Parts of Ladakh are still inaccessible to casual tourists, but with the easing of tensions along the border between India and China, much of this incredible land has been opened up. Three areas in particular are now firm favourites with travellers: the Nubra Valley bordering the Karakoram Range to the north of Leh; the area around Pangong Tso, the lake to the east of Leh; and the region of Rupshu with the lake of Tso Moriri, to the southeast of Leh. Indian and foreign visitors need permits to visit these areas. In theory, these are only issued to groups of at least four people accompanied by a guide, and only through a local tour operator. However, in practice travel agents are generally happy to issue permits to solo individuals travelling independently, though you’ll have three imaginary friends (usually people applying at the same time) listed on the permit to bump up the numbers. As long as your name and passport number are on the permit, the checkpoints are quite relaxed about how many of you there are.
Permits are issued by the District Magistrate’s Office in Leh but the office now only deals through Leh’s many tour operators, who charge a fee – usually around Rs100 per head. As some of the areas in question (such as Pangong Tso) are served by infrequent public transport, you may well find yourself using a tour operator anyway, in which case they will include your permit in the package. You will need two photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport and visa. Provided you apply in the morning, permits are usually issued on the same day. Once you have your permit, usually only valid for a maximum period of seven days, make at least five copies before setting off, as checkpoints sometimes like to keep a copy when you report in. They may also occasionally spot-check to see the original copy. If you go on an organized trip, however, the driver takes care of all this and you may never even handle your permit.