Nothing can beat the road trip to Ladakh, when it comes to road tripping. This road trip brags of challenging and treacherous snow-carpeted passes like Khardung La, Chang La and Zoji La, deep valleys, high altitude plains (Morey Plains) and unending glistening streams. It’s absolutely the stuff dreams are made of.
With stunning landscapes, unpaved and challenging roads, and low oxygen levels; this road trip sure is a master-stroke for a traveler. While traveling to Ladakh is once in a lifetime affair but it’s not at all easy.
We drove from Delhi to Ladakh via Manali-Leh Highway and drove back from Leh to Delhi via (NH1) Leh-Srinagar Highway. Pahalgam was a bit out of the way but we added it to our itinerary because of our sheer desire to witness the kaleidoscopic vistas of the valley. Our road trip itinerary blends two of the most fascinating and beautiful destinations (Kashmir and Ladakh) of India into one.
Planning a Road Trip Itinerary to Ladakh
A road trip, or for that matter any trip starts at home. Most important thing to do before embarking on any journey is to chalk out a rough itinerary. First, figure out whether you want to go via Manali and come back via Srinagar or the other way around. Both ways, it takes 3 days to reach Ladakh. In total, 6 days on the road. Now, choose the places you want to see and number of days you can devote. A perfect trip should range from 12-14 days. And if you wanna witness amazing Spiti valley, add 4-5 days to your itinerary.
Preparing a Car for the Road Trip
I was under impression that a road trip to Ladakh needs an SUV but was stunned to see people driving Nano, Maruti 800, i20, and Santro on the road to Leh. If you are thinking of renting a car, I would definitely recommend to rent a 4×4 vehicle as it’ll make your trip easier.
Get your vehicle serviced before embarking on this tedious journey. It’s essential to keep the complete tool kit with puncture repair kit, foot pump and extra fuel in a container. My friend’s car got punctured near Lachung La Pass and surprisingly, not even a single car stopped to help. One major tool from the tool kit was missing and it created a havoc. My friend’s husband walked or rather climbed few kms to get help. It was scary. Please be sure to pack the car essentials when traveling to lifeless roads like these. Don’t forget to keep the RC and pollution certificate in the car.
Things to Pack
The weather in the Ladakh region is erratic. Days are hot while nights are chilly. Icy cold winds cut through you, more if you choose to stay in a tented accommodation. Pack equal number of warm and summer clothes (depending on number of days), a good raincoat or wind cheater, sun caps, glasses, sweaters or jackets (at least two warm and one light jacket), and sunscreen lotion. If possible carry a small tent with a sleeping bag for emergency as the roads are unpredictable and you never know when road closures leave you marooned on the road. Carry two to three pairs of shoes because playing in the snow at passes can dampen your shoes.
It’s utterly important to pack a first-aid kit with all the required medicines and a portable oxygen cylinder. Other essentials include photocopies of your id card, and Inner line permit documents.
Do carry loads of camphor as it’s a real catholicon to treat Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
Only certain number of vehicles are allowed to cross Rohtang Pass per day. So, please get a permit for your travel date in advance to save a disappointment. Permits are issued by DC in Kullu. An inner line permit is required if you are planning to visit the border areas like Chushul which is issued by DC in Leh.
Food Options on the Way
Stuff your car with 2-3 cartons of bottled mineral water, as one needs to be hydrated all the time because of low-oxygen environ. Store dry snacks (avoid salty stuff) like cookies, chocolates, candies, and dry fruits. Turnip and Radish prove to be a curative in high altitude areas.
There are plenty of dhabas (roadside food stalls) along the way. Food options include tea, coffee, paranthas, rajma-Rice, momos, sandwiches, chowmein, and of course Maggi. There are some fine restaurants you’ll bump during the road trip but nothing like eating at road side food stall as it gives a real road-trip feel.
The total cost depends on the set of hotels you choose for your stay. We chose homestays and mid-range hotels which proved to be good. In addition to accommodation, other expenses include fuel charges (15,000 approx.), road taxes or tolls (2,000 approx.) and food (12,000 approx.). Our cumulative expenses (2 adults + 1 child) reached around 55,000.
Day By Day Itinerary of Road Trip to Ladakh
Delhi to Leh via Manali-Leh Highway (490km)
Day 1: Delhi – Chandigarh – Manali
Overnight at Manali.
Day 2: Manali- Palchan – Kothi – Gulaba – Marhi – Rani Nala – Rohtang – Gramphu – Khoksar– Sissu – Tandi
We relished momos, rajma-rice and a hot cup of tea at a dhaba in Khoksar(Lahaul Valley), refuelled the cars at a petrol pump in Tandi (last on this route, so quite crucial) and stopped by to witness the beautiful confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers at Tandi.
Overnight at Tandi (camps).
Day 3: Tandi- Keylong – Jispa – Darcha – Sumdo – Patsio – Zingzing Bar – Baralacha La – Bharatpur – Sarchu
Savoring Maggi (literally, a lifesaver in mountain ranges) at Zingzing bar before ascending the mighty Baralacha La was a much-needed break. Crossing Baralacha La (second highest pass on Manali-Leh Highway) is an experience in itself. Don’t rush, you don’t visit places like these everyday. Deepak Tal and Suraj Tal are prefered stops on the way. These turquoise lakes are mesmerizing and each one has a story to tell!
Overnight at Sarchu (camps)
Day 3: Sarchu- Gata Loops – Nakee La – Lachulung La – Pang – More Plains – Tanglang La – Rumste – Upshi – Karu – Leh
Most of the places during our day 3 journey tempted us to get down from the car to enjoy the virgin nature.
Gata Loops ( 21 hairpin bends), Nakee La and Lachulung La (high mountain passes), Pang (this is where one starts feeling high altitude sickness and this is where colors of Ladakh become more conspicuous), More Plains (unceasing stretch of plains at such high altitude enveloped by mountain ranges comes as a surprise and seems unnatural and stunning), Tanglang La (second highest pass as claimed), and Upshi (police check point to mark your arrival to or departure from Leh); all the places need your attention.
Overnight at Leh. It’s advisable to take rest for a day to better acclimatize to low oxygen environ.
Day 4: Leh – Karu – Sakti – Chang La – Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik – Pangong Tso
Enjoyed the snowball fight ( why should kids have all the fun?) at the mighty Chang La Pass. Staying for more than 10 minutes can make you feel sick (low oxygen levels.)
One can plan a night stay at Pangong Tso to truly witness the breathtaking exquisiteness of the lake and watch the classic sunrise and sunset over the artistic landscape. We, because of kids, resisted the temptation and decided to come back to Leh the same day. Though we witnessed the beautiful sunset at Chang La.
Overnight at Leh.
Day 5: Leh – Khardung La- Diskit – Hunder (Nubra Valley) – Leh
Bacterial Camel Safari at Hunder (kids adore it) and visit to the gorgeous monastery with tallest Buddha statue at Diskit are must do activities. If you are on a laid back vacation, can choose to spend a night at Hunder/Diskit. We had to rush to cover maximum number of places in numbered days.
Overnight at Leh.
Day 6: Local Sightseeing and how can we forget shopping at Leh.
There’s nothing like relishing the local culture of the place you are visiting. Some of the places worth visiting in Leh include – Thicksey Monastery, Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa, Hall of Fame, Stok palace (not for the museum but for the special momos prepared in the royal kitchen) and Shey Palace.
Overnight at Leh.
Return Journey – Leh to Delhi via Leh-Srinagar Highway (434 km)
Day 7: Leh – Nimmu – Lamayuru – Khaltse – Kargil – Drass – Zoji La – Sonamarg
Confluence of Zanskar and Indus at Nimmu, Lamayuru Monastery, Lunar Landscapes, Gurudwara Pather Sahib, Magnetic Hills, and Kargil War Memorial (Vijaypath) are must see places in this route.
Enjoy the beautiful landscapes en route.
Night Stay at Sonmarg.
Day-8: Sonmarg – Srinagar
A day well-spent exploring Dal Lake, Mughal Gardens, Pari Mahal at Srinagar. We shopped for authentic Kashmiri handicrafts at J&K tourism art emporium. Lal Chowk is famous for dry fruits shopping. Do try walnut fudge at Hazratbal bakery.
Day-9: Srinagar – Pahalgam
It was magical to Immerse in the beauty of Valley of Shepherds. Located on the bank of Lidder river, Pahalgam is a real treat for your eyes and soul. Beautiful spots like Baisaran, Aru Valley, Lidder Valley, Betaab Valley and many more spellbind you. Hiking on a horse to the magical highland vistas of a tiny village called Aru is something you shouldn’t miss! Friendly horsemen with their lovely stories make the ride one of a kind.
Overnight at Pahalgam
Day-10: Pahalgam- Anantnag – Jammu
Overnight at Jammu
Day 11: Jammu – Jalandhar – Ludhiana – Ambala – Karnal – Panipat – Delhi
Back to home sweet home.
Major Attractions That We Missed 🙁
List of some of the beautiful places which we couldn’t witness but you can definitely plan to:
1.Zanskar Valley ( detour from Kargil to Padum)
2.Marsimik La ( 3 hours from Pangong Tso, needs an extra day)
3.Tso Moriri (240 km from Leh)
4.Spiti Valley (Manali – Solang Valley – Rohtang Pass – Gramphu – Khoksar – Gramphu – Kunzum Pass – Kaza)
Both the routes (Leh-Manali and Leh-Srinagar) are highly vulnerable to avalanches or landslides and thus, is as risky as it is spectacular. It sure guarantees to give you an Adrenalin rush but never assures a secure and smooth passage.