Everyone dreams of only one epic road trip in India and that road goes to Ladakh. This road trip is also a paradise for bikers. Riding through some of the world’s highest motorable passes is indeed another level of adrenaline.
I am not a bike person though. I like cars.
I have been on 2 road trips to Ladakh. First time in 2010 (went there before it was cool) & then again in 2013. Even though many people don’t recommend, I recommend everyone to reach Leh from Manali. Most of the people would tell you go to Leh from Srinagar. But you know what, if you are looking for a mesmerizing nature, adventure-filled road trip, pictures with highest passes in the world & mad fun with friends, better take the route I’m mentioning below.
This trip will be a 10-12 days itinerary. If you are planning to go here by flight & want to cover everything in 5-6 days, don’t go. Come to Ladakh slowly, settle down in the lifestyle, see places at your own pace, enjoy the culture & leave with fond memories. Flights won’t give you the luxury to do all these things.
The best starting point of this trip is Chandigarh. Take an early morning flight to Chandigarh & try coming out of the airport by 10AM.
Your entire day will be spent in reaching Manali. The distance is approximately 310 km & it doesn’t sound much but mountains will prove you wrong. Take 2-3 small halts for Breakfast, Lunch & evening snacks in between but keep the pace. If you leave by 11 AM from Chandigarh, you target to reach Manali should be 9 PM.
You might have to take a permit if you are going by Manali-Leh road. We did not take it, instead, we left early at 5 AM & crossed the barricade before it was set up. You can arrange permits in advance on call or take it from there. I’d recommend a night stay in Keylong (115 km) or Jispa (138 km). Keylong is a small town with guesthouses. Jispa is a village with small riverside tented accommodations.
When I went with my friends in 2013, we went to Sarchu (230 km). But I wouldn’t recommend staying here because there are only 2 tent camps & the altitude is staggering 15,000 ft. above sea level. You will quickly regret the decision once it’s nighttime. But if you want to F the rules (like we did), then you should definitely go ahead. Just don’t go there with families. Also, no picture of Sarchu because nobody was in a position to click a picture.
If you stayed at Jispa or Keylong (which I hope you did), Day 3’s target will be to reach Leh in the evening. Once you reach there, go to your hotel & REST. Let your body be in sync with the altitude.
Word of warning: Even if you feel alright, don’t go run around the city like a horse. The altitude of Ladakh will punch you & you will fall sick instantly.
Dedicate this day to Leh’s local wonders. Leh is a beautiful city & there are a lot of things to see. Choose your monasteries well because there are a lot of them. I’d personally recommend the following places:
- Thiksey Monastery
- Hemis Monastery
- Spituk Monastery
- Stok Palace
- Sindhu Ghaat
- Hall of Fame Museum
- Shanti Stupa
Even though there are only 7 of them, it’d take at least 2 days to explore them completely. I’d suggest you divide both days. You will understand why soon. Spend your evenings at Sindhu Ghaat & Shanti Stupa.
Pangong Lake or Pangong Tso day. It’s only 150 km from Leh city but you will take at least 4 hours to reach. Leave early (around 5-6 am), spend some quality time around the lake. If you are going towards August-end, you can dare to take a dip in Pangong Tso as well.
Try the local cuisine in the small eateries around or just have Maggi. Pangong Tso is known for its parts in 3 Idiots & Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Click a lot of pictures because you can take some legendary pictures here.
Leave from there around 4 PM so that you can reach Leh back by dinner time.
Pack your bags because you are going to a magical place called Nubra Valley! This is my personal favorite destination in the entire trip.
First you shall drive from Leh to Khardung La (40 km). This is world’s highest motorable road. Take some pictures with the sign, chill for some time in the army canteen, have some hot coffee & snacks, and if there’s even a slight chance, interact with our soldiers. If you find a talkative soldier, you’ll be blown away by their stories & feel more proud about them.
Early evening, you can aim to reach Diskit which is approximately 2 hours away from Khardung La.
Diskit is indeed a magical place. Blue sky with huge white clouds, some snow-clad & some green mountains around, you can also find a small desert around. The geography doesn’t make any sense, right? But it’s like that. You can also opt for camel rides on those sand dunes or you can simply rest near the small river flowing. It’s a peaceful experience.
People tend to overlook this place & come back to Leh in a day but trust me, Nubra Valley requires its own time.
Come back to Leh in the morning. You can have your breakfast at Khardung La again. This day is completely free. Today you can start with the second leg of your Leh sightseeing. Now you understood why I asked you to divide your days in Leh? 😉
This day is only for those who love or want to try white water rafting. For a very nominal cost, you can get a brilliant experience here. The rafting starts from Phey, a place near Leh (half an hour away) & takes approximately 4 hours to finish. You raft your way through mad waters & end your activity near the CONFLUENCE OF INDUS & ZANKSAR RIVER!
A rafting instructor will charge approx. Rs. 1500 per person which will include transportation from Leh to the starting point & finishing point to Leh. It will also include all equipment, training & a hot lunch when you reach your destination after rafting. You can try bargaining, but I feel this cost is fair enough.
Day 10 & 11
There are 3 ways to come back.
- Come down to Manali via same road following the same itinerary (1 Night in Keylong/Jispa)
- Come down to Srinagar via NH1 (1 Night in Kargil/Drass) – If you want more adventures (it’s not real, okay? Just a sarcastic tone), Kargil is the place for you.
- Take a flight back to Delhi from Leh.
Both times, I’ve come down to Srinagar via Kargil because who would miss this beauty? I’ve been to Leh twice but been to Srinagar 4 times. 😉
Additional Places in Ladakh:
Turtuk – If you have 2 more days, consider going to Turtuk from Diskit. It takes approximately 5 hours one way & worth spending time. The culture is completely different from Leh & Diskit. Turtuk was in Pakistan till 1971, after that, it got integrated in India.
Lamayuru – Because of Lamayuru’s moon-like landform, you will feel like walking on a different planet itself. It is located 130 km from Leh city. You can do it in a day but it’ll be very quick. It’s really worth spending a night here.
Tso Moriri – Pangong Tso’s popularity overshadows Tso Moriri. It’s a beautiful, isolated lake on Manali-Leh road. Tso Moriri is small compared to its big brother. But less tourists make this place more attractive.
Some more tips for Ladakh:
- Do not underestimate the Altitude & its effects on your body. Take a proper rest when you reach Leh for the first time.
- Drink lots of water even if you don’t want to. Your body requires it.
- Staying Kargil is considered worrisome by many but it’s not the case. However, I wouldn’t recommend any kind of sightseeing in Kargil.
- Do stop by the War Memorial between Kargil & Drass.
- If you drink alcohol, you will not feel its effect on you. But don’t overdrink because you will puke a lot.
If you need any help planning your trip, or any questiosn regarding your plan, mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictures Credits: Parichay Mehta