Is it safe in Ladakh?

“Is it safe to visit Ladakh?”

People often ask us, “Is Ladakh safe?” Your safety is crucial when traveling anywhere in your home country or abroad, and it’s something we take very seriously. There are two aspects to safety which we will address below: (1) geopolitical safety and (2) personal safety/security.

BJ has been traveling to Ladakh since 1995 and has visited the region nearly 20 times (out of a total of more than 30 visits to India totaling more than 25 months). BJ has also visited western Kashmir (the state is formally known as Jammu and Kashmir, but it is often referred to as “J&K”) on a number of occasions. We consider Ladakh to be our second home (or maybe even first home as we don’t have a real home anywhere in the world!)

Though Ladakh is politically part of India, it couldn’t be more different, both geographically and culturally. In fact, it was its own kingdom until the late 1800s. It sits on the roof of the world, on the Tibetan Plateau, and is nearly identical culturally to Tibet while being extremely different from the rest of India.

Jammu & Kashmir (the state) has had numerous problems since 1947–2 wars, in fact. Kashmir is the same size as Minnesota (the U.S.’s 12th largest state). Though Ladakh (which is bigger than South Carolina) is inside that state, the contested part is in the far west, a 2 to 4-day drive from where we visit in Ladakh (they are long drives because of the mountainous terrain). The parts of Ladakh we will be visiting are not at all contested.

Ladakh is the Buddhist area of the state, and the contested part of Kashmir is the Muslim area that many Pakistanis would like to control. Click here for a short National Geographic article which explains the origin of these tensions. Ladakh is home to many military bases, but the bases are in the safe zone far away from the line-of-control and the area where there is periodically some fighting. Again, that part of Kashmir is literally 2 to 4 days driving and we will always be at least 2-3 days driving from those areas.

Click here for a brief National Geographic article which explains the origins of the tension along the western Kashmir border.

This is not to say that Kashmir (the western portion) doesn’t have problems. There are flare-ups quite regularly. In 2018 there were more than 500 people killed in fighting. We would not suggest to our guests to visit that region (though BJ has visited there without incident, even during periods of fighting). 

Other points we’d like to make and articles you can read are below:

  • The most recent military operations inside Ladakh (Eastern Kashmir) were in 1948 (more than 70 years ago)
  • The most recent violence Ladakh experienced was when there were some riots between Buddhists and Muslims in Leh in 1989 (30 years ago)
  • For further reading this is an interesting article from 3 years ago about the situation in Kashmir and how they thought fighting at that time might have impacted Ladakh. Things didn’t pan out as badly as they predicted. [Notes about the article: Incidentally, only Ladakhis can buy land in Ladakh now. And those that DID come to stay in Ladakh (albeit temporarily) were those that were escaping the violence of the west. They were not the ones to bring violence to Ladakh]
  • The best bit online we have found is on WikiTravel in the “Stay Safe” section: Ladakh is one of the safest parts of India, and the most basic precautions are enough to keep you and your possessions safe. The locals are very friendly and humble. Most of the region is dotted with military cantonments every 50-80km, but mainly because of its strategic position on international border between India and China. The army plays major part in rescue and aid efforts and that is why you will require to produce identification documents or written permission from local authorities before entering some remote places.
  • More from the US State Department that differentiates travel to Ladakh (as being safe) from travel to other parts of Kashmir [Do not travel to: The state of Jammu and Kashmir (except the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh) due to terrorism and civil unrest.]

Map of Ladakh

Ladakh is located in the pink area of the map, and we stay on the eastern side of Ladakh during our journeys. Below is a map of Ladakh in context of the entire country of India. 

Quick Links to Official Travel Advisories

“Is there crime in Ladakh?”

The second point about your safety in Ladakh relates mostly to personal safety (from mugging, rape, theft, and violence).

There is little to be found about the crime statistics in Ladakh, with the exception of this article from 2015. The article states that Ladakh has the lowest crime rate of the state (of J&K). Here are some takeaways from the article [note: none of our groups/itineraries visit Kargil district, where many of the crimes occur; we only visit areas in Leh District]:

  • In a country where, according to the National Crime Record Bureau, 2.84 cases of rape were reported every hour in 2012, Ladakh has registered eight rape cases in 2014, two in 2013, four each in 2012 and 2011.
  • According to the data compiled by the State Crime Record Bureau, two murder cases were registered in Leh and Kargil districts in 2014, one in 2013 and three each in 2012 and 2011. No case of attempt to murder was registered in the two districts in the last year.
  • Leh district registered 162 cases of crime in 2014 out of which 103 were related to road accidents, while in 2013, it recorded 159 cases out of which105 were linked to road accidents.
  • In 2014, Leh district registered no cases of [armed robbery], criminal break of trust, counterfeit currency, dowry deaths, cruelty by husband, culpable homicide, eve teasing [sexual harassment], arson, robbery, and communal riots, the data shows.

Suffice it to say, crime is very rare in this region the size of South Carolina.

It is worth mentioning anecdotally that Lauren has never experienced any discomfort traveling in Ladakh as a woman, which isn’t always the case in the rest of India. The discomfort of the male gaze is seemingly absent in Ladakh, and female travelers do not, in her experience, garner unwarranted or unwanted attention from men.

On our tours, you’ll always be in a small group and we (BJ and Lauren) are on almost all our of Ladakh trips, and we’ll always be accompanied by our friends (who are Tibetan Buddhist monks). And a number of the guesthouses where we’ll be staying are owned by the monastery that we’ll be staying at primarily. You’re in good hands. We can honestly say you’re probably technically less safe in parts of the USA than in Ladakh, and we don’t take the issue of safety lightly.

Please don’t hesitate to send us an email with any concerns you ever have about your safety on your Ladakh tour with us. In our personal experience, Ladakh is one of the safest places we’ve ever visited or lived. We think you’ll feel the same when you visit for yourself.