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Road Trip to Ladakh: Complete Guide

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    Ladakh, the land of high passes, is one of the highest visited tourist destinations in India. Located more than 3,000m above the sea level, the scenic beauty of the Himalayan range and the Karakoram Mountain ranges add to the alluring beauty of this region.

    Any road trips to Ladakh takes you through scenic valleys, rugged terrains, high passes, snow clad mountains and many more fascinating elements of nature. Offering mesmeric views of the surroundings, these trips also offers adequate amount of challenges as the prevailing conditions along these regions cannot be exactly predicted at times.

    There are two different routes that lead to Ladakh- one from Srinagar and the other from Manali: Srinagar to Leh and Manali to Leh.

    Route 1: Srinagar to Leh

    Image Credit: Onthego Tours- Flickr

    On the Srinagar to Leh trip, you will visit beautiful villages, war memorial, Himalayan valleys, a mountain top Gurudwara, monasteries and more. This is a comprehensive trip that exposes you to the various facets of Ladakh. In this exciting road trip, you visit spectacular locations.

    Be it the green fields of Sonamargh or the quaint and happy villages on the banks of the Sindh River, fill your eyes with the sights, sounds and essence of Ladakh. Covering a distance of 434 kms, this trip lets you understand the true majesty of Mother Nature’s creations.

    Total Distance: 434 Kms

    Best Time to Visit: Highway generally opens on early May to late October (Depends on the weather)

    Route Map:

    Srinagar – Sonmarg – Zozi La – Drass – Kargil – Mulbek – Lamayaru – Saspol – Leh

    Places to see on Srinagar to Leh road trip:

    1) Sonmarg

    Image Credit: Motographer - Flickr

    Translated as the Meadow of Gold in English, Sonmarg is located in the Ganderbal district. Situated in the finest regions of the Himalayan glaciers, this place is known for its majestic views of the Kolhoi Glacier and Machoi Glacier.

    Being an alpine valley, it is a popular tourist destination with grassy meadows providing imposing views of the glaciers while taking a road trip to Ladakh. There are trekking routes from this place to numerous lakes such as Gangabal Lake, Krishnasar Lake and Vishansar Lake. You can also visit the nearby Baltal valley and reach the Amarnath sacred cave.

    2) Drass Valley

    Starting from the base of the Zojila pass, this is a Himalayan getaway like no other! Located in the Kargil district of Jammu & Kashmir, this place is also known colloquially as the Gateway to Ladakh. The Drass Valley is an adjacent land that runs along the Drass River.

    Trekkers visit this valley to take a trek to the Suru Valley. This is a three day long trek and the route passes through upland villages and green meadows. You can also visit the Pugu Valley from here. This valley is known for its hot springs that has potential therapeutic health benefits.

    3) Kargil War Memorial

    Image Credit: Kamaljith K V- Flickr

    Dedicated to the war heroes and martyrs of the Kargil War, this war memorial is a testimony to the selfless sacrifice of Indian soldiers in the Kargil War. There are artefacts, expositions and a memento shop inside the complex. When you are going for a road trip to Ladakh, you can get hats, T-shirts and other such items from the shop.

    There is a sandstone wall on which the names of slain Army personnel are displayed. There is also information on the events that led to the war and you can also read about the details of how the Indian Army captured peaks and market their glorious victory.  

    4) Pattharsahib Gurudwara

    Image Credit: anoop madhavan - Flickr

    25km from Leh, this magnificent gurudwara is dedicated to Guru Nanak. Built in the 15th century, this structure commemorates the visit of the Guru to this region. It is also a symbolization of the love and respect, the Tibetans hold toward the Guru and his teachings. Tibetans even idolize Guru Nanak as a Buddhist Saint and call him fondly as Guru Gompka Maharaj.

    Built and managed by the Indian Army, there is a stone with Guru’s form imprinted on it in the premises of the gurudwara. You can spend your time visiting the Gurudwara’s Diwan Hall and Darbar Hall.

    5) Mulbekh Monastery

    Image Credit: Sitaram Shastri - Flickr

    Located around 45km from Kargil over a hilltop, the Mulbekh Monastery is well-known for its two gompas. A revered place of faith, there are two sub-monasteries called Drukpa and Gelugpa within the premises. You can see the building from afar when on the Srinagar-Leh Highway. The highlight attraction here is the statue of Maitreya Buddha.

    Built of limestone and measuring 30ft, splendid relics and frescos add to the beauty and spirituality of this gompa. This sculpture was believed to be the work of Buddhist missionaries to propagate the Buddhist faith. From atop the monastery, you get an aerial view of the surrounding regions.

    6) Alchi Monastery

    Image Credit: Robin Browne - Flickr

    Located 70km from Ladakh, this monastery was known to be an ancient place for learning and preaching Buddhism. Situated on a flat ground, the Alchi Monastery was built during the 12th century. Inside the monastery are the structures Du-khang and Sum-tsek. There is also a temple on premises called the Manjushri Temple. Du-khang or the assembly hall of the monastery houses ancient paintings and also showcases numerous murals that depicts the various forms of Lord Buddha.

    Managed by the Archaeological Survey of India, this monastery is located in the picturesque Alchi village. On a tour to this sacred place, you can also visit the nearby village and witness the life and culture of the local people.

    7) Magnetic Hill

    Image Credit: Rohit Ganda - Flickr

    Located near Leh, this hill is also called Gravity Hill. It is believed that this entire region has magnetic properties that attracts and pulls the cars or other passing vehicles up the hill. The pulling effect of the hill is so intense that the airplanes passing over this peak alter their altitude to escape the gravitational pull of the hill.

    Many people have supposedly seen huge rocks being hurled upwards rather than downwards! On a road trip to Ladakh, you can stop-by at this hill and experience its gravitational force. Although theorists believe that the slopes of the hill create an optical illusion, it still continues to fascinate the visitors.

    8) Spituk Monastery

    Image Credit: Amit Rawat - Flickr

    Also called the Spituk Gompa, this monastery houses about 100 monks. During the Spitok festival, a huge statue of Goddess Kali is unveiled here. Built in the 11th century and located 8km from Leh, the Indus River flows just behind the Spituk Monastery. Belonging to the Geluga Sect, this building houses fresco, scriptures and idols that are thousands of years old.

    There are numerous images of the Lord Buddha in His many avatars, forms and manifestations displayed within the monastery. Every year, the Gustor festival is celebrated here. The mask dance is the main attraction of this picturesque and culturally resplendent festival.

    9) Moonland

    Image Credit: Sanish Suresh - Flickr

    If Ladakh is known as the ‘Heaven of Passes’, the Moonland is known ‘Heaven of Adventure’. This is one amongst the best places to visit in Jammu and Kashmir while doing a road trip to Ladakh. Often referred as paradise of the shutterbugs, the spectacular views of the region is sure to captivate its visitors.

    The serene picturesque settings of the vicinity add to the enchanting beauty of the Moonland. Be it the scenic terrains, picturesque valleys or the stunning views of the surroundings, every element makes this place, a heaven on earth!

    10) Lamayuru Monastery

    This monastery is also known as the ‘Place of Freedom’. It is one of the oldest and largest monasteries in Ladakh. Located at about 127km from Leh, the Lamayuru Monastery is situated on a steep mountain and belongs to the Red Hat Buddhist sect. Rich paintings, scriptures and Buddha statues make this place, a must visit monastery while visiting Leh.

    Image Credit: BJ Graf- Flickr

    As you walk inside the building, visit the Dukhang or the assembly hall and witness a unique assortment of artefacts and Buddhist ideological architecture. Visit the residential buildings for monks in the temple premises, have a glimpse of their daily life and alos explore the peace and tranquility that prevails in the monastery.

    Petrol Pumps on Srinagar-Leh Highway:

    Image Credit: Kiran SRK - Flickr

    1) Mangan: Starting from Srinagar, the first petrol pump is available at Mangam, which is situated at around 32km from Srinagar.

    Distance from Srinagar: 32 Kms

    2) Sonamarg: The next refueling can be done at Sonamarg; around 80km from Srinagar and 48km ahead of Mangam.

    Distance from Mangan: 48 Kms

    3) Kargil: Make sure, you fill enough fuel in Sonamarg as the next petrol pump is located around 124km from Sonamarg or 204km from Srinagar.

    Distance from Kargil: 124 Kms

    4) Mulbekh: From Kargil, the next filling station lies in Mulbekh; around 40km, and 242km from Srinagar. Fuel stations are also available in Wakha and Khaltsi, which can be easily reached from Mulbekh.

    Distance from Mulbekh: 40 Kms

    ATMs on Srinagar-Leh Highway:

    On this astounding road trip, you can find ATMs in Ganderbal, Drass and Kargil. Due to the lesser number of ATMs in these regions, you can expect quite a rush in each of the ATM booths.

    Mechanics on Srinagar-Leh Highway:

    Image Credit: Lev Yakupov - Flickr

    Before embarking on this tour, double check the performance of your vehicles. However, as uncertainties are never known, you can easily find mechanic shops in Ganderbal, Sonamarg and Kargil. Moving further from Kargil, you can find only puncture shops in Lamayuru, Mulbekh and Nimmu. 

    Places to Eat:

    Image Credit: abrinsky - Flickr

    There is no shortage of food availability when taking a road trip to Ladakh. But in some areas like valleys and around mountain passes, you cannot even expect a tea shop to be in the vicinity! For a long trip, stop-by at a local eatery and get some packed food as well. Most of the restaurants here, serve Tibetan and Indian food.

    Places to Stay:

    While in this trip, you can have ample of places to stay in Sonamarg, Drass, Kargil, Mulbekh, Lamayuru, Alchi. Be it renting places, local inns, or overnight camps, this journey offers quite a delightful options of places to stay. 


    Route 2: Manali to Leh

    Image Credit: Prabhu B Doss - Flickr

    Covering a distance of 490km, be treated to an unforgettable experience on the Ladakh road trip. On the Manali to Leh road trip, you will traverse through high mountain passes, narrow passes, hair pin bends and scenic valleys where you can click panoramic photographs.

    You will tour villages and witness the quiet and elegant lifestyle of people living in such divine settings. Fantastic scenic quotients, monasteries, resplendent villages, ancient trade routes and jaw-dropping views are the highlights of this trip.

    Total Distance: 490 Kms

    Best Time to Visit: June to September

    Route Map:

    Manali – Rohtang – Gramphu – Kokhsar – Keylong – Jispa – Darcha – Zingzingbar – Baralacha La – Bharatpur – Sarchu – Gata Loops – Nakee La – Lachulung La – Pang - Tanglang La – Gya - Upshi - Karu – Leh

    Places to see on Manali to Leh road trip:

    1) Rohtang La

    Image Credit: Axel Drainville - Flickr

    Located on the highway leading to Keylong and Leh, this is amongst the highest mountain passes in the world. The spectacular scenery of the Leh landscape is worth witnessing from here. Visiting this pass during the month of May-Novembers make it for an unforgettable experience as the region, during this period blooms at its best!

    Amazing views of glaciers, mountains, valleys and meadows keep you enchanted all through the journey; paragliding is also a not-to-be-missed experience. There is perennial snow at the Rohtang La; you can also get indulged into snowball games and have the best fun-frolic moment of your life!  

    2) Keylong

    Image Credit: Deepak Sharma - Flickr

    Being the headquarters of the Lahaul Spiti region, Keylong is known to be a slice of paradise. A place with abundance of greenery, you can easily find willow trees, rivulets and snowcapped mountains in this region. Whether you want to explore the scenic countryside or visit the quaint villages, Keylong presents you an eclectic mix of sightseeing locations on the Ladakh road trip.

    You can visit the flourishing Bhaga Valley and embrace the richness of the ecosystem when in Keylong. There are two important monasteries, namely Shashur and Gemur that you can visit as well.

    3) Jispa

    Image Credit: Motographer - Flickr

    Located along the Chandra River is Jispa, a paradisiacal place where uninterrupted beauty is the norm. Although tourists visit this place for an overnight stay, this region is filled with sightseeing locations. The open fields present perfect camping sites for travellers on the Manali-Leh road trip to halt for an overnight stay.

    The natural architecture that encompasses you when in Jispa is an inexplicable reality. Being a high altitude place, this place has an ecosystem that is characteristic of high altitude lands in excess of 10,000ft.

    4) Darcha

    Image Credit: Kiran SRK - Flickr

    Located beside the Bhaga River and 23km from Keylong, Darcha is a scenic village surrounded by picturesque mountains and valleys. Due to its geographical location, it also serves as an ideal location for camping. From this village, you can also Padum, and the Darcha-Pardum route is one of the famous trails that has been fascinating the trekkers with its enthralling spells and delight.

    5) Zingzing Bar

    Image Credit: Motographer - Flickr

    Sometimes a pit-stop can be more than just a pit-stop! Although Zingzingbar is a peace-over joint, its stature is more than that. Located between Jispa and Sarchu, people visit this place not only for beverages and snacks break, but for a spiritual break too; the scenery from here is simply outstanding. You are effortlessly transported into a realm of meditative bliss.

    6) Baralacha La

    Image Credit: Deepak Sharma - Flickr

    Located in the Zanskar region and created within the high altitudes of the Himalayas, the Baralacha La connects Lahaul to Ladakh. Overlooking the pass is the beautiful Pir Panjal ranges, from this pass you can see the three valleys that surround it.

    At over 16,000ft above sea level, Baralacha La is definitely one of the highest mountain passes in this region on the Ladakh road trip. Trekkers use this region to start their trek to the Suraj Tal Lake; be prepared to witness and interact with trekkers from different parts of the world within this route.

    7) Sarchu

    Image Credit: Prabhu B Doss - Flcikr

    Locally known as Sir Bhum Chum, Sarchu is yet another beautiful region surrounded by snow-capped glaciers and abounding greenery. Tourists on the Manali to Leh trip use the open fields of Sarchu to setup an overnight camping stay. This is a place to enjoy the riches of a unique ecosystem.

    At an altitude of 14,000ft, Sarchu posses an embarrassment of visually enticing scenery. The abundance of majestic mountains draped in a blanket of snow and the murmuring sounds of the rivulets add to the heavenly beauty of this region.

    8) Nakee La

    Image credit: Chris Juden

    Located on the Leh-Manali route, Nakee La is the third pass that offers breathtaking views of rivulets passing through the mountains. You can see how the Indus River flows through the mountains and winds its way through the gorges and ravines. The picture perfect beauty of Nakee La can easily make the visitors fall for its splendid beauty and showiness.

    Situated 4,750m above the sea level, you can stopover at this pass and witness the Indus River and its serpentine trajectory along the mountains. Do not forget to capture this visual delight with a photograph!

    9) Lachulung La

    This is a high mountain pass located 16,000ft above sea level and providing undulating visuals of your surroundings. At the Lachulung La mountain pass, with one sweeping glance you can see the entire Ladakh plateau. Considered an easy mountain pass to traverse, you can visit this pass to get breathtaking views and click priceless photographs.

    10) Upshi

    Image Credit: abrinsky - Flickr

    Situated along the Indus River, Upshi is one of the quaint picturesque villages you can find on the way to Ladakh. Located 45km southeast of Leh, a tour to this village is an extremely delightful affair. There is also an ancient trading route in the vicinity, which once connected the region to Tibet but is no longer used.

    Petrol Pumps on Manali – Leh Highway:

    Image Credit: Ananth Narayan S  - Flickr

    1) Manali

    While in Manali, you can find abundance of petrol pumps. This hill station town has a total of 6 petrol pumps.

    2) Tandi

    Moving 110 km from Manali, you can find a petrol pump in Tandi.

    Distance from Manali to Tandi: 110 Kms

    3) Karu

    345 km from Tandi and 30km before Leh, you can also refuel your vehicles in Karu.

    Distance from Tandi to Karu: 345kms

    4) Leh

    Arriving in Leh, one can also find quite a few petrol pumps. In addition to the few petrol pumps in Leh, you can refuel your vehicles at the petrol pump near the Leh Airport (25 km from Leh).

    ATMs on Manali-Leh Highway:

    Image Credit: Sistak - Flickr

    Carrying adequate amount of cash is always a wise choice on this route as there is a dearth of ATMs. All through this way, you can find only one ATM in Keylong, after which Leh town has the next ATM.

    Mechanics on Manali-Leh Highway:

    Image Credit: Motographer - Flickr

    Before starting this tour, check the vehicles properly in order to avoid any breakdowns. However, all through the journey, you can find mechanic shops in Marhi, Khoksar, Keylong, Darcha, Sarchu and Upshi.

    Places to Eat:

    At Rohtang pass, there are beverage and food stalls. Primary and healthcare centres are available at Sissu town and so are eateries. There are plenty of restaurants at Keylong. Zingzing Bar is probably the only place where you get dhabas that combine staying options. Dhabas serve tasty food and whilst staying here you get breakfast too. All along the trip you might find dhabas interspersed in between.

    Places to Stay:

    After Rohtang Pass, you can find several homestay options at Khoksar. At Keylong, there are places to stay and also ATMs. This is amongst the few ATMs on this stretch. Zingzing Bar has dhabas that function as staying places as well. Sarchu has some homestays and after this place you may have to rely on Swiss tents to camp outdoors.

    Things to Keep in Mind:

    • Before starting the trip, ensure that the vehicles are in proper working conditions as mechanic shops are less found in this region. Also, carry a tool-kit to overcome any minor breakdowns.

    • It is important to acclimatize to the weather of Leh given that it is an altitudinous land during the Ladakh road trip. There are some places such as Sarchu where you can stay for some time and get used to the weather.
    • Clothing essentials to carry are jackets, hand gloves, thermocot inners, socks, warm sleeping bags, chocolates, dry fruits, biscuits, camera and cell phones.

    • Keep a lot of dry fruits in stock, chocolates, and food that is not easily perishable.
    • Carry ample bottles of water and buy water whenever you stop by at dhabas.

    • Do not drink and drive when on the trip.

    • It is advisable to drive on a full tank as the density of fuel stations are very sparse.

    • Carry extra petrol or diesel in empty bottles and carry the complete repair kit along in case the car or bike has a punctured tyre.
    • ATMs can also be found only in a few places. Make sure you carry enough cash to sustain any uncertain circumstances

    • Indian citizens may not require special permission to visit places such as the Pangang Lake, Nubra Valley and Tso Moriri given that they are close to bordering countries.
    • Foreign nationals have to obtain a permission called the Protected Area Permit and this can be arranged by a local tour operator during a trip to Ladakh.

    Safety Tips on Road Trip to Ladakh:

    Image Credit: meamodus - Flickr

    • Do not expose yourself to the weather without wearing adequate thermal wear.

    • Drive safely and go slow on hairpin bends.

    • Always park the vehicle on the side of the road to get down and take pictures.

    • Do not sleep during days.

    • The nights are cold and you might want to distract yourself by simply dozing off.
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