We have done lot of road trip holidays but exploring Leh Ladakh region by road was one of our top wish list. It is one of the most thrilling road adventures in India as well as around the world that involves passing through some of the most highest motorable mountain passes in the world. The average elevation of the terrain is around 12,500 feet. This is not an impromptu road trip that can be taken up casually. Due its treacherous terrain we started preparing for the trip well in advance forgetting all our previous road trip expeditions. A detailed roadmap and preplanning led us to a successful expedition.
Few quick stats before starting
– A round trip of 5,977 KMs from Mumbai through 8 states in 16 days
– Drove for 13 out of those 16 days
– Covered average distance of about 373 KMs a day
– Max distance of 900 KMs covered in a day
– Stayed in 12 village/town/city
– Crossed 60 tolls and paid INR 3,906/- as fee
– Conquered 10 mountain high passes with highest being 18,380 feet
– Stayed at average elevation of 11,000 feet for more than 9 days
Here we present a summary of our sojourn…
The preparation for this expedition started well in advance. We looked at each and every aspect of it like tour schedule, acclimatization, acute mountain sickness, necessity vehicle check, ATM, availability of fuel station, stay options, carrying necessary items, etc. We consulted few friends and shared our roadmap plan for participation. We were glad that we got an accomplice for this sojourn with similar holiday plan and that did give us the much needed impetus for a tough tour like this. Here is the detailed plan of our prepration:
Trip start date: 17 June 2016
Day 1 & 2: Covered Mumbai to Delhi a distance of 1430 KMs – we have already covered this stretch earlier and followed the same route as per our previous experience.
On this day we travelled 600 KMs with a running time of 8.5 hours thereby clocking an average speed of 70 Km/hr. We experienced a very comfortable and hassle-free drive on a beautiful day with clear visibility. There were many fee collection booths on the highway which does take away some time as well. Anyways we were very satisfied with the road conditions till Jammu and reached our target set for the day. We checked into a hotel and our plan for next day was to leave early for the first driving test on the hills of Himalaya.
We travelled 370 KMs with a running time of 11 hours thereby clocking an average speed of 34 Km/hr. Overall, the drive was comfortable with quite a few twists and turns with changing topography. We drove through hilly terrains with curvy roads, blind turns, uphill climb and sudden onward traffic. The drive also required overtaking skills on such roads and patience on account of large vehicles, big traffic jams, construction/repairs, stalled vehicles, convoys, etc. We accomplished our target set for the day and were also happy with the hostel. Also, satisfying was the fact that the location of hostel gave us an added advantage for our onward journey.
We travelled 120 KMs with a running time of 4 hours thereby clocking an average speed of 30 Km/hr. We explored places all along the highway and were very satisfied with the day. We drove through one of the treacherous roads of the Srinagar – Leh (NH1D) highway and crossed Zoji La (3528 meters). The highlights of the day were Sonamarg, Zoji La, glaciers & panoramic landscapes, Dras, & Kargil war memorial. The toughest part of the day was finding a hotel in Kargil. Even after having multiple options all the rooms in various hotels were pre-booked on account of few rider groups and tourists on account of an annual pilgrimage tour of Indus. Finally, after searching for a while we found a stay option that we happily accepted.
On this day we entered the Buddhist territory of Ladakh region and conquered two high mountain passes Namika La (3700 meters) & Fotu La (4108 meters) on NH-1D. We visited LOC view point near Kargil and passed through Mulbekh, Lamayuru, and Magnetic Hill. Finally we reached Leh @ 10 p.m. thereby covering a distance of 212 KMs during the day. We, though, were travelling on high lands but mostly it looked like moving on a plain terrain barring two high passes.
Finally, after covering an unbelievable journey of 2770 KMs from Mumbai in 6 days we had arrived in Leh. Julley to Ladakh!!! The gradual ascend to Leh via Srinagar – Leh highway ensured in getting acclimatize to high altitude. The team also became complete with addition of our family members early in the morning on fifth day of the tour, thereby making our long pending plan of exploring Ladakh together a reality. A day spent in leisure with no further stretch to us and also, giving sufficient time to new members to get used to high altitude. Still visited Sangam and Gurudwara Pathar Sahib.
We passed a roller coaster ride through gravel-cum-road with lots of turn and steep gradient. With no barrier on the side, view of the drop till bottom, Z gradients, torrents, slush, & snow was a spine chilling experience. This is why we were here to test our nerves and get our adrenaline rush through our body. Slowly and steadily we passed through these treacherous terrains and conquered Changa La (alt 5360 mts i.e. 17586 feet) – the second highest motorable road in the world. Once again a beautiful terrain with a lot on offer including frozen Tsoltar Lake and finally a paradise known as Pangong Lake.
Normally, travellers follow Leh – Pangong Tso – Leh and Leh – Nubra – Leh, but we followed the route less travelled i.e. from Pangong Tso to Nubra via Shyok valley. After our amazing camping experience besides mesmerising Pangong Tso, we travelled 163 KMs with a running time of 6 hours thereby clocking an average speed of 28 KM/hr. Overall, the drive was challenging with quite a few twists and turns with changing topography. We drove through hilly terrains with curvy roads, blind turns, uphill climb and beside Shyok river. While travelling through these terrain it felt like Ladakh is a mystery that unfolds a magic at every phase of the journey.
On this day we travelled 131 KMs with a running time of 5.5 hours thereby clocking an average speed of 24 KM/hr by far the slowest average registered on this tour. A beautiful morning spent in Nubra Valley and it’s amazing sand dunes. Overall, the drive was very challenging with quite a few twists and challenging phases that needed skills and patience to pass through the treacherous terrains. We were filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment after conquering Khardung La (alt 5602 mts i.e. 18,380 feet). Finally, we were back in Leh after conquering Chang La and Khardung La along with unforgettable memories of Pangong Tso, Nubra Valley, Sand Dunes, Shyok Valley, and scenic as well as challenging routes.
Overall, we relaxed in the quaint environment of Leh and roamed around the narrow lanes of Leh and visited Shanti Stupa & Leh Palce.
On this day we covered 246 KM in 10 hours including halts and passed through two highest peaks on the Leh – Manali Highway. We filled our tank just after Leh as stretch of 360 KM on Leh – Manali highway doesn’t have any fuel station and are mostly uninhabited. We passed through beautiful as well as tough terrains and crossed the 21 hairpin bend known as Gata Loops. The highway had very less vehicular traffic with long stretches of uninhabited landscapes. A stunning journey that brings you near to yourself and makes us realise the importance of our existence.
We covered the distance of 778 KMs in two days with a stopover at Manali. We drove through the terrains in Himalaya and gradually moved to greener terrains. Once again a mix of smooth and rough ride and entered inhabited region after Keylong. We conquered Rohtang La through numerous hairpin bends and reached Manali. After Manali, we were eagerly waiting for the plains and kept on waiting till 8 p.m. when we touched Chandigarh highway. I must confess it was a desperate wait. After such a daunting trip the sight of four lane highway seemed like heaven. Finally, we reached Delhi @ 5 a.m. on the morning of 15th day.
Day 15: Leisure at Delhi
Day 16 & 17: Return journey to Mumbai.
The Leh Ladakh road expedition is a gateway to heaven with changing topography and landscape at every juncture. At some places it felt like we were about to meet horizon. Ladakh is not beautiful because of any particular spot or attraction but it is universally mystical. The journey through these terrains in itself is sightseeing. Wherever you step out becomes a spot for sightseeing. Every mountain and landscape was speaking to us and telling us some untold mystery. We cannot explain our feelings through words as it can only be felt by actually passing through these terrains. We are sure every traveller would have gone through such feeling while travelling through Ladakh. Mesmerizing landscapes, beautiful sky, glittering stars, rivers, and surprises everywhere – Julley to Ladakh. A trip that will remain embedded forever in our heart till eternity and has given the impetus to plan for more road trips ahead. Till then enjoy reading!
Note of Thanks – A successful trip was completed by proper planning, teamwork, and support. I would like to specially thank you all for supporting us and achieving making this trip successful.
Mayank Chand: An avid rider who gave insights of Ladakh and introduced us to his group leader.
Prashant Singh (ZEPHYR): for guiding us in detail and providing us information at crucial phases of our journey.
Rahul & Payal Gupta along with Sachin & Sonu Gupta: Our accomplice for the entire trip that gave us the much needed boast for the trip.
Shamim (Owner of Larchang Guest House): for being a great host and accommodating us in this peak season.
Agham & his team: They very well complemented us in every phase of our journey.
Our team (Shree, Shikha, Harsh, Pradeep, Hemant, Kalyani, Shweta, & Lunasha): A patient and supportive team for this treacherous terrain without whom it would have been very difficult to complete the tour.
Last but not the least: Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and its worker who work on these harsh and uninhabited conditions to maintain the highway and keep it motorable so that enthusiast like us can achieve our road trip expeditions.