Best time of the year (by road) : May to mid October
Distance from Delhi (Leh) : 1300 (via Srinagar), 1050 (via Manali)
Every year, between May and October, the mountain roads leading upto Ladakh turn into a dream run for both bikers and avid car travelers. This is by far the highest place in India and also home to the world’s highest motorable pass at Marsimek La as well. But there is a lot more to Ladakh than just the height. Here is a quick guide on how to ride, or drive to Ladakh this season.
Leh, the capital of Ladakh, can be accessed by road from either the Srinagar or the Manali route. The former is longer by approximately 250km but is more advisable as both the roads and mountain passes are at a lower elevation as compared to the Manali-Leh route. This reduces your probability of suffering from AMS (acute mountain sickness) drastically as the human body needs time to adjust to higher altitudes. A typical Ladakh journey starts from the Srinagar side and ends via the Manali route.
A typical Ladakh roadtrip, from New Delhi, requires a minimum of 9-10 days. There is a lot to explore and experience around Ladakh and further, one should factor in landslides, freak weather and unexpected delays.
Type of car:
As the season enters the months of August and September, roads in J&K start improving as the snow cover melts and BRO (Border Roads Organization) keeps leveling the bad stretches non-stop. Typically, any car with decent ground clearance can make it to Ladakh but we advise you to stick to MUV / SUV options for safety. A 4×4 vehicle is hardly needed, until unless you are exploring into the unknown territories of Eastern Ladakh.
AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness is the biggest risk factor here. The human body needs time adjusting to less oxygen at high altitudes and one should avoid exercising or consumption of tobacco and liquor. The body needs to be kept in a hydrated state and both elderly and young are advised not to undertake such long tiring journeys. They are better suited to flying (into Leh) followed by a day of complete rest in order to acclimatize to the altitude.
A typical itinerary:
Day 1 : Try covering as much as possible from Delhi on the first day. The drive till J&K border is pretty boring and can be done in approximately 8-9 hours. Note that once you enter J&K, only post-paid SIM cards work. Day 1 halt can be either at Udhampur, another 2.5 hours or Patnitop (5 hours) away. Note that you need not drive all the way till Jammu and can instead take a right at Samba to save 40odd km but at the cost of average roads.
Day 2 : The Jammu-Srinagar route is notorious for heavy traffic and hence it makes best sense to make Sonamarg you 2nd night halt. Sonamarg is 2-3 hours away from Srinagar and also the place where the first major traffic block comes as the local cops allow movement towards Zoji la pass in phases.
Day 3: Ideally, one should cover Sonamarg to Leh on day 3 but only if you are allowed to cross Sonamarg (by the local authorities) by 11 noon at max. Leh is 330km or 10 driving hours away and most part of the stretch, after Zoji la, is perfect tarmac. Two passes that you will encounter after Zoji la are the Namika La at 12198 feet and Fotu La at 13479 feet. Infact, the last 50-60km to Leh can be done in just over an hour.
Day 4: You no longer need permits to visit most of the places around Leh. However, do carry an ID proof always on you. Day 4 can be taken as a rest halt in Leh but if you are not planning to visit Nubra valley (ahead of Khardung La pass) you can even drive to this pass and back to Leh in a matter of 3-4 hours. Khardung La was once the highest motorable road in the world.
Around Leh : Usual places that are on the radar are:
1. Nubra Valley : This place is a good 5-6 hours away from Leh and is home to a dry desert including the famous sand dunes and Bactrian camels.
2. Pangong Tso lake : Made famous due to “3 idiots”, this place is a must visit. It is a good 6-7 hour drive from Leh and if you don’t mind the cold, do stay in one of the campsites here. The route is via Chang La pass and this place is notorious for freak snow-storms and terrible roads.
3. Marsimek La : The new highest motorable pass in the world is almost 19000 feet high and requires a special permit that can be obtained from the DC office in Leh. A capable 4×4 SUV can do this easily. This pass is 2 hours away from Pangong Tso lake.
4. Tso Moriri lake : To be done on your way back to Manali, this lake lies 4-5 hours from Leh, towards the East. One can drive to this place, stay the night and join back onto the Leh-Manali highway near Pang.
The Manali-Leh route – Sarchu is almost the mid-point of this highway and only has campsites for the night. It is very cold here and finding frost on your car early in the morning is very common, even in the peak of summers! This route has higher passes and ends in a great fashion at the (in)famous Rohtang pass. If you hit this pass after 3pm, you will have no issues in driving down. Else, be ready to go through the usual tourist rush and traffic jams.
Delhi, from Manali is another 12-13 hour’s drive.
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