Mission – Ladakh Roadtrip (Delhi-Leh-Delhi)
Time Travelled – June 3, 2016 to June 14, 2016
Car Used – Mahindra XUV 5OO
Total Distance Covered – 3500 Kms
No. of Passengers – 5
Going for a Ladakh roadtrip was a dream I shared with most of India until last year June. This is the one dream that I could finally switch to reality, that too by managing it in my own car, and on my own terms, and with some of the best company.
The journey to Ladakh, the mountain kingdom, is literally breathtaking and extreme in some pockets, there are ample distractions throughout, mostly in form of beautiful landscapes, but that is where the real test is on smaller curved roads.
This post talks about the route in detail and not about the places, that will come later. We decided to go full circle from Delhi to Srinagar to Leh to Manali to Delhi on 4th June 2016. The route taken was:
Delhi-Srinagar-Sonamarg-Leh-Turtuk-Pangong (Via Shyok Valley)-Leh (Via Chang La)-Tso Moriri (Via Chumathang)-Sumdo-Tso Kar-Pang-Manali-Kasol-Delhi.
- We decided to drive directly to Srinagar, leaving Delhi around late evening, and reaching Srinagar the next day afternoon, in about 17 hours. The road was wonderful and we mostly glided through except at a few pockets between Pathankot and Patnitop.
- After staying in Srinagar for the night, and spending the first half of day 2 in Srinagar, we headed to Sonamarg and reached there by late evening, driving leisurely, stopping for photos and visiting the famous Kheer Bhavani Temple in between.
- Day 3 we decided to leave early morning around 5:30 AM, but the police had shut the traffic towards Zozi La for 3 hours because of army drills, fortunately we were able to leave Sonamarg by 6:30 AM with help from an army man. Zozi La is a treacherous climb, especially with no proper road, slim curves, and massive truck traffic coming downhill. Took us about 4 hours to reach Thumri, with a pit stop at Zero point glacier for snow sledging (35 Kms after Sonamarg).
- The roads from Thumri to Kargil and all the way to Leh are god gifted, we peaked at 120 kmph in some areas as well. We drove in the dark post Fotu La, and it was too smooth, had no problems at all. Plus BRO (Border Roads Organization) gives you good company with cheesy one liners along the route. We reached Leh at around 10 PM on Day 3.
- Day 4 we left for Khardung La at 5:15 AM in the morning, and just 10 Kms before the top we met with trucks stuck in snow, trying to pave their way ahead. Driving in snow is fun as long as one is extremely careful, a lot of ice is expected, ensure to keep your car on the fresh snow, do not stop on ice and if skidding, put some mud in front of the tyres and put stones behind rear tyres, and move with your wheel out. (Piece of cake if done correctly). Roads down from Khardung La were completely unpaved but smooth, did not take us much time to reach North Pullu, it was like a rally drive for us.
We stopped at ‘The Khardung Restaurant’ in Khardung Village for fresh ladakhi breakfast, amazing hospitality and service. Further on, we reached Hunder (Nubra Valley) at around 12:00 PM, it was mostly a smooth ride with no difficult stretches, one has to take a left for Nubra Valley from Khalsar. Now everyone has a “chul” to drive on sand, if not on complete sand dunes, and we got stuck. (Please carry a lot of water, if your car gets stuck, put water on sand in front of your tyres and see how smoothly it comes out)
- Final destination was at Turtuk village, about 70 Kms from Hunder. Took us another 2 hours to reach there, and it was mesmerizing. Turtuk is also the last village that can be visited by tourists, it is about 15 Kms from the line of control between India and Pakistan. It is largely a peaceful village in the Baltistan region of J&K, and Balti food and culture is amazing.
- Day 5 we woke up to a beautiful sunrise in Turtuk, visited the point from where Pakistani and Indian border posts could be easily spotted, and moved towards Pangong lake via Shyok valley. Shyok means death, the name does give you the chills and to top it, the road was almost not there. The most difficult 130 Kms of my life, especially because the car was giving clutch trouble, and there is no civilization all the way till Shyok village. The ride from Shyok village to Durbuk village was like being in the middle of grand canyon. But we made it in the end, and were able to grab a tent at Spangmik village (Pangong Tso).
- We started the 6th day by lazing around the beautiful Pangong Lake and got back on our way to Leh via Chang La, and were blessed with a beautiful snowfall on the way up. The route was more or less in good condition, roads were perfect Zingral onwards, and we stopped at Thiksay Monastery for a couple of hours, before arriving at Leh.
- Day 7 we just roamed in and around Leh, got my car checked, ate some fantastic food, and slept well after 6 days of getting up early.
- Day 8 was our exit day from the beautiful northern kingdom of India, we decided to visit Tso Moriri first, via hot springs at Chumathang. Indus river was flowing calmly all along the unpaved route, took us almost 3 hours to cover 60 Kms. The hot springs are neatly kept, and are worth a visit.
- At an elevation of 16000 feet one of the tyres went bust, and we had all the puncture repair options available with us. But took 2 healthy men and 1 small one to repair 1 tyre, effort is amplified at such heights due to lack of oxygen. Post puncture repair we ended up reaching Karzok village at Tso Moriri lake, again a beautiful quaint town mostly run by old people, or so it seemed. The road was made up of sand and pebbles mostly for the final 5 Kms.
- Drive from a little beyond Karzok to Sumdo is very beautiful, but the 30 Kms after Puga are any driver’s nightmare, all the way till Tso Kar. First the yaks and cows vanished, then the birds, and finally the grass too. We were driving with seemingly no end at almost sunset, then I shifted to rally mode and we reached Tso Kar just at sunset. It was an even more beautiful site because of the last 2.5 hours of a ‘no life’ road we drove through. We moved on the main Leh-Manali highway Debring onwards, and spent the night in an extremely cold Pang at 15,100 feet.
- Day 9 was almost fully spent in driving from Pang to Kasol via Sarchu, Keylong and Manali, our horn stopped working after Keylong, which made the final chapter of the trip even more interesting. The road is a bit tricky after Nakee La, at the Gata Loops (21 loops), especially with a lot of trucks coming up.
Labrang region after Keylong looks unreal with beautiful waterfalls all around. It was snowing on Baralacha La, and we were eating ice off the glaciers which seemed frozen in time, and the final pass Rohtang La was almost empty and was in fact the dirtiest pass we had crossed in our whole journey. Himachal govt should seriously do something about this. Beyond Rohtang and just before Manali, the road is good, but narrow and whirling, be careful as scenery and greenery after a desert ride is worth taking a view of.
- We reached Kasol via Bhunter at around 8 PM, and then the 10th Day was spent in total leisure and nirvana. We drove back to Delhi on the 11th day and the Ladakh nostalgia still exists.
Some points to consider:
- Journey to Ladakh is easy, if you are mentally prepared, and be ready for surprises like long jams and landslides. Leave as early as 5:30 am to skip the traffic. Keep lots of food and water, energy providing items, travel pillows, puncture kits, car care items and travel blanket etc.
- Travelling in a group means that each member has an equal say in when to stop, where to eat, when to change drivers etc. One has to respect the group dynamics, else the journey can become sour. We finished off far closer than when we started, and even took the next successful roadtrip from Bangalore to Munnar together.
- Some areas inside Ladakh like driving in Shyok Valley require a car with a greater than 180mm ground clearance, ensure that you do not get adventurous with a lower ground clearance car, else help will arrive not before you freeze yourself.
- Respect the road, you are not greater than it.
Good luck and safe driving. It is a journey you will pass on through the generations!!