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, the cost of which includes an environmental fee, though Indian tourists now only have to carry photo ID.
Permits are issued by the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in Leh but the office deals only through Leh’s many tour operators, who charge a fee – usually around ₹550–660 per head. As the areas in question are served by infrequent public transport, you may well choose to use a tour operator anyway. In theory, permits are only issued to groups of at least two people accompanied by a guide. However, in practice travel agents are generally happy to issue permits to solo individuals travelling independently, though you’ll have an imaginary friend (usually somebody applying at the same time) listed on the permit to fulfil the official requirement. As long as your name and passport number are on the permit, the checkpoints are quite relaxed about how many of you there are.
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, which is valid for a maximum period of seven days and covers all restricted areas, make at least five copies before setting off because officers at checkpoints sometimes like to keep a copy when you report in. If you go on an organized trip, however, the driver takes care of all this and you may never even handle your permit.