Category Archives: Ladakh

India for Introverts: 5 Destinations To Avoid The Crowds And Follow Your Bliss

One of the biggest complaints I hear from foreigners who travel to India is that the crowds and noise can be distressing. This can be even more overwhelming if you’re an introvert, like me. People and noise drain my energy and tire me out very quickly.

But India is not all crowds, noise and beggars. If you hate these, then I recommend you avoid all Indian cities, except as layovers, because you will find these three things in abundance in most cities.

Even though Indians are not known to have a concept of personal space, it’s possible for introverts to find destinations, in this vast country, where they’ll get nothing but peace and quiet. I know, because I found some of these places by actively looking for them.

So, if you love a quiet holiday, whether by the beach or in the mountains or the forests, here are five delightful destinations where you can avoid the crowds and follow your bliss.

  1. Talpona Beach, Goa

I went to Talpona Beach, Goa, in May 2018, because I wanted to take a road trip with my family and my two Labradors. I know Goa pretty well, having lived there for two years when I was completing my Masters at Goa University.

Sunset at Talpona beach

I thought I’d seen almost every beach in Goa worth seeing, until I chanced upon the perfect family accommodation at Talpona beach, in Canacona district at the very south of Goa. We stayed there for a week in a quiet little cottage with our dogs.

There were very few people, mostly locals, on the beach and the few creatures we encountered were stray dogs, cows and crows. With excellent food, Wifi and only my family around, it turned out to be a very restful and relaxing vacation, in spite of the road trip.

Read about my visit to Talpona Beach here.

  1. McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh

I went to McLeodganj a number of years ago to do a 5-day Introduction to Buddhism course at the Tushita Meditation Center. McLeodganj is a little town near Dharamshala – the Dalai Lama’s summer capital – in Himachal Pradesh.

View of the snow caps from McLeodganj

We spent hardly any time in the town itself and, except for my classmates, there were no crowds to disturb the serenity of our experience. The meditation sessions were an introvert’s dream. To sit in silence and contemplate was just what I needed at that point in my life.

The main meditation hall at Tushita. Image by Jaypee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

But you don’t have to stay at a meditation centre to find peace and quiet here. You can use AirBnB to book a quiet little cottage or room with stunning mountain views in the hills of McLeodganj.

Read about my visit to McLeodganj here.

  1. Pahalgam, Kashmir

Pahalgam is a sleepy little town in Kashmir with scenic locales and sights that would be perfect in a Bollywood movie (and many have been filmed here, too).

We went to Kashmir on a 10-day trip in 2011 and Pahalgam turned out to be one of my favourite places ever. Walking along the quiet banks of the Lidder River, listening to only the sound of gushing water, was one of my favourite things to do.

The beautiful Lidder River

There were no crowds and the only people we met in the tiny market were locals going about their business. We saw no other tourists on our visit there – none where we were staying, at least.

I envisioned myself staying for a week in a little cottage by the river, enjoying the spectacular view of the pine trees and water gushing by my front door. Oh, Heaven! Accommodation in Pahalgam is also very cheap, so perhaps I’ll do that one day.

My dream cottage on the banks of Lidder River Pahalgam

Read about my visit to Pahalgam here.

  1. Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra

Mahabaleshwar is a pretty popular tourist spot near Pune, so it’s not a place an introvert would think of as peaceful and quiet. No, for that you have to avoid staying in the town and instead book yourself a room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar.

Our room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar

This quiet luxury resort is located in a forest where you’ll see very few humans around, except when you venture into the dining room for your meals. The only people who’ll disturb you are the people who come to clean your room.

You may see a monkey or two and a few forest creatures, but these are welcome distractions. The resort is pretty far from the town (most of Club Mahindra’s resorts are), so you don’t have to go to any touristy places unless you want to.

Read about my visit to Mahableshwar here.

  1. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This remote destination is an introvert’s delight. A high-altitude mountain lake with spectacular views and few people to disturb your reverie… What more could one ask for?

On a trip to Ladakh in May 2016, we stayed for a night in a tented camp at Pangong Tso (Lake). I wished I could have stayed longer, never mind that it was freezing cold and the food and amenities were pretty basic.

Pangong Lake Tented Camps

For that matter, almost anywhere you go in Ladakh, you’ll find almost no crowds, and the only thing that will assail your ears is the wind blowing through the rugged snowy peaks.

If sadhus and holy men are the ultimate introverts, it’s no surprise that they choose such remote places for their reflections.

Read about my trip to Ladakh here.

I hope that, with these 5 locations for introverts in India, I’ve done my bit to change your vision of India as a place filled with crowds and noise.

Peace and quiet can be had in many places in India if you know where to look. These 5 travel destinations will help you find it.

A Trip To Ladakh: Leh – Nubra Valley – Pangong Tso

Whenever I saw images of Ladakh, they conjured up for me a land of stark mountain ranges, serene high-altitude lakes, and blue skies contrasting with cold desert landscapes.

Magnificent views everywhere you look in Ladakh

When I finally did my bucket list trip in May 2016, I found my imagination was not far from the truth. I had no desire to land up in Ladakh alone with my child, with no bookings and having to search out tour operators for excursions.

Spontaneity and doing-it-yourself are not the right approaches for all vacations. When travelling with family, especially children, in such a remote place, I find it’s better to book a tour with a well-known operator.

So I opted for the “Amazing Ladakh with 2 Nights in Nubra Valley” package from MakeMyTrip.com. The total cost of the package for both of us came to INR 43,521 (including taxes). This is how our trip went.

Getting Acclimatized To The Altitude

Leh, the capital of Ladakh is at an altitude of 3,524 meters (11,562 ft), so it’s important to acclimatize after coming into the city, before travelling further within Ladakh.

The email from MakeMyTrip mentioned that it was best to spend a day to rest and get acclimatized to the place. They also recommend that those planning to have an anti-altitude pill before travel, such as Diamox, should consult an experienced doctor first.

We boarded our flight from Pune to Delhi and flew on from there to the tiny Leh airport. Upon arrival, a MakeMyTrip representative met us at the airport and transferred us by car to the 3-star Grand Willow hotel in Leh.

The view from the Grand Willow hotel in Leh

After checking in at the hotel, we took their advice and rested for the day, having all our meals in the hotel dining room. The food was simple and not bad for a budget trip.

Having a meal in our hotel in Leh

I was worried about my child getting altitude sickness because of a history of asthma. Instead, I turned out to be the one who had trouble acclimatizing to the low oxygen levels, while my kid was absolutely fine.

Luckily I had no debilitating symptoms, except for mild breathlessness when walking uphill on Leh’s undulating city roads.

Sightseeing Around Leh

On the second day, we had our breakfast and went on a tour of some of the attractions near Leh.

Spituk Gompa (monastery) near Leh

First, we went to the Spituk Gompa (monastery), just outside Leh. I got breathless climbing the monastery stairs, so I opted to stay lower, while my child climbed to the top of the monastery. But even from where I stood, the sight of the Leh valley below us was quite spectacular.

The view of Leh from Spituk Gompa

After our visit to the Gompa, we were taken to the Magnetic Hill outside Leh. Depending on whom you ask, the “gravity-defying phenomenon” that this spot is famous for has either to do with magnetism or an optical illusion.

Unfortunately, on our visit there, I saw no sign of either phenomenon. So the Magnetic Hill turned out to be a bit of a dud.

Magnetic Hill was a big dud

After that, we drove about 35 kilometres outside Leh city and 6 kilometres from Nimo village on the Kargil – Leh highway, to the Sangam or the Confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers.

Y-shaped Confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers from the road above

The views at this point were quite breathtaking. Tall, sandy mountains almost devoid of vegetation, sloped down on either side of the river to meet at a Y-shaped curve called the confluence, where the two rivers meet.

The confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers

A little one-storey cabin near the road, belonging to Indus Himalayan Explorers, offers rafting and kayaking gear for the more adventurous traveller. This is a fantastic place to enjoy water sports, or just stand and skip pebbles over the waters.

Indus Himalayan Explorers offers kayaking and rafting gear

On our way back, we stopped to visit the Gurdwara Pathar Sahib, a Sikh temple managed by the Indian army, where we enjoyed the Langar – free food served to visitors at the community kitchen in gurudwaras.

After returning to our hotel, I had a hankering for some authentic Ladakhi food. So, my child and I walked to a restaurant near our hotel, where I had the Tibetan Thukpa (noodle soup), which was quite delicious. The portions were a bit too large for me, though.

Tibetan Thukpa (noodle soup)

Leh to Nubra Valley Via Khardung-la Pass

The next morning, we woke up early and had a quick breakfast to begin our 140 km drive to Nubra Valley, about 5 to 6 hours away.

On the way, we passed by the Khardung-la Pass – incorrectly cited as the highest vehicle-accessible pass in the world – at an altitude of 5,359 meters (17,582 ft) above sea level.

Khardung-la Pass is of strategic importance to India

Maintained by the Border Roads Organisation, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier, the highest and coldest battlefield in the world, at an average altitude of 20,000 feet.

At the snowline near Khardung-La

As we entered Nubra Valley, I was stunned at how much it reminded me of the description of the fictional Shangri-La from James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon.

Nubra Valley or Shangri-La?

Rivers and rivulets run through the Nubra Valley carrying fertile alluvial soil, making the valley an oasis of green in the desert landscape of Ladakh.

Rivers and rivulets run through Nubra Valley

After our long drive, in the company of a Gujarati family of four, we checked into our tent camp in Hunder in the Nubra Valley. I took a nap till dinner, while my child had fun playing with the family that had accompanied us.

Our tented camp in Hunder

Sightseeing In Nubra Valley

The next morning, we set out to do some sightseeing in Nubra Valley, starting with a visit to the White Sand Dunes at Hunder.

White sand dunes in Nubra Valley

My child enjoyed an ATV ride on the sand dunes, while I took photos and took in the scenery.

ATV ride on the sand dunes

After that, we visited the Diskit Gompa, the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the Nubra Valley.

Diskit Gompa (monastery) in Nubra Valley

It features a 32-meter statue of Maitreya Buddha.

Statue of Maitreya Buddha at Diskit Gompa

After our tour of the monastery, our guide took us across a small rivulet to see a herd of Bactrian camels. Since I do not believe in riding or any form of exploitation of animals, I sat out the camel ride with my child.

Bactrian camels in Nubra Valley

Instead, I busied myself taking photos of these two-humped animals that have a tremendous tolerance for cold, drought, and high altitudes. The domesticated Bactrian camel has enabled the travel of caravans on the Silk Road and been used to travel in inner Asia since ancient times.

Bactrian camels have a high tolerance for cold, drought, and high altitudes

After our visit to the camel camp, we returned to our camp in Hunder for dinner and rested till the next morning until our journey back to the hotel in Leh. I skipped the shopping tour in Leh, although my child accompanied the Gujarati family on their excursion.

I had purchased a jacket in a tiny market in Nubra Valley, but on reaching Leh, realised that the zipper was of poor quality, so I gave it to a mochi (cobbler) in the main square near our hotel for repairs.

We were to go on a day excursion to the Pangong Tso (Lake) the next day. The distance from Pangong Lake to Leh is a round trip of 280 kilometres. It’s a 5-hour drive from Leh, most of it on rough and winding mountain roads. It exhausted me just to think about it.

Long, winding roads climbing up the mountains

Now, I love mountain lakes and Pangong Tso was very much a bucket list trip for me. So I asked our tour guide if my child and I could extend our stay at Pangong for a night and return the next day.

In this, I found that MakeMyTrip did not disappoint. They were very flexible with our itinerary and arranged for our Pangong Lake stay in a tented camp overnight. It cost extra, of course, but it was well worth it.

Excursion to Pangong Lake

This brackish-water lake is situated at an elevation of 4,350 meters (14,270 feet). It is 134 kilometres (83 miles) long and extends from India to China. About 60% of the length of the lake lies in China.

My first glimpse of Pangong lake through the mountains

During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. The closer you get to Pangong Tso, the more likely you are to see marshes and wetlands formed by the streams that feed the lake from the Indian side.

Marshes and wetlands formed by the streams that feed Pangong Tso

Pangong Tso is sacred to the locals, so swimming or water sports are not allowed here. For security reasons, India does not permit boating on the lake. As the lake lies on the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control, an Inner Line Permit is required to visit the lake.

No swimming or boating is permitted on the lake

While Indian nationals can obtain individual permits, others must have group permits (with a minimum of 3 persons) accompanied by an accredited guide. The tourist office in Leh issues the permits for a small fee.

To get to Pangong Lake, you have to pass through the Chang-La Pass, claimed to be the second-highest motorable road in the world at an altitude of 5,360 meters (17,590 feet).

At Chang-La Pass, the second highest motorable road in the world

Craggy rock formations dot the landscape on the way. The climb is very steep and requires a careful drive.

Craggy rock formations dot the landscape

The stretch of 10 to 15 kilometres of road on either side from Chang-la is loose dirt and slush and dangerous for bikers, especially in the summer months.

Loose dirt and snowmelt make the roads dangerous for bikers

I have great respect for the Border Roads Organisation and Himank, who build and maintain these high-altitude roads.

The Border Roads Organisation and Project Himank build and maintain these high-altitude roads

My first glimpse of the blue waters of Pangong Tso through the mountains was heavenly. It was every bit as mesmerizing as I’d imagined it to be.

The famed Pangong lake, at last

It was May, so it was still very cold, especially at night, when we had to leave the relative warmth of our tent to walk to the dining tent, a few feet away. We reached there just as dinner was getting over and only managed to grab a few handfuls of rice and dal and a papad or two.

Our tented camp at Pangong Tso

My kid was not happy about us spending the night because of the freezing cold. But I loved watching the sunrise, which was surreal.

Pangong Lake looks surreal at sunrise

For some reason, being at that altitude made it seem all the more sacred and spiritual. It made me understand why rishis (seers) and holy men seem to prefer high-altitude living. It’s not just the isolation, it’s also the sense of grandeur that such a place inspires.

Because we were travelling back to Leh on our own, we were able to stop at a spot near the lake called 3 Idiots Point (made famous by the Aamir Khan movie, 3 Idiots, which was partly filmed at Pangong Tso).

The restaurants are making a killing off the fame of the 3 Idiots movie

We met a local who owned a pair of yak. He consented to allow me to click his photos for INR 20. I paid him 100 rupees in a moment of generosity.

A local celebrity and his yak

I also got the chance to see the crystal-clear waters of the lake up close and spend some time at the lakeshore. Had we settled for the day excursion, we would have missed out on so much.

A yak sits contentedly on the banks of Pangong Tso

Pangong Tso was the highlight of my visit to Ladakh. Given a chance, I would love to go back and see Tso Moriri, and a few more high-altitude lakes in Ladakh.

Pangong Lake Tented Camps

Tips To Keep In Mind When Visiting Ladakh

  1. Watch out for altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness caused by exposure to low oxygen levels at high elevations. Symptoms may include a headache, vomiting, feeling tired, trouble sleeping, and dizziness. If you experience any of these symptoms, move to a lower elevation.
  2. Don’t plan too many activities in a single day. Listen to your body and take rest when you need to rest, even if it’s the middle of the day.
  3. Travel with a tourist guide. Ladakh is a remote area near the Indian and Chinese borders. It’s not advisable to travel solo or without a guide who knows the area for fear of straying into disputed territories.
  4. Keep your passport on you at all times, even if you’re an Indian tourist. Permits are required to visit some areas. Your passport or ID will be required to issue these permits.

Watch the video of our trip to Ladakh here