If you are planning to take a trip to Ladakh, you need to keep in mind that mobile network reception and Internet connectivity are fairly limited in the region. Since you do not want to worry your loved ones back at home during your trip, you need to be well prepared beforehand and keep everyone informed about your travel plans and day-to-day itinerary.
Indeed, when it comes to communication in Ladakh, it is a bit tricky… You need to be ready for long periods without any mobile phone connectivity and Internet access, especially when you travel to remote corners of Ladakh.
Given below are some tips to stay connected with your families and friends during your trip in Ladakh.
Ladakh shares its border with two countries: China on the east and Pakistan on the west. Due to its strategic location, the government does not allow prepaid SIM cards from outside Ladakh to work in the region.
Unlike other states of the country, you cannot rely on your daily cell phone connectivity unless it is a postpaid connection. Your own prepaid SIM card will not work in Ladakh.
Foreign SIM cards with international roaming can be used in other states of India but not in Ladakh.
If you don't have an Indian postpaid connection, you will have to buy a local prepaid SIM card from the operator's office in Leh market. Requirements for buying a local prepaid SIM card often change and it can be quite complicated. Each operator has slightly different requirements.
To get a local Airtel or BSNL prepaid SIM card, you will need to provide a copy of your passport and visa (in case you are a foreigner) or an identity proof and a proof of address (if you are an Indian). Sometimes, a local address proof (within Ladakh) is also required. In that case, it will be of great help if you know someone local closely who can provide you with a local address proof, like a copy of his/her voter ID card.
Other mobile phone service providers like Idea, Vodafone, Aircel, etc. might not work in Ladakh. Even if you get reception, it will be restricted to a very few areas near Leh town.
Many of the far flung areas and remote villages of Ladakh have a Digital Satellite Public Telephone, commonly known amongst the locals as DSPT. These phones are provided by the government in the rural areas which are not connected to the normal phone network to mitigate the problems related to communication and phone connectivity in Ladakh. DSPT phones can be used in case of emergency but not for personal use. The charge might be around ₹ 2/minute.
Mobile satellite phones are strictly forbidden in Ladakh due to security reasons. Ladakh is one of the most militarized regions in India due to its geographical proximity with China and Pakistan. If you own a mobile satellite phone, you must keep it at home, don’t bring it with you to Ladakh.
Other than your own data connection, you can always stay connected to Internet through Wi-Fi available in hotels and guesthouses where you are staying or even in restaurants. Today almost all the hotels, restaurants and guesthouses have a Wi-Fi connection available for their guests. In summer, during the peak tourist season, the connection can be slow because of multiple users.
You can also use WhatsApp calls and Skype calls to stay connected with friends and family as soon as you get an Internet access during your trip. Even when the connection is very slow, WhatsApp messages will always work.
Charlie Chaplin in search of mobile network in Ladakh!
Tsering Lhamo, National School of Drama