A Ladakh road trip is high up on many travellers list who seek adventure, spirituality, tranquillity or simply put, a journey of a lifetime. For any road tripper, Ladakh is the ultimate destination and rightly so. A Ladakh road trip is going to be the most challenging, memorable and exciting journey in the life of any traveller. It offers any traveller a plethora of experiences including stunning landscapes, adrenalin rush, solitude and a time for reflection. It clears your mind, pushes you out of your comfort zone and rewards you with images and memories that you will remember for as long as you live.
There are many ways in which you can plan to start a Ladakh road trip. The fastest way to get to Ladakh is by flying to Leh, the capital of Ladakh district. A short flight from Delhi will make you land in Leh in a little over an hour. Many commercial airlines offer daily flights to Leh and it is the easiest way to reach Ladakh, especially if you are short on time. For road trippers and bikers, no matter which part of India you come from, a Ladakh road trip can be started from Delhi where you can easily rent a car or a bike. Alternatively, you can also start your Ladakh Road trip from Chandigarh where many self-drive companies will offer you good deals to rent a car or a bike. But before you decide to hire one, make sure that the car or the bike is well maintained. The number of days that you wish you spend on this journey is upto you however, you will need a minimum of 2 weeks to cover the most important highlights of the region on your Ladakh trip. The best time for a Ladakh road trip is from June to September when all the roads and passes are open and you see a lot of car enthusiasts and bikers taking the road to Ladakh during these months. But keep in mind, that August is monsoon season in the region and many places are prone to landslides and roadblocks during this time so it is best to avoid going to Ladakh in August. It is also possible to go on a Ladakh trip in the winter season but you will need to brave extreme sub-zero temperatures, drive on roads covered with thick snow and stay in makeshift lodges without proper food or water arrangements. Most of the passes and roads are closed in the winter season, but the flights are still operational.
Chandigarh to Manali (300 km)
Start your Ladakh road trip by driving from Delhi or Chandigarh to Manali, a beautiful hill station which is a sought after destination in Himachal Pradesh for all kinds of travellers including backpackers and honeymooners. Most people who go on a Ladakh tour opt for a night halt in Manali. To reach Manali, you can also take a flight to Kullu which has the only airport in the region where small commercial airliners fly from some cities in India. From Kullu, you can take a cab and reach Manali in 1 hour. Whether you are a group or a solo traveller, you can easily rent a bike from Manali for a Ladakh Road Trip. But before you embark on your Ladakh tour, it’s best to spend a few days exploring the beautiful sights in and around Manali including the Mall Road, Hadimba Temple, Tibetan Monasteries, Manu Temple and Solang Valley, a picturesque valley where you can indulge in a lot of adventure activities like parachuting and paragliding.
Manali to Jispa (165 km)
Start as early as possible from Manali to embark on your Ladakh trip which is going to be one of the greatest journeys of your life. Soon after you leave Manali, you will start climbing towards the Rohtang Pass located at an altitude of 13000 feet above sea level. The approach to Rohtang Pass is challenging and requires a lot of focus as you carefully drive through numerous hairpin bends both while ascending and descending through this stretch. As you approach the top of the mountain, a constant blanket of clouds might disorient you for a few minutes but continue to drive carefully and slowly. Your mobile phone will start losing signal as you descend from Rohtang Pass leaving behind the day-trippers from Manali who would not venture beyond the top of Rohtang Pass. As you start descending, you will leave the crowds behind and slowly the silence, the solitude and the tranquillity of the atmosphere will engulf you and you will find yourself driving in the lap of mother nature. Continue driving for a few more hours till you reach Koksar, a small village famous for its roadside dhabas where you can stop for lunch before moving on towards Jispa. From Koksar, it will take you around 2 hours to reach Jispa, a small village in Lahaul district located at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level on the banks of Bhaga river. But before you reach Jispa, make sure to stop at the last fuel station in Tandi until you reach Ladakh. Blessed with stunning beauty and surrounded by mountains in all directions, Jispa is an ideal place to spend a night to help you acclimatize at a higher altitude before you continue on your Ladakh tour.
Jispa to Leh (350 km)
After a good nights’ rest, start early at around 5 AM to continue your Ladakh trip towards Leh. Today, you are going to experience one of the most memorable and beautiful drives of your life. The Manali Leh highway is ranked as one of the top ten most beautiful highways in the world and you are about to find out that words cannot do justice to the magnificence, grandness and the overwhelming beauty that you are about to experience. Feel the raw power of the Himalayas as you approach the mighty BaralachaLa Pass (16,049 feet above sea level), take short breaks in villages like Pang and Sarchu and ascend the Tanglang La Pass (17,585 feet above sea level), the second-highest motorable road in the world. Your first driving day is going to make you experience the rugged beauty and power of mother nature. Tread carefully, drink water and keep yourself hydrated at all times as you continue climbing on high mountains. You will also drive through a beautiful region called More Plains, a 40 kilometre plateau where you will find yourself driving on an unbelievably straight road at an altitude of 15,000 feet! More Plains is one of the most striking features of the Manali Leh highway and words cannot describe the beauty of this stunning landscape. As you continue towards Leh, unlike More Plains, you will start climbing on the famous Ghata Loops, a combination of 21 hairpin bends that will test your driving skills to its core. By the time you reach Leh late in the evening, you will be tired, exhausted but proud of yourself for having driven through one of the most difficult and challenging terrains in the world.
Leh – Pangong Lake – Nubra Valley (400 km)
Give yourself some well-deserved rest after a long and treacherous drive and once you feel energized again, start exploring the beautiful town of Leh located literally on the top of the world. Visit the Shanti Stupa, an imposing structure situated on a hill from where you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Leh town. Spend the rest of the day exploring the local markets, cafes and talk to travellers from all around the world who all are there for the same reason as you, to explore the rawness of Ladakh.Continue your Ladakh tour the following morning, start at sunrise and drive towards the Pangong Lake, situated at an altitude of 14,271 feet above sea level, in the northeast of Leh. En route, stop at Thiksey Monastery to participate in early morning prayers. Continue driving in isolation on high altitudes towards the Changla Pass (17,350 ft.) before you reach Pangong Lake, a tourist paradise and one of the most stunning lakes in the entire world. You will be mesmerized to see the different shades of blue in the lake on a bright sunny day. Part of the Pangong lake also runs through the Indo-Chinese border. Enjoy lunch next to the sparkling turquoise blue waters of the Lake and start driving back so that you can reach Leh before sunset.A Ladakh trip cannot be complete without driving towards Nubra Valley situated in the north of Leh, at about 10,000 feet above sea level. The road climbs up and over the Khardung La, located at an altitude of 18,380 feet, it is the highest motorable road in the world and one of the main attractions for most road trippers and bikers from around the world. Once you have ticked off this landmark destination from your bucket list, continue driving towards the cold desert of Nubra Valley. Spend a few days in Nubra exploring the beautiful Diskit Monastery and riding a two hump Bactrian camel in the middle of a desert located high up in the mountains. Spend a night in one of the many organic camps before you start your returning journey towards Leh, crossing the Khardung La Pass once again on your way back. Give yourself at least a one day rest in Leh before doing any more driving.
Leh – Kargil (230 km)
On this once-in-a-lifetime Ladakh tour, you have already experienced most of the highlights and now it is time to head towards Kargil. As you leave the town of Leh, just a few kilometres out of town, you will find the Pathar Sahib Gurdwara, a beautiful Sikh temple constructed in the memory of Guru Nanak and located around 25 kilometres from Leh. Take a break at the Gurdwara and read about the legends of Guru Nanak before continuing towards the Magnetic Hill which is a unique magnetic field where you can switch off the ignition of your vehicle and see it climb uphill on its own! Once you are amazed and fail to believe your eyes, start driving again until you come across an unearthly looking landscape known as the moonscape which has a striking resemblance to the landscape of moon right in the middle of the great Himalayas. After taking pictures, continue driving towards Kargil but make sure that you stop at Mulbek village, the endpoint of the Buddhist world of Ladakh and the beginning of the predominant Muslim region of Kashmir. As you reach Kargil, you will find a major contrast in the food, culture, people, language and the overall atmosphere compared to the Buddhist regions of Ladakh that you had gotten used to over the last few days.
Kargil – Srinagar (220 km)
From Kargil, continue driving towards Srinagar on the well maintained silky tarmac road which is taken care of by the Indian Army to allow a smooth passage for regular army vehicles. You will also cross the Dras Village, famous as the second coldest inhabited village in the world before you start climbing towards the mighty Zojila Pass located at an altitude of 11,575 feet above sea level. Crossing this pass can be daunting as you see sharp drops in the valley and negotiate narrow roads and hairpin bends both while ascending and descending the Zojila Pass. Soon after crossing the pass, you will reach the idyllic town of Sonamarg where you can stop for lunch before finally reaching Srinagar, a paradise valley in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Before concluding your Ladakh tour, spend a couple of days exploring Srinagar and don’t forget to take a Shikara ride on the Dal Lake as you slowly move around the gloating vegetable gardens and lotus farms.
Srinagar – Chandigarh (565 km)
Your Ladakh road trip is almost over and it is time to head back home. Start early for a long drive and soon after you leave Srinagar, you will also leave the tranquillity, isolation and remoteness of the Himalayas behind you. Ladakh will feel like a dream as you start negotiating traffic and people on your way to Chandigarh. You have experienced and lived a journey that only a few are lucky enough to experience in their lives.