The options for sending anything from Leh are extremely limited. If you can’t take it with you, it has to go by post or by cargo. There is no longer any courier operating in Leh, which poses problems, considering the postal restrictions for the state. This is a new development this season, and I really don’t know how it will play out. It certainly will be a problem for many merchants and tourists.
I just spent maybe 6-7 hours over three days getting a parcel sent to Baroda. The first day was spent trying to locate a courier. At first, I was assured that the BlazeFlash office would be open as of yesterday. And some of the merchants I spoke to directed me to a DTDC office that no longer exists. A second call to the BlazeFlash guy yesterday garnered the information that, in fact, he wouldn’t be opening. A bit of online research came up with nothing. I had asked some of the Kashmiri carpet merchants, who often send goods by courier. They were all surprised to learn that there is no longer any courier in town.
Sending goods by cargo is a bit of a pain. If you do it directly through the airlines, you have to show up very early in the morning (like before 6AM). There are one or two agents you can deal with, which is more reasonable. The real trouble is that they only send airport to airport, so someone has to go to the airport to pick it up.
So that leaves the post office. I went and got it stitched up according to their requirements (more about that below) and headed for the Tourist Post Office, but they refused because it contained something that was metal. By that time, it was too late to go to the Main PO.
So the next day, I headed down to the Main PO. The employees there said I couldn’t send it through the post and would have to send it by cargo. Luckily, before I left the counter, one of the other employees came up and told me to go check with the Postmaster. I went into the back room, where his office was located, and showed him the contents of my package. After a bit of explaining what it was, he kindly agreed to allow it. (Phew!) I started stitching up the open side of the package, but they kindly sent one of their employees to finish the job properly. I had to wait a while as the only person taking in mail had a huge pile of letters she was working on, but eventually it was successfully sent.
There are many more rules here than in most parts of India because Ladakh is considered a sensitive area. Even though there are few actual problems here (the troubles suffered by the rest of Jammu & Kashmir state, of which Ladakh is technically a part, seldom make it all the way up here), security measures are the same as for troubled Srinagar.
There are two post offices in Leh: the Tourist Post Office in the Main Bazar, and the Main Post Office down near the airport. The Tourist PO is fine for postcards and sending stuff like shawls.
The authorities are concerned about bombs, so packages have to be brought in an open condition for inspection, after which you stitch them up right there. They also won’t allow anything that might spill or break if it’s not packed well. Also, at the Tourist PO, you can’t send anything metal; you have to take it down to the Main PO.
To send a parcel, you have to get it stitched up and bring it with one side open so they can inspect it. Go to a tailor (most of them are in Nowshera Market, the lane above the Main Bazar) and get that done. If the tailor doesn’t have a big enough piece of fabric on hand, you’ll have to go and buy some at one of the nearby cloth shops. You may be able to borrow a needle and thread from the tailor (be sure to return his needle, if you do) if you don’t have one. At the Tourist PO you have to bring a needle and thread because they don’t have any there. Once it’s inspected, you have to finish the stitching right there in their presence. There’s no one at the Tourist PO to do it for you.
Be sure to send all parcels registered, insured or by SpeedPost, even if they aren’t valuable. If you are sending anything valuable, especially if there are small items inside, get a Rs5 packet of FeviQuick (Indian fast-drying glue) and drip it along the seams to prevent some enterprising person from unpicking the thread, pilfering, and re-stitching it. I’ve had this happen, and it was impossible to tell by just looking at the package. You no longer have to use sealing wax, and it often falls off anyway. Personally, I think this is better. You could use the gloppy glue that the post office provides, but you’d have to wait around a while for it to dry. And sitting around the post office is probably not something you’d really care to do, especially considering that you would already have wasted an hour or two getting to that point.
It’s best to use a marking pen rather than a regular pen as the packages often get quite dirty en route, and this can render them a little hard to read. The post office advertises that it sells packing supplies, but that doesn’t extend to the cloth, or needle and thread.
The irony is that security at the post offices is a joke. Parcels often sit around outside unguarded. And anyone can go in the back room. Sending parcels registered, insured or by SpeedPost gives a bit more security from theft because it means that someone has to be held accountable, so those parcels may not be dumped outside quite as casually. SpeedPost is actually the most secure and the most expensive. SpeedPost letters and parcels go into special mail bags right away.
SpeedPost is the Indian version of express mail, but it isn’t all that fast, at least from Ladakh. From Leh to Gujarat I was told to expect that it would take about a week! Same with a letter I sent to Mumbai. A big advantage with SpeedPost is that you get online tracking. The drawback is that you can’t insure a SpeedPost parcel, so it really depends on what you are sending.
There are some shops (mostly the carpet sellers) that will send things for you. It’s best to pay with a credit card rather than cash in case items don’t arrive safely. Be sure to get the postal/courier receipt as well as the shop receipt, if possible. For added security, take a photo of the merchandise with the shopkeeper, and insist that it be packed in your presence.
Note: you can only send parcels up to 3PM at the Tourist PO. It’s 9:30AM to 5:30Pm at the Main PO, or until 3:30PM on Saturday.
Don’t even think of trying to mail anything other than postcards from one of the village post offices. Even if they were willing to accept your parcel, it would add another whole layer of iffy-ness to the process.