So you’re flying to Leh–good choice! Driving from Delhi to Leh would take days, as opposed to the beautiful one-hour flight ahead of you. You fly over the Himalayas in order to land at Leh’s airport, at 10,685 feet (3,250 meters) and the views are as spectacular as you can imagine. When you check in to your flight to Leh, make sure you get a window seat!
Here are some tips on navigating the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport (IXL) in Leh, Ladakh, both upon arrival and departure. These trips were written in mid-2016, and will be updated as we learn of changes, but please only take them as a general guideline. Things change on a dime (rupee?) in India.
Arriving at Leh Airport
1) Your plane will land and you’ll disembark and take a bus to the terminal. Yes, the terminal is 100 meters away, but you still have to take a bus. You should take it easy your first day at altitude, though, so it’s all good.
2) Upon entering the terminal, get an arrival form (“Foreigners Registration”) from someone that will be handing these out. While you are waiting for your luggage to arrive on the carousel, complete the arrival form (example below). Go toward the exit door, and there will be an official that will take your arrival form and your passport. It is better to do this immediately, rather than *after* you get your luggage and there is a big line. Here’s an example of what the registration form looks like:
3) The official at the desk will take information from your passport, keep your arrival form, and hand your passport back to you. Now you can go grab your luggage off the carousel.
4) Once you have your luggage, you can exit the building.
Departing from the Leh Airport
Departing is a bit more complicated than arriving at IXL. Use this as a guide, but be ready to go with the flow.
1) When you arrive at the airport gate by car, you MIGHT be asked to get out of the car and wait in line to have your passport and itinerary checked in order to allow you to continue on to the terminal. Alternately, they may just check your itinerary and passport while you remain in the car.
2) After they check your passport and itinerary, you can proceed to the terminal. Before entering the actual terminal, you will show you passport and itinerary again to the guard at the door.
3) You will immediately put your checked bags and your carry-ons through a scanner, and you will go through a security screening. Collect your bags and head to the check-in counters.
4) There are multiple small check-in desks depending on what airline you are flying. Proceed to your airline, and don’t forget to ask for a window seat! Also, don’t forget to get one tag per CARRY-ON piece. You will attach this tag to each carry-on and as these pieces go through security, they will get stamped. This stamp is checked before you are allowed to board your flight. This is crucial throughout all of India.
5) Men and women will now go into into separate security lines. You’ll once again have your carry-on scanned, and you will go through a metal decorator and a physical pat-down. (Ladies will be patted down by female officers.)
6) You will carry your Passport and your Boarding Pass into the pat down with you, and the officer will stamp the boarding pass. This is important, make sure you get the boarding pass stamped.
7) When you retrieve you carry-ons, make sure your carry-on tag is STAMPED before you walk away. If not, please get the attention of the nearest officer and request a stamp.
8) Now you are in the waiting area. There are restrooms (you may have to bring your own tissue), a tea stall, and snacks available.
9) Proceed to the “Baggage Identification Gate.” You will be required to visually identify your checked bag to confirm it is yours. Do not miss this step—your bag needs to be visually ID’ed or it will not be loaded onto the plane. (PLEASE NOTE: AS OF 2019, THIS PRACTICE MAY HAVE BEEN ELIMINATED!)
10) When it is time, you will line up at the boarding gate. They will check your boarding pass and your carry-on tag for the stamp; they may or may not search your carry-on again.
11) You will get on a bus and be driven to your plane. Enjoy the view from the plane again!
Why so much security?
By now you’ve noticed a pattern of pretty strict security. When you’re there, you’ll notice a heavy military presence. Why is this? Leh itself is a very safe place, but the far borders of the state of Jammu & Kashmir are disputed (in the west by Pakistan, in the east by China). Because Leh is central and stable (and so far away from the action), there is a military base and a large military presence. The military shares the airstrip, which explains the heightened security.
The video below is an interesting look into this region and how it is still being shaped today.