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Let’s be completely honest here: there are some really good reasons not to travel with us to Ladakh. We want to be perfectly clear in advance, so you can’t say afterwards that you didn’t know what you were getting into. So take your time to read this and consider carefully, if you really want to contact us and join us on a trip to Ladakh. Your decision could have fatal consequences.
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Why you should not travel with us

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1. Abandon any hope for anonymity

If you travel with us, things will unfortunately get terribly personal. We’ll address you with your name. While we have an internal booking number for your journey, this is destined only for our partners (hotels, guest houses, transport companies, etc). But for us you are not a number, and we will call you by your name happily and often. We understand how annoying it can be when, already at the hotel (or even at the airport), you are received with a heartfelt greeting, as if we knew you already!

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These are the two “chaperones”: Daniela & Tashi. Over 90% of our Ladakh Travellers are personally welcomed by them!

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2. No Respect

There’s an Austrian unwritten rule about pronouns: “From about 1000m up, we can drop the formalities” (in German, as in Spanish, there are two forms of the second person pronoun, one formal and one informal). We are not going to call you Mr. or Mrs. Family-Name. No Sir, or Doctor, or titles of any kind. This often leads to a terribly unpleasant familiar atmosphere. As if you traveled half the world just to feel at home!

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3. Nothing is fixed

Many find the flexibility in our trips extremely annoying, particularly in the individual tours. Nothing is carved in stone. Things can and actually will change when on the field, to adapt to the circumstances, be they unexpected illness, variable weather conditions or spontaneous festivals…

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Stop it! Not everyone enjoys such a personal service.

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4. Overcaring as a mother

Getting rid of the Gesar Travel people is nearly as hard as hiding from your own shadow. Unfortunately, they care about you and worry as easily as your own mother. If something is not going well with you, they will make a point of not leaving you long time alone, hold your hand when visiting the doctor, bring food and drinks for you, and make sure you get (and take!) any prescribed medications. And if it is really inevitable, they will even mingle with insurance issues and arrange an early trip back home.

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5. The drivers are lame

The drivers at Gesar Travel are so safe and boring! They always horn before each dangerous curve and sharp turn, making themselves obvious to every other vehicle around; they drive at walking speed over bumps and rough places, just to avoid jumping in the seat and hitting the inside of the car; they stop at all intersections, respect red lights and speed limits… They’re so lame! No adventure factor. Zero thrill.

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Zero thrill despite the crazy roads.

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6. The cooks will batten you

Just when you were getting ready to finally lose a few kilos and eat only Daal and rice for a couple of days, the shameless Gesar Travel- cooks entice you with rich, complete menus that will refill your energy bars and leave you satisfied. Unfortunately, they are also really tasty, and you’ll probably eat more than you planned.

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Diet? What diet?

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7.  The guides are annoying know-alls

We know how much fun it is to read travel guides and articles and blog posts 😉 and inform oneself before a trip. So it’s normal to get frustrated when our guides know everything a little better, and pretentiously share their vast knowledge and secrets.

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If you had known that your guide would be such a smartass, you could have saved the money you spent on that travel guide.

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8. These annoying do-gooders

It’s really infuriating when, at the moment of breaking camp, our team picks up not only their own waste, but also any garbage that other trekking teams have left behind. And then they bring it all the way to Leh for proper disposal!spacer

9. Always so close to the locals

Yes, it’s true, it has always been our concern that in our team as many people as possible are really from Ladakh. And moreover, it is also very important to us that our guests have as much contact with locals as possible. This of course has consequences: invitations to private homes or nomad tents, tea drinking (even the nasty one with butter!), taking pictures (the memory cards fill up always so fast) and the worst of the worst: friendships that nowadays, thanks to Facebook, one must even maintain after leaving. It is so exhausting!

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The nerve of it! Slaving away on the fields with the locals.

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10. Ladakh isn’t worth a visit

Last but not least: browse through the pictures. If after that you still want to come to Ladakh with us, then I’m deeply sorry: you are a lost cause! (All pictures by Roland Amon)




spacerMany climbers are always longing for higher peaks to conquer. The beautiful Alps rise only until the 4.810m summit of the Mont-Blanc, so it is natural to look farther; and of course, no matter how far you look, the highest mountains of the planet rest on the Himalayas, the roof of the world. The Stok Kangri, with its 6.154m, is an ideal entry-level peak, “easily” conquerable by not so technical climbers.

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The Stok Kangri is technically simple, but its height makes it nevertheless challenging.

 

Facts about Stok Kangri

Difficulty: technically one of the easier peaks – but any 6k summit is by default a challenge for the body, and therefore must not be underestimated. A previous and good adjustment to height is essential.

Ascent requirements: other than the implied sure-footedness and absence of vertigo, a proficiency with crampons and ice axes is expected/recommended. The terrain is quite steep and the ridge is very exposed. Loose stones make the climb more difficult. The last 100m before the peak you will have to cross steep icy terrain.

Height: 6.154m (this is the official value, although there are many sources that point 6.120m; on Google Earth the value is instead “only” 6.060m ;))

Location: Ladakh, Indus Valley, part of the Stok chain, easily reachable from Leh.

Ascent duration: Usually 3-4 days (depending on physical condition and acclimatization). It can be combined with trekking routes of varying length in the Hemis National Park, since these also need a previous height adjustment.

Best season to climb: from June to the end of September (always depending on weather conditions).

Note! Permit: To climb the Stok Kangri you need a valid permit from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. You can get one in Leh or even at the base camp. Currently it costs 30€ / person.

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Ascent route of Stok Kangri (6.154m) from base camp.

Ascent in 4 days

 

Day 1: Stok-Smankarmo

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Elevation Profile (Click for enlarged view)

Leh is about 15km away from Stok and the trip by car takes approximately 30 min. Stok is also the seat of the royal family of Ladakh (it is a de facto royalty, devoid of political power). The palace is worth a short visit. At the end of the village is the starting point of the tour. First, a slow walk uphill along a glacial stream. After a while, it is necessary to overcome a small but steep pass. The route goes by impressive rock formations in the Stok Valley. Then it goes downhill until the creek, which we follow all the way to the night camp in Smankarmo. Smankarmo serves the people of Stok as summer pastures for their animals.

The maximum inclination on this day is about 40%, with an average of only about 10%.

Distance: 9 km.

Walking time: 4-5 hours.

Height of the camp: just below 4.400m.

Height difference: + 900 / -125m.

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On the way to Stok Kangri. Photo: Josef Reifenauer

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The way to Smankarmo goes over a small pass. Photo: Josef Reifenauer

Day 2: Smankarmo-Basislager

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Elevation profile (click for enlarged view)

The second day is a short one. We leave the campground and say “Julley” to the shepherds of the Stok grasslands. The route goes then uphill to the high valley, and past some stone huts belonging to the shepherds. The road is steep, but after approximately 3 hours we reach the base camp, just below 5,000m. From here we can see the glaciers of Golep Kangri, the smaller brother of Stok Kangri. At the same time, one can look down into the Indus and its green oases. For a better height adjustment and as preparation for the next day, a further increase in altitude is recommended before the short night’s sleep.

Max. Inclination: 44%, with an average of 18%.

Walking time: about 3 hours.

Height difference: + 623m / -23,3m.

Sleep height: 4.970m

Day 3: Ascent of Stok Kangri

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Elevation Profile (Click for enlarged view)

The night is very short, because we start to climb again when it is still dark – usually around 2am. With clear skies and good moonlight it is possible to go on without a head lamp. The route is also a bit steep at the start. It crosses a pass and rises steadily until you reach the Advanced Base Camp (ABC at 5.300m). After that, it’s time to walk over a flat glacier. Rope is usually not a must, since there are hardly any gaps, but it may be necessary to put the crampons on. Finally, we reach the long summit slope. We climb steeply, until about 5.700m, and branch off towards the summit ridge. Then we follow the ridge over several short steep sections until the top of the Stok Kangri at 6.154m (or less ;)). For this last bit, the use of ropes and crampons is also an option. In good weather, the summit offers a panoramic view of the mountains of Stok-, Ladakh and Zanskarkette, and the peaks of the Karakoram to the north. After a short break, the route goes the same way back to the base camp.

Max. Inclination: 84%, average 23.5%.

Walking time: 10-12 hours.

Height difference: + 1.130m / -55m.

 

 

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Sunrise at Stok Kangri

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The panoramic view of the surrounding mountains from Stok Kangri makes up for the hardships of the climb.

 

Day 4: Back to Stok

The way back to Stok follows the same route, if downhill and in opposite direction. After arriving in Leh, a celebration is in order (over a bottle of Godfather or Kingfisher, maybe?).

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A last look at the Stok Kangri before heading back to Leh.

 

Some of our expeditions

Of course there is more possible. These are only a few possibilites. If you intend to climb another peak, simply write to us: daniela@gesar-travel.com or tashi@gesar-travel.comspacer


Two sixthousanders in a row
Expedition with climbing of two 6000ers
If you need a challenge and want to climb not one but two six-thousanders, this is exactly the right trip for you. You will cimb two mountains in the Mentok range at Tsomoriri lake.

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(c) Barbara Esser

Stok Kangri in 2 weeks
Expedition to a 6000er
We offer you a two-weeks tour with ideal preparation for the ascent of Stok Kangri (6.154m), you get acclimatized by daily hikes and a short trek before our endeavor starts. So we are perfectly prepared and our chances are higher to summit the six-thousander at the end of our trip!

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(c) Markus Brixle

Sky of the nomads
Trekking & Expedition in Changthang
On this tour we fly at higher game: the nine-day-trek leads you through the the Tibetan High Plateau. And then you even climb a six-thousander.

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Cycling is becoming a very popular activity in Ladakh. The bicycle rental sector in Leh has been steadily growing every season for the last few years. But what are the best cycling routes, and what should you take into consideration when exploring the country on two wheels?


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Discovering Ladakh on a bicycle can be an exciting adventure. (All photos on this page by Steffi Langer)

 

Cycling in Ladakh: where are the best routes?

There are many great routes that are better enjoyed with a bicycle. Currently, one of the most popular choices is to load the bikes on a car and drive all the way up to the Khardong La (mountain pass to Nubra, at 5.360m) to then cycle back 40km down to Leh (at 3,500m). Many cycling rental offices in Leh offer this service nowadays. This is undoubtedly a very fun thing to do, BUT there are at least two important things to consider:

  1. You cycle from 3.500m altitude nearly 2.000 meters up. That fast gain of altitude is not easy on everybody. Problems with altitude can result in a lack of concentration and concentration is what you need on that road. When riding downhill, you should always be very careful and keep your eyes on the road, since these can sometimes be heavily damaged and very bumpy. A small mistake can have fatal consequences. Obviously, this kind of bicycle trip should only be made after you have properly acclimatized.
  2. When cycling, you are not alone – many trucks and jeeps drive along the same roads. Yes, the car drivers are by now used to the cyclists, but you still have to be careful, because there’s little a bicycle can do against a truck. (As an extra tip: take a scarf or a kerchief with you, in case you need to cover your mouth and nose; at this altitude, trucks can sometimes leave a dense trail of smoke behind them).

Many people also like to ride along the highways to Manali or Srinagar. The road conditions are here in general quite good (with the exception of the roads leading to and from the passes of Rothang La and Zoji La), BUT of course this also means a corresponding amount of traffic (during the summer months). Similarly, there’s usually a lot of traffic on the way to the Lake Pagong via the Chang La mountain pass. This is something to keep in mind.

Except for these few roads, traffic is relatively scarce in Ladakh and one can truly enjoy the bike trips in solitude. Some good routes are for example the one that goes to Zanskar over the Pensi La pass or the one to/from Nubra over the Wari La. In Changthang – the plateau of Ladakh – there are many rarely used Jeep trails and quiet roads. There, alone under the open skies of the roof of the world, you can really have the cycling experience of a lifetime.

Those more inclined to mountain biking can also make use of the many trekking routes available.

 

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Should I rent a bike, or bring mine from home?

 

Renting a bike, or bring one from home? What should I do?

As we already mentioned, nowadays there are many bike rentals in Ladakh, BUT virtually all bicycles are relatively bulky and/or heavy, and the quality of the equipment, technical service, repairs, etc., varies a lot from one place to another. It is very important to take a good look at the bike and to do a test run before renting anything. Remember to check the brakes!

Rates also vary depending on the provider. On average, you can expect a price of approximately 10-30 EUR per day, depending of course on how good the bike is. Also always remember that you can get a flat tire while riding the countryside, so you should ask if they have a spare one (or even better, a complete repair kit) to lend/rent to you.

While there is no law in Ladakh that makes helmets obligatory for cyclists, we would always recommend to wear one anyway. In this case maybe it’s better to bring your own helmet from home, since finding the proper size in situ is not always easy.

However, anyone who is planning a long bike trip or considers him/herself a good (non amateur ;)) cyclist, should always consider the possibility of bringing his/her own bicycle to Ladakh. The costs vary depending on the airline; in 2016, the transport from Europe to Delhi with Lufthansa was 100 EUR. You can calculate a few euros more for the transportation costs from Delhi to Leh, but this is nothing to worry about.

 

YOUR BIKE TOUR THROUGH LADAKH
Would you like to explore Ladakh on a bicycle? We can help you plan your trip, arrange a backup car for your luggage and equipment, and possibly even get you provisions and a cook, so you can also cycle to places where no fixed accommodation is available. Contact!

CYCLING IN LADAKH + TREKKING + MOUNTAIN CLIMBING?
For the multiactive we have a special tour in the program: first cycling all the way to Nubra, then a walk over the Lasermo La (5.400m) pass and back into the Indus valley, and for those who still have energy, even a 6k peak to climb! >> Learn more about this tour

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Holidays also mean good food and drink, taking time to slow down and enjoy a coffee and a cake. There are many restaurants and cafes in Leh during summer, where you can meet people from all over the world and enjoy really good food. That’s why we recommend our guests insteat of exclusively eating at the hotel to go out and experience Leh’s gastronomy on their own.

Before we tell you our selection of good restaurants and cafes, let’s check a bit of general information.
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Ladakhi food in restaurants?

One can find almost anything at the restaurants in Leh: Indian, Thai, Chinese, Tibetan, Mexican, Nepalese and continental food. But whoever is looking for an authentic Ladakhi food experience has to search carefully. Even if Skyu or Chhu Tagi are mentioned on the menu, it doesn’t mean that traditonal Ladakhi food is served. The main reason is that most cooks come from Nepal or other parts of India and simply don’t know how to cook Ladakhi dishes. We strongly recommend eating at the guest house (not in the hotel, where the situation is similar to that of the restaurants) or to find a way to eat at a Ladakhi family.
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Important: What you should take into consideration before starting

“Wash it, peel it, cook it or forget it”, that’s the rule. Therefore, avoid unwashed, unpeeled and/or uncooked food, at least at the beginning. In addition, when in Ladakh we recommend caution with dairy products, especially cheese! The many power cuts in Leh usually affect the refrigeration and proper conservation of food. Please be especially careful regarding Yak cheese, because it comes – with a few exceptions – mostly from Nepal, and during the transport the cold chain is regularly broken. Once it has arrived to Leh, it is often no longer fit for human consumption. Even the popular Mango-Lassi is at first not very well received by the untrained European stomach. For the meat eaters the situation is similar – meat is hardly cooled and is therefore a source for diarrhea and other annoying bowel movements. Whoever stays longer in Leh, gets used to it quickly.
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“German” Bakery

There are countles German, English and French Bakeries in Leh, but they actually sell just Nepalese food. Not that the pastries, cakes and biscuits aren’t good! No, they are simply not what they claim to be, so don’t be disappointed. (For me, as a sweets-loving spoiled Austrian woman, used to the fine bakery of my homeland, the advertised goods never come close to the original).
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Our Top 10 Favorite Restaurants and Cafes

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1. Penguin Bar & Restaurant

Our absolute favorite for lunch and dinner. In typical Nepali fashion, the chairs and tables are made of plastic, and the decoration still needs some work… in spite of what this restaurant offers a really comfy and quiet place in the middle of the noisy city. In the shade of apricot and apple trees, you can choose between a variety of Tibetan, Indian and continental dishes, and be served by its noticeably helpful and nice staff.
Our tip: Momos, smoothies, “Schnitzel” (for the stomachs of the children who are not always up to try unfamiliar things).

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2. Bon Appetit

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The “jet-set-restaurant” of Leh

Definitely the most chic restaurant that Leh has ever seen. With well designed chairs and tables made of wood! The view is excellent and the atmosphere, relaxing. The restaurant is tucked away, has a lovely terrace and a brilliant interior. The haute cuisine food is one of Ladakh’s best, but has little to do with local Ladakhi and Indian cuisine. Here they are keen to experiment a bit – with a touch of continental Asia.
Note: The prices are slightly higher and the portions relatively small. This is a place for people who have been in Leh for a long time and want to treat themselves to something special.
Our tip: pizza, pasta, the delicious “eggplant tower”, cashew crusted chicken.

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3. Chopsticks

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Thai-food in Leh

Also one of the nicer restaurants in Leh, with no plastic chairs and a (mostly) clean toilet. As the name implies, the food here is mainly eaten with chopsticks. We particularly recommend the Thai food. We would also advise against the Ladakhi dishes on the menu: they rarely deliver what they promise.
Our tip: Thai noodles dishes, fries (really yummy).

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4. Tibetan Kitchen

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Tingmo at Tibetan Kitchen

One of the best restaurants in Leh, when it comes to Tibetan cuisine. Very popular in the evening, it is often difficult to get a table, so reservations are recommended. The quality of the food doesn’t extend to the style of the restaurant, though, which also here is of the “Nepal-plastic” sort.
Our tip: Momos, tingmo, Thukpa – all Tibetan!

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5. Neha Snacks

Right on the Main Bazaar, there is a small restaurant perfect for those looking for the authentic Indian cuisine. So nothing for those who favor the mildness of European dishes, since Chilli is here a component of virtually all foods.
Our tip: Thali.

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6. Tashi’s Tea Place

This is our insider tip, because it’s not easy to arrive by random chance to Tashi’s restaurant. Unobtrusive, not even provided with a proper name, the room has just space for four (wooden ;-)) tables. Tashi, the Tibetan head of the house, is a very friendly lady, and the food served is cooked by her husband in the room at the back. The kitchen is simple, vegetarian and cheap. Not a big choice of dishes, but the food is always fresh and really tasty.
Our tip: kava tea and fried rice.

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7. Open Hand

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Here you can find really delicious coffee!

For those who are looking for real coffee. The Open Hand is quite modern and sells fair-trade products from Ladakh and other parts of India. It is commonly visited by younger travelers. We recommend it as a cafe rather than as a restaurant.
Our tip: coffee, breakfast.

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8. Wonderland

With its rooftop terrace, this is probably the most popular restaurant in Chanspa. The variety of the menu is remarkable, with anything from Tibetan to Indian, Chinese and Continental. The breakfast is especially recommendable here. The coffee tastes good too!
Our tip: Breakfast.

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9. Yama Coffee House

A very cozy and nice furnished small cafe in the district of Chanspa. It is ideal for sipping coffee and eating cake while watching the passersby.
Our tip: coffee and cake.

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10. Ladakh Fine Foods

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Breakfast Recommended by Ivonne Röthig

Our last tip is an insider tip from Ivonne Röthig, who has lived four years in Leh and knows it very, very well. This is one of the few restaurants that serves Ladakhi food. Also located in Chanspa, the small restaurant offers an excellent breakfast, including capers (which grow in Ladakh, but are hardly used by the Ladakhi) and a homemade apricot jam.

You can find most of these restaurants here, in our self-drawn map of Leh: Map of Leh.

Of course, you can find many more tips about restaurants and cafes on Tripadvisor. A little tip, though: Always pay attention who wrote the review – a restaurant that is very popular among Indian guests, not necessarily meets the needs of most westerners.

Bon Appetit!




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When in Rome, do as the Roman do. You do not have to adapt to everything what the Romans do, but knowing a little bit about how to behave in their country while on a visit can avoid annoyance and disrespect to the local customs and hence earning some unexpected friendly treatments. Some experiences and acquaintances might last for lifetime.

Von Tashi Wangail

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10 things you should not do in Ladakh

First of all, Ladakh is not a difficult place to travel. Most of the people will tolerate and forgive the awkward situations of a stranger quite naturally. However it is simply a noble sign to make an effort to understand and know some local customs before venturing into a new country.

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1. Tables are tables and no benches

The Ladakhi people sit on the floor in crossed leg positions and for this reason, the Ladakhi Table (Choktse) is even lower than the western chairs and therefore quite appealing to sit on it, especially people with Joint and knee problems. But sitting on a table or walking over it is considered quite unpolite. Anyone in such conditions (Joint and knee) can always ask the host for something to sit on or at least a raised platform, if a western type of chair is unavailable

(c) Roland Amon

Don’t sit on the small tables (= choktse) in Ladakhi houses and monasteries. Photo: Roland Amon

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2. Observe sitting hierarchy

It is important to note that a lay person do not sit on the seat rows meant for the monks and also refrain from sitting on the tables where food and tea are served. Lay person sit in accordance with the local custom and never above or on the seat meant for a monk unless a monk offer you to sit, which they do often, especially by a young monk running around and serving tea and food to the assembly of monks and visitors.

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3. Stepping over legs

While moving among people sitting in a raw, one must not step over a table (Choktse) or over people’s leg who are sitting in outstretched positions. Walking behind the people sitting in row to the desired place is always polite.

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4. Direct your feet correctly

Most Ladakhi sit cross-legged and solve the issue within itself of where to direct their feet. We “Westerners” often find this sitting position hard and have to stretch our legs. In this case, please be careful not to stretch your legs in the direction of a person, and certainly not in the direction of a Buddha statue.

Maitreya-Statue (c) Roland Amon

Please don’t direct your feet at a Statue of Buddha. Photo: Roland Amon

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5. Never step over books

One should never step over books, especially not when it comes to religious writings!

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6. Keep your spoon in your own plate

A Ladakhi does not like, if their food gets touched with the spoon of others. Whereas in the west, it is quite common to ask your friend or colleague: May I try your food? And dig into other’s plate. There will be always an extra cutlery for each dish to serve your plate. Ladakhis, while cooking, never taste the food with the cooking spoon. They always take out a little bit with the cooking spoon and put on the palm or on an extra plate and try it, but not directly with the cooking spoon. If you are offered Tsampa (roasted barley flour) please never wet your finger and try it that way! Take the spoon, put it on your palm and then into your mouth. If you are well trained you can also throw it into your mouth directly from the spoon – but this is only for experienced people. Ladakhi will never drink from your bottle, if your mouth touched the opening. They will always drink in such a way that their mouth does not touch the bottle at all.

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7. Dress appropiately

Dress appropriately especially when you visit a monastery: Please avoid shorts and shirts that do not cover your shoulders. The most monks will not say a word if you don’t dress correctly, but still why one should invite dislikes when it is not such a hard work. For the ladies: Also avoid to show too much of your cleavage and other distracting parts.

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8. Bend while entering a room

When you are about to enter a room take care not to hit your head. Sometimes this is difficult as a lot many doors in ladakh are really low. In many monasteries, especially at the entrance to certain temples, you will often find a note “Mind your head! In this case you show your respect to the sacred space by lowering head while you avoid your head against a good chance of hitting one of the door frames. Although Many Ladakhis do believe if you hit your head it is an obstacle forbade, of course not by intention.

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9. Kissing forbidden

Please don’t kiss in public. This is something uncomfortable and causes uneasiness. Even holding hands between different sexes is something you will hardly see. Whereas you will see many of the same sexes holding hand in hand or walking hand around shoulders. Do not perceive them as you might do at home. So if you come with your partner to Ladakh, simply keep your signs of love strictly to yourself and when possible away from public places.

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10. Don’t urinate in/next to water

Ladakhi do believe in lhu (serpent spirit) or spirits living in the water. So peeing in water or next to a water body is considered polluting which will cause wounds and sickness onto yourself and the people living nearby. So please – even when you think this is superstitious – don’t do it! You generally do not pee in water as people drink from the streams rivers.

Pangong




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News: India declares 500 and 1000 rupee notes worthless
The Indian government withdrew all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes on 09th november 2016, essentially leaving millions of people with invalid cash in their wallets. The move is designed to combat corruption and the black money economy. The old notes can be exchanged for cash or deposited into accounts at banks and some post offices in India until Friday December 30. Customers can exchange any number of notes but will only receive up to 4,000 rupees in cash. Any value above this won’t be issued in cash – it’ll be paid into a bank account.

Instead of the old notes Indian government issued brand new bank notes of 500 and 2,000 rupee denominations.

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For your planned travel this will be of not much effect. The new notes will be soon available. But please be aware and check the notes you are getting to avoid getting invalid old ones. If you still have old notes at home you better travel quickly to india or check within your country if there is a possibility to change it there. Elsewise you can burn them as they will be worth nothing. As at 11.11.2016

 

Whoever goes on a trip also needs money. Even as the most frugal backpacker you still have to pay for various things, from food and accommodation to souvenirs and tips. But how much is appropriate? How much money should you plan on spending? How much should you take in cash? When and where can you pay with credit or debit card? Many of the questions you should ask yourself before traveling to India.

The first thing to consider is the manner in which you will travel. Are you on your own, focusing on one issue at a time, taking care of things on site as they happen? Or do you have a trip already booked and planned from home? Both ways have its advantages: the backpacker can often (but not always) arrange cheaper accommodation – rooms are generally cheaper if you negotiate locally and point out to the owner that a cheap room is better than an empty one. On the other hand, the tourist who has booked in advance, if at a higher cost, doesn’t have to waste time wandering from hostel to hostel looking for a room to spend the night. At the same time, arranging things locally usually means spending a little more money with small things, because booked tours usually include everything from airport transfers to hotel breakfasts (please always read thoroughly the services provided!).

 

Cash or card?

We would advise you to rely on both. Take some cash with you for emergency cases or spontaneous purchases, but don’t leave your credit card at home, because now most businesses in big cities accept payments with it, and also there are ATMs everywhere. Attention however when retrieving money from an ATM, especially with a debit (instead of a credit) card: normally it will be accepted in any bank, including India and other non-member countries, but there can be extra fees and withdrawal limits. The daily limit for withdrawals amounts generally to 20,000 rupees, but some banks allow a maximum of 10,000 rupees per ATM use … so you’d have to make two withdrawals of 10,000 each. In any case, like in every place on Earth, machines sometimes fail, so a little cash is always good.

Rupees can’t be changed abroad, so you must always enter the country with foreign currency. However, it is no longer necessary to carry US dollars: the Euro is often taken anywhere. Of course the British Pound and even the Swiss franc are popular currencies!

Traveler’s checks have the advantage that you have a certain degree of security in case you lose your wallet, so this is an option to be considered.

A note on credit cards: in the larger cities you can often also pay directly with credit card – but for traveling to Ladakh or other remote regions of India one may very well leave the plastic currency at home.

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Daily expenses: 100, 1000, 10,000? How much money do I need?

We are often asked by our guests how much extra money they should bring, per day. Our travels usually consider, for the big cities, just breakfast or half pension; but anywhere else (small towns, rural areas, etc) a full pension is expected. So how much money should be calculated for food, when some important meals are not included in the reservation? This is a difficult question, because it is highly variable.

Do you eat meat, or are you a vegetarian? Do you usually drink alcohol when you eat? Do you enjoy eating at a local Dhaba, or do you prefer a chic restaurant in Hauz Khas in Delhi? If you eat locally and simple vegetarian, even 100 rupees are enough. But for those who prefer to go to restaurants that “promise a more hygienic” preparation, 100 rupees will be too short. Whoever wants to eat meat in such restaurants should expect to spend at least 250 rupees. You want a beer with that? Then the bill quickly raises to 500 rupees (alcohol is generally very expensive in India!). If the plan is letting oneself go and enjoy the experience at a trendy restaurant in Delhi or any other big city, the budget, including drinks, shouldn’t be less than about 1,000 rupees. As you can see, there is a wide range: 100-1,000 rupees / meal / person. But we just want you to get a taste (pun intended) of what to expect when paying for food in India. Likely, you will also have a coffee with a piece of cake at the end, so add some rupees to the sum. As a tip you should give as much (relatively) as you are used to do at home (for example, if the bill makes 370 rupees, leave 400 rupees).

 

Souvenirs, Souvenirs

Well, that’s the other thing. And even more difficult than the food question! So, what do you want to bring home? A silk carpet? A real Pashmina? Or just a few prayer flags or a small wooden elephant? Sure, you can find enough cheap souvenirs, but also at least as many luxury items that (sometimes) are also worth the money. And one thing to remember: bargaining is almost always a must – because the price can quickly drop to a half (or even less) of the originally stated. But I said “almost always” for a reason – Ladakhi sellers for example often do not listen to reason and stay with their fixed prices, no matter how high they could be.

Tipping etiquette

And the question of all questions concerning the money is: the tip. How much should you give? What is appropriate? What’s too little? What too much? Our experience over the years has led us to recommend, for trekking / tour packages (mostly in Ladakh), a tip of 4-6 Eur per guest per day (4-6€/guest/day). This is an average and can (and should) of course vary, because ultimately the amount to tip depends on the performance of the team. That is also the reason why we did not include tip expenditure in the tour price. Where else is the incentive for a particularly good performance?

The tip should be given to the team members at the end of the travel / trekking journey – don’t give it all to the guide and hope that he distributes the tip fairly (which he would probably do, we are not insinuating the opposite). If everybody in the group had a similarly good performance, the tip is to be divided according to the team hierarchy – the guide is always at the highest, followed by the cook, then the helpers and the porters/horse men.

For examples of how to distribute the tip, you can check the entry “What about the tip? Does anybody expect anything? How much?” in our FAQ section.

In many hotels, many employees expect a tip for every service. To avoid a daily endless whipping out of 10-rupee notes, you can also point out friendly that you will leave the tip at the end of your stay, in the tip box on the front desk (in this way the money will also reach all those who work “behind the curtains”, eg. the kitchen staff).

 

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How, when and where to change?

The best exchange rate is always found in banks, but the opening times are often very unfavorable (from 10:00 to 16:00, minus lunchbreak) – exactly when you’re most probably traveling. Therefore you won’t visit them often. It is worth to compare a few money exchange offices before taking a decision, as prices often vary greatly. Be aware of moneychangers that promise a good rate at first glance, but then pile charge after charge until the end result is ridiculously high. A tip: do not change your money at the airport in Delhi, or do so with only very small amounts – the exchange rates are terrible there and several exchange offices earn a fortune with their fees. It’s much better to get a few rupees with your card directly from the ATM.

And when changing money, remember always to ask for a few notes of small denomination – especially if you intend to spend a long time away from larger cities – because a rural shop owner on the countryside may not have change for your 1,000-rupee note when you just want to buy a small bottle of water!

Last but not least: 1 EUR = about 70 rupees (as of November 2016)