Heaven on Earth: Leh Ladakh Road trip to Srinagar – Best Travel Guide

India Travel Blog series

(Part-1) – Delhi – Jammu – Patnitop – Srinagar – Gulmarg- Srinagar- Sonmarg – Zoji La – Gumri – Dras – Thasgam – Kharbu – Kaksar – Kargil (Journey so far)

Kargil – Mulbekh- Namika La – Fotu La- Lamayuru – Khaltse – Saspol – Nimu – Spituk – Leh.

In the first part we covered Jammu to Kargil road trip, In this India travel blog part-2, I will tell you all about Kargil to Leh trip.

After spending the beautiful night in Kargil just 15 feet across the Suru river, we hit the National Highway 1 again in early the morning for Leh trip. Timing is the key when you are doing a road trip. We left early for Leh, since not only does it take a full day to get there, but we also wanted to enjoy the surroundings. The first attraction of the day, A huge, tenth century 30 feet tall stone carved first century BC statue of Maitreya Buddha welcomes you to the desert landscape of Ladakh—into the first Buddhist town of Mulbekh. Here, for the first time, whitewashed houses and a prayer wheel can be seen. Rain clouds rarely make their appearance after Kargil, Zoji La acts as a natural barrier. We had tea break to shake up our morning cold.

Then, without wasting time, we head straight to sacred Lamayuru Monastery – Yungdrung Tharpaling. It was a very peaceful and ancient monastery. Few local told us once upon a time, this monastery sits was once under a large lake. It was also here prophesized that in the future, the teachings of Sutra and Tantra would flourish as a unified whole. It was almost 1:30 in the afternoon so we decided to take our lunch at Lamayuru restaurant, had momos, noodles and really well prepared pizza.

After the lunch, we were back on the road and we entered the wind eroded area, justly called lunar landscapes with weird coloured gorges and rocks descending almost 4000ft in 32 km to reach Indus at Khaltse. Our next stop was the grand confluence of Indus and Zanskar Rivers. The Indus was sparkling emerald green while the Zanskar was wild and muddy and the point looked nothing short of grandeur. I can guarantee, If you are a poet, you will have plenty of things to describe your feeling once you witness this site. Zanskar exists no longer and it is Indus all the way after the confluence.

After heading further through the deserts, we had our next stop at the Magnetic hill. Like everyone else, we also stopped to verify the mystery of magnetic field. We switched off our SUV’s engine and saw our car getting pulled up backwards by magnetic force even on a straight road. Just before you enter Leh, there is Pathar Sahib Gurudwara at Nimoo, the wondeful site with religion significance. It’s being taken care by Army Jawans.

It is only 35 km before Leh but stunning rock formations on the mountains and pretty monasteries clinging to hillsides will make you wish that the ride never ends. The Srinagar-Leh highway is one of the top road trips in India and reminds us of the travellers’ adage, ‘The journey is far more important than the destination.

Srinagar – Leh highway attractions

Brief pointer about How to plan a journey on Srinagar – Leh Highway

What places to visit in Srinagar – Leh Highway?

  • First Century BC Stone statue of Maitreya Buddha,
  • Lamayuru Monastery,
  • Lunar landscapes,
  • Confluence of Indus and Zanskar Rivers,
  • Magnetic hills, and
  • Pathar Sahib Gurudwara.

Where to stay?

We can stay at Kargil or Drass. We had our night halt at Kargil. There are decent Guesthouses/lodges available at both the places, especially Kargil.  We stayed at the Silk route in for 1000 INR for a room and It was sufficient. In return journey, we stayed in the drass but we thought Kargil offers the much better option.

Trivia: Drass is at the crossroads of amalgamation of cultures of a majorly Muslim Kashmir and Buddhist Ladakh. Drass shot to fame when scientists recorded an extreme temperature rating -66 degrees Celsius, world’s second coldest habitual place.

PS: One must ask if the heater and hot water is available as this area gets extremely cold at night.

How to travel?

There are three options you can take a JKSRTC Bus, Shared taxis or hire a personal taxis.

1) Economic mode of Transport: Buses run by Jammu Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) ply in season from Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) to Leh with an overnight stop in Kargil. Deluxe and semi-deluxe buses start from Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) in the morning and reach Leh the next evening; ticket far is roughly INR 1000 for deluxe and INR 650 for semi deluxe (Varies year on year). The punctuality of timings are based on the traffic at Zoji La pass. There are a few private buses too, making a similar kind of journey with and without an overnight stop at Kargil But I wouldn’t recommend it.

2) Crazy mode of Transport: Shared taxis (Tata Sumo), mini-buses and tempo travellers run between Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) and Leh charging people on a per seat basis and reaching Leh in 12-14 hours. A ticket costs around INR 1000-1500, but there are no overnight stops and these usually make the journey in a hurried manner, giving you little time to enjoy the sights. It’s quick but little risky.

3) Personal taxis and SUVs can be hired in Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) for a drop to Leh, and costs approximately INR 18000, with the journey spread over two days. If you are travelling in a group then this is the best option.

Where to eat?

Once you leave Kargil, you will find few small shops for a tea break at Mulbekh. However, Lamayuru is the only major town in between Kargil to Leh where you will find few restaurants and eating options.

PS: If you like maggie noodles than you won’t have a major issue as it’s available at most places.

JULLEY LEH

One phrase you must learn once you are in Leh (Julley, their way of greetings to each other).

leh-roadtrip-entry

We reached Leh in the evening around 5 pm and were completely overwhelmed by the beauty of road’s surroundings. There is a lot to take in just one Journey, it was truly an experience trip. We booked our accommodation at Chamste Guest House (found the contact from other tourists whom we met in Srinagar, they recommend it) and on arriving day we preferred to stay in and relax. We had the journey’s best stay there.  One thing we observe during our stay, the native people of Ladakh are as beautiful and genuine as the place itself. The smile on their faces reflects their inner beauty which harmonises with the beauty of this Himalayan region. 

What are the places to visit in Leh Ladakh (Local sight seeing guide)?

The next day, we embarked on a full-day tour of Leh, which started with the Thiksay monastery. This ancient site, located at over 11,000 feet above sea level, houses many items of Buddhist art, as well as the largest statue in Ladakh. Hemis monastery, established in the late 17th century, is also well-worth a visit, and so is Shey palace, in the area once considered the summer capital of Ladakh. Here, it’s a good idea to walk slowly, as, by this point in the trip, some visitors may be experiencing altitude sickness. We also visited Leh  Palace, Shanti Stupa, 3 idiots famed school, Hall of fame, local market etc.

Stupa means “a dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine and used by monk as a place of meditation.”

Best Time To Travel Srinagar – Leh Ladakh by Road.

The best time to travel through this highway is May to September-October because Highway remains closed from October-November to Early May due to heavy snowfall. Season of the monsoon that is July cam meet inevitable landslides so tries to avoid it.

PS: If you are driving through the Manali – Jispa- Leh highway then it opens after June only.

Why is it safer to travel from Srinagar-Leh highway?

There are two options to reach Leh by road, i) 434 km long Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir)-Leh highway and ii) 490 km long Manali-Leh road. I recommend the first option due to the fact that the Srinagar-Leh highway provides a gradual upward, thereby limiting the exposure of AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) caused due to high altitude.

Road Conditions – Keep the track of road status.

  • Sonmarg – Zoji La- Zero Point  – worse (it’s landslide prone region).
  • Zoji La to Dras – Very Good. 
  • Dras – Kargil – Very Good
  • Kargil – Lamayuru – decent.
  • Lamayuru – Leh – Very Good. 

Hats off to BRO (Borders Road Organisation), they put up great efforts in maintaining these roads in extreme conditions and challenging circumstances every single day.

In the first part we travelled (1900 kilometers by train and 620 kilometers by car in the first part) and in the second lag we travelled (Kargil to leh (220 km) + Leh local sightseeing about (110 km) totaling to 2850 KM.

Picturesque landscape, warm hospitality, soulful surroundings and serene vibe of the place are some of the reasons to visit Kashmir and Ladakh valley, just be ready to fall in love as once you are there, you will not like to come back ever.

This is the 2nd post documenting our road trip from Srinagar to Leh Ladakh. You can also read:

Please keep in mind:

  • Mobile phone networks – Only postpaid connections work in Jammu & Kashmir and BSNL and Airtel are your best bets. These have decent network coverage in Sonamarg, Kargil, Lamayuru and all the other major towns en route.
  • If you are travelling at the high altitude especially via flight directly, take complete rest on the first day so that your body gets acclimatised to the surroundings. Avoid too oily or too heavy food and alcohol. Avoid sleeping during daytime.
  • If you get any health issue, please visit the doctor asap. Keep the Diamox pills for Acute Mountain Sickness. we took one pill everyday regularly and we didn’t face any problem at all.
  • Keep the winter clothes ready for sudden dips in temperature. Also, remember to carry waterproof clothing.

Disclaimer: Please feel free to post any queries or doubts you might have in planning your trip to Sirnagar, Kashmir or Leh, Ladakh in the comments section below. If you have been to this places, kindly share your thoughts and other information you might feel could be worth sharing with other fellow travellers and prove helpful to them. If you enjoyed such posts, then please subscribe to the blog for regular updates. Thank you !

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