A journey that takes you into the heart of the Himalayas is like venturing into the gates of paradise; the beautiful ever changing landscapes that you come across on the Srinagar Leh Highway make the road trip a feast for the soul as much for the eyes. The road to Leh from Srinagar must be one of the most fascinating journeys in the world, verdant mountain sides as far as the eyes can see make you appear small and insignificant in comparison and helps to put life itself in perspective. A road trip down the Srinagar Leh Highway and then onwards to Ladakh is not the easiest of journeys but it is definitely a journey that will remain close to your heart forever.
One of the two alternative routes for traveling to Leh by road, the Srinagar to Leh Highway also called NH-1D is definitely the more recommended route for the journey towards Leh due to many reasons, primary being the fact that chances of being hit by AMS are comparatively lesser as the ascent is more gradual compared to the Manali-Leh Highway. Also the Srinagar Leh Highway is not really as desolated as the Manali Leh highway with many more facilities and amenities and access to help available en route. The only downside of using the Srinagar Leh highway is the presence of heavy traffic and trucks on this route during peak tourist season as well as the numerous army checkpoints on the way due to its proximity to the Line of Actual Control between India and Pakistan. But barring a few inconveniences and the absence of good roads on certain sections of the highway, the Srinagar Leh highway offers a panoramic vista that leaves one enthralled.
Best time to travel: The route is open from Mid- May to September, sometimes October. It remains snow bound and closed for vehicular traffic for the rest of the 6 months.
Passes on the way:
- Zoji La(11642 ft.) – Regarded as the Gateway to Ladakh
- Namika La (12,198 ft.)
- Fotu La(13479 ft.) – Highest point on the Srinagar-Leh route.
Must Carry Documents:
With many military checkpoints on the way, it is important to always have handy
- Vehicle papers
- Government issued identification in case of Indian National, Passport in case of Foreign National
Day 1: Enjoy the beauty of Srinagar
Once you land at Srinagar airport, check into your hotel and then use the day to take some rest and explore the city. Kashmir is a photographer’s delight and a nature lover’s paradise. Srinagar itself has much to offer tourists in terms of beauty including the beautifully serene Dal Lake. Don’t miss taking the famous Shikara ride on the Dal Lake to get a first- hand glimpse of how Kashmiris live and set up shops on boats. Be prepared to be greeted by vendors selling food, jewelry and clothes on shikaras. Look out for the floating post office on the Dal Lake to experience the Kashmiri way of life.
Day 2 Srinagar to Kargil via Sonmarg-ZojiLa-Drass (205 Kms)
Srinagar to Sonmarg: 85 kms -Start the drive early morning for Sonmarg, located at a height of 2740 meters. Aptly called “golden fields” because of the lush meadows that start coming into sight as you near the city, lush fields all around are sure to make your heart leap with joy as you make a brief halt to capture the beauty of the place on camera before you head off towards the most treacherous part of the journey, crossing the Zojila Pass.
Sonmarg to Zoji La – Drass – 62 kms
A rollercoaster ride, the slushy climb up the Zoji La Pass,also called the “gateway to Ladakh” is an adventure ride full of bumps and twists. Located at an altitude of 11,642 ft, the dirt track that goes in the name of road in this stretch adds to the sense of adventure and requires considerable skill to cross especially during the monsoons. Zoji La operates on a traffic control system that allows only traffic from only one side of the road at one time since the road is very narrow and the possibilities of accidents are high. You need to either check the road opening timings before-hand to ensure you are not held up at ZojiLa or else use the opportunity to admire the beautiful vistas that surround you from all sides. Get your papers cleared at the army checkpoint at Zoji La before crossing through and the most challenging part of your journey is now over.
The drive from Zoji La pass to Drass is uneventful except for the extreme cold that sets in. The second coldest region on earth after Siberia, Drass experiences very low temperatures even in summer making it difficult to even breathe at times.
Drass to Kargil: (58 km)
The last stretch from Drass to Kargil is likely to take hardly any time. If you happen to reach Kargil before 5 pm be sure to go and pay your respects to the fallen soldiers at the War Memorial built to honor the bravery of Indian soldiers who fought and lost their lives in the Kargil War. Check into your hotel and enjoy well deserved rest before venturing to savor some local fare. Kargil offers reasonably good amenities to visitors especially during the tourists. There are many decent stay options apart from homestays as well as eateries, ATM’s, pay phones and petrol pumps so make sure to replenish your supplies before heading out the next day. BSNL has good connectivity in Kargil, so if you are carrying one you should be able to make use of it to get in touch with family and friends.
Kargil to Leh via Mulbek, Namika La and Fotu La (235 kms)
A short drive of 40 kms will bring you to the small quaint town of Mulbekh, where the 9 metre long solid rock carved statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha, greets you. The relatively smaller Namika La Pass comes first before Fotu La, at 13479 ft, easily the tallest pass on the Srinagar Leh Highway with a breathtaking view of the valley beneath. The moon land of Lamayur soon starts coming into view as you make your view towards the Lamayru Monastery, the oldest Gompa in Ladakh. The sheer adrenaline rush that surges through your body as you navigate the The Hangaro Loops consisting of a series of 18 sharp and steep consecutive bends soon gives way to sheer awe as you gaze at the confluence of the mighty Indus with the Zanskar at Nimmo, their union teaching us an important lesson about living in harmony.
Visit Gurudwara Pathar Sahib also located at Nimmo to pay your respects as well as to enjoy the panoramic view of the Himalayas before heading towards Magnetic Hill, a modern day science miracle. Watch in wonder as your car makes its way up without the engine running, before making your last stop for the day at your hotel in Leh.
Spend the rest of the day relaxing in your hotel room to help acclimatize your body to high altitudes.
Day 4: Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardung La Pass.
The journey from Leh to Nubra Valley includes first climbing up the Khardung La Pass, the highest motorable road in the world and then descending down the opposite side to watch the scenery change from giant brown colored mountains to white snow-capped ones shining in the reflected light of the sun. Located at a height of 18,380 feet, it is freezing cold as you step out of the comfort of your car to soak in the beauty that lies before your eyes at the summit of Khardung La. Cross the crystal clean green waters of the Shyok River that feeds Nubra Valley converting it into a charming valley of orchards during summer and spring. If you have time visit the Diskit Monastery that lies on the way. The first sight to greet your eyes as you head towards the monastery is the life like statue of Buddha that appears to be seated in the center of the Himalayas and maintaining a peaceful watch over the place.
The landscape changes dramatically as you head towards Hunder and all of a sudden you are confronted with a sand desert replete with sand dunes and camels. Look out for the rare and famous double humped Bactrain camels, you might even be able to enjoy a ride atop one of them if you happen to reach in time else don’t miss the opportunity to do so early next morning.
Enjoy an overnight camp stay and watch the beautiful sun set spread out sand dunes before heading off to your tent for the night.
Day 5 Nubra Valley to Leh
Catch the local sights and sounds of Nubra Valley before heading back to Leh. If you were not able to cover Diskit Monastery and Hunder the previous day, start early to be able to cover them while on your way back.
Day 6 Leh to Pangong Lake
Located at a height of 4,250 meters above sea level, in the remote and barren Changtang plateau in eastern Ladakh region, a journey to Pangong Lake is every bit as challenging as it is rewarding. Since a big part of the lake lies in China controlled Tibet, there is sizeable army presence in the region and carrying paperwork is a must even though Indian national are no longer required to carry Inner Line Permit while traveling to Pangong Tso Lake.
A left turn at Karu will take you through the small village of Shakti from where the real ascent to Chang La Pass starts. Decent road conditions make the first part of the steep ascent relatively comfortable but as you go higher road conditions deteriorate drastically and the last few kilometers of ascent to Chang La can be both nerve racking and back breaking. The 3rd highest motorable pass in the world, Chang La is located at a height of 17,590 ft. and is named after Chang La Baba, a shrine dedicated to his name is also located there. The high altitude can cause many people to fall pretty to an acute attack of AMS, especially if they not spent enough time at Leh acclimatizing their body to high altitude conditions. You can ward off some of the cold by sipping on some warm tea served by the Indian army free of cost to tourists visiting the Pass.
The Thiksey Monastery lies on the way to Pangong Lake and is a must visit, not only because it is the largest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh and offers a rare glimpse into the life of Buddhist monks but also because of the simply breathtaking view of the Zanskar valley and mountains that you can see from the 12 storied monastery. Enjoy the feeling of peace that descends upon you as you gaze into the eyes of the 9 ft long statue of future Buddha located within the monastery before hitting the road again. The Shey monastery is another must visit before you finally make a halt at Pangong Lake to simply suck in your breath at the sheer beauty of the vista that awaits you.
One of the most picturesque lakes in the world with pristine blue waters with the majestic Karakoram mountain range serving as a fitting backdrop, this sight is sure to make all the troubles of the world fade away.
Again enjoy the sight of the setting sun over the lake from the comfort of your camp before hitting your tent for the night.
Day 7 Pangong Lake to Leh
Get up early to catch sight of rare migratory birds like the Brahmani ducks or the exquisite black necked cranes. You might even be lucky enough to catch sight of the local version of the dog called Ladakhi Marmot.
Day 8: Fly out of Leh or continue your journey to Manali on iconic Manali – Leh highway
There is nothing better for adventure lovers than driving down the Manali Leh highway. Where else do you get an opportunity to test your driving skills by crossing the 21 hair pin bends of Gata Loops or become part of a select few in the world who can lay claim to having crossed the third highest motorable pass in the world, the Tanglang La.
A road journey of this kind can be even more fun and infinitely safer in the company of like- minded travelers. At Wenomads we offer an 9 days 8 night trip from Srinagar to Leh by road that allows you to capture the essence of Ladakh without having to worry about everyday travel requirements. The added fun of being able to share your experiences with travelers just like you is sure to add to the charm of an already magical journey.