Phone services in Ladakh

Yogesh Sarkar

With many of us heading to Ladakh this year or having plans to go there in near future, one topic worth discussing is availability of phone services in Ladakh.

While any GSM phone on roaming should work in Keylong, beyond it most mobile phones are as good as paper weights till the outskirts of Ladakh’s capital, Leh.

Even in Leh most mobile phones are of little use, since only BSNL, Aircel and Airtel have their networks here. Postpaid mobile connections from these operators and postpaid subscribers from operators who have roaming agreements with either BSNL, Aircel or Airtel can hope to use their mobile phones in Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

For the rest there are only two options, either buy a prepaid connection from either of the above mentioned telcos or use the crowded phone booths.

Based on the information that I have got, purchasing a prepaid connection in Leh for foreigners is a straight forward affair and they need to submit photocopies of their passport and two passport sized photographs while applying for prepaid connections. While for Indian citizens it might not be an easy task since Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir are considered sensitive zones by the Indian government. Due to this it is best to avoid getting a connection there unless you plan to stay there for a long time.

Coming back to the STD booths, well if you are going to use one especially near the main market or main road then be prepared to stand in line. Since Leh is headquarter for many of the army battalions posted in ladakh, there is always a sizable army presence in Leh. This means on most of the booths you will meet soldiers waiting in line to call home and talk to their loved ones.

Nubra Valley:
In Nubra Valley the only place you can hope to find a phone booth is in the town of Diskit. Apart from this the mobile network from BSNL works in Diskit, Hunder, Sumur and Turtuk. There is also an internet cafe in Diskit.

Tso Moriri:
Scene beyond Leh is even grimmer with Krozok (Tso Moriri) having absolutely no mobile or landline connections, not even an internet café. Though there is mobile phone network in Chumathang.

Pangong Tso: There is no mobile or land line connection around Pangong Tso. However, mobile phone network does work during the day till Tangste with the tower being at Durbuk. There is also an internet cafe in Tangste.

Changthang: There is BSNL network in Chumathang and Nyoma, however there is none at Hanle. However if you are staying at Hanle Observatory Guest House, then you can use their wifi network to connect to the net or visit STD booth there to make phone calls. STD facility is also available at Chushul and Tsaga villages.

Zanskar: There is good news for those heading to Zanskar Valley, while there in 2006 I witnessed the opening of the first STD booth there; beside this I was told BSNL has plans to introduce mobile phone service soon and add to this there is an internet café as well.

GPRS/Data Connectivity: At least as far as BSNL is concerned, data/gprs connectivity works almost everywhere its network is available. Though at time it can be painfully slow.

Hopefully things will get better during this year and in the coming years; however my suggestion would be to get postpaid connection from MTNL/BSNL if you want to be in touch with your loved ones even in the remotest of regions.

Tangste - BSNL connection there, but network is patchy and not reliable
Pangong Tso - Satellite phone booth towards phobran
Man/Merak - Satellite phone booth
Tangste (15kms towards pangong) - Satellite phone booth
Korzok - Satellite phone booth
Chushul - Satellite phone booth
Hanle - Satellite phone booth
Punguk(1km from Hanle) -Satellite phone booth

Except for Hanle, where costs 5rs/minute, everywhere else its around ~2rs/minute to make a phone call
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Yogesh Sarkar

Since Airtel began its network operations in Leh, it has started providing roaming services to other networks postpaid accounts. That means if your cellular phone network has an agreement with Airtel and you have a post paid GSM cellular phone connection; you will now be able to use it in Leh!


Staff member
Hutch worked... What about Idea?

Anyways... in the back of my mind, I liked that 'cut off from the world' kinda feel that I got with no mobile coverage last year. I hope some places would always remain cut-off wrt mobile coverage.

Yogesh Sarkar

Couldn't check if the Idea connection works in Leh since I was on prepaid, but from the looks of it, it should.

Padum will have BSNL mobile phone network by next year, it already has a telephone exchange and a STD booth which opened while I was there. In fact I was the first tourist and the first biker to make a call from there. As for no network coverage areas, well there is always Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso; these places are unlikely to have any network coverage in coming years since there is not even a telephone exchange there.

Yogesh Sarkar

Well five years down the line Sarchu camps will be all but gone and every tom, dick and Harry would claim they have been to Zanskar since they took the Manali - Darcha - Padum - Nimmu - Leh route. Once that route is operational, Leh would be hot as hell and by that time the hardcore tourers would have moved off to another destination :D

Yogesh Sarkar

Topic has been updated with the latest information, if you have any information that you feel I have missed than please post it here to make this article better and more comprehensive.


Master of the OT Universe

Airtel service: Bharti Airtel India on Wednesday announced the launch of its services in Udaipur, Lahaul and Spiti district. The network is now available in all districts of the state as well as in the adjoining villages of Udaipur. Airtel is now providing a state-of-the-art network in over 57 towns and over 8,000 villages in the state, informed Sandeep Rawat, in charge of Airtel.

Yogesh Sarkar

Another update, this year even postpaids from Hutch and other phone companies weren't being allowed to roam on the Airtel network! So the only thing that works in Ladakh now is Airtel and BSNL/MTNL post paids!

Yogesh Sarkar

Good news for Reliance subscribers, Reliance Communications is planning to launch mobile phone service in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh:

A top company source told Business Standard that Reliance would emerge as the most favourite cellular service provider in the state, with its extensive network not only in the Jammu and Kashmir region but in entire Ladakh, bordering China. With its 700 towers, the company has managed to cover even the remote areas of Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Rajouri, Uri, Kupwara, Baramulla and Leh-Ladakh.

Reliance has covered the entire national highway right from Lakhanpur at Punjab border to Srinagar and Uri. It has also laid reliance network chord (R-chord) to provide quality internet services to its customers in J&K. This chord has already been laid from Punjab border to Jammu, Srinagar and up to Sonamarg which is on the Srinagar-Leh highway.

All the major tourist destinations including Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Patnitop and Yusmarg have been covered besides important pilgrimage sites including Katra Mata Vaishnodevi, Chara-e-Sharief, Khir Bhawani. Those visiting Shri Amarnath ji pilgrimage would also benefit from the service to larger extent.

The broad band facility to the customers will be available shortly after the launch of cellular service. It has started the process of erecting 144 towers in the Ladakh region where no other private player could reach so far. A special team of experts in the Reliance Group are in Kashmir to supervise work on this most difficult mountainous region of Ladakh.

Source: Business Standard