Treat, Spay, Love

Volunteer with Dogs in Ladakh

May 24 – June 1, 2019

Treat, Spay, Love

Volunteers with Dogs in Ladakh

May 24 – June 1, 2019

Trip at a Glance

  • May 24 – June 1, 2019  (Guests must arrive in New Delhi by May 23 for an early morning flight to Ladakh on May 24)
  • Guided by BJ & Lauren, owners of RetreaTours
  • Explore the ancient Kingdom of Ladakh, nestled high in the Tibetan Plateau
  • Volunteer with Live to Rescue, the region’s foremost animal rescue association
  • Stay at the base of iconic Thiksey Monastery
  • Limited to 12 guests
  • Early bird price of $1999 (USD) per person (based on double occupancy)
    • VETERINARIANS: Please see our “Info for Vets” tab below for a special subsidized price!
    • Please see the “Price & Inclusions” tab below for more details; does not include international airfare

Ladakh is truly an unforgettable corner of the globe, a high-altitude desert on the Tibetan Plateau, nestled high in the Himalayas. Our picturesque home base, Thiksey Monastery, has been compared to Tibet’s Potala Palace and is a stunning example of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

BJ & Lauren of RetreaTours (that’s us!) have phenomenally intimate relationships with the people (and dogs) of Thiksey, allowing unique access and activities that independent travelers could not experience. You’ll spend half your time discovering the wonders of the Indus River Valley around Thiksey, and the other half fostering your own sense of compassion while bettering the lives of Ladakhi dogs. We absolutely adore the street dogs of Ladakh. They’re a hardy (and hearty) stock, capable of surviving the harshest of winters, and we think they deserve the best lives possible.

Live to Rescue, founded by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, is Ladakh’s foremost animal rescue organization. You’ll put your passion and skills to good use while making memories (and friends!) that will last a lifetime.

We are happy to offer this lower cost volunteerism tour of Ladakh in order to introduce you to this region, this organization, and to help make a difference in the lives of Ladakhi animals and people alike.

Journey Highlights

  • Immerse yourself in Ladakhi culture and learn about Tibetan Buddhism
  • Experience meditation and morning puja with monks at Thiksey Monastery
  • Share meals with the monks in their homes
  • Discover other Leh Valley monasteries including, time permitting, Hemis, Stakna, Stakmo, and Mathos
  • Volunteer, depending on your skills & interests, with Live to Rescue, Ladakh’s most effective animal protection organization, founded by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa
  • Receive a blessing from His Eminence Thiksey Rinpoche (contingent on his travel schedule)

LEARN MORE ABOUT LADAKH

BJ and Lauren of RetreaTours have a deep love and special relationship with Ladakh. Please click the button below to learn more about this magical region, including suggested pre-trip reading.

“Treat, Spay, Love” Ladakh 2019 Itinerary

This is intended as a brief outline of our activities while in Ladakh, beyond our volunteer activities with Live to Rescue (more on that below). As we will be a small group, we are blissfully flexible, fluid, and we have the opportunity to alter any day’s activities on the wishes of the group and the schedule of the monks and their families.

You’ll be met at the Kushok Bakula Rinpoche airport in Leh, Ladakh on the morning of May 24th. (We will advise you on some options for staying near the New Delhi airport on the evening May 23rd.) The flight from Delhi to Leh is only an hour long, but it’s one of the most picturesque flights on the planet. It will take you directly over the Himalayas, allowing you a rare, lofty perspective on this part of the world.

Upon arrival in Leh, you’ll take a short but beautiful drive (~40 minutes) to Thiksey Monastery to get settled. We’ll spend this day acclimating to the altitude and leisurely exploring some of the magnificent grounds. We will stay at Thiksey’s monastery’s guesthouse (with its own vegetarian restaurant) for the duration of our trip–an excellent home base and a darn fine viewpoint!

Some of our activities during the rest of our journey include:

  • A thorough exploration of Thiksey Monastery, one of the most beautiful and influential monasteries in Ladakh.
  • We’ll attend special pujas in the Protector Temple, as well as morning pujas in the Main Prayer Hall.
  • A private audience with the Thiksey’s head lama, Rinpoche Kushok Nawang Chamba Stanzin (his schedule permitting)
  • Dialogue with the monks about Tibetan Buddhism & philosophy.
  • Fun, informal cooking and cultural lessons with monks.
  • Walks around Thiksey monastery and surrounding areas.
  • Exploration of other magnificent monasteries in the Leh Valley, including Hemis, Stakmo, Stakna, and Mathos, time permitting

Approximately half of each day will be spent exploring the area & culture, the other half will be spent volunteering with Live to Rescue (for more about this organization, please see the section below).

How will I be volunteering, you ask? That all depends on your interests and your skillsets. You might be creating new marketing materials if you have a design background, or perhaps you’re more handy with a hammer and can help build some new shelters. Landscape design at the Nang campus is also an option! And let’s not forget the fun parts—socializing with the dogs is important, as well as the occasional bathing & brushing! We want to take your passion, your vision, and your skills and put them to use for the betterment of dogkind in Ladakh.

Any veterinarian guests will be focusing their efforts on the ABC program (“Animal Birth Control”), sterilizing dogs and vaccinating them against rabies at the Live to Rescue Center in downtown Leh or at a mobile camp in a nearby village.

On June 1st, you have some options: You can fly back to Delhi and on to home, your mental suitcase overflowing with amazing memories and your heart full of new friends (two-legged and four-legged alike).  Or, if you want to see MORE of Ladakh, you can stay on for our Cultural Tour which begins June 1st and ends June 13th. “Treat, Spay, Love” will have given you a solid foundation at Thiksey Monastery and Leh Valley, and the cultural tour will show you the stunning lunar landscape further west (along with an opportunity to raft the Indus River); the sand dunes and Bactrian camels of Nubra Valley; Pangong Lake, at the border of Tibet; and we’ll return to Thiksey to witness the creation of a sand mandala. Please see RetreaTours.com/BeyondLeh for information about this tour. We’re happy to offer our Treat, Spay, Love guests $600 off our Beyond Leh tour ($2899, down from $3499).

About Live to Rescue

The Live to Rescue Project was established in 2014 by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa. The project strongly endorses that “humane alternatives to dog culling not only exist; they are a prerequisite for effective, empathetic canine population management.”

As a strong advocate for holistic animal welfare and development, the Live to Rescue Project believes that when population management is indeed necessary, it is imperative that it is attained in a humane manner, which ultimately leads to an overall upliftment in the welfare of the canine population.

The humanitarian Live to Rescue Project endeavors to fulfill the following objectives through its vision and efforts:

1. Improve the health and welfare of the stray dog population
2. Reduce the number of stray dogs to an acceptable level
3. Promote responsible ownership
4. Reduce the risk to human health
5. Prevent harm to the environment (contamination from dog feces) and livestock
6. Mitigate noise pollution caused by barking in the nights
7. Greatly eliminate the presence of malnourished, sickly dogs for a healthy environment
8. Educate the general public about zoonotic diseases (e.g. rabies)
9. Educate the general public about empathetic dog population management and encourage greater dog stewardship responsibility
10. Encourage better food waste management to limit access to food resources

To read more about Live to Rescue’s mission, motives, and means, please click the image below to read a more comprehensive PDF.

 

 

Personal Note from Lauren

We’ve spent 6 years on the road non-stop, developing itineraries and leading tours. While fascinating & fulfilling, such an itinerant lifestyle can make you miss the connection of friends and family. Having grown up in a dog-loving household, I’ve discovered that street dogs make me feel connected, no matter where I am in the world. Whenever I sit on a stoop and pet a dog, I feel dialed in and at ease. There are no language barriers (well, no more than at home!) or cultural differences or pressure to make small talk; it’s just me and a smiling fuzzy face.

Over time my engagement with street dogs has changed dramatically, as relationships do. At first, it was all casual petting and conversation. Then, it’s feeding leftovers from meals, which eventually turns into full-on cooking for dogs (when we are fortunate enough to stay in a place with a kitchen). Now, maybe you’re giving a bath or two, and definitely lots of combing. Then suddenly, you’re carrying around a first aid kit for dogs and administering treatment when you can, or shuttling dogs in taxis to and from local vets (which brings us to the present day ‘crazy dog-lady’ typing these words!)

I’ve had the good fortune to learn a lot from the professionals over at Street Dog Care in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as a lot of loving laypeople along the way. There’s the hotel owner in Huatulco, Mexico who goes to the town garbage dump every single day with fresh water for all the street dogs. There are the tireless organizations & their dog ambulances in Bali, an extremely rough place for canines. There’s the kind soul who gave a haircut to a hopelessly matted dog at Machu Picchu. There are the kind old men in Istanbul who come around every evening with water and snacks for the cats and dogs. And there are the people who simply take the time to pat a dog on the head and offer a kind word, which can mean a lot to a lonely street dog.

My love for Ladakh and Thiksey Monastery is based in part on the dogs who live there. Ladakh’s street dogs are hardy (and hearty) creatures, many of them surviving the harshest of Himalayan winters year after year. Amazingly, their hearts are as soft and their outsides are tough. And as much as I love the dogs, there ultimately must be fewer of them so that they don’t fight each other for resources, wandering onto the highways or into people’s livestock pens. This trip’s focus is funding Live to Rescue’s “ABC” (Animal Birth Control) program with donations, as well as the work of a few good veterinarians I hope will sign up!

Over thousands of years, humans have bred and socialized dogs to be our faithful companions. To turn our backs on them now is a betrayal of the highest order. I hope you’ll join us in letting Ladakhi dogs know that they are loved!

Our Accommodation in Thiksey

We will be staying at Thiksey Monastery’s guesthouse, with a gorgeous view of the monastery itself.  In fact, this guesthouse is where the His Holiness the Dalai Lama stayed during his August 2016 visit to Thiksey, and is a regular hotspot for all Rinpoches passing through. Although the monastery’s guesthouse is simple, it is clean, and each room has ensuite bathrooms and hot water. Wifi can be very sporadic, due to our very remote location; the internet in the region can be out for weeks at a time.

Our guesthouse has an on-site vegetarian restaurant, featuring Tibetan specialties & northern Indian classics. Most importantly, we are an extremely short walk to the monastery, which is beneficial for early morning pujas and exploration. Pictured here: A view from inside one of the 2nd floor guest rooms towards Thiksey Monastery. 

Extend your stay–let us help!

If you’d like to extend your journey before or after this RetreaTour, we would be more than happy to help you plan your stay!  Of course we’d love to have you stay on for our Cultural Tour (Ladakh: Beyond Leh), but we can also advise you on hotels, flights, and itineraries, whether you want to arrive in India early or stay on afterwards (or both!) We can also set you up for a tour of beautiful Bhutan, Nepal, or anywhere else in South or Southeast Asia. We offer our RetreaTour guests free travel consulting, a $300 value.

Please click the title of the desired tab to open it.

Price & What is Included

This early bird price for this journey is $1999 USD per person (double occupancy).  After January 24th, the price increases to $2199.   This price only covers the actual retreat, not international airfare (for a full list of inclusions, please see below).

If you prefer to have your own room, the single supplement is $250 USD and will be added to your last payment. (Click here to understand why this single supplement is necessary). Please note that we cannot guarantee you a roommate for this trip, and if you room alone, you will be responsible for the single supplement.

 

Payment Plan:

We will provide invoices (via PayPal) for the 2nd and 3rd installments (payable by check, credit card, or transfers for our guests outside the USA).

  • A $500 deposit holds your space.
  • The second installment of $500 is due by December 25, 2018 (150 days before the start of the trip)
  • The balance is due by February 23, 2019 (90 days before the start of the trip).  Single supplement ($250) is due along with the last installment.

 

Price Includes:

  • Roundtrip airfare from Delhi to Leh
  • All accommodation in Ladakh
  • All meals
  • All site fees
  • All tips at hotels and restaurants
  • $400 donation to Live to Rescue

 

Price does not include:

  • International airfare (although we can and will be more than happy to help you decide on arrangements)
  • Indian visa fee (~$100 for U.S. citizens)
  • Accommodation first night in New Delhi (night of May 23rd)
  • Travel insurance (required)
Info for Vets

Price for Vets

It is very important to us to bring enthusiastic and capable vets to Ladakh, so we are personally subsidizing the price for vets to be below the actual cost of the trip.  Pricing for veterinarians is $999 ($1199 if you register after January 24th).

This price only covers the actual retreat, not international airfare (for a full list of inclusions, please see below).

If you prefer to have your own room, the single supplement is $250 USD and will be added to your last payment. (Click here to understand why this single supplement is necessary). Please note that we cannot guarantee you a roommate for this trip, and if you room alone, you will be responsible for the single supplement.

As vets, you will be expected to perform sterilizations on this journey. It is up to you to check with your licensing board that you are able to freely volunteer overseas. 

Payment Plan:

We will provide invoices (via PayPal) for the 2nd and 3rd installments (payable by check, credit card, or transfers for our guests outside the USA).

  • A $500 deposit holds your space.
  • The second installment of $500 is due by December 25, 2018 (150 days before the start of the trip)
  • The balance is due by February 23, 2019 (90 days before the start of the trip).  Single supplement ($250) is due along with the last installment.

Price Includes:

  • Roundtrip airfare from Delhi to Leh
  • All accommodation in Ladakh
  • All meals
  • All site fees
  • All tips at hotels and restaurants

Price does not include:

  • International airfare (although we can and will be more than happy to help you decide on arrangements)
  • Indian visa fee (~$100 for U.S. citizens)
  • Accommodation first night in New Delhi (night of May 23rd)
  • Travel insurance (required)
Payments

Please refer to the Price tab above for specific information about price & what is included on your journey, along with the Payment Plan dates. 

We accept payments via check and credit or debit card (via PayPal). For our guests outside the U.S., please write [email protected] for the best transfer details, to save you from PayPal’s 2.5% currency conversion charge.

  • Paying by Check: Checks can be made out to RetreaTours and sent to 8821 NW 14 Street, Pembroke Pines, FL 33024.
  • Paying by Credit Card, Debit Card, or PayPal balance: You can pay with credit card or PayPal balance through the following the green button below. All PayPal transactions must be in USD.  Note that you do not have to pay with your PayPal balance; please click here if you’d like further instruction.

Click here to pay the $500 deposit by credit card (via PayPal)

Registration Questions & Contract

Please click here to go to this Google Form to complete this journey’s Registration. You will be asked for your passport number; if you will need to renew your passport before this trip, simply fill in your old information and update us when you receive your new passport.

At the end of the form, please press “submit” to finalize your answers. Your spot is not considered reserved until you have completed these questions and contract on the website.

Please click here to download to view and download PDF of the contract for your records. 

FAQ (aka, Everything You're Wondering Right About Now!) Visas, Health, Hotels, Food, Money & more.

PASSPORT/VISA

  • What do I need to know about the visa?    

First and foremost, your passport MUST be valid at least 6 months beyond the end date of the trip, and you’ll need two empty pages in the Visas section of your passport (make sure they are in the Visa section, not the Amendment or Endorsement section).  You will need to arrange an Indian visa before you arrive; we will provide you more detailed information before you apply for your visa.

You can apply for a Visa on Arrival 4 to 120 days in advance of your arrival on this website. Please click here to read our blog about how to apply for this visa.  (Please click here to make sure your country is eligible for a Visa on Arrival). We will send you more information about your visa after your registration.

If you plan on staying in India longer than 60 days, you can apply through Cox & Kings Global Services, but you must allow more time for this process (start at least 3 to 4 months before the start of the trip). Please let us know if you prefer this option.

FOOD

  • I have special dietary needs—can I be accommodated?

Vegetarians should have no problem anywhere on our travels (in fact, our monastery guesthouse is exclusively vegetarian). The only thing that might prove difficult is veganism in India. Although meat is entirely avoidable, India is the world’s largest consumer of butter, and it is almost unavoidable in most of their curries, stews, and even breads. Many vegans that we have known to travel through India adopt what is locally referred to as a “pure veg” diet: no meat, no eggs, but it allows for dairy consumption.  (It is worth nothing that some of the reasons for avoiding dairy consumption in the west is slightly mitigated here, as there is less factory farming and antibiotic use in livestock.) Milk can be avoided by not consuming creamy dishes or milk tea.

Gluten is also avoidable in India by choosing rice over chapatis and other local breads. Celiactravel.com has GREAT printable cards in local languages to present to restaurants and hotels about your intolerance of gluten. Click here for the Hindi version.  If you have multiple dietary needs, it may be worth your while to check out these specialty cards, available in 60 different languages.

When you register for a trip, you will answer a set of questions, including a question about food allergies. We’ll take a look at your answers and let you know if we have any suggestions or concerns.

Click here for our very own Indian Food Primer!

  • Can I drink the water?

In a word, No. Although many cities around the world are getting more advanced public water systems, we don’t recommend it.  Not only from a pathogen standpoint, but it’s a different set of bacteria than your body is used to. Why risk an upset stomach if you don’t have to? We recommend drinking only bottled water, and you will want to rinse your toothbrush off in bottled water. If you wish to bring a reusable bottle and the water sterilization treatment of your choice in order to save on plastic bottles, that is super!

HEALTH

  • What vaccines do I need?

None are required to enter India, but we suggest you work with your physician or your area’s travel health expert to decide what options are best for you.  You can read the CDC’s recommendations here and the Scottish NHS recommendations here.

  • What about rabies?

All of the dogs that you will encounter at Live to Rescue’s center in Leh and Nang have been vaccinated against rabies. However, should there be an incident with a dog of questionable rabies vaccine status, post-exposure rabies vaccines are available at typically available clinics in Leh (for immediate treatment, although you would need to continue the course in your home country).

It is up to you and your primary care physician if you wish to explore preventative rabies vaccines. You can read more about that on the CDC’s page here.  Please also read more about it further on this page, under the “About Volunteering with dogs on this Journey” tab.

  • What about the altitude?

Please see our separate toggle on this web page about the altitude.

  • What about malaria? 

Malaria is not a risk in Ladakh, but again, we request that you work with your physician or travel doctor when making these choices. Please see our blog about this topic for more information.

  • What are the physical requirements for this trip?

Participants should be able to comfortably climb stairs, slowly but in a stable fashion. Our guesthouse is at the bottom of the hill Thiksey is built on, and the prayer hall and upper temples are 8-10 stone staircase flights above the highest place we can get dropped off by a vehicle. From the guesthouse, it is 400 feet to the top of the monastery. Please see the separate section on this page titled “Suggested Fitness Requirements.”

  • Do I need travel insurance?

Yes, travel insurance is required on this trip. Please find out what must be covered in the “Travel Insurance” tab on this page. You must give us your travel insurance company name, policy number, and emergency number before the start of the trip.

MONEY

  • How much money should I bring?

That is entirely up to you and how much shopping you want to do in Leh (and the monastery gift shop!).  All of your meals and transportation is covered, so you just have to gauge how much you want to spend on extras.

  • How do I get the local currency?

You can either exchange cash in India or use a local ATM (which we prefer). Just make sure you call your bank and credit card company to let them know you’ll be traveling in India, so they don’t put a hold on your card when they see it being used halfway across the world.

HOTELS

  • What kind of hotels will we be staying at?

We will be staying at the monastery’s guesthouse (with a gorgeous view of the monastery), and although it is simple, it is clean, has hot water, an attached bathroom with a western toilet, and the occasional wifi (please see the communication section below for more about the wifi). Most importantly, we are an extremely short walk to the monastery, which is beneficial for early morning pujas and exploration.

  • Will I be able to charge my electronics (phone, iPad, etc)?

Yes, just be sure to bring along a Universal Travel Adaptor that can go with you anywhere in the world!

COMMUNICATION

  • How can my family get ahold of me in an emergency?

Before the trip begins we will give you a contact for our hotels; in addition, we will give you our Ladakhi phone numbers ahead of time, as well as an American number good for text messages and voicemails (when there is an internet connection).

Even if you have an international plan, you will not get cell coverage in Ladakh as they use a different phone system than the rest of India. This is a very isolated part of the world, up high in the Himalayas, but we will do our best to ensure you are as connected as you want to be. If you choose to bring your cellphone or tablet, you can use VoIP services such as Skype, WhatsApp, and FaceTime to connect with your loved ones at home, as well.

  • About the Wifi

Ladakh is still modernizing their internet connection, and internet connectivity can go out for days at a time, region-wide. Even when there is internet, it will be much slower than you may be used to. In emergencies, we’ll always have a phone you can use to check in at home, even when there is no internet.

VOLUNTEERING

  • Do I have to volunteer??

We are offering this trip at a much lower cost than our usual Ladakh trips as a way of giving back to the Ladakhi community. It is expected that you will volunteer in some capacity on this trip as a non-monetary part of the trip’s cost.

  • What will I be expected to do?

That depends on your passion, your vision, and your skills! We will discuss ideas with you before the journey.

Suggested Fitness Requirements

Participants should be able to comfortably climb and descend stairs, slowly but in a stable fashion, sometimes without handrails. Our guesthouse is at the bottom of the hill Thiksey Monastery is built on, and the prayer hall and upper temples are still about ~100 stairs from the highest place we can get dropped off by a vehicle. From the guesthouse, it is 400 feet to the top of the monastery (or about ~475 stairs). It is normal to feel winded climbing stairs at altitude–slow and steady wins the race.

At many of the places we visit, we will be sitting on the floor (or on very low mats); guests should feel comfortable sitting on the floor for 20-30 minutes at a time (although you are certainly able to get up and stretch your legs at any time).

Please see the “About the Altitude” section on this web page for more important information.

About the Altitude

Our home base at Thiksey Monastery in Ladakh rests at a lofty 11,000 ft (3350 m).  We plan our first few days very lightly, to allow you to acclimatize.

Some pre-existing medical conditions are known to worsen at high altitude, so it is imperative that you discuss your pre-existing medical condition/s with your physician.

Certain medications are utilized to aid acclimatizing to high altitude, such as Diamox (generic: Acetazolamide); please discuss these options with your doctor or a local travel physician.

Here are some resources for you to read about altitude sickness, its symptoms, prevention, and treatment:

The following is taken from traveldoctor.co.uk/altitude.htm:

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

AMS is very common at high altitude. At over 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) 75% of people will have mild symptoms. The occurrence of AMS is dependent upon the elevation, the rate of ascent, and individual susceptibility. Many people will experience mild AMS during the acclimatisation process. The symptoms usually start 12 to 24 hours after arrival at altitude and begin to decrease in severity around the third day.

The symptoms of Mild AMS include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea & Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Disturbed sleep
  • General feeling of malaise

Symptoms tend to be worse at night and when respiratory drive is decreased. Mild AMS does not interfere with normal activity and symptoms generally subside within two to four days as the body acclimatises. As long as symptoms are mild, and only a nuisance, ascent can continue at a moderate rate. When hiking, it is essential that you communicate any symptoms of illness immediately to others on your trip.

You may consider using ibuprofen as a preventative (if this is something that is safe for you and you have discussed with your physician). “Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory medication often used as a painkiller, was found to significantly reduce the incidence of altitude sickness in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 86 men and women, according to the study, published online March 20 in Annals of Emergency Medicine.”  [Source: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/03/ibuprofen-decreases-likelihood-of-altitude-sickness-researchers-find.html]

We recommend that, if it is safe for you, you start taking ibuprofen 24 hours before your arrival to Ladakh (take as often as instructed on the bottle).

It is important to keep us informed about how you feel and we will be checking in with you regularly.

Sleeping pills are respiratory depressants and should be avoided, as they slow down the acclimatization process.

Click here to read Lauren’s suggestions to natural therapies to begin before your trip. Lauren is a Board-certified Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine with a specialty in the world of dietary supplements.

 *All of the information here is for reference purposes only and is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed health care professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health condition or disease. If you are experiencing medical issues, you should contact your medical healthcare provider.

About Volunteering with Dogs on this Journey

While your volunteer work could feasibly be separate from any contact with dogs (if you wish), more than likely you’ll have contact with dogs on this trip. By nature, the Treat, Spay, Love tours have certain inherent risks involved in working with animals, including but not limited to bites, scratches, potential exposure to zoonotic diseases, and allergic reactions (to animals, cleaning products, or other environmental allergens). You may decline any volunteer role at any time if you feel such role or position presents a risk to health or safety or for any other reason. You must advise us of any preexisting conditions that would preclude involvement in any volunteer activity, which may include lifting, carrying, or other physical labor.

Rabies Vaccine

Prophylatic pre-exposure rabies vaccinations are not required for this trip, due in part to their high cost in the U.S.  However, you may discuss this option with your physician if it makes you feel more comfortable. Even for those guests with the pre-exposure vaccine, immediate post-exposure vaccines are still required if you think you may have been exposed to rabies.

You can find more practical information about rabies vaccinations at the CDC’s website:

Post-exposure rabies vaccines are typically stocked in hospitals in Leh, Ladakh; should there be a shortage, your travel insurance’s emergency evacuation should cover a flight to Delhi for such treatment (please check this with your travel insurance provider). You would need to continue the course of treatment when you returned home, as well.

Travel Insurance

If you are traveling with RetreaTours, we require that each guest carries travel insurance that covers emergency medical treatment and emergency evacuation and repatriation. 

We suggest trip cancellation insurance, as well, as you never know what obstacles life can toss at you leading up to a trip. However, we do not require this coverage, we only suggest it highly.

Below you will find some options to look into, if this is a new world to you. However, we ask that you carefully consider your choice in travel insurance. What works for some people may not work for others, particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions. Please do take the time to consider the best policy for your individual needs.

World Nomads provides medical coverage for guests under 70 that includes trip cancellation, as well. You can use the box on this page to get a quote and see coverage.

InsureMyTrip.com is a good place to see and compare many policies at once, and you can refine the options by what coverage you would like.

It may also be a good idea to check with your credit card companies, especially American Express, to see if they offer any medical coverage for travel.

Travel Insurance. Simple & Flexible.

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    About your International Flights

    We are more than happy to recommend international flights, but ultimately you will make the purchase yourself. Here is some important information if you would like to research flights yourself:

    When must I arrive in Delhi?

    Your flight to Leh will leave early in the morning on May 24, so you must be in Delhi at the latest before midnight on May 23rd. You may wish to arrive a day earlier (or at least in the daytime of May 23rd) to combat jet lag and, more importantly, to prevent the possibility of a flight delay making you miss your flight to Ladakh.

    We will suggest hotels for you to stay in near the Delhi airport. It is quite hot and smoggy that time of year, so we don’t suggest touring Delhi before your Ladakh adventure, although you certainly can arrange that through your hotel if you arrive early enough.

    When is it safe to book my departing flight?

    You will be leaving Ladakh the morning of June 1st, and although it’s usually clear this time of year, delays are always possible. We would recommend making your return flight home no earlier than 5 PM on June 1st—perhaps even later to account for any potential delays. 

    About your First Night in New Delhi

    We will advise you on places to stay in New Delhi upon your arrival–a full blog is coming soon!

    Temperatures & Suggested Packing List

    Based on historical averages and 2018’s temperatures, the typical temperature while we are in Leh will be 40° to 85° F (10° to 29° C), and although rain is not likely, it is possible. It can feel quite hot in the sun and chilly in the shade, so layers are going to be your best friend on this trip!  (Please note that ALL weather webites that report in Ladakh are wildly inaccurate—sometimes by as much as 30°F!— which is why we do not link to them anymore!)

    Note: the weight limit on your internal flights (from Delhi to Leh and return) will be 44 lbs (20 kg), not the 50 lbs that you may be used to domestically in the USA.  If you prefer to only bring a carry-on, you’re welcome to do that, as well.

    One more tip: Using packing cubes may make your life easier. BJ and Lauren swear by them, and they’ve been living out of their suitcases since the beginning of 2013!

    Clothing

    Although more and more Indians are adopting Western wear, traditional clothing is very prevalent and modesty is the name of the game (particularly around the monastery!)  Please do not wear clothes that are tight, transparent or show too much skin or underarms. This means no tank tops or midriff-baring tops. We also discourage wearing form-fitting “skinny” jeans and shorts/skirts above the knee. Instead, we recommend wearing loose fitting clothing in the form of long skirts, pants, capri-length pants, and shirts (t-shirt or collared), blouses or tunics.

    • 7+ pairs undergarments; you can always have them washed or wash them yourself in your bathroom.
    • 3-5 pair pants or long skirts.  You may want to bring leggings or long johns (2 or 3 pair) to wear under your long kurtas, tunics, skirts or pants on chilly mornings or evenings (again—it’s all about the layers!) Fleece pants might be nice, and good to sleep in (remember, the nights are going to be in the 40’s to 50’s)
    • 4-5 cotton t-shirts, blouses, or long sleeve shirts.
    • A thicker sweater or jacket for cold Ladakh mornings and evenings.
    • A windbreaker or shell might prove useful if your jacket doesn’t protect you from the wind or rain.
    • A warm hat and scarf for chilly mornings and evenings.
    • 2-3 pairs of socks. Wool (like SmartWool) or tech socks work very well, but whatever socks you have will be just fine.
    • Warm sleeping attire
    • Comfortable walking shoes. Boots aren’t necessary and can be cumbersome when going in and out of monasteries and temples. Sneakers or comfortable slip-ons will suffice.
    • Walking sandals (such as Teva’s, Chaco’s, or Merrell’s) also work very well here.
    • A hat with a brim is a very good idea for our daytime adventures.
    • A few shirts or pants you don’t mind getting dirty during your volunteer work! Thrift stores would be a great place to pick up a few pieces that you can leave behind after your visit.

    Accessories

    • Ear plugs and eye shades to help you sleep better and recover from jet lag more quickly. BJ swears by thisclick here to read an article he wrote on the topic.
    • Good sunscreen is CRITICAL at this altitude.  Lauren prefers mineral-based ones: good for you, good for the environment. How do you know if it’s mineral based? If the active ingredient is either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide—that’s it. MyChelle and Devita make good ones.
    • Daypack or camera bag. (If you need a recommendation on a camera, BJ would be happy to help, depending on what type of photography you like, how much you want to spend, and how much you want to carry around.)
    • If you do bring your camera, don’t forget extra batteries or your charging cord. You may want to think about an extra memory card, too.
    • Toiletries (including travel-sized shampoo and conditioner)
    • A few packs of travel tissues is a good idea, to keep on you for public restrooms.
    • Wet wipes or hand sanitizer.
    • Any necessary feminine hygiene products.
    • Plug adaptor for electronics: you’ll need a 2 pin adaptor common across Europe. Here’s a nice example of a great universal adapter and here’s one with USB ports, as well.
    • An external battery charger, such as this one, may be useful for USB-powered objects. Given the remote location of this retreat, electricity can be finicky, so it is best to have a secondary way to charge your phone or camera.
    • VERY IMPORTANT!  A print out of your RETURN airline ticket itinerary; you’ll need this to enter the airport to get home. You can also have a copy (we recommend a screenshot) on your phone.
    • Photocopy of your passport and your visa, just in case you need them.
    • A small travel umbrella is a must. It can work for rain OR as a parasol
    • Notebook and pen for journaling purposes
    • Enough of any prescription drugs you need, as well as over-the-counter needs.  We recommend Imodium (anti-diarrheal), a probiotic (Lauren is a BIG fan of Jarrodophilus EPS), as well as melatonin and Benadryl for jet lag purposes.
    • The guesthouse at the monastery in Ladakh has Internet, but outages are not uncommon (all over Ladakh). Nevertheless, we encourage you to bring your smartphone or tablet, and please don’t forget your chargers! We recommend setting up Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or another wifi-based calling service before leaving home, and familiarizing your loved ones with it before you leave.

    Contact RetreaTours

    Please write [email protected] for any questions you may have about this journey. If you have not received a reply within 48 hours, please do check your spam folder.

    About BJ and Lauren of RetreaTours

    Lauren & BJ with their dear friends Chamba (L) and Stanzin (R).

    RetreaTours is perfectly suited to facilitate your time in Ladakh. BJ Graf has been traveling to Ladakh and Thiksey Monastery since 1995. He was invited as Thiksey Monastery’s official photographer for the Dalai Lama’s Summer 2010 visit to Nubra Valley and again for HHDL’s August 2016 Thiksey Monastery visit and his 2017 teachings at Disket Monastery. In addition, one of BJ’s portraits of Thiksey Rinpoche graces the cover of his recent biography.

    Having developed deep and personal connections to many lamas (monks) at Thiksey, BJ and Lauren have secured access to sacred prayer halls otherwise inaccessible to the public.  In addition, you’ll experience a warm welcome into the homes of the monks and their families in the village for tea, dinner, and thought-provoking discussions about Tibetan Buddhism.

    BJ & Lauren created RetreaTours in 2010 with one goal in mind: to make world travel accessible, authentic, and astounding.  In order to focus fully on this passion, they moved out of the U.S. in January 2013 to reside full-time overseas. Each day is spent exploring new destinations, strengthening local ties & relationships, and creating memorable and transformative retreats and tours (aka, RetreaTours™!)

    BJ and HHDL 2

    HHDL & BJ at Thiksey, July 2016

    BJ & Lauren take great pride in the itineraries they plan, as they can personally vouch for every hotel, every restaurant, and every activity that you will experience. They craft each element of the trip with intention, and they understand that it is this careful attention to detail that sets them apart.  Fueled by their passion, armed with know-how, and supported by knowledgeable local professionals in all of their destinations, BJ & Lauren set the scene for the vacation of a lifetime. The dynamic duo are available to answer any and all questions before the trip begins. From giving advice on the best flights and travel insurance to providing a packing list, FAQ, and even a tiny “phrasebook,” BJ & Lauren pride themselves on these ‘nuts & bolts’ of personalized service.

    In addition, as a guest, you receive free travel consulting services (normally a $300 value) should you choose to extend your travels. As one of their most ‘frequent fliers’ put it recently, BJ & Lauren make everything easy for you. Once you arrive in your destination city, your trip is all-inclusive—your meals, transportation, lodging, site fees, donations, and tips are all taken care of.  The research has been done, the itinerary carefully laid out, the reservations made, the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted. All you have to do is show up and take in all your destination has to show you!  So….let’s get going!

    Lauren & BJ with His Holiness in Ladakh on his birthday in 2017. 

    His Eminence Thuksey Rinpoche, BJ, and Lauren in June 2018 at Live to Rescue’s Nang campus

    Photo Album

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