Leh town - Ladakh road trip

Every year thousands of travellers visit Ladakh, a.k.a “Land of high passes” and experience the beauty of this barren cold desert. Some people travel by car or tempo traveller while some travel by riding bikes to add an extra thrill to their journey. Ladakh Road Trip is considered one of the best road trips in India because of the demanding roads and the incredible landscape.

As quoted above that the roads are demanding and the terrain is also tough, the road trip is not easy as it looks on Instagram. There are a few people who have had bad experiences because of lack of knowledge about the terrain and other things. Here I am mentioning all the things, tips and tricks that one should keep in mind if he/she is visiting or planning to visit Ladakh.

Read My Experience Here: Manali to Leh Ladakh – One Hell of a Ride

Who can travel to Ladakh?

Anyone can visit Ladakh except infants or people having medical conditions. If someone has pre-medical conditions (blood pressure or asthma) then consult your doctor and then plan accordingly.

Best time to visit Ladakh

Well, Ladakh is a seasonal destination and the majority of people visit during summers when the roads are open. Though, since the past few years, Ladakh has emerged as a winter destination and people are getting attracted to the snow-laden landscapes. So if you are ready to bear the frosty weather and live in temperatures like -20 degrees then only plan to visit in winters. Otherwise, May to September (only Leh to Leh) is the best time for Ladakh Road Trip. For road trips from Manali and Srinagar, June mid to September starting is the preferable time as the passes get opened by that time only.

Sarchu, Manali Leh Highway - Ladakh Road Trip
Sarchu, Manali Leh Highway

How is the weather and terrain during summers?

May- In Leh, days would be pleasant but nights can be cold. Pangong Tso would be the coldest. One would find snow at Khardung la, Chang la and at the top of the mountains.

June- In Jispa, Leh and Nubra Valley, daytime would be pleasant and nights would be mild cold. Pangong Tso would be colder and Sarchu would be coldest and windy too. In Sarchu, the temperature can go down to -10. You will find snow at all the passes and high altitude places like Sarchu and might even experience snowfall. Roads will be in bad condition and full of slush. Traffic would be more due to the opening of passes as all the supply trucks start moving. Also, roads near the passes would be narrow due to the ice walls on both sides, so there are high chances of traffic jam and roadblocks.

July- Best and the safest month in terms of weather and traffic. Weather remains pleasant at all the places except Sarchu. Traffic would also be less. Lesser chances of experiencing snow.

August- It is also a good month to visit. Since it’s a peak time for monsoon, so there are chances of landslides up to Jispa. Once you cross Jispa and the vegetation ends, then you can move without worrying. Although landslide on mountains is not a big deal, it’s just that you would get stuck in a traffic jam for 2-4 hours depending upon the intensity of the landslide. Weather remains mostly pleasant.

September- It is the closing time of the summer season in Ladakh. Traffic would be less and the temperature starts decreasing. Chances of snowfall at passes and high altitude places. If you are planning in September then it should be in the starting of the month.

About the route and terrain

Road to Khardung la - Ladakh Road Trip
Road to Khardung la

Possible Itineraries-

Itinerary 1 – Manali Leh Manali

Day 1: Manali to Jispa
Day 2: Jispa to Leh
Day 3: Leh Local sightseeing
Day 4: Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardung La
Day 5: Nubra valley to Pangong Tso
Day 6: Pangong Tso to Leh via Chang la
Day 7: Leh to Sarchu
Day 8: Sarchu to Manali
Note: In case of a bike trip, add one more day in the itinerary, and it should be like Day 2 (Jispa to Sarchu) and 3 (Sarchu to Leh). Jispa to Leh is 330 km so it gets too hectic to drive down in a single day.

Itinerary 2 – Srinagar Leh Manali

Day 1: Srinagar to Kargil via Zoji la
Day 2: Kargil to Leh via Fotu La
Day 3: Leh Local sightseeing
Day 4: Leh to Nubra valley
Day 5: Nubra valley to Pangong Tso
Day 6: Pangong Tso to Leh
Day 7: Leh to Sarchu
Day 8: Sarchu to Manali

Itinerary 3 – Leh 5N 6D

Day 1: Arrival at Leh
Day 2: Leh Local sightseeing
Day 3: Leh to Nubra valley
Day 4: Nubra valley to Pangong Tso
Day 5: Pangong Tso to Leh
Day 6: Departure

Itinerary 4 – Leh with Turtuk, Hanle & Tso Moriri

Day 1: Arrival at Leh
Day 2: Leh Local sightseeing
Day 3: Leh to Nubra valley
Day 4: Nubra valley to Turtuk to Nubra
Day 5: Nubra valley to Pangong Tso
Day 6: Pangong Tso to Hanle
Day 7: Hanle to Tso Moriri
Day 8: Tso Moriri to Sarchu/Leh

Route: Ladakh Road Trip

Manali – Leh (490 km)

Manali  – Gulaba (checkpost where Rohtang pass permits are checked) – Marhi (few restaurants and canteen available) – Rohtang Pass (3980 m, links Kullu valley to Lahaul & Spiti Valley) – Gramphu (where the road bifurcates to Ladakh and Spiti Valley) – Khoksar (few canteens and a checkpost to submit your names and vehicle number) – Sissu (beautiful village along the Chandra river having slopes full of alpine flowers and vegetation) – Tandi (Last petrol pump and the confluence of Chandra & Bhaga rivers) – Keylong (Lahaul district headquarters and last place to find 4g networks) – Jispa (3200 m. Beautiful village along the Bhaga river) – Dercha – Zing Zing Bar (Army camp and few canteens) – Suraj Tal (a lake, Source of Bhaga river) – Baralacha La (4890 m) – Bharatpur (few canteens) – Sarchu (4300 m. Border of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Several campsites situated here) – Gata loops (22 loops) – Nakee la (4739 m) – Whisky Nalah – Lachung la (5060 m) – Pang (restaurants and canteens) – Moore Plains (40 km scenic straight road) – Taglang la (5328 m) – Upshi (small village, restaurants and check post) – Karu (Petrol pump) – Leh

Srinagar – Leh (420 km)

Srinagar – Sonamarg (2800 m, scenic place with meadows) – Baltal (starting point of Amarnath yatra) – Zoji La (3528 m) – Drass (2nd coldest inhabited place in the world) – Kargil ( a town in Ladakh) – Fotu La (4108 m) – Lamayuru (Moonland of Ladakh) – Alchi (monastery) – Leh

Things to keep in mind

10 days are quite long for any trip but in the case of Ladakh, the feeling won’t be the same. There are a plethora of places that you will be visiting. Every day will be new in terms of landscape, weather, etc. For a majority of people, Ladakh is a once in a lifetime destination and people wait for years to visit. Keep the below things in your mind and leave no stone unturned to make your Ladakh road trip an unforgettable one.

  • There are several cool cafes in Old Manali that you can try out. Few of them are Cafe 1947, Drifters cafe, etc.
  • Especially for South Indians- If you have never been to such high altitude place before then it is recommended that you take Diamox (medicine) when you are at Manali. Diamox helps your body to get acclimatized quickly at high altitude. The only side effect of this medicine is urination. So keep drinking water regularly so that your body doesn’t get dehydrated. Also, water helps in maintaining the oxygen level in the body. If you have hormonal problems or allergic to medicines then don’t take Diamox. Consult your doctor before coming for the trip.
  • Try to be ready and depart early in the morning to avoid the traffic of Rohtang Pass and other passes and to cross the water streams easily.
  • Once you reach campsites, don’t sleep just after reaching. Walk, drink water and get your body acclimatized to the surroundings and the altitude.
  • When travelling from Jispa to Leh, remember to cover your body properly with proper layers. Don’t stop at the passes for too much time. The average elevation of the road after Pang is more than 4000 m. People usually get a headache while travelling because of the altitude.
  • The road from Jispa to Leh is the most important. Don’t sleep otherwise you will miss the beautiful landscapes, high passes, quirky slogans written by BRO (Border Roads Organization).
  • Once you reach Leh, don’t take a shower. Just relax, eat food and drink water as much as you can. Don’t do any exertion activity either.
  • While travelling from Nubra valley to Pangong, depart early in the morning. As there is a glacial stream comes on the way, and water level increases as the Sun gets strong. Hence, it becomes difficult to cross that stream in the noon or later.
  • Sarchu is the highest altitude place on the trip. No electricity, no shops, no phone signals there. Just wind and mountains. It will also be the coldest place. Avoid consuming alcohol and smoking at this place.
Moore Plains, Manali Leh Highway - Ladakh Road Trip
Moore Plains, Manali Leh Highway

Tips for Bikers

If you are planning a bike road trip, then I would suggest if you have good experience of bike riding and you love doing it only then opt it. It’s not exactly what you see on social media. Bike riding is much more than that. You will have to ride for an average 8-10 hours every day, sometimes it can go up to 12 hours or more if there is a traffic jam or landslide. You will be crossing several glacial streams having icy-cold water which can make your feet wet for the rest of the trip. It’s better to have gumboots.

biker crossing a stream near Dercha - Ladakh Road Trip
biker crossing a stream near Dercha
  • A bike is a machine and a machine can go out of order at any place or time. You will have to understand that a bike also performs differently according to the terrain and altitude.
  • Start early to avoid the traffic of Rohtang Pass. Don’t forget to refuel your bike at Tandi. The road up to Jispa is quite good and broad except a few bad patches.
  • The bad roads will start after Jispa. Get ready to cross multiple water streams, a road full of slush and big potholes.
  • Do check the bike completely before renting out. Check headlights, horn, brakes, clutch, chain socket (if it looks too old and used, don’t take it)
  • Always ride on the left-hand side, do not overtake on turns and give horn/dipper while overtaking.
  • Do not honk again and again if you are not getting side from any truck or bus. Have patience and wait for some time.
  • Ride in 2nd gear while climbing the pass if it’s too steep then shift to 1st gear.
  • Ride in 2nd gear while coming down and keep the clutch loose and use brakes.
  • Rear Disc brakes have a disadvantage that it stop working when they get heated. If it happens, don’t panic. Stop for some time and let the bike gets cool. Put some water on the discs and then continue.
  • While riding through the pass, might be possible that due to the low oxygen engine doesn’t work properly.  It usually happens at Taglang la and Chang la. No need to worry. Just keep riding.
  • Respect the bike and ride it with care.

Other FAQs

Which bike should I opt for Ladakh?

Royal Enfield and Bajaj Dominar work excellent on this terrain. KTM bikes are also good but if it breaks down then the availability of spare parts and mechanic can be an issue.

What are the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness? How to deal with?

Most common symptoms of AMS include headache, runny nose, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath. There is no other solution for AMS apart for from lowering the altitude. That’s why it is better to take some measures in the early stage. If you feel the above symptoms then just drink water as much as you can, walk with open ears and have proper food. Take a paracetamol tablet if it’s paining.

Note- Diamox is not the remedy of AMS. Diamox is used to prevent it and that’s why it is taken 24-48 hours before the journey.

What are the documents required for the trip?

Basically, there are two permits that are required on the trip.

Rohtang Permits- This permit is for the vehicle. If you are taking your own vehicle then you need to show this permit at Gulaba check post. It can be obtained online (website – https://rohtangpermits.nic.in/) as well as offline from the SDM office at Manali. If you are taking a rented bike or taxi then check with your vendor. He will arrange the permits for you.

Ladakh Inner Line Permits- This permit is for the individual. It can be obtained from the DC office at Leh.

For these permits- You need to carry vehicle papers and a valid driving license (mandatory in case of bikers), driving license/Aadhar card/voter ID card/Passport. Pan card doesn’t work. Passport and visa are mandatory for foreign nationals.

How much cash should I carry on the trip?

You will be needing cash for everyday lunch, shopping and miscellaneous expenses. INR 4000-5000 would be sufficient. Rest depends on your shopping. This amount is applicable on those who are going Ladakh by taking a package from a travel company.

If you are going by own then you will be needing more cash for fuel, spare parts and other expenses.

Which network will work on the road trip?

  • Prepaid 4g network works in Manali and Keylong and Postpaid 4g network in Leh.
  • No network at Rohtang Pass, Sarchu and other passes.
  • BSNL  postpaid works at Jispa.
  • BSNL and JIO postpaid works at Nubra Valley & Pangong Tso.

All the best. Happy Trails 🙂

Written by

Manu Khandelwal

An engineer and a travel blogger. Loves trekking and doing bike road trips. Burger lover (want to try every burger in the world). Clinomaniac. Sports fanatic. Likes technology but not a technology addict.