pockets in the hose.
Coolant: No only water please. Make sure that the coolant is in top condition. If possible increase the quantity of coolant as to water. 1. It will keep your car running efficiently at continuous high RPM’s. 2. The coolant will freeze slower than water in sub zero temperatures.
Engine Oil Change before your Laddakh trip. Carry around ½ a liter with you to top up.
All filters: Engine oil filter, air filter fuel filters etc must be in proper condition.
Electrical and Battery: Battery should be in good condition with proper top up and clean terminals.
All electrical wirings, connections must be checked. Carry some wire with you, just in case
Tyre alignment: Check the condition of the tyres, including of the spare wheel. If the tyres are nearing end of their life or have serious cuts/cracks in them, get them replaced ASAP! Get the tyres aligned properly if there is a need; remember you will need your car to be handling at its best. Carry Puncture kit and air inflator alongwith.
Anti rust treatment: Since you will be driving through water crossings and snow and these can cause your car’s underbelly to catch rust. Many service centers offer anti rust treatment for the underbelly of the car before the monsoons. Get it done.
Lights: Check all lights, indicators, horn before leaving. Carry a pair of spare headlight bulbs.
Learn minor repair/servicing:
Once you are through the above steps, your car should also love you back through the entire trip. However it would be a good idea to ask your mechanic to teach you minor chores like fixing punctures, changing bulbs and fuses, checking and topping up essential fluids such as battery water, coolant, engine oil etc.
More details, what to carry, do’s and don’ts to follow.