The Land of Lamas, a mecca for travelers, an ex-Buddhist kingdom, there are many ways to describe Ladakh but no words can capture the vast infinite expanse of beauty that draws tourists from all over the world to this remote, rugged and difficult to inhabit land. Setting aside acclimatization, one of the main challenges of traveling through this rugged difficult terrain, till some years ago, was the issue of remaining in contact with family and friends. But like everything else, technology has contributed significantly in improving communication facilities in Ladakh making even remote places accessible.
While Leh Ladakh still has a long way to go in terms of mobile coverage (the difficult mountain terrain not making the job any easier), there has been considerable improvement in the past couple of years in extending coverage to even remote places like Hunder and Jispa. However if you are expecting 24 hour high speed mobile and data connectivity, you are in for a big disappointment. Networks especially outside Leh are erratic and dependent on weather conditions. Then again you need to ask yourself whether you really need to bury yourself in your mobile when there is so much beauty to feast your eyes on. It is a wasted trip if you are worrying about mobile connectivity while watching the majestic Karakoram mountains look down upon your tiny frame. Their majestic splendor should be enough to remind you of the transient nature of material goods and the beauty that lies hidden in our natural surroundings.
However, a mobile connection is definitely needed, both to remain in regular contact with your traveling group as well as to keep assuring your family back home about your well-being. Here are some points regarding mobile coverage that should stand you in good stead during your Leh and Ladakh trip.
• Only post- paid connections work in Leh and Ladakh, so don’t waste time and money in purchasing a pre- paid connection for traveling to Leh and Ladakh.
• BSNL has the best mobile connectivity followed by Airtel
• Locally purchased sim cards are the only pre-paid cards that work in Jammu and Kashmir, but being a border area you need a local contact address to be able to purchase one.
• Foreigners are required to show travel and passport documents in order to be able to purchase a local sim card. The easiest way to procure one is to ask your hotel manager and they can guide you, sometimes they even furnish the address proof required to purchase a local sim card
• Purchasing a local sim card might prove to be more costly than getting a post-paid BSNL connection from your home town, which is why your best bet is to procure a post paid BSNL connection from your home town before traveling to Leh and Ladakh.
• BSNL has the widest network coverage within Jammu and Kashmir and most tourists prefer using BSNL.
• It is the travel routes that have little or zero connectivity. For instance if you are traveling via the Manali Leh highway, you are likely to find very little reception beyond Jispa and that too will be erratic. Similarly except for pockets in Kargil and Lamayuru, mobile coverage will be non- existent on the Srinagar Leh Highway. The story will be similar while traveling from Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardung La Pass and likewise to Pangong Lake from Leh.
• Tourist places like Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso, Hanle and Tso Moriri have received mobile connectivity in some parts, for instance Deskit and Hunder in Nubra Valley have mobile coverage though it is unreliable and call quality is highly erratic.
• Given that mobile connectivity cannot be relied upon, it is best to travel in a group. Plan your itinerary well in advance taking local weather into consideration.
• Always plan your trip with the assumption that there will be no mobile coverage till your return to Leh.
• Keep family and friends informed before starting on a trip so that they are aware of your movements. Take advantage of coverage whenever reception is good to update your status to your group as well as back home
• Satellite phones have been made available in remote villages lying on the way to major tourist attractions. They charge approximately Rs.2-3 per call, use it when you need to send a message out to family back home or when you are trying to establish contact with your group
• You will be surprised to know that Whatsapp works well in many areas, even where call quality is very bad. Although uploading photos on whatsapp might not be possible, sending and receiving text is definitely doable.
Having said all of this, odds are that while in Ladakh you could prefer to unplug yourself entirely and immerse in the beauty of the place and in this life altering adventure.